We live in a world of trials. Turn on the television and, frequently, some major trial is underway. We’ve had O.J. Simpson, Timothy McVeigh, the Unabomber, Kobe Bryant, Scott Peterson, Michael Jackson, Saddam Hussein … you can almost chronicle the passage of time by watching the major cases and trials on TV. More interesting though is the way these cases are told. Have you ever noticed how on television, a trial is turned into a drama? It really isn’t about the facts of the case but instead, the reporters are more interested in the strategies of the lawyers, the emotions of the people, the intentions of the witnesses, the bias of the judge. Impartial observation, a clear statement of fact … these things are strange in TV court reporting today.
Instead, we find families of the victim sobbing out their story. This keeps us watching though. It provides a sense of drama but it doesn’t advance our understanding of the case. Today, drama brings ratings. Because of wanting good ratings, we are taken from facts into feelings. Justice no longer sits blindfolded and impartial. Now she holds a TV camera in one hand and a list of ratings in the other.
Since this is the way we see trials today, we would expect that Luke’s account of the trial of Jesus would be different. Luke begins his gospel by saying that he carefully investigated everything from the beginning. He tells in in chapter 1 that it is his desire to write “an orderly account” (1:3). So we would expect Luke to present the trial of Jesus in a less dramatic and in a more reasoned fashion. After all, it’s not like Luke had a TV camera or ratings to worry about. Courtroom drama wasn’t what people were used to hearing about. Surprisingly though, Luke’s account doesn’t sound all that different than what we witness today. As Luke records the trial of Jesus, he spends a great deal of time telling us about the people, the emotions, the behind-the-scenes movements surrounding the case.
Luke tells us all about the relationship between the judges, between King Herod and Governor Pontius Pilate. Enemies of one another, but for this trial they become friends. Luke tells us what Herod wanted. What Pilate wanted. And all the while, Luke never lets us forget about the anger of the chief priests and the teachers of the law. So why does Luke spend so much time on the drama? If he was writing today, it would be to keep people watching. I think Luke has a different reason in mind.
Think of it this way. Have you ever gone to look out a window, and suddenly you see your own reflection? You go over to the kitchen window to check on the kids in the yard, and for a moment, all you see is your own reflection. It’s a work of the light. You see yourself, anxious, well-dressed, ready for a dinner meeting with a client, and yet you realize that you are not being the parent you wanted to be. This is the third evening in a row you’re working late. There hasn’t been a night home with the kids all week. Now, as the babysitter arrives, you are looking out the window to make sure the kids are all right and you realize … they are. They’re okay, kicking a soccer ball, climbing a tree, totally oblivious to what is going on inside. You, however … you’re the one who isn’t all right. Looking out the window to check on your kids, you find yourself looking within, checking up on yourself. In a way … Luke’s record of the trial of Jesus works like that window. Luke causes us to see ourselves by a work of the light.
You read this trial expecting to look into the facts about Jesus, but instead Luke teaches you the facts of a fallen world. You read this trial expecting to establish the truth of Christ’s claims, but instead Luke asks you to confess the truth about yourself. You see, Luke knows that the trial isn’t about establishing Jesus’ innocence. That’s already done. Pilate himself says that he finds no reason to crucify Jesus. What’s in question is “Why is an innocent man condemned to die?” And to this question … Luke says in the last sentence of this section, Pilate “surrendered Jesus to their will” (23:25b). “Their will.” That is the fact, that is a glimpse of the fallen world which Luke gives us. It is the will of a fallen world that its God should die. Luke invites us to look within the human heart and confess the facts of a fallen world. This affects Jesus then, and it affects him now, today.
Consider this … have you ever found yourself willing one thing in the church but then doing another in the world? Have you ever wanted to tell of God’s love to your neighbor but then talked about the weather instead? Although Jesus rescued you and me from the sin which lies in us, there are times when we, myself included, there are times when we find ourselves acting like we are still a part of the fallen world. Jesus says, “the spirit is willing but the body is weak” (Matt. 26:41). Luke’s account of the trial today helps us to call sin a sin. This trials shows us where such willfulness leads us, and it gently encourages us to confess our sinful condition.
It’s easy in church to will the peace of God for all people … it’s harder out there. It’s harder to act on that when you haven’t been promoted because of your skin color, your age, your disability. It’s easy in church to want to help the poor, but it’s hard to do when you see something expensive you want. As I said a few weeks ago, you work hard for the money you earn. The more and more we go through this changing will, the easier it becomes to simply come into church and say one thing and then go out into the world and do another. That hypocrisy, which our youth and young adults see, is one of top reasons why they don’t want to be in church … that hypocrisy, that’s sin.
This trial though … it’s not the end of the story. The trial of Jesus is about more than the changing will of humans … it’s also about the eternal will of God. God enters a place filled with the battles of humans wills and transforms it to be a place of His eternal will. At the very beginning of our text this morning, Luke tells us what happened to Jesus at the hands of the men who were holding him. They blindfold and beat him and cried out “Prophesy.” They mocked Jesus as a false prophet, and yet what they were doing was fulfilling the very prophecy of God. Jesus had predicted his passion. He had even predicted this mocking. The death of Jesus is part of God’s eternal will. God so desires to save all people that He sends His own Son to suffer in their place, in your place. This is the will of God … a love stronger than death; a word more powerful than sin; the death of Jesus what brings forgiveness to all people. Even here, today. Every time we gather, Jesus comes and forgives us our sins and then sends his out, forgiven, into the world.
Our world is indeed a world of trials. We’ve had the trials surrounding the death of George Floyd and the scandals of Jeffrey Epstein. These we see on TV. The greatest trial, the one of our Savior … it goes on all the time. It happened there in Jerusalem and it happens still today. Week after week, people make judgments against God. Sometimes they receive national attention as courtroom drama debate the rights of Christians to witness to their Savior. Other times it goes unnoticed. In the office, around the lunch table, during the first year of college. People repeatedly subject Jesus to a trial of consideration and deny him to be their Lord. A great teacher? Perhaps. A revolutionary, a prophet, a figment of the Church’s imagination. These are their verdicts. But God? No. For the world around us, Jesus is not God, and he certainly isn’t the only way of salvation.
Luke, however, he teaches us to confess Jesus. To confess his death and resurrection as the only way of salvation for all people. As Luke tells this story, we see the mission of God. Wherever people with a changing will fight against God … God comes among them, fighting for their salvation. Here in the courts of Jerusalem, there among the nations, here at Salem Lutheran and there in our communities are people for whom God has offered his Son, our Savior. They are lost in the grip of an ever-changing will. Their actions might offend you. Their conversations may be rude. You may get tired of trying. Become angry at their words. They hold Jesus up on trial and declare him to a fraud. But God continues to seek them in His love. Week after week, even today, in this place … God works the wonder of His love. Certain of our Savior, certain of his salvation … we go now to a world which waits in need of its God. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever. Amen.