Mar 9, 2016 – 2 Romans
The pairing that we’re dealing with tonight is one of the reasons this series is so important for Lent. It’s always striking to see the contrast of these two Romans, Pilate and the centurion, these Gentiles, these people whose race and culture are closest to our own. They have such stark encounters with Jesus and they provide us a way into the narrative of Jesus’ life that touches our own encounter with the Christ.
We’re Greek thinkers, like these 2 Romans were. We’re analytical and evidentiary. That’s a fancy way to say we like proof. We like the evidence to stand up to the facts. In the first reading we read that the Jews brought Jesus to the Roman governor Pilate. They had no choice in this because they wanted to put Jesus to death and they had no power to inflict such a punishment. They could flog, beat and mock Him, but only the secular government could put someone to death. And so the Jews bring this Jesus to Pilate to do for them what only Pilate had the power to do.
And when they bring Him, they bring their ‘evidence’, or at least their version of it. They bring their so-called evidence that Jesus should be put to death according to both the Jewish law and the Roman law. No matter that both are trumped up charges.
They forge ahead and press their case and convince Pilate, through fear, that he needed to put Jesus to death. Fear can be a powerful motivator. And in this case they used the fear of a greater power to intimidate Pilate. They threatened to go over his head to Caesar.
Of course in tonight’s reading we only see the beginning of that encounter between the Jews and Pilate when Pilate comes out to them to ask what charges they bring against Jesus. And from that time on Pilate, the Roman governor, is responsible for the disposition of this case.
Pilate now bears the responsibility for what will become of Jesus. And Pilate knows that the Jewish leadership is jealous of Jesus. But Pilate is a politician and knows that he must balance many competing priorities under his control. But the most important priority he has is, of course, keeping his power. And in the end, it’s the fear of losing that power that drives him to give some sort of credence to the illegitimate evidence. He even states that he finds no evidence against Jesus but uses a legal loophole to try and escape his responsibility by offering to release one prisoner.
And as we talked about a few weeks ago that prisoner was Barabbas. By using this loophole, Pilate can simply ignore the light of his own finding of Jesus being innocent of the charges and yet still put Him to death. Pilate tries to slink into the shadow of the law, all to keep his power intact. So the evidence does not convict Jesus nor does it convince Pilate to give justice to Jesus.
Of course for us, we needed to have Jesus unfairly convicted. We needed Him to be punished unjustly. We needed Him to be denied the protection of the law that He deserved.
We needed that because we are the ones that are in fact guilty. The evidence against us, in our sin, is overwhelming. We are damned justly by God’s holiness and righteousness. For us, the guilty, we needed the Innocent to take our punishment. The evidence is against us and Jesus takes our place even though the evidence shows Him guiltless.
But there is yet one more bit of evidence for us Roman-types to consider tonight. And that’s the evidence that confronts the Roman centurion who oversees the punishment, the crucifixion, of Jesus. And the physical evidence he encounters is overwhelming. In the middle of the day the sky goes black. The earth quakes. Rocks are split in two. And though he can’t see it, the temple curtain is torn apart. Dead people rise to life! Talk about the contrast of shadow and light!
This centurion is facing evidence of a power far beyond anything he has experienced in battle before. This is evidence of a power far greater than he’s ever encountered. And unlike Pilate, this Roman does not seek a way around it. This Roman soldier sees what has taken place and rather than try and wiggle out of it, admits to the world that he is convinced of the truth that Jesus was the Son of God.
And that testimony, in fact, seals his own fate. For him to call anyone other than Caesar god is to put himself under the condemnation of the state. His testimony of Jesus as the Son of God could have effect of placing himself under the same punishment as he has just handed out to Jesus. Rather than ignore that evidence however, this Roman acknowledges that Jesus, died, and that in His death has revealed Himself to be the Son of God. We all dearly hope to meet that man in heaven one day.
Tonight’s look at the shadow and light of our Lenten journey has brought us two Romans, two men not unlike us. And like us they have been confronted by the evidence of who Jesus is. One was false evidence the other was undeniable reality. The evidence was both physical and verbal. The one Roman condemned Jesus to death the other Roman testified of Him to be the Son of God, the Light of Life, and the hope of all Romans, of all people, of even you and I.
In Jesus name, amen.
Sermon #816 Rev. Thomas A. Rhodes, Pastor – Zion Lutheran Church, Bolivar, MO
Holy Gospel John 18:28-29 & Matthew 27:51-54
28 Then the Jews led Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness the Jews did not enter the palace; they wanted to be able to eat the Passover. 29 So Pilate came out to them and asked, “What charges are you bringing against this man?”
51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. 52 The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53 They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.
54 When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!”