Tuesday, March 26, 2024

No false witness condemned Him. . .

Sermon for the Sixth Sunday in Lent, the Sunday of the Passion (B), also called Palm Sunday, preached on Sunday, March 24, 2024.

The character of Jesus has never been in question.  That is something in our world of wiggle words and common words we cannot even define.  Not Jesus.  From the moment He was with the temple authorities as a 12 year old youth and throughout His public ministry, our Lord’s teaching was clear and straightforward.  He taught with an authority the people had never before encountered.  Our Lord acted with the utmost compassion upon those in need and truth was the nature of His preaching and teaching – albeit the unpleasant truth of sin revealed and sinners called to repentance.

So when Jesus appeared before the High Priest, they could not even find false witnesses who agreed in their attempt to slander our Lord.  This was not a spur of the moment thing for they had long planned for the day when Jesus and His teaching would be on trial.  Mark tells us that many bore false witness but their testimony did not agree.  Even when Jesus had spoken clearly, they got it wrong.  “Destroy this temple made with hands and in three days I will build another not made with hands.”  But of course, this was not a lie.  Jesus had said it.  Even more importantly, Jesus had made this promise.  The people who heard Him thought it was a bold claim to be able to build in stone what it had taken 46 years to build.  But after the resurrection the disciples, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, finally understood that Jesus was speaking of the temple of His body.

Lies would not condemn Jesus, only the truth.  In our age of slanted words, innuendo without fact to bear it up, and words that have no meaning, this is an incredible statement.  Jesus would be condemned not by lies or slander but by the truth.  Jesus spoke clearly about what was to happen to Him – betrayed into the hands of sinners, crucified upon a cross, suffering for sins not His own, dying a death that was not His to die, and rising on the third day.  Jesus did not protest even the injustice of the trials that were designed not to hear the evidence but to condemn Him.  Jesus was crucified just as He said but not simply because He had enemies.  He would suffer and die because He loved sinners, even Peter who denied Him and the nameless soldiers who pounded the nails into His hands and side.  What condemned Jesus was not the lies of those who would lie to make Him die or those who could not agree on what they remembered Him saying.  What condemned Jesus to the cross was His love for you and for me.  The events of our Lord’s suffering and death are no tragic story of lies and liars but of the truth that must prevail so that the lost might be found and the dead raised.

In the end, the truth that could not be found in the mouths of Jesus accusers nor in the mouths of those who presumed to sit in judgement over Him, was said by a centurion: “Truly this man was the Son of Man!”

The world remains filled with lies and liars, especially when it comes to Jesus.  The false witnesses abound and yet they still fail to agree.  Christianity is a muddy water of people’s false opinions, half truths, and lies.  The only truth is the cross, the Savior who hung there in suffering to relieve from suffering those who believe in Him, and who died there that the dead may live.  In the end it does not matter what people say about Jesus but only what Scripture reveals.  We who intend to benefit from His obedient suffering and life-giving death will not be asked what we think about Jesus or to render verdict over Him but simply this: Do you believe that Jesus is the spotless Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world and your sin?

The false witnesses feared Jesus had come to tear down a building precious in their sight.  But our Lord had come to do much more than that.  He had come to end the religion of works which presumes we can do enough to earn our salvation and to replace it with pure grace.  He came not to tear down stones but to tear down what had taken place in that building.  The altar that endures is not the one where sacrifices for sin must still be offered but the one where sin’s once for all sacrifice is given as food to the hungry and repentant.  In 70 AD the temple was destroyed but its heart had long ago been stripped away from it.  Christ came as priest to offer the sacrifice for sin and as Lamb to be the sacrifice for sin.  What was once offered on the cross is now the food of life offered to you and to me in this Holy Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood.

We make much about the things we feel and think.  But our Lord has built His life and integrity in delivering to us only the truth.  There is salvation in the name of Jesus and in no other.  Peter and the disciples who had been with Jesus from the beginning of His public ministry did not know what to say or do when He was lifted up on that cross.  Instead, a centurion said the truth that they and all of us are called to say: “Truly this was the Son of God.”  May the Lord give us hearts of integrity who will surrender all to the one truth that saves, who will live and abide in that truth all our days, and who die for the sake of that truth.  You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.  Nowhere is that statement made more clear in the cross and the lonely figure of our Savior’s body limp in death for you.

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