Sermon for Good Friday based on John 18:1-19:42
Dear people declared innocent: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
“I find no guilt in Him,” said Pilate, pronouncing his judgment. Indeed, three times Pilate the governor declared Jesus innocent, finding no cause worthy of death in Him.
After his first declaration of innocence, Pilate had Jesus, the innocent one, flogged. The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on His head and arrayed Him in a purple robe. They mocked Him and beat Him – the man Pilate declared innocent.
Seemingly, Pilate tried to get sympathy for Jesus from the bloodthirst mob, and brought Him before them in such a state, and said, “Behold the man!” This was as if to say, “Do you not think He has been punished enough? I have found Him guilty of nothing but have nevertheless severely punished Him to satisfy you. Let that injustice be enough.”
The Jews accused Jesus of being a king who wanted to overthrow Caesar, so Pilate presented Him as a miserably lashed, smitten, beaten, and lacerated man with a scourged and torn robe and a crown of thorns. “Behold the man!” He is not a king you have to worry about. Look at His miserable state. He hardly looks like a threat to overthrown Caesar.
The Jews, however, had no compassion on Jesus. Pilate’s appeals for sympathy and compassion fell on stopped ears and hardened hearts. Pilate’s declarations of innocence meant nothing to the mob. They wanted Jesus dead in the cruellest way possible – hung on a cross with nails until dead. To every declaration of innocence, the crowd responded with shouting, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”
Thus, Jesus was crucified. Innocent though He was, He was punished as if guilty.
If you think Jesus suffered unjustly at that hands of Pilate, you haven’t heard anything yet. Jesus suffered unjustly at the hands of God the Father.
We heard from Isaiah, “Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush Him; He has put Him to grief.” (53:10) God the Father did this, as He had planned from the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8; cf. Acts 2:23; I Peter 1:20); as He had foretold by the mouth of His servants the prophets for thousands of years.
God the Father foresaw the birth of Judas and his betrayal of Jesus. Indeed, He foretold it in Scripture. God created trees that would be fashioned into a cross for Jesus to hang. He created iron ore that would be smelted into nails that pierced Jesus’ flesh. God orchestrated world empires and the government affairs that led Pilate to Judea, Caiaphas to Jerusalem, and the crowds to repeatedly cry out, “Crucify Him, crucify Him!” (partially from Reed Lessing’s Isaiah commentary)
That’s why, in every step of the Passion account, we hear, “This was to fulfil the Scripture.” When arrested, Jesus said, “‘If you seek me, let these men go.’ This was to fulfil the word that He had spoken, ‘Of those whom you gave me I have lost not one.’” The Jews’ insistence to Pilate that Roman law deal with Jesus instead of Jewish law, “was to fulfil the word that Jesus had spoken to show by what kind of death He was going to die.” The soldiers dividing Jesus’ garments and casting lots for His tunic “was to fulfil the Scripture which says, ‘They divided my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.’” Jesus, to fulfil Scripture, said, “I thirst.” Jesus’ legs were not broken but instead His side was pierced, to fulfil the Scripture, “Not one of His bones will be broken,” and another which says, “They will look on Him whom they have pierced.”
Jesus suffered unjustly at the hands of Pilate, yet even more unjustly at the hands of His Father. Though perfectly innocent of any sin, Scripture tells us, “For our sake [God] made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” (II Cor. 5:21) God the Father declared Jesus guilty of all the sin and evil in this world. God piled your sins onto Him. God piled my sins onto Him. Every sin of everyone.
And God the Father did not have compassion on Jesus. No, after piling all the sins of the world on Him, God the Father abandoned Him to die, so that Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?”
All this, so that God the Father would have compassion on us. God has compassion on us, even though the Law finds us guilty. We are far from innocent. We have broken God’s Law and are accountable for all of it. The Law finds us guilty and pronounces judgment on us. Cause is easily found in us that makes us worthy of death – both temporal and eternal death.
Yet, it is time for another sentence of justice. You are declared innocent. Every Absolution you hear is the pronouncement of God Himself forgiving your sin. God wants you to hear His Absolution often, so that you would trust His Word that you will hear the same declaration on Judgment Day.
This seems like injustice, but it is not. It seems unjust that we sinners should be declared innocent, but Jesus willingly took your punishment for you. He willingly suffered and died for you. He willingly paid the price of your sins. It is God’s justice.
Think of it this way. If you owed a million gold coins to someone, a debt that you could never pay, and then someone stepped forward and willingly paid the debt you owed, what would be left for you to pay? The creditor got what he was owed. He can’t come after you for anything anymore. There is nothing for you to pay any longer.
So it is with Christ’s payment of your sins. He’s paid the debt in full. Not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood, and His innocent suffering and death. Since your debt has been paid, there is no blood, or suffering and death for you to pay for your sins. You are declared debt free, forgiven, innocent, righteous.
On Judgment Day, Christ, who is the Judge of the living and the dead will declare concerning you, “I find no guilt in him.” Unlike Pilate who sentenced an innocent man to suffering and death, Christ will open up the gates of eternal life for you because He suffered in your place. He had compassion on you and gave His life to save yours eternally. If Christ finds no guilt in you, neither can anyone else. If Christ finds no guilt in you, you are indeed guiltless and innocent, and will live with Christ forever. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.