Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father,
and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Those of you old enough to remember the Apollo program
to land on the moon probably also remember the tragedy of the Apollo I crew:
Roger Chaffee, Ed White, and Gus Grissom. They were killed during a routine
test on the launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center, when a frayed wire ignited
some flammable materials in the pure-oxygen environment of their spacecraft.
The fire and the over-pressurization of the cabin made it impossible for them
to open the hatch to escape the flames, and all three astronauts were killed.
If you’ve watched the compelling historical series
“From the Earth to the Moon,” you also know that Gus Grissom had previously had
another mishap with the hatch on a spacecraft. After he had splashed down in
the Atlantic Ocean following his Mercury flight, the explosive bolts on that
spacecraft’s hatch had gone off and opened it too early, causing it to flood
and sink. It nearly ended Grissom’s career as an astronaut, but the
investigation proved the bolts could’ve gone off without his action, so he
wasn’t to blame. Ironically, as a result of this problem in the Mercury program,
the Apollo spacecraft in which Grissom later died was not equipped with
explosive bolts, which might have allowed him and his crew to escape with their
lives. Sometimes irony can be quite tragic.
I’m sure if you thought about it for a while, you could
come up with some ironic episodes like this in your life—whether for good or
bad. You might’ve thought at the time that it was just “lucky” or “unlucky” that
things like this happened, often not according to the expected or intended
If we remember and trust that God is the source of all
good, though, we can always thank Him for guiding us to act and speak in ways
that bring about wonderful results in our lives and the lives of others, even
when that might not be what we intended. We can also be assured that, when He
chooses not to intervene or to prevent poor outcomes or even tragedies, it is
not out of a lack of love or concern for us, but out of an exercise of His
perfect will, directed toward His greater purposes.
Tonight we continue our Lenten journey, looking more
closely at the events leading up to the crucifixion and death of Jesus for the
sins of the whole world. Our theme this year in our midweek services is to
look at some of the ironies that occurred during the final weeks and days of
Jesus’ ministry prior to His death. According to the dictionary, a simple
definition of “irony” is something which turns out quite different from the original
intentions of the person who says something or does something.
The discussion among the chief priests, Pharisees, and
other Jewish leaders that we heard about in our Gospel lesson took place just
after Jesus had raised His friend Lazarus from the dead. This was an amazing
miracle, of course. We might think that these religious leaders should realize
that only God had such powers over life and death. At the very least, they
should have given Jesus some respect as a true prophet.
Their words, however, make it clear that they don’t
recognize this at all. They do believe that the miracles are true, because
they say, “this man performs many signs.”
But they are convinced that this is a bad thing. They
are concerned that they ought to do something to stop Jesus. Instead of rejoicing
that God has finally given them a sign that shows He has not abandoned His
people, they are worried that the actions of Jesus will cause their
Even worse, their real concern seems to be more for
themselves than for anyone else. These leaders think that if people believe in
Jesus, the Romans who occupy their country will throw them out of power. And while
that’s not the main irony of this Gospel, it’s certainly one of them.
You see, it’s not the ministry of Jesus, nor the
actions of those who believe in Him, that will eventually destroy the Jewish
nation or make these leaders lose their positions. Instead, about 40 years
later, it is a rebellion against the Romans led by fanatic Jews that leads to
the destruction of the temple and much of the city of Jerusalem. This will end
the religious life these leaders were so carefully trying to protect. Jews
would be forced to leave their country, and be spread all over the ancient
The greater irony in this lesson is found in the words
of Caiaphas, the high priest. Even though his words may have been spoken from
a cunning, selfish motivation, God still used Caiaphas to speak the truth.
What truth is that? Listen again to Caiaphas’ words: “it is better for
you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should
God used Caiaphas’ words to prophesy about the death
of Jesus, and the benefits it would provide. Caiaphas was thinking that, by
killing Jesus, they would eliminate a problem that threatened their worldly
power. By killing Jesus, they could protect their way of life. By killing one
man—Jesus—many, many others would be saved from death by the Romans, they
It’s ironic, of course, that Caiaphas and his cronies,
in spite of all their supposed knowledge about God’s Word and the promises that
He had made to the nation of Israel, didn’t ever come to understand who Jesus truly
was, and what His death would truly mean. They saw Jesus as a threat, not a
solution. They saw Jesus as a convenient fall-guy—a “scapegoat,” if you will.
If He could be destroyed, they could be preserved.
How ironic, too, that these leaders failed to
understand that the real threat which hung over each and every one of them—and
us as well—is not fear of those who can destroy the body like the legions of
Rome, but of the one who can throw our souls into hell. How ironic, also, that
they worried so much about what their own people and the Romans would think,
more than what God thought and had revealed to them in His Word.
And how ironic, that in their ignorant eagerness to
cause the death of God, the Sanhedrin’s desire for power and its sinful actions
instead resulted in the death of death, the destruction of hell’s power, and
the eventual eradication of sin itself.
Indeed, Caiaphas spoke the truth that day, however
ironically. It was better for the people—and for us—that Jesus should
die. It was infinitely better. Jesus didn’t deserve death, and
we didn’t deserve to receive the benefits of that death.
But that’s how God often works: He takes what we
expect what we think ought to be, and He flips it backwards and upside down.
He takes our failures and our weaknesses, and He exchanges them for His
No matter what we in our human sinfulness might have
intended, no matter how twisted the world might be or how evil the devil’s desires,
the irony in all of this is that God’s holy intentions will lead to an outcome entirely
different from anything that the devil, Caiaphas, or even you could have
planned, or ever possibly imagined. That is: that the death of Jesus would be
a blessing to you. That it would lead not just to your temporary survival, but
to eternal life through the forgiveness of your sins.
You see, it’s not just better for you that the one
man, Jesus, should die for you, that you not perish. The ironic truth is: it’s
In the holy name (+) of the perfect Lamb, Jesus.