Sermon for Palm Sunday, March 25th, 2018
The Lessons: Ps. 31:9-16; Isaiah 50:4-9a; Mark 15:1-39
The Text: Mark 15:1-15
The Topic: In the trial of Jesus, the people’s will overruns justice.
Why was Jesus Christ bound, led away, and handed over to the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate? The chief priests and Sanhedrin had judged him guilty of blasphemy in their trial the previous night, and used their meeting early the next day to ratify their decision that he should be put to death. By handing him over to Pilate, they were acknowledging that under Roman law they had no authority to sentence anyone to death, and the Governor should be the judge of whether he should be put to death by crucifixion.
JESUS’ TRIAL BEFORE THE SANHEDRIN
Now during his trial before the Sanhedrin the previous night, Jesus had remained silent in the face of conflicting testimony brought against him by many witnesses. When the high priest stood up to ask Jesus if he had nothing to say in answer to all the allegations they were bringing against him, Jesus remained silent. In order to get him to incriminate himself, the high priest then asked Jesus if we was the Christ, the Son of the Blessed (Mark 14:61). When he replied, “I am: and ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:62), the whole Sanhedrin judged him to be guilty of blasphemy, that is, of the crime of claiming to be God, for which the punishment was death under Jewish law. “Make up your own mind whether I am the Messiah,” Jesus could have said, and not been found guilty of blasphemy. But he knew that he had to tell the truth, and not lie.
PONTIUS PILATE’S INTERROGATION OF JESUS
Now in the morning, another travesty of a just trial takes place. When Pilate asks him if he is the King of the Jews, he simply replies, “Thou sayest it.” If he had simply replied, “Yes, I am,” this would have amounted to rebellion against the Roman Empire, such as some other Jewish leaders were trying to foment by claiming to be the Christ and leading armed uprisings. Though the chief priests bring many charges against Jesus, Jesus remains silent, even when Pilate questions this silence. At this point, Pontius Pilate should have released Jesus, since no evidence of a capital crime could be found. Pilate admits as much, when he objects when the crowds, stirred up by the chief priests, cry, “Crucify him!” Pilate replies, “Why, what evil hath he done?” (Mark 15:14) The crowd cannot give a rational answer to this, nor are they interested in doing so. They simply shout yet again for Jesus to be crucified. Because Pilate wants to make the crowd happy rather than allow a riot to develop, he releases the murderer Barabbas to the crowd, and has Jesus flogged and then hands him over to be crucified. Though he had wished to use the custom of releasing one prisoner at the Passover, to release Jesus, whom he knew to be guiltless, the Governor was swayed by the will of the crowds, who were incited by the chief priests to demand that Jesus be crucified.
THE WAY OF CHRIST FOR CHRISTIANS
For many Christians down the ages and even today, the capricious whim of the people, or of their accusers, has caused their arrest, imprisonment, torture, or execution. The way the crucifixion was brought about is similar to the way Christians even today are treated by their persecutors in many countries. Often the charges against them are made on the strength of false witnesses, and popular hatred against Christians prevails, even when justice appears to be done.
WHAT WE LEARN FROM CHRIST’S TRIALS
As we meditate on Christ’s Passion, and the events surrounding it, we must learn the cost of our salvation in terms of Christ’s endurance of his trials, flogging and torturous crucifixion, and we must ever be thankful for God’s love shown to us in the blessed sacrifice of his Son, by which the world can receive salvation. Yet we must also learn from his example, as St. Peter urges us:
For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.
(1 Peter 2: 20-25, KJV)
The silence of the Lord Jesus Christ in the face of his accusers is remarkable, but worthy of emulating, since when we are on trial for our faith, our words can easily be distorted and misrepresented to say what we did not intend to say. Not only that, but by silence, or by stating only what the Holy Spirit gives us to say, we are committing ourselves to the Lord Jesus Christ, who alone is the True and Just Judge of all humanity. We also show, by silence, that we bear no malice against those who accuse us, but only the love that the Lord has given us for them.
Now for many Christians in the USA, opposition to their faith comes in much milder forms. But it could entail losing one’s position because of sharing one’s faith in some way in the workplace or in an institution such as a school, where even some teachers, when asked by their students about their faith, have answered truthfully, but suffered the loss of their position for it.
President Theodore Roosevelt adopted as his pet proverb, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” He meant that if the United States had a strong military, it could work its will among the nations of the world.
In 1901, Roosevelt changed the saying to “If a man continually blusters, a big stick will not save him from trouble; and neither will speaking softly avail, if back of the softness there does not lie strength, power.”
When Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth,” he was not speaking of armies and foreign policy, but some principles are the same. The meek Christian does not need to bluster, as if self-confidence could win the day. Whether we’re contesting a point, responding to criticism, or speaking of the hope within, we can do so in meekness, with quiet confidence. For in “back of the softness” within us lie the strength and power of God.
— Thomas Bailey and David Kennedy, eds., The American Pageant, 9th ed. (D. C. Heath, 1991)
How will you bear witness for the Lord Jesus Christ when people oppose you for your faith in Him?