Sermon for Lent Midweek 3

Sermon for Lent Midweek 3

(Transcribed by machine 04/07/2024)

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Jesus knows the hour of his greatest trial has come.
And so he leads his disciples from the place of the Passover meal through the dark Kidron
Valley to the edge of the Mount of Olives to this place called Gethsemane.
As many times before he tells his disciples, you sit here, I must go over there and pray.
Jesus has also invited Peter, James, and John, these same three that he took with
him up on the Mount of Transfiguration. He takes them to go just a little bit
further with him. These three whom he allowed just this glimpse of his coming
glory, he now brings with him to the place of his greatest trial, the place of
his greatest humiliation. Mark tells us that as Jesus went on before them, he
fell on the ground, more than just a bowing or a kneeling or some kind of slow
and controlled action. Jesus’ grief manifested itself in what must have
appeared to be this temporary loss of control of his body, lying in a posture
which they had never seen him do before. They had to be thinking to
themselves, has Jesus reached a breaking point? He seems frantic, he’s coming back
and forth, going to and forth from the three, exhorting them to be vigilant and
to pray that they may not fall into temptation. But they do, and they sleep.
And Jesus is, of course, frustrated with their inability to stay awake, and he
calls out, Simon. Not Peter, not the personal name that Jesus gave him. Simon.
And all they can do is answer with this mumbling incoherence that comes with
this abrupt awakening of sleep and the excuseless embarrassment of their
physical and their spiritual weakness. Jesus goes on,
sweat like drops of blood moisten the ground around him, perhaps a foreshadowing
of his beating and of his scourging and of his bloody crucifixion, but certainly
the result of this intense agony, this unimaginable stress, and just when it
seems like it would all be too much that maybe Satan will win, that Satan has this
upper hand, the Father sends an angel to him, to minister to him. An angel, this
created being, created by the Lord himself, indeed lower than the Lord, came
to strengthen the Lord, to remind him of his place in the Father’s plan of
salvation for the world. And in asking if this cup might pass, we might think that
Jesus is somehow trying to change the Father’s mind, but instead he is
confirming what has been in motion since before the world began. He is submitting
to the Father’s will. He is letting his own divine will be accomplished. And this
is the ultimate agony. It’s unfathomable. The pain of having the sin and the guilt
of the entire world placed on him, knowing that the Father’s wrath is being
poured out on him, that he is now drinking from this bitter cup until
every last drop has been drained. The realization that the curse of death is
imminent, a curse of death that we will never know because it was removed from
us and placed on this Lamb of God. I think this has to be the most poignant
aspect of Jesus’ passion, because here we see Jesus’ human nature manifested maybe
at its most human, and this is Jesus’ ultimate humiliation. And some might say,
no, that came on the cross, but I think this is the moment when the
humanity of our Lord is the most visible and the most fragile. But it’s also when
Jesus curbs and denies the power of his own divinity so that he may act in
submission to the Father. He knows it’s not possible for the cup to pass, and
what a horrible struggle this is for it. But the third and last time that Jesus
returns to the disciples, it seems he has this different spirit. It’s almost as if
he says, don’t worry anymore, everything’s okay now, because the moment of doubt
and temptation has passed. He is victorious. He now begins the rest of
this short journey to the cross with patience and with purpose. But first, the
men come forth. The assemblage of the Roman soldiers, these temple guards, the
Sanhedrin servants, they appear with swords, clubs, torches, lamps, looking as
if they were prepared to deal with a desperate criminal. And they were led
there by the traitor, the one who knew this place well, for he was one of the
one of the chosen disciples who had spent time in that intimate place with
Jesus. And this imposter, Judas, now employs a sign of intimate affection as
a mark of treachery. He’s almost giddy in his betrayal, but his words reveal his
true feelings. Greetings, Rabbi. To Judas, Jesus is no Messiah. He’s no better than
a teacher of the law. He has neither faith in nor love for Jesus.” And so Jesus
rhetorical question, friend, why have you come? Well, it must have torn Jesus in two,
and yet he remained unrepentant. Jesus knows why they have come, and he calmly
presents himself to them as the one they are seeking. In this one final act of
divine power before them, as he exclaims, I am he, he sends them reeling onto the
ground. He asks again whom they seek, and he responds again, I am he. And he offers
himself to them, but commands them to let the others go free. And this group of
armed men is now rendered helpless and powerless by Jesus. But Peter, Peter,
impetuous Peter, he literally takes matters into his own hand, he draws his
sword, he swipes at the head of the high priest’s servant,
And then in one last rebuke to his disciple, Jesus reminds Peter that the
sword can only be wielded in justice by those whom God has appointed to wield
the sword in justice. And now Jesus gives the armed men a little rebuke of their
own. Why are you treating me this way? Why are you treating me as a common robber?
It was easy enough for you to take hold of me when you saw me teaching in the
and yet you chose not to, so why are you now making this show of it?” And they’re
really not that smart, they’re not that crafty, they’re just players, they’re just
part of God’s plan, the fulfillment of prophecy. Jesus’ words don’t change
anything, for they’re not meant to. And at these words the disciples fled for
their lives. The sheep were scattered. The shepherd is alone. It was almost as if the
authorities weren’t prepared to deal with Jesus that night. But still, they
bound him, they tied him as if he was a dangerous criminal. But what do we do
with him now? I mean, the Sanhedrin, the members of Sanhedrin would have to be
summoned and that will take some time. Perhaps Annas could get Jesus to
confess his crimes, and then they could just administer some type of quick
physical punishment and they could all go home. After all, Annas had been the high
priest, he’ll know what to do. Annas gives it his best shot. He’s no fool, so he’s
just gonna let Jesus’ words be his undoing. Tell us, Jesus, tell us who the
men are that follow you and what exactly is it that you teach? Jesus doesn’t
protest, he doesn’t question Annas’ authority or the legality of the
proceedings illegal though they be. He simply responds, you know, and if you
don’t know then why don’t you just bring in witnesses? And this earns no reply
from Annas but a cowardly slap from one of the officers. Jesus’ response to this
act of humiliation is simply to further insist that the onus is on Annas to
prove that he has done wrong. So we see Jesus reproves this injustice to him but
he still turns the other cheek. By now the Sanhedrin has been assembled and
they’re ready at the house of the high priest Caiaphas. Peter, he has somehow
managed to work his way into the courtyard, probably by pretending to be
somebody he wasn’t. Peter’s getting pretty good at deceit. He sits by the fire
but most likely within earshot of the proceedings, and at first the second
trial fared no better than the first. No one came forward with any evidence
sufficient to convict Jesus. Even these manufactured false witnesses, they
couldn’t get their stories straight, and it appears that Caiaphas is floundering.
He’s frustrated and he’s angry that Jesus has remained so calm, even silent,
against all these false accusations. Ah, but what if Jesus claims to be the
Messiah? If you are the Christ, tell us. Jesus replies that they will not believe
he is no matter what, but despite this the Son of Man will sit at the right
hand of God. He will be the one to judge them. As if to give Jesus just this one
last chance to recant, they ask, are you then the Son of God? Yes, you rightly say
that I am. Blasphemy, they cried. He’s condemned himself. He’s deserving of
death, and this death sentence brings with it now unbridled restraint from some of
them who began to strike and spit on him, the ultimate insult. The Sanhedrin has
lost control. This prideful group who for so long have held themselves above so
many others has now descended into an out-of-control mob. No doubt Peter heard
this commotion from the courtyard, and perhaps his countenance betrayed him. One
of the young maids recognized him and said, you were with him. Peter starts to
squirm and responds, I neither know nor understand what you were saying. He
begins to briskly walk away from the courtyard and over to the porch. This one
who was full of so much bravado just a few hours ago is now slinking away like
a coward. A rooster crows, but he barely notices. The servant girl is relentless
and she points him out. Here he is, he’s one of them. Peter says no. A third time
he is accused. They are sure he is one of them. His Galilean accent has given him
away. Peter has had enough and begins to curse and oath, swearing that he doesn’t
know the condemned man. The rooster crows, and Peter recalls Jesus’ words, and he
also recalls his own words, his promise to his Lord. If I must die with you, I
will not deny you.” Peter, the great confessor, has become the shameful denier.
And another was there lurking about. Judas, he had followed all this time to
see maybe what would become of the one that he had betrayed. Perhaps there
was some way that Jesus could be set free, but now he knows otherwise and he
is wracked with guilt, remorse, but not repentance. He makes no attempt to plead
for mercy on Jesus’ behalf. He only wants to clear his own name. He brings the blood
money back to the chief priests and elders. Here, take it. I betrayed innocent
blood. That’s all Jesus is to Judas. Innocent blood, not a Savior. The chief
priests sneer and they show nothing but contempt for Judas. These evil men who
never take delight in a repentant sinner only confirm Judas in
his own unrepentance. This is your problem, don’t bother us with it. We know
how this ends for Judas. And yet even in his death, the chief priests have no
sympathy. All they concern themselves with is is that this money doesn’t taint
the treasury. These hypocrites saw nothing wrong with paying a man to
practice evil, but recalled in horror at the thought of the same money defiling
their precious temple. And so in the meantime, they prepared to deliver Jesus
over to the Roman authorities so they can bring this disgraceful episode to an
end. Well, what do we make of this episode? How and what do we
think about Jesus’ passion? Sometimes we wish the story had another ending, that
it didn’t have to be this way. Maybe Jesus could have just passed through
their midst and slipped away like he did at Nazareth. Maybe he could have called
his disciples to testify on his behalf, and the Sanhedrin would have just let
him go. Sometimes we just skip to the good part, to the resurrection, because the
passion is too painful to think about, or we feel sorry for Jesus, or maybe we try
to put ourselves alongside him. We should be there with him. Indeed, we should be in
his place, but in doing so we rob him of his sacrifice and his glory, and we get
with the injustice that was carried out. We rage at Judas, Annas, Caiaphas, and even
Peter. But it wasn’t the treachery of Judas or the hatred of the Sanhedrin or
the denial of Peter, the betrayal of Judas that propelled Christ toward
Calvary. It was the sin of the world, for their sin is our sin. If it was any other
way, then our salvation would depend on something within us. Our ability to be
good or do good to please God. No, God’s wrath is turned away from us because it
is all placed on Jesus. So don’t feel sorry for Christ and his passion or wish
you could take his place. Instead, be thankful that he was strong while we
were weak. Be sorrowful for your sin, even to death. Remember his suffering when you
suffer. Remember his submission and humiliation, that he bent to the will of
the Father, that the Father’s plan of salvation for us may be fulfilled, that
he loved the world in this way, that God himself suffered and died for the world.
And in thinking on Christ’s passion, think on your need for a Savior, for one
who could bear the weight of sin and withstand the greatest hour of trial and
suffer the shame of the cross that we may be free. May it be so for the sake of
Christ. Amen. Now the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your
hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.