Sermon for Palm Sunday, April 14th, 2019

The Lessons: Psalm 31:9-16; Isaiah 50:4-9a; Philippians 2:5-11; Luke 23:1-49

The Text: Luke 23:1-12

The Topic: The silence of Jesus before his accusers


Here is a poem about the value of silence in itself:

“A Wise Old Owl”

A wise old owl lived in an oak;

The more he saw the less he spoke;

The less he spoke the more he heard:

Why can’t we all be like that bird?

– Anonymous

This, however, is not a sermon about silence for its own sake, but a sermon that underscores the importance of either silence or speaking by God’s inspired wisdom in situations in which we are on trial for our faith.


Today let us take a look at the first part of our Gospel Lesson, which deals with the trials of Jesus before the Roman Governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate, and King Herod. Convinced that Jesus should be put to death for the crime of blasphemy, the Sanhedrin bring him to Pilate to make their case for his execution. They begin with the vague accusation that Jesus is perverting their nation, and then they add the charge that Jesus is claiming to be a messiah, a king, and forbidding the people to pay taxes to Caesar. This last charge they hoped would be seen as an incitement of the people to rebel against the Roman Empire, and therefore an offence punishable by death. To test the truth of this charge, Pilate now asks Jesus if he is the King of the Jews (Luke 23:3). If Jesus had said directly, “Yes, I am,” Pilate could have understood that as an indication that he was trying to lead a Jewish rebellion against Rome. By answering, “Thou sayest it,” Jesus was not directly confirming or denying that he was King of the Jews, but pointing to the fact that it was Pilate who had raised the question. It was clear to Pilate that if Jesus had been attempting to overthrow Roman rule and establish his own kingdom, he would have emphatically claimed to be King of the Jews. His silence before Pilate on whether he was actually King of the Jews at once caused Pilate to realize that Jesus was innocent of leading a rebellion against Rome. Therefore, Pilate told Jesus’ accusers that he found no fault or crime in Jesus.

In spite of Pilate’s reply, the chief priests and scribes insisted more urgently that Jesus was stirring up the Jewish people throughout Galilee and Judaea with his teachings. The mention of Galilee gave Pilate an excuse to send Jesus to King Herod for questioning, since Galilee fell under Herod’s jurisdiction, and King Herod happened to be in Jerusalem at the time. Now Pilate could have ended the issue by releasing Jesus as an innocent man, but he could see this wasn’t going to please the Jewish leaders. He decides to make things easier for himself, he hopes, by getting Herod to make the decision about Jesus. But, though King Herod is delighted to see Jesus, as he had wanted to see him for a long time and to watch him perform a miracle, Jesus disappoints him by answering all his questions with silence. In answer to this silence, King Herod and his soldiers mock and despise Jesus, put splendid clothes on him, and send him back to Pilate. The result of this is that Herod and Pilate become friends on that very day, whereas they had previously been at odds with each other.


What lessons can we learn from the Lord’s endurance of his trials in silence? We know that human beings can often leap from the frying pan into the fire by what they say, and it is all too easy to incriminate oneself inadvertently. Yet keeping silent before King Herod did not save Jesus from mockery, and from eventual crucifixion, although Pilate and Herod found him innocent of capital crime (Luke 23:14-15). The silence of the Lord Jesus Christ in facing his accusers accorded with God’s will and shines as an example for all Christians to follow. St. Peter confirmed this when he wrote:

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.


(1 Peter 2:21-23, KJV)

In giving advice to his disciples for the times in the future that they would stand trial for their faith, the Lord Jesus counseled:

But before all these, they shall lay their hands on you, and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues, and into prisons, being brought before kings and rulers for my name’s sake. And it shall turn to you for a testimony. Settle it therefore in your hearts, not to meditate before what ye shall answer: For I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist.


(Luke 21:12-15, KJV)

Now the wisdom that the Lord gives through his indwelling Holy Spirit to his saints may show itself in silence at times, for the accusations may simply not be true, and not be worth dignifying with an answer. In addition, the Holy Spirit may train us through silence until we can discern how to answer with the Spirit’s wisdom. How much better it is, in any case, to be silent, rather than say something which is foolish, or arises from heated emotions, rather than from the “peace of God which must rule in our hearts” (Col. 3:15).

If called to stand trial for your faith, even in everyday situations, such as conversations with family, friends, or colleagues, how will the example of the Lord Jesus Christ affect what you say, and how you behave?

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