Midweek Lent 4 March 27&28, 2019
Text: Mark 15:1-15 Synodical series from 2003 rewrite 19:2119
Theme: Pilate’s Court: A Place for a Substitute
When asked to summarize in one word the reason for Jesus entering our world, a certain pastor answered with the word “substitute.” A substitute is a person who acts or serves in place of another. Jesus’ willingly took up the sinner’s place in Pilate’s Court.
I. It was early in the morning. The first faint light of dawn was breaking in the eastern sky. The streets of Jerusalem lay deserted.
Soon those streets would be packed with thousands of pilgrims on their way to the temple. Mingled with them would be thousands of lambs, also on their way to the temple to be sacrificed. That night at six o’clock the Passover began. All Israel would set aside its work to remember that God had saved them long ago when they were slaves in Egypt. They would remind each other that only God could save them now. And they would recall that God promised one day to provide a greater Lamb to be sacrificed to pay for their sins.
But the Passover would happen in the evening. At dawn the city lay sleeping. In the midst of their slumbers, a strange procession wound its way through the city. At its head marched the high priest, the religious leader of the nation. Behind him came the 70 judges who ruled God’s people. If you looked carefully at their faces, would you have seen the love, the self-forgetfulness, the consecration to God that ought to be seen in the leaders of God’s people? Alas, no! Instead, had you looked closely, you would have seen expressions of greed, selfishness, love of power, and cruel ruthlessness.
Behind them marched the temple police. They guarded a prisoner, drooping with weariness. He had had no sleep. All night long the judges questioned Him. They hit Him, spit on Him, lied about Him, but did not succeed in breaking Him. The prisoner was not afraid, nor angry. There was only love in those tired eyes, courage, and trust in God. Wearily He went forward, pushed from behind. Yet, He went willingly; there was no attempt to escape.
At last the procession came to the palace where the Roman governor lived in Jerusalem. They called it The Praetorium. The soldiers pounded on the gate, the guard opened it, and recognized the high priest and the 70 judges. The advanced into the courtyard but would not go further into the palace itself for these important religious leaders would celebrate the Passover that night. They must keep themselves pure and holy for the feast. So Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, came out to them.
“What has the prisoner done?” he asked. “He says He is a king,” they answered. “He refused to let His followers give honor and pay taxes to Caesar.” Lying tongues! Vicious intent! And with lies they wished to keep themselves pure to eat the Passover?
Pilate went inside and questioned the prisoner. “Are you a king?” “My kingdom is not of this world,” Jesus answered. “If it were, my servants would fight for me.”
Pilate went back to the priests. “He has committed no crime,” he announced. The priests were furious and angrily began to make all sorts of lying accusations. “He’s stirring up rebellion,” they insisted.
Pilate returned to Jesus. “Don’t you hear what they say against you?” He asked. “Aren’t you going to answer them?” But Jesus made no reply.
Pilate was puzzled he felt sure the prisoner was innocent, so why did He not speak in His defense? There was a reason, but it was not one that Pilate would understand. Jesus did not answer because He wished to die, not because He had a death wish like a suicide victim may have, but because He was God’s chosen Lamb to die for the sins of the world.
By this time the city was waking. A crowd gathered at Pilate’s Court. He appealed to the people since the jealous Jewish leaders were unreasonable. “Every year I pardon one of the prisoners at the Passover. Shall I release this man or Barabbas?” “Not this one!” They shout. “Give us Barabbas!”
What a choice! Jesus, the one who the sick, received the downtrodden, and comforted many with the Gospel would be substituted for a violent insurrectionist who killed and maimed and caused such chaos? But the priests had stirred the crowd and they chose Barabbas as a substitute for Jesus. And what to do with Jesus? “Crucify Him!” they shouted. “But why?” Pilate asked. “What has He done wrong?” But the crowd would not be swayed. And Pilate handed Jesus over to the soldiers to be crucified – an innocent One substituted for a guilty one in Pilate’s court.
II. Each year as we hear the Passion story, I find myself identifying with some of the characters – Peter in his denial of Jesus, the disciples who fell asleep while praying in Gethsemane, Jesus’ followers who ran away from Him, and those gathered sadly at the cross below Jesus. But there are others I shy away from. I don’t find myself identifying with them: Judas, Herod, Pilate. And then there’s Barabbas. Did you ever consider yourself with him – a murderer?
God says, “Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him” (1Jn.3:15). Jesus Himself warned of anger against another as cause for hellfire (Mt.5) and encouraged to love our enemies and pray for them, not rise against them. I’m not sure I’ve ever identified myself with Barabbas.
But tonight our Lenten journey takes us to this Place of the Passion, Pilate’s Court: to a Place for a Substitute. Jesus, the innocent one, substituted for Barabbas, the guilty one.
And here’s the miracle: God gave Jesus as a substitute not only for Barabbas, but for us all. It was God’s plan; it was the only way salvation could be won. The load of sin must be paid for; it must be carried by someone; it must be atoned for you; the price could not be swept aside or overlooked; God’s curse against sin must be pronounced and carried out for each sinner otherwise we could never be with Him who is holy.
Here’s a question that may stun you at first. Has God cursed you? Christians willingly admit that being cursed or damned for sin is what they deserve, and are thankful that Jesus took it in our place. But did it ever occur to you that God indeed cursed and damned every one of us for sin when He carried out that curse on His Son?
That’s how full and complete Jesus’ atoning act of substitution is. God condemned His beloved Son in our place and in doing so, carried out the rightful condemnation on us that our sins deserved. Once done it need not be done again; it cannot be done again. The sentence is complete. It’s done, finished. And we go free, like Barabbas, but go free in loving thankfulness for that which Christ took for us: “Surely He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrow, yet we considered Him stricken by God, smitten by Him, and afflicted. He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities,; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed” (Is.53).
The Place for a Substitute – there’s no better place for us to be. God grant us it’s comforting assurance in faith for Jesus’ sake. Amen.