************ Sermon on Luke 23:25 ************

By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on March 14, 2004

Luke 23:1-25
Luke 23:25

According to "The Washington Times" (7/29/2003), DNA testing cleared Nicholas Yarris, a death-row inmate, of rape and murder, and implicated two unidentified men.
Nicholas Yarris' conviction in 1982 for kidnapping, raping and killing Linda Craig, 32, was based in part on his blood type on the victim's clothes and a disputed confession.
Mrs. Craig, a mother of three, was kidnaped in her car December 15, 1981, from the Tri-State Shopping Mall in Claymont, Delaware, where she and Yarris worked during the year-end holiday season. Her beaten, stabbed body was found in the Philadelphia suburb of Upper Chichester.
DNA testing has established that Mr. Yarris is innocent; that he was wrongly convicted of rape, kidnapping and murder; and that he had wrongly spent half of his life on Pennsylvania's death row.
As of July 2002 there has been 101 inmates who have not only been taken off Death Row but have even been declared innocent and released from prison thanks to DNA testing.

But think about it. What a gross miscarriage of justice that innocent people have been charged and found guilty and imprisoned and even executed for crimes they did not do.

An even worse miscarriage of justice took place on a Friday some 2000 years ago. Then, a judge of one of the best and fairest legal systems that the world has ever seen, found and declared a man to be innocent yet still condemned him to die in one of the worst ways imaginable; at the same time, the same judge set another man free who clearly was guilty of insurrection and murder.

On this Lord's Supper Sunday we know that this gross miscarriage of justice was part of God's eternal plan for our salvation. According to this plan it was necessary that the innocent Christ be treated as guilty so that the guilty may be treated as innocent. It was necessary for the perfect, sinless, and righteous Christ to be treated as guilty so you and I, who are guilty of sin and evil, may be treated as righteous in God's sight.

I Jesus Found to be Innocent
A Our passage starts with Jesus' accusers bringing Him before Pilate in the hope that Pilate will sentence Him to death. Before Pilate these accusers charged Jesus with three crimes: first, the major one was that He was subverting the nation; second, as an example of subversion, that He opposed payment of taxes to Caesar; third, as another example of subversion, that He claimed to be Christ, a king (Lk 23:2). Anyone of these charges, if substantiated, would have been more than sufficient for the Roman governor to condemn Jesus to death.

B Do these charges have any basis? The first and major charge was that "We have found this man subverting our nation" (vs 2). This charge is repeated in verse 5:
(Lk 23:5) "He stirs up the people all over Judea by his teaching. He started in Galilee and has come all the way here."
And, the charge is repeated again in verse 14:
(Lk 23:14) "You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion."
"Subverting our nation," "stirs up the people," "inciting the people to rebellion." If there is one thing the Romans hated it was this. They did not tolerate unrest and rebellion and subversion and anarchy and rioting in their provinces or subject nations. More than one Roman governor lost his position and his head for not stamping this out quickly enough. The Roman Caesars did not like being bothered by the affairs of minor provinces. The Roman Caesars liked it even less when their legions were forced to leave Rome's borders in order to put down rebellion in one of the provinces. No, the Romans did not care for the sorts of things that Pilate was told about Jesus.

The assembly of the Jews standing before Pilate were following a long tradition you charge your opponent with stirring up or misleading the people. Pharaoh charged Moses and Aaron with misleading the people by taking them away from their work (Exodus 5:4). And, the wicked king Ahab charged Elijah with misleading or troubling Israel (1 Kings 18:17). In the book of Acts we see similar charges made against Paul: "throwing our city into an uproar" (Acts 16:20); "caused trouble all over the world" (Acts 17:6); "This is the man who teaches all men everywhere against our people and our law and this place" (Acts 21:28); "We have found this man to be a troublemaker, stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world" (Acts 24:5).

Was Jesus guilty of subverting the nation? Did He encourage unrest and rebellion and subversion and anarchy and rioting? It is true that His entry into Jerusalem was greeted with considerable shouting and cries of joy yet, there was no riot. Jesus acknowledged the acclaim of the crowd but refused to lead them in a rebellion against the Romans (Lk 19:28-46). No, Jesus was not guilty of subversion.

C The second charge brought by the Sanhedrin, as an example of subversion, was that Jesus "opposes payment of taxes to Caesar." Governments everywhere need money to run and they view taxpayer revolt with horror. Look at what happened with the Boston Tea Party a revolt against taxes led to the American Revolution. Look at the financial mess our state is in. Look at the bond issues that were voted down at the last election. Look at the financial struggles of Farmersville and its school district. No, governments do not take kindly to tax revolt. The Roman Empire was no exception. It was expensive to keep the Roman legions in fighting form. It was expensive to maintain the paved roads that crossed the empire. It was expensive to provide for the bureaucrats and governors and senators and others that ran the nation.

Was Jesus guilty of tax revolt? Did He want to incite a Boston Tea Party in Jerusalem? Remember the time the Sanhedrin sent spies to keep a watch on Jesus? These spies, hoping to trap Jesus, asked Him, "Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?" (Lk 20:22). Jesus' reply was simply magnificent: "give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's" (Lk 20:25). Since then Christians have always maintained that everyone must submit to the governing authorities by the payment of taxes (Rom 13:1-7). No, Jesus did not oppose payment of taxes to Caesar. Indeed, He was notorious for associating with tax collectors (Lk 5:27-30; 7:34; 15:1; 18:9-14)!

D The third charge brought by the assembly of Jews, as an example of subversion, was that Jesus "claims to be Christ, a king." You need to realize that up to the birth of Jesus the Roman Province of Palestine was ruled on behalf of the Romans by a Jewish king the Herodians. But this form of self-rule proved so unstable and untrustworthy and unreliable that the Romans ended up eliminating the kingdom and ruled this troublesome province directly through a prefect. The assembly of Jews charged that Jesus' claim to be king was His attempt to restore a kingdom that Rome had replaced 25 years before, and by so doing challenged the rule and authority of the emperor and his representatives.

Was Jesus guilty of trying to reestablish the Jewish kingdom? Did He claim to be an earthly king that threatened the rule of Pilate and Herod and Caesar? Jesus did and does claim all authority in heaven and on earth for Himself (Mt 28:18). When Pilate asked, "Are you the king of the Jews?" Jesus did answer "Yes, it is as you say" (Jl 23:3). It is clear that Luke does not record all of the conversation here. According to John's gospel, Jesus put Pilate's mind at ease when He said,
(Jn 18:36) "My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place."
We also know that more than once Jesus refused the crowd's offer of an earthly crown and throne. He did that on Palm Sunday. He did that after He multiplied the fish and loaves (Jn 6:15).

E Pilate, and Herod, both conducted lengthy interrogations of Jesus in order to determine innocence or guilt.

You need to realize that Pilate was a Roman judge, an administrator of one of the best and fairest legal systems the world has ever seen.

Every judge, whether they realize it or not, is a servant of God. We may say to every judge what Jesus said to Pilate:
(Jn 19:11) "You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above."
The power to take away freedom, honor, even life, from one of God's image-bearers belongs to God alone; but, He has entrusted this power to certain people. These people, with their God-like powers, remain responsible to God. God demands an accounting from them if they "defend the unjust and show partiality to the wicked" (Ps 82:2). God does not tolerate injustice. He says to rulers everywhere:
(Ps 82:3-4) Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. (4) Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.

Roman judges came close to God's ideal. Their image of justice, Lady Justita, blindfolded and holding the scales, is a picture still honored in lands that prize justice without partiality. And, Pilate was no exception. He heard the charges against Jesus. He examined those charges. And, he saw clearly that Jesus was innocent: "I find no basis for a charge against this man" (Lk 23:4). Three times, in fact, Pilate declared Christ's innocence (Lk 23:4,14,22). And, Pilate's verdict was affirmed by Herod.

We know that Jesus was innocent of far more than just the charges laid against Him by the Sanhedrin. He was totally and completely innocent of all crimes, all sin, all evil, and all wickedness. He was perfect in every way. He was sinless in every way. There was not a stain or imperfection upon Him.

II Jesus Treated as Being Guilty
A Jesus, then, was innocent. He was found to be innocent. He was declared to be innocent by an impartial Roman judge.

Yet, notice what happened as the situation escalated and threatened to blow into a full-fledged riot.

Pilate offered to punish Jesus and then release Him (Lk 23:16). Pilate, in other words, offered to punish an innocent man.

The crowd responded with one voice: "Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!" (vs 18). Pilate appealed to them again. But they kept shouting, "Crucify him! Crucify him!" (vs 21). Pilate appealed to them a third time, but with loud shouts they insistently demanded that Jesus be crucified.
(Lk 23:24-25) So Pilate decided to grant their demand. (25) He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will.

B What happened? What brought this about? How could Pilate allow such a gross miscarriage of justice? Mark's Gospel tells us that Pilate wanted to satisfy the crowds (Mk 15:15). Matthew's and John's Gospel tells us that Pilate became afraid of a riot, of losing his position and even his head, of being branded as an enemy of Caesar (Mt 27:24; Jn 19:12). Anytime a judge acts from fear or seeks the favor of men, justice is destroyed.

The famous imperial order of peace and justice was betrayed by a cowardly judge who sent an innocent man to the cross.

III Jesus is the Lamb of God
A Those who read and believe the Bible know that Jesus was more than just an innocent victim that day. We know that a higher power and will ruled over the events of that day. We know that Jesus was handed over to the will of the crowd "by God's set purpose and foreknowledge" (Acts 2:23). We know it "was the Lord's will to crush him and cause him to suffer" (Is 53:10).

Why? Why was it God's plan to let the innocent Christ be treated as guilty though He was found to be innocent? Let me answer this question by looking at Barabbas.

B Imagine Barabbas that day. Guards suddenly burst into his cell and roughly woke him. I bet he thought they had come to execute him. He probably treated their news of impending freedom as some sort of cruel joke being played on a condemned prisoner. They yanked him from his dungeon and placed him on the pavement in the rays of the rising sun. And while his eyes were still blinking, they told him it was not a joke; he was a free man; not he, but someone called Jesus would be killed.

C What happened to Barabbas happens to each one of us who believe in Jesus. We are told the good news: we are free; our prison is open; not you, not me, but Jesus, goes to the place of execution. Because Jesus, the Innocent One, has been condemned in our place, we no longer have to fear the severe judgment of God against our sin.

D Why was it God's plan to let the innocent Christ be treated as guilty though He was found to be innocent?

On this Lord's Supper Sunday we know that this gross miscarriage of justice was part of God's eternal plan for our salvation. According to this plan it was necessary that the innocent Christ be treated as guilty so that the guilty may be treated as innocent. It was necessary for the perfect, sinless, and righteous Christ to be treated as guilty so you and I, who are guilty of sin and evil, may be treated as righteous in God's sight.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
Back to Index of Sermons Page