Good Friday - John 18:37 - March 25, 2015
SERVICE OF WORD AND PRAYER
Hymn #140 Jesus I Will Ponder Now
Hymn #153 Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted
Hymn #143 O Dearest Jesus, What Law Hast Thou Broken
Hymn #146 Lamb of God, Pure and Holy
Hymn #151 Christ, the Life of All the Living
St. John 18:1-19:42
Almighty God, we beseech Thee graciously to behold this Thy family, for which our Lord Jesus Christ was contented to be betrayed and given up into the hands of wicked men and to suffer death upon the Cross; through the same Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.
Hear us, we beseech Thee, O Lord, that Thy abundant blessing may be upon Thy people who have held the passion and death of Thy Son in devout remembrance, that we may receive Thy pardon and the gift of Thy comfort, and may increase in faith and take hold of eternal salvation; through the same Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.
Sermon on St. John 18:37
Grace and Peace be unto you from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
1) Jesus bears witness to the truth in the midst of liars. Consider Judas Iscariot. His faith had become a lie. He had begun as an honest, devout disciple of Jesus, learning from Christ the gospel of the kingdom of God. But somewhere along the line, greed tempted Judas’ heart away from faith in Christ to the worship of mammon. St. John writes in the twelfth chapter of his gospel that Judas, who was the treasurer for the disciples, regularly taking from the money bag. At some point, temptation gave birth to sin and sin gave birth to more sin. This led Judas to ask the chief priests, “What will ye give me, and I will deliver him unto you?” (Matthew 26:15). They mutually agreed that Jesus’ life was worth about thirty pieces of silver. Judas loved money more than Christ. Yet Judas did not leave Christ’s school, but remained as a hypocrite, only revealing himself in the Gethsemane Garden when he finally betrayed Jesus with a kiss. Outwardly, Judas was a pious disciple. Inwardly, he had forsaken Christ for dishonest gain, money, and wealth. It was all a lie. Or consider the chief priests themselves. They sit in Moses’ seat. Yet they plot murder in their hearts, contrary to the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13). “Unto them were committed the oracles of God” (Romans 3:2), yet they arrange for false witnesses to be brought against Jesus, contrary to the commandment, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor” (Exodus 20:16). In spite of their careful selection of false witness, “neither so did their witness agree together” (Mark 14:59). Falsehood, slander, and lies are all they have against Jesus. Yet as we see too often in our own age, falsehood, slander, and lies prevail and win the day. Jesus is the only one bearing witness to the truth in the midst of nothing but liars.
2) Even the good guys turn out to be liars. Peter, who on so many occasions had publically declared that if it necessary, he would die with Jesus, denies Jesus three times during the trial. Bombastic Peter is brought low by a servant girl who accuses him of being one of Jesus’ disciples. Given the opportunity to confess as he had before, “we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God” (John 6:69). He now confesses, “I know not the man” (Matthew 26:74). He can’t even bring himself to say Jesus’ name but has to call him “the man.” For as bold as Peter was, the rock-man can’t weather the storm of persecution. In weakness and frailty, his once bold confession dissipates into denial. This fact hits Peter in the face, for as soon as he denies Jesus for the time, “the Lord turned, and looked upon Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord. And Peter went out, and wept bitterly” (Luke 22:61-62). It wasn’t just Peter though, who went back on their word. In John 6:69 Peter confessed, “We believe and are sure that thou are that Christ.” In Gethsemane, that same “we” of the disciples showed themselves to be liars, for “all the disciples forsook him, and fled” (Matthew 26:56).
3) The lies culminate before Pilate. Pilate demands the charges against Jesus and the Jews respond, “ If he were not a malefactor, we would not have delivered him up unto thee” (John 18:30). St. Luke adds that the chief priests accused Jesus before Pilate of “perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, saying that he himself is Christ a King” (Luke 23:2). Jesus had told these men, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's” (Matthew 22:21). It is not the accusation of tax avoidance that strikes Pilate’s ear. It is the accusation that Jesus has called Himself Christ, a king. Pilate questions Jesus, “Art thou the king of the Jews?” (John 18:33). Jesus, even in this dark hour, is looking for faith. He asks Pilate, “Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it thee of me?” (John 18:34). Pilate responds by saying that he is not a Jew, so he is not looking for the king of the Jews, as others might be. He is the magistrate and He wants to do his duty, so he continues his interrogation and asks, “What hast thou done?” (John 18:35). Jesus affirms being a king, though with a kingdom that is not of this world. Pilate is not interested in religion or Jewish politics. Jesus then confirms that He is a king when He responds, “Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.”
4) This is too much for Pilate. He is not interested in the truth which Jesus is peddling. He brushes off Jesus’ preaching, exposing his own epicurean skepticism when he asks, “What is truth?” (John 18:38). He doesn’t care about Jesus’ claims. If He was mildly interested, he would have used the definite article as Jesus did. Jesus said He bears witness to “the truth.” Pilate is not interested in “the truth,” so he ignores it altogether by driving the conversation into the realm of philosophical speculation, far beyond the reach of faith. He is, like so many in our own day, seeking a truth with which he is comfortable, a truth which will make no demands on him, a truth which is malleable, flexible, and tamable. That which Pilate seeks turns out not to be truth at all. Whereas once people had shouted, “Great is Truth, and mighty above all things” (1 Esdras 4:41), Pilate seeks to subdue truth to suit his own sinfulness, just as men in every age of the earth dare to domesticate truth to fit their own devices. The passion of Christ is filled with lies and liars, falsehood and false witnesses. Jesus is the only one who bears witness to the truth. For this He is crucified, dies, and is buried.
5) “To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth.” What is this truth to which Christ bears witness? What is this truth for which Christ will be so willing to die at the hands of such liars? Jesus bears witness to the truth about man and the truth about God. The truth about man, that man seeks to avoid, is that all men are born sinful, estranged from God the Father. All men are born with the guilt of their father Adam. There is no one who, by nature, trusts in God, fears God, or loves God. All men are liars because all men are sinful. “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23). There is no one righteous before God. There is no one who is “good enough.” There is no one who can plead any merit or worthiness of their own before God because there is no one who is perfect, no one who is holy. We are sinners, for we sin in thought, word, and deed; and we are sinful, in that we are born of Adam’s line, carrying our first father’s sin in our flesh. In fact, it is because we are sinful that we are sinners. This is the truth about man which man refuses to hear, because “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 2:14). Men would rather perpetuate the lie that they are “good people” have some intrinsic merit.
6) The truth about God to which Christ bears witness is the truth of God’s love for the world, although it is full of sinners. Man cannot justify himself before God. He cannot atone for any one of his sins, let alone his sinful nature, neither does man possess any righteousness of his own to hold before God’s holy tribunal. But God, being rich in mercy and love for His creatures, sends His Only-Begotten Son into the world. Jesus bears witness to the truth that he is “the lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Christ allows Himself to be slandered, beaten, spat upon, crushed and crucified because that is how He atones for the sins of the world. His atoning death pays for all the sins of all mankind because He suffers not only a man, but God in human flesh. He procures an eternal redemption upon the cross. He atones for all sins by His suffering and death. He then applies that atonement to sinners in the preaching of the gospel, so that the Word of the Baptist is true: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Whenever sinners hear the gospel that God is gracious to them in Christ Jesus, God counts that faith as righteousness. Through faith in the promise of the gospel, Christ is taking away your sins, applying the atonement won on Calvary’s cross to you, so that you stand acquitted of all sin and guilt and uncleanness. By faith in Christ, God the Father counts you as perfectly righteousness in His sight because faith is counted as righteousness before God. This is the truth to which Christ bears witness; that all have sinned and have no hope in their own merits, worthiness, or imagined goodness, but that all can look to Christ’s death in faith and receive what He earns in His innocent, bitter sufferings and death. His declaration of righteousness over you is not a lie, because your sins have been paid for by Christ, and the righteousness and holiness which God attributes to you was won for you by Christ your Lord.
7) And this is for all mankind. It was for Judas, the chief priests, and the false witnesses which slandered Christ, though they refused to repent of their sins. They wanted to stand before God by virtue of their own merit, so God let them, and condemned them for their sin. But for those who repent of their sins, confess them, and believe the promise of the gospel, that they have a merciful God in Christ Jesus, they are justified before God, declared righteous by faith, receiving the full forgiveness of their sins won at the cross. This is the truth that saved Peter and the rest of the disciples. It is the truth which converted the hardened heart of unbelieving Thomas on the night of Jesus’ resurrection. This the truth which is great and “mighty above all things” (1 Esdras 4:41), for it is the gospel which saves sinners who trust its message with a faith that God implants in their hearts. Like everyone in the passion of Christ, we too are liars, and we are always tempted to believe the lie that we are righteous and good by ourselves. All men are liars. All men are sinners, and great sinners we are. But our savior’s atonement is far greater than our sin. The love of God, which He manifested by sending Christ for this purpose, far exceeds the depth of our transgressions. This is the truth to which Jesus bears witness. For the truth we give thanks and rejoice, for it is our salvation for all sin, from death, and the power of the devil forevermore. Amen.
The peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amen.