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Eyes on Jesus: Worldly Eyes

April 01, 2020
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation for this evening comes from our gospel text, where Mark writes, “And Pilate again said to them, ‘Then what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?’ And they cried out again, ‘Crucify him.’ And Pilate said to them, ‘Why? What evil has he done?’ But they shouted all the more, ‘Crucify him.’ So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.”  Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

In the Roman Empire, you didn’t rise to the level of power that Pontius Pilate enjoyed without being worldly. As a governor, everything boils down to convincing the emperor of your ongoing worth. Above all, you have to look out for yourself, not other people, and Pilate was certainly more than willing to do so. He had worldly desires and ambitions, but he was also worldly in the sense of not personally caring about religious matters. As governor of Judea, the large population of highly religious Jews was a thorn in his side.

Which is why it’s a bit surprising to see Pilate cooperating with the Jewish leaders at Jesus’s trial. True, he seems to have thought Jesus was innocent, but Pilate’s worldliness won out. His religious skepticism was on full display when he asked Jesus the quintessential postmodern question, “What is truth?” Ironic, as the beaten, bloodied Truth was standing right in front of him. Nevertheless, his pragmatism was displayed by acquiescing to the vociferous Jews’ demands for Jesus’s execution, and instead freeing Barabbas, the notorious murderer. After all, better to pacify the raucous crowds than jeopardize his position over this insignificant Jewish rabbi.

Pilate wasn’t alone in his pragmatic worldliness, though. In spite of the show they put on, the Jewish leadership had worldly eyes too. The Sadducees saw Jesus’s popularity as a threat to the compromises they’d made with the Romans, and the Pharisees saw Jesus as a competitor to their own religious influence, an opponent to their legalistic theology. Jesus was a threat, and the Jewish leaders stirred up the crowds to demand the crucifixion of Jesus.

But the Roman soldiers – they had worldly eyes too. They thought they knew what kings looked like. Some had seen Caesar himself; others had seen kings of the East during military campaigns; still others could envision with the mind’s eye glorious kings in all pomp and circumstance. But this Jewish carpenter, beaten and bloodied, wearing a crown of thorns? It was a joke. Their bowing down and praising Jesus was cruel mockery: “Hail, King of the Jews!”

But ironically, Pilate and the soldiers got it right. Regardless of what was in their hearts, they correctly called Jesus King of the Jews –that is, the eternal Messiah promised to Adam and Eve, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, all of God’s chosen people in Israel. But as Jesus told Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world.” Rather, He came into this world from heaven “to bear witness to the truth.” And here it is: Jesus was and is a king – not a worldly one, but the heavenly, divine King, God the Son incarnate! The King of all creation in the flesh! While the world looks for power and glory in its rulers, the true God glories in suffering and the cross. We see Him most clearly as the eternal King … as He is dying on the cross.

“Crucify him!” shouted the crowds. “Crucify him!” cried the Father from His sapphire throne. “Crucify me!” uttered the obedient Son. St. John said in our Epistle, “Whoever does the will of God abides forever,” and this first and foremost refers to Jesus Himself. He came from heaven to do His Father’s will, to draw all men to Himself on the cross, bearing the sins of the masses, dying for the life of the world. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son” to reconcile the whole world to Himself, not counting men’s trespasses against them.

Does that include you? Was His death for you? You’re in the world, so yes! Jesus is “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,” and if your worldly sins were on Him on the cross, then they are no longer on you. They are separated from you as far from you as east is from west, drowned in the depths of the sea that is Holy Baptism, proclaimed to you anew with every absolution declared, tasted in the true body and blood of the Supper. That is the truth of the Gospel: in Christ Jesus, you have been set free from sin, death, and hell! Because of that … because of Him … what you have to look forward to is eternal righteousness, everlasting life, and resurrection in God’s heavenly kingdom!

Now, that doesn’t mean that you can go out and sin as much as you want! St. Paul writes to those baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection: “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.” Jesus prayed to His Father for you on the night when He was betrayed: “I have given them Your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that You take them out of the world, but that You keep them from the evil one.”

That evil one, Satan by name, wants you to share the worldly, postmodern worldview expressed by Pilate when he asked, “What is truth?” Such skepticism leads to nihilism and despair, which in turn leads to either suicide or extreme worldliness and hedonism. That’s not you. You know the truth about this broken world. St. John writes, “All that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.”

What is God’s will? That all receive the Gospel of Christ, crucified and resurrected, for the forgiveness of all who believe. This is God’s saving way, no matter what your worldly status is in this fallen creation. In the words of St. Paul, “[C]onsider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’”

+ In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.