Forgive Us When We Despise Your Great Salvation!
It started out with a few shouts. Then, the voices became a few more, and a few more until the whole crowd shouted: “Crucify him! Crucify him! Let his blood be on us and our children!”
What awful shouts. What horrible cries screamed out that day. And why? Why would the Jewish mob have cried out for everlasting guilt to be on them and their children? They simply didn’t believe that there was any everlasting guilt. They thought that all the guilt belonged to the beaten and battered Nazarene carpenter that stood in front of him. After all, it was that man that had pretended to be the long awaited Messiah. He had misled the people of Israel, given them false hope! And so Jesus’ trickery deserved the worst that the Romans could offer. He deserved the mockery, the crown of thorns, the beatings. Crucifixion is too good for him, they thought!
But the problem was not in Jesus, it was in the people. They didn’t want the salvation that Jesus had come to bring. What about us? Do we ever stray too close or tip toe the line that that unholy crowd crossed? Do we expect something from God that he never promised, or reject what he has offered through his Son’s death? For those times that we have, tonight we pray: Forgive us when we despise your great salvation! For we sometimes demand earthly blessings that have not been promised, and so Father, fix our eyes on the needs of our souls.
1. Travel back in time to that awful day. Watch intently as the Roman governor stands before you and the rest of the crowd and loudly asks: Which one do you want me to release to you: Barabbas or Jesus, who is called the Christ? As Pilate brings forth both Barabbas and Jesus, the elders and the chief priests tap those next to you on the shoulder and whisper something in their ears. Pilate asks again: Which of the two do you want me to release to you? The collective voice of the crowd shouts out: Barabbas! Stunned, Pilate responds: What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Christ? And the crowd grows louder and louder: Crucify him! Crucify him! Crucify! As Pilate claims innocence from Jesus’ blood the mob shouts even louder: Let his blood be on us and on our children!
Why? How? How could they demand such a grievous death, such horrible torture of the man they had, just a few days ago, hailed as the “Son of David” and the promised “King of Israel?”
It may be absurd to us today, but look at the first century world through the eyes of that mob. For as long as they could remember, they had been waiting for the Messiah. Some of their earliest memories were being taught about the Messiah and they longed to see his arrival. It was their greatest wish, as if they could almost taste it!
Oh, how joyous it was when prophecies of the coming Messiah were read during Sabbath worship! Over and over again they read about him in the Holy Scriptures – from the prophecies that Moses recorded to the ones Malachi wrote down. The members of that mob could quote all those prophecies: the ones that spoke of the wonders that Messiah would perform to triumph after suffering to the eternal crown that would adorn his head.
And yet, their desire for the coming Messiah was not, perhaps, quite the same desire the writers of the Old Testament had meant. The Jews of Jesus’ time wanted salvation that was not the same salvation the prophets wrote about. Israel wanted salvation all right – salvation from Roman rule, NOT salvation from sin. They wanted their national pride to be restored – a restoration of their relationship with God could wait.
These thoughts, these misconceptions, morphed into a whole ‘nother beast altogether. They became some grand fantasy that was shared by a majority of those in Israel. The majestic King messiah would appear in the sky and descend into the courts of the great temple. He would raise his voice, and the armies of the people would flock to his call. Rank by rank they would go out from Jerusalem. They would be invincible in battle – after all, the messiah was on their side! – and the Romans and all other enemies of the Jews would be brought to vengeance. Their city, that beloved city of Jerusalem, would be the greatest city in the world and all people would be forced to acknowledge the greatness of Israel and their messiah-King.
And they had truly though that their messiah-King had arrived. He was Jesus of Nazareth! After all, look at all the miraculous signs he had performed! Listen to how well he spoke! When the Christ comes, some asked, will he do more miraculous signs than this man? (John 7:31). And so, they tried to force him to become their bread-king after he fed the five thousand.
Rumors were spread that he had actually raised a man from death in Bethany. More and more stories about Jesus’ power were traded. And then they saw him coming, just as the prophet had said, Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt the foal of a donkey. (Zec 9:9) And in awe they removed their cloaks and laid them on the ground before him. They eagerly cut down palm branches and strew them in his path. They shouted: Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! (Matt 21:9)
My, what a difference five days can make. The same people who had shouted “Hosanna!” now stood in the Roman courtyard. They watched as Pilate brought out Jesus. How shocked they must have been to see him – no longer triumphant – standing there bloodied and beaten. The man who had triumphantly ridden in on Sunday could now barely stand on Friday. The man for whom they had laid their robes and palm branches now wore a purple rob and a crown of thorns in mockery. The Romans were laughing at the Messiah – and through him at all of Israel! Here’s your King!, they were saying. Here’s your messiah! The man you though would conquer Rome, well, by Rome he’s conquered!
Imagine their anger! In their eyes, Jesus had betrayed his promise to them. He was not the messiah they were looking for. Where was the victory over Rome? Where was the glory for Israel?! They let their anger vocalize as they shouted: Crucify him! Crucify him!
We would never join in such shouts. No, no indeed. Our sins of disloyalty may never end in shouts of murderous rage. And yet, we too can fall into the trap of thinking that, somehow, our Lord is not living up to promises that he never actually made to us.
We may not reject the salvation of our souls. It’s what we’ve been taught for so many years. We heard the Bible stories while sitting at those short Sunday school tables. We learned about our salvation during confirmation or Bible information classes. We confess what Christ has done for us in our creeds and we know what Lent and Good Friday are ultimately all about.
Yet that all seems to be stuck in the past while the struggles of our day to day lives face us here and now. We are tempted to think that salvation will be important as we near our death-beds, but perhaps we ought to be able to expect more from Christ than just that. This idea has always floated around Christianity. Just turn on the TV preachers and you will hear it preached sermon after sermon. There’s this idea that once you become a Christian the bumpy road that we call life will be smoothed out and leveled; that all troubles will vanish and we’ll glide through this life to life everlasting. After all, he claimed that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to [him] (Matt 28:18) so shouldn’t he use that authority to make us rich and give us easy lives?
At times it’s easy to see through this temptation; at others it isn’t so easy. There are times that we remember that the Lord disciplines us and uses hardships to bring about good for us. But there are times that we only see the troubles piling up around us and despite all our fervent prayers things still don’t seem to get better.
And then we fall into the temptation of vocalizing our feelings and we question God. Why, we ask, why God? Why all these money troubles and all the trouble making friends? Why am I depressed; why are we the ones who can’t seem to get on top in life? Why can’t you just make things a little easier for us, God?!
And suddenly, what Christ came to earth to bring up – eternal life through his death – doesn’t seem nearly as important as the long list of earthly things that we wish he would grant for us. Our inmost thoughts and feelings suddenly aren’t all that different from those of the Jewish mob. We feel betrayed, as if Jesus has failed to hold to some promise.
2. And so we pray, yes even beg, for a great blessing form our heavenly Father. We pray, Father, fix our eyes on the needs of our souls!
The last thing the Jewish mob wanted that Good Friday was forgiveness of sins and everlasting life. They wanted something they could experience then and there – they wanted national freedom and all the blessings that came with it. When it became clear that Jesus wasn’t about to give them that, they finally, utterly, rejected him. And here they are now, still today, waiting for a messiah that never showed up. Within 40 years of Jesus’ crucifixion their beloved city would be destroyed and their glorious temple completely demolished. Not even 70 years after Jerusalem’s destruction, a would-be messiah’s revolt would fail and the Jews would be exiled from the Holy Land for 18 centuries.
God’s promise to his people had never been a war hero who would save them from Rome. God had promised something far better – his Son who would save them from the devil. But they rejected that promise. They offered their souls in a trade for a dream that would never be fulfilled.
God, keep us from such soul-destroying foolishness! Not that we see the affairs of this life as unimportant. After all, God himself has invited us to cast all [our cares] upon him because he cares for [us]. (1 Pet 5:7) Jesus himself promised us that he is always with us, to the very end of the age. (Matt 28:20b)
So let us take every care to not make up scenarios for ourselves. Let us be careful that we not say, “This is the way I think it should go, God” and then get upset with God if that’s not the way things go. Don’t get angry with God because he doesn’t keep promises that you have put into his mouth.
You see, things in life are not always going to be a cake walk. Jesus himself prayed for us and asked his Father not to take us out of the world but to keep us safe as we experience the troubles of the world. Let us say, instead, with Job: The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised. (Job 1:21)
Even more than just worry about the affairs of this life, let us fix our eyes on the greatest of all blessings. Let us focus on that blessing that was promised throughout the pages of Scripture – eternal salvation for our souls through Jesus Christ. Let us continue to hold the words of Isaiah before us: We all, like sheep, have gone astray – each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. By his wounds we are healed. (Isa. 53:6; 5)
We just heard the Savior say on Sunday: What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? (Mk 8:36) How could we enjoy the greatest of earthly blessings knowing that we had lost the greatest spiritual blessing? The momentary pleasures of this life would be tainted by the horrors of our coming judgment.
But our heart leaps for joy because the Lord has decreed the exact opposite. Throughout the Scriptures this truth is proclaimed: our light and momentary troubles of this world are not worthy to be compared with the joys that await us – joys bought for us by the blood of Jesus Christ. What a high price God paid to make you and me his children. On this alone, value your salvation higher than any other gift. Yes, pray for other blessings and be thankful when God allows you to enjoy them! But when God tells you to wait a while for earthly blessings, or when he decrees that you suffer, fix your eyes on the blessing that will never be taken away from you: your Savior Jesus Christ.
And so, we now bow our head and join our hearts together: Father, as we come to you in prayer, depending on your mercy and grace, let us never demand blessings you have not promised and let us never feel mistreated when, in your wisdom, you say no to our prayers. Fix our eyes on Jesus Christ, our Savior from sin, death and the devil. May we honor his love and his sacrifice by gratefully claiming him as our Lord and our God. Amen.