Hidden in the Savior’s Rejection by the World: Luke 18:33-19:1

What a contrast we have between Jesus and Pilate?  On one side is Jesus.  He testifies that He is a king, but that His kingdom is not of this world.  He testifies that all who are on the side of truth listen to Him: they hear and follow His Word, believe in Him, trust Him, and follow Him.

Yet, based on appearances, what a pathetic claim Jesus makes.  Jesus is a king, handed over by His own people who cry out for His death.  Jesus’ kingdom is made up of those who love the truth.  But no one defends Him or the truth.  No one is even willing to come forward and announce that he is a follower.

Jesus is a king; but those who should have been His strongest supporters cry out to release Barabbas instead.  They prefer a rebel, murderer, and thief to the King of Truth.  Now Jesus is in the hands of a minor Roman official.  Soon He will endure even worse at the hands of Roman soldiers.  Some king, some kingdom, right? 

On the other side stands Pilate representing all the kingdoms of this world.  He views Jesus through his own eyes and reason.  Surprisingly, unlike the Jewish High Priest and Sanhedrin, Pilate wanted justice.  But in the end, Pilate’s concern for his own position, power, and convenience overrode any wish for justice.   

Justice gave way to Pilate’s own concerns.  Out of frustration and annoyance with all the trouble that this king Jesus is causing him, Pilate orders Him to be flogged.  He decides this whole truth talk is nothing but foolishness. 

To Pilate, Jesus and His truth are inconvenient.  A mob is forming that could prove troublesome for him.  Pilate sees no criminal in Jesus, and he even declares that Jesus has done nothing that deserves punishment.  But he orders Jesus to be flogged anyway–a punishment that by itself was so terrible that its victims often died.  Soon after the flogging, Pilate orders Jesus, the King, to be executed–crucified!

Why such anger and hostility?  Why such violence against someone, who on the outside, seems so weak and foolish?  Such anger and hostility is born from one little word that Jesus spoke to Pilate: “truth.” 

Jesus said that He was the King of Truth.  He had come into the world to testify to the truth.  Yet, Pilate wanted no truth from Jesus.  He had already made up his mind that no universal truth existed.  For Pilate, there was only himself and the moment. 

For Pilate, there was no truth.  There are just my needs, my wants, my will, my goal, my ambition, my pleasure, my power.  They are all the truth that Pilate wants.  As with Pilate, so it often is with us.  We only want a truth that doesn’t get in the way of our truth and reality.  By nature, we focus on ourselves, concerned with our wants and needs.

And so Jesus Christ and Him crucified–the heart and core of the truth–often brings about hostility and hatred from the world.  The truth that Jesus came to give to the world is the truth already seen in the Garden of Eden, that we are fallen in our self-devotion.  It is the truth that even in our best works, we offend the holy and righteous God.  It is the truth that even on our best of days, the best within us only deserves death and hell. 

That truth is something we don’t want to hear.  That truth irritates and annoys us–although the evidence for this truth is spread all across the pages of history.  Away with this truth and this King who proclaims it!

But there is more to the message about this King of Truth than the guilty verdict pronounced on all of us and all our works.  King Jesus also comes with this greatest truth of all–He is the solution to the problem of sin and guilt!

The truth about us is the problem.  The truth about Jesus is the solution.  How does He solve the problem of sin?  Does He give us a new law to keep?  Does He say that our sin and guilt don’t matter?  Does He encourage us to do our best and God will be satisfied and overlook the rest?  No!  If that were the truth that Jesus brought, the people wouldn’t have flogged Him.

That’s what people by nature want to think.  We want to think that we aren’t as terrible as others.  We want to think that we deserve salvation–at least in some small way!  We want to think that somehow we are virtuous enough or have enough potential that we can at least contribute to our salvation.

So, had Jesus taught that, the people wouldn’t have rejected Him.  But the King of Truth declares that He is the complete and only solution to the problem of sin and guilt.  He is the only way to escape the death and hell that we deserve.  The solution is that He alone will take all the sin and guilt of the world, and suffer because of that as our substitute.  The solution is that salvation will be a gift, won by the crucified Jesus, given to us through Word and Sacrament.  Tragically, the truth of the Gospel that saves is even more despised than the truth of the Law that condemns.

You would think that people would stampede to a King who delivers from death and hell.  If we offered free gas or free money–there would be a stampede.  We would scurry away, so we wouldn’t be trampled.  But free salvation?  That’s belittles me and I have to admit that I am fully helpless before God.  Away with Jesus!  Give us Barabbas instead.   We want Jesus crucified!

Yet, Jesus isn’t the only one who must bear a cross–even though His cross is the only one that saves.  Those who follow to the cross must also follow under the cross.  That is the mark of Christians: the sign of the cross.  Jesus’ cross brings hostility and hatred, and that hostility and hatred are also directed against those who follow the cross of Jesus.

When Pilate questioned Jesus, he said, “What is truth?”  Pilate didn’t want an answer.  He already assumed that no answer existed outside himself. 

That’s what our own sinful flesh says as well.  Don’t bother me with ideas about right and wrong from some archaic book called the Bible.  I’ll decide what is right and wrong.  Today this; perhaps, tomorrow that.  People shouldn’t live a homosexual lifestyle.  But if someone in my family has decided to quit struggling against that sin, well now that’s different.  People shouldn’t hold grudges or gossip.  But you don’t know what was done to me.  People shouldn’t steal or cheat.  But people cheat and steal from me, and I just want what I deserve!  People shouldn’t be arrogant and self-righteous, but face it, we’re better than most folks.

Then comes the confession in the liturgy: “I, a poor, miserable sinner.”  Our sinful flesh doesn’t like that.  It’s depressing and negative.  Then comes the message of forgiveness.  Jesus announces, “I forgive you.  I wash all your sins away in my blood.  I paid for it fully.  Redeemed by me, you are a dear child of God.”

And our sinful flesh likes that even less.  “I work hard.  I deserve what I get.  Look at what I do.  The Lord should be pleased with me.  He should reward me.”  Yes, deep within us is our own sinful nature that hates the truth of the Law and despises the truth of the Gospel.

If we faithfully follow Jesus, we will face hostility.  Our world praises wickedness.  It wears corruption as if it were a badge of honor.  The unbelieving world declares that they have the right to do what God declares is sinful and evil.  And then they demand that we respect them and their right to do as they want in the name of tolerance.

The world scorns anyone who would say, “The Bible says that those who do such acts will suffer eternal death.”  Woe to anyone who says, “Jesus is the only solution and the only Savior and the only way to heaven.”  The world tells us, “If that’s what you believe, then you’re a bigot.  Don’t go around saying that Jesus is the only truth, the truth that saves, the truth that if rejected damns the one who rejects.  Away with you and your Jesus!”

So, we look at Jesus in our Gospel reading.  He is the King.  He is the one who brings truth and the only truth.  But His glory and the glory of the truth that saves is hidden under the cross.  The people despise and reject Him.  He provokes the hatred and hostility of the world He came to save.  We see the hidden reality of His glory.  Jesus brings down no bolt of lightning to strike the crowd.  Jesus condemns no one from the cross.

But wouldn’t the Gospel of Jesus work better if we could destroy a few of those wicked mockers with a lightning bolt now and then?  Wouldn’t people be more willing to listen and to believe if we could have a giant miracle to grab their attention?  The answer is No.

Jesus bore the cross of shame and humiliation.  The time will come for His exaltation.  But that is in His hands, not ours.  We journey under the cross.  We share the cross’ weakness and humiliation until the time of exaltation on the Last Day.  Like Jesus, our glory is also hidden under the cross of rejection. 

It is the glory hidden in the cross that Jesus Christ, through His Spirit, creates saints who lay their lives of sin and shame at the foot of the cross.  Our certainty rests on Jesus’ work to save us–not spectacular miracles or effects–even if it under the cross of hostility and persecution.  Heaven and earth may pass away but the saving work of Jesus endures forever. May the Lord keep us in that blessed number who know the glory hidden under the cross of Christ.  Amen.