25th Day of Lent
Beloved. In tonight’s reading, we find Jesus before Pilate and we heard three times Pilate saying he found nothing wrong with Jesus, no crime with Him, no reason for Him to be crucified. But we heard of the insistence of the religious leaders of the Jews, the chief priests and elders, who kept screaming “Crucify!” and persuaded the crowd to demand Jesus’ crucifixion. By the end of the Passion reading, we find Jesus condemned and on His way to Golgotha to be crucified.
On Pentecost, St. Peter preached to the crowds [Ac 2.23]: Jesus of Nazareth… being delivered by the determined counsel and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death. That’s what we see in tonight’s Passion reading: Jesus was taken by lawless hands and crucified/ sacrificed on the cross. God used the lawlessness of sinful people to carry out His good and gracious will. God did not cause/ force them to do this evil/ lawlessness but rather He turned it around for His saving purposes.
As we understand that God even used the lawless hands and the evil they intended for His good and gracious purposes, so it does us well to turn around and ponder this Lent and take to heart the words of Pontius Pilate in his native Latin: Ecce homo! Behold the Man! Let us look at the Man, Christ Jesus, this Lent and what do we see? But as we look at Jesus, let us see Him not just with the physical eyes—for that won’t get us too far—but let us look at Him with the eyes of faith.
Ecce Homo! Behold the Man! Pilate certainly looked on Jesus simply with physical eyes. He knew that the Jews handed Jesus over to him because of envy. He knew Jesus was no threat to the Roman government. He knew Jesus was innocent of any crime—certainly of any crime worthy of death. Three times in our text Pilate declares Jesus’ innocence: I find no guilt in him; See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him; and Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him. Pilate simply sees Jesus as one innocent but accused of crime by powerful enemies. We dare not simply see Jesus as an innocent person, wrongly accused of crime; we dare not simply see Jesus as a moral example to stand up for what we believe in—even at great cost. If we do that, then we are like Pilate and miss the whole point of Who Jesus really is—the Son of God and Savior of the world, my Savior from sin, death, devil and hell.
Luther described Pilate as a “rational heathen.” Pilate thought that he could control the situation, that justice would prevail. We first see him try a “political compromise”: After [Pilate] had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, “I find no guilt in him. 39But you have a custom that I should release one man for you at the Passover. So do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?” This way, Pilate would declare Jesus guilty and placate the Jews, but he would then free Jesus because of the Passover—that way it would be a win/ win: the Jews would have their conviction, but Jesus—since He had done nothing wrong—could still be a free man. But of course that went nowhere: They cried out again, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a robber.
Again looking at Jesus with just physical eyes, Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him. Pilate, this “rational heathen”, was hoping to moderate the wrath of the Jews so he wouldn’t have to execute an innocent man. And after the soldiers had heaped their ridicule and abuse on Jesus, we see Pilate went out again and said to them, “See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him.” So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold the man!” Pilate was hoping to arouse the sympathy of the crowd so that they would think that Jesus had suffered enough and would not insist on crucifixion. But instead of subsiding, their rage increases: When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, “Crucify him, crucify him!”
This Lent let us examine our own hearts and lives and see and repent of the times that we looked at Jesus simply with our physical eyes and were like Pilate, a rational heathen. Those would be the times when we tried to fit in with the sinful world; when we put our Lord on the back burner; when we thought we can be both a Christian and live a life of sin—live a life like a person of the world; when we damped our confession of Jesus, acting as if He were just a man—not the Son of God and Savior of the world. For times like these, may we heartily repent!
Also the soldiers certainly looked on Jesus merely with physical eyes. And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. 3They came up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and struck him with their hands. Here they figured was just another prisoner, and they being non-Jews certainly had no great love for them. They saw Jesus simply as a figure for their amusement to stave off boredom as they served as occupying forces in a foreign country.
Then they heard that Jesus’ crime was claiming to be king of the Jews so they mocked Him. They just saw what they thought was an upstart, a rebel, and wanted to teach Him a lesson. They looked at things in only a political way—Jesus was just one of many “wanna-bes” in the world. But they had the power.
Again, for us the Lenten season, let us examine our own hearts and lives, lest we look at Jesus with only physical eyes and become like the soldiers and mock Him by our life and actions. Are we looking in this life only for amusements and seek only to be entertained? Do we drag that sort of thinking into the church and judge the church, not by the purity of the doctrine but by how “entertained” I am by the sermon or liturgy? In short, am I looking at Him only as an object to entertain me, making self my focus. May we repent and root out of our lives all these notions and see Jesus as King over all and truly submit to Him, His will, His way.
Or, are we so influenced by and get all worked up over politics that that becomes our all-consuming thinking, what we think is the only reality? Are our consciences formed more by what we hear and read from the internet or by talking heads than by God and His holy word? Then we are like these soldiers mocking Jesus, not recognizing Jesus as true God and king over all.
Of course, the others looking at Jesus with simply their physical eyes were those that should have known better—the Jews, and in particular their religious leaders. They looked at Jesus with their physical eyes and did not see the Messiah they were expecting. Jesus was not some grand military leader who would restore Israel to earthly power and grandeur. He was hardly a great religious figure because, after all, He was calling on them to repent of their sins. He was not commending them but calling them to repentance saying [Mt. 21.31] “Truly I say to you, the tax collectors and prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.”
Let each of us examine his/ her own heart and life to find, repent of and root out from it the sin of the Jews—expecting a different Savior than Jesus is. We often expect Jesus to do and act as we want Him to act and then become upset when He, in love and mercy and knowing what is truly best for us, does or acts differently. Jesus is not a Savior to make us healthy, wealthy and wise; He is our Savior from sin and does and acts toward us accordingly. When in our lives we find our expectations of Jesus to be other than our Savior from sin, let us repent.
Let us examine our heart and life and so root out from it, the other sin of the Jews—the sin of self-righteousness, the idea that I do such great things that God must be pleased with me, in fact, owes me heaven; the sin of thinking that the other person is a great sinner and needs to repent, but I’m doing all right; the sin of magnifying the sins of others but minimizing my own sin; or thinking that some sins are so terrible—like ones the other person does, but I don’t—and making some self-appointed standard. May this Lent especially be a time each takes all of God’s holy Law in hand, examines my own life honestly and rigorously to find sin, to sorrow over it, to trust in Jesus to forgive it and by the power of the Holy Spirit strive to root it out of heart and life.
When we sincerely recognize and sorrow over our sin, let us then hear and take to heart Pilate’s preaching to us: Ecce homo! That is, let us look at Jesus with the eyes of faith. And what will we see? We will see what Pilate and the Jews saw that day with their physical eyes—a true man. And when we look closer, what do we see? Jesus in all His weakness and vulnerability. Seeing Him bloodied and mocked, we see that Jesus is a true man capable of and about to die. But looking at Jesus with the eyes of faith gives us the meaning and significance of the scene—and its true comfort and blessing. We see why Jesus was bloodied; we see why He would die. That is, we see Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, loaded down and burdened with the sins of the world—with your sin and my sin; we see Him suffering the curse and wrath of God over our sin. But we see more: we see that the devil had subdued the whole human race by getting the first people, Adam and Eve, to sin; and now with Jesus, we see this true Man conquering sin and Satan by living a holy sinless life and suffering and dying for our sin.
Ecce homo! The eyes of faith sees Jesus, true man; but they also see that He isn’t just true man, He is also true God. And as our physical eyes see a true Man suffering and about to die, the eyes of faith see also there the true God—and His love for us sinners; they see His mercy for us sinners. That’s what gives us the strength to confess our sins: we look to and rely on our Lord’s love, mercy and forgiveness. Otherwise, why confess? Why go to Him in sorrow and contrition?
Ecce homo! The eyes of faith see the bloodied and suffering Jesus and there see Him, the true God, patiently and willingly suffering for our sin as he looked forward to His resurrection and victory. We take comfort in what Jesus spoke through the prophet, St. Isaiah [50.6-7]: I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting. But the Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame.
Ecce homo! The eyes of faith look on Jesus and see the seriousness of sin. It sees in His suffering the curse for our sin; it sees our own miserable condition. The eyes of faith see Jesus being whipped unjustly so that He can deliver us from our well-deserved punishment. The eyes of faith look at the thorns—thorns a result from the curse of sin—pushed into His sacred head and they see each person by their sin causing Jesus to bleed. The eyes of faith see the One who adorned the earth with beautiful flowers, now arrayed with a crown of shame caused by our pride of sin. The eyes of faith see the one who wrapped the earth with clouds now clothed in a robe of mockery. In short, as we look at the Man with our eyes of faith, we see the curse for our sin laid on Him. We see the misery of our sin.
Ecce homo! With the eyes of faith, we also see triumph and victory. We see Jesus the true king of heaven and earth. We see what was meant in mockery—the crown and the robe—to be the reality, that Jesus is indeed King of Kings for He is very God of very God. We see that Jesus’ enthronement was as He was raised up on the cross. We see look ahead and see His victory over sin, death, devil and hell. As we see His victory, we also know that through faith His victory is ours. What glorious words Pilate unwittingly preached that first Good Friday: Ecce homo! May we look at Jesus/ behold Him not just with our physical eyes but with the eyes of faith! INJ Amen