You don’t want to hear today’s text. Really, you don’t want to hear what Luke has to say. We would classify it at least PG-13. Some of what Luke has to say could be classified as R. And yet, today’s Gospel reading is one that needs to be heard, read, meditated upon, because it is of great significance to you, whether you know it or not, whether you believe it or not.
Luke records for us the Passion of Jesus Christ. When we speak of the Passion here, we are not talking about strong sensual or sexual desires as the word is commonly used. Rather, we focus on the sufferings of Jesus that He experienced when He set His face toward Jerusalem. What occurred on Palm Sunday was not a glimpse of what the week held in store. Sunday, crowds are shouting out to Jesus, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” Hosanna is translated as “Lord, save us!” The people were shouting out for the Lord to save them on Sunday, and by the end of the week, He was dead. Their shouts of hosanna were indeed heard, but that will come later.
We now find ourselves at the end of the week in Luke’s Passion account. Jesus is brought to Pilate, the chief Roman administrator in Judea at the time. In accord with a ruling imposed only a few years prior, only the Roman prefect could authorize capital punishment. Pilate, who ordinarily resided in Caesarea, had come to Jerusalem to oversee the Passover festival, since this was a time of year that religious and national fervor could easily boil over into open rebellion.
The Sanhedrin had found Jesus guilty of blasphemy. That charge would mean little to Pilate, whose job was to enforce Roman law, not adjudicate Jewish religious squabbles. While most of the charges meant nothing, there was one that Pilate could not ignore: the self-proclamation by Jesus of being Christ, a king. This was a charge that Pilate could not ignore, since if true, it constituted a direct challenge to Roman rule. No charge would be taken more seriously by Rome than this.
As things proceed, Pilate finds no guilt in Jesus, but that isn’t good enough for the people. They want something more out of Pilate. They want the guilty charge. In order to get what they want, Jesus must go before Herod. Unfortunately for the people, Herod also saw no guilt in Jesus and sent Him back to Pilate.
Things get ugly and they demand the release of a murderer. Pilate, against his own wishes, releases Barabbas and sentences Jesus to death, again, reluctantly. From there, Jesus is led to Golgotha where things escalate quite quickly.
There upon Golgotha’s hill, Jesus is mocked, scorned, and ultimately pleads on the behalf of the people. He cries out, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” No sooner speaking those words, they cast lots for Jesus’ clothing while more scoffing occurs. “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” Jesus doesn’t come down from the cross because, while He can, He can’t. He can’t get off the cross because of you. If He gets off the cross, you are lost. If He gets off the cross, you are condemned. If He gets off the cross, there will never be forgiveness for you.
Now do you see why you don’t want to hear what Luke has to say? When you listen to what Luke says, you must come to one conclusion: you are the cause of Jesus’ death. You, along with the whole of creation, through your sinful human nature, have condemned Christ to the cross. But Christ doesn’t go to the cross because you have condemned Him. He goes to the cross to fulfill the Father’s will, to restore what once was but is no longer.
As Jesus hung upon the cross, the statement, the demand of the one criminal could not have been truer: “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” Little did the criminal know, that was precisely what Jesus was doing. St. Paul says, “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
One person, a criminal being crucified alongside Jesus, saw Christ for what He was – innocent. His words were plain, but spoke volumes: “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” While he may have been speaking strictly because they were criminals, his words apply to creation as a whole. We were receiving what our deeds deserved: death. Death came with Adam and Eve but with death came the promise of a Savior.
Christ was doing exactly what the criminal wanted: saving him, along with everyone there that day at His crucifixion, along with everyone before that day and everyone after that day. Christ was doing for us what we could not do ourselves. He was earning eternal life. Just as Jesus told the repentant criminal, so He tells us: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
All of creation is guilty and thus unable to do anything about it. Christ, the only innocent, took the guilt upon Himself in order to make creation innocent. In the last moments of Christ’s life, the world around Him began to change. The Creator, who took on flesh and was born into creation, is at this moment of death, bringing in new and eternal life, a new creation. With the curtain of the temple torn, it symbolized the completion of Christ’s victory over death, therefore allowing Jesus to commit His spirit into the hands of the Father.
The death of Christ marked the end of creation as we know it. Sin and death no longer have dominion over creation. Satan lost the keys to creation that he wrongfully stole from God through sin. No intercessions by the priests were needed because the greatest intercession was made. No more animals needed to be sacrificed because the sacrificial Lamb was offered. When Christ uttered the words, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!”, He signified that His work was finished, once and for all. Nothing could undo what had just been done.
Through the life of Christ and His Passion, we have received life – life that came at an expense – the death of Christ. The King of the Jews, who “humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross,” died so that all of creation would be reborn in Him, purged from death and made “good” in the eyes of God. This was the way that creation was meant to be and what took place at our Lord’s Passion was necessary for creation to be restored. Today is not a time to focus on the brutality of Christ’s death or death itself, but to focus on what that death brought about – the dying of death and a restored creation. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.