A Savior Who Serves: Injustice
Topic: Biblical Verse: Mark 15:1–15:20
Midweek Lenten Service
March 28, 2012
“A Savior Who Serves: Injustice”
It seems that everybody has an opinion about the Trayvon Martin case that has captured the nation’s attention. The 17-year-old was fatally shot on February 26 in Sanford, Florida by a neighborhood watchman named George Zimmerman in self-defense. Cries of racial prejudice and discrimination have brought out thousands of people for rallies around the country, calling for Zimmerman’s arrest and prosecution for murder. He is now in hiding, and after having received death threats, is fearful for his life. As new details emerge about the case, many initial assumptions are being called into question on both sides of this very emotional and very volatile situation. Was there racial profiling involved here? Does the “stand your ground” law that allows for justifiable use of deadly force apply in this instance? Is the relentless media coverage helping or hurting the cause of justice? Is there injustice involved here? We wait and watch to see how all of this unfolds in the days to come.
Tonight our Lenten journey takes us into the palace of the Roman governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate, before whom Jesus stands accused. But accused of what? As we heard last week, Jesus was condemned by the Ruling Council of Jerusalem, the Sanhedrin, for blasphemy; that is, taking the holy Name of the Lord God in vain. However, those are not the charges that Jesus is now brought before Pilate. We learn very early on in tonight’s Scripture lesson what that charge is. When Jesus is brought before him, Pilate immediately asked him: “Are you the King of the Jews?” (Mark 15:2). Before the Roman overlords, Jesus has been charged with high treason; of being a ruler seeking to overthrow the rule of Rome. So, the charges have shifted from blasphemy to treason. Is this injustice? Jesus’ only response in all of the accusations that are flung at him by the chief priests is the one given in reply to Pilate’s first question, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus’ terse response is simply, “You have said so” (Mark 15:2). The Romans could not have cared less about any kind of charge of blasphemy that the Sanhedrin may have leveled against Jesus. This was not their concern, but claims about kingship – that was a different matter entirely. How shrewdly everything is set up here! The Sanhedrin could not, under Roman law, carry out a sentence of death, and so had to surrender its prisoner to the Roman governor for this to occur. Pilate, the governor, had the power to confirm or reverse the death sentence. But in order for Pilate to play his part and do the will of the Sanhedrin, things had to be changed up. The Ruling Council recognized that the title “king of the Jews” (a secularized form of the Hebrew “Messiah”) conveyed to the Roman governor a different understanding from what “Messiah” meant. In the midst of it all, Jesus shows an exalted and sublime silence as the Savior who serves, even in the midst of injustice.
Pilate is about to lose control of the crowd as things start to get ugly. He surmises the truth, but feels powerless to do anything about it. And so, one injustice leads to another as we are told: “So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified” (Mark 15:15). A murderer is set free and the innocent Son of God is condemned to die! What could be more unjust than that? That is a very good question: what could be more unjust than setting a murderer free? One of our Lenten hymns speaks to this. Take up the green hymnal, the Lutheran Book of Worship, and turn to hymn #94, “My Song Is Love Unknown.” We’ll look at stanza 5:
They rise, and needs will have
My dear Lord made away;
A murderer they save,
The prince of life they slay.
Yet cheerful he to suff’ring goes,
That he his foes from thence might free.
And yet maybe there is something more unjust than this. Let’s go back to Christmas for a moment. There is a marvelous Christmas hymn that speaks to this very thing. Take up the green hymnal, the Lutheran Book of Worship, and go to hymn #47, “Let All Together Praise Our God.” Look at stanza 4:
He undertakes a great exchange, puts on our human frame,
And in return gives us his realm, his glory, and his name,
His glory, and his name.
This is the purpose of Christmas, and Lent, and Easter; of Jesus’ incarnation, his suffering, death, and resurrection: that he would take upon himself all of our murderous sins of thought, and word, and deed. He would willingly exchange his sinless perfection and righteousness for our sin-stained hopelessness. He endured the accusations and abuse, the trial and torture, the injustice – all in order that we might be saved. Was there ever such a savior who served as Jesus did?
In a little over a week, we will hear in Good Friday worship the words of Isaiah that prophetically spoke of this great exchange: “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. 6All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:4-6). Only God could do such a thing, transforming the terrible injustice of Jesus’ suffering and death into the very means by which we are saved. Thanks be to God. Amen.