Sermon at St Mary’s Church Hadlow L6 – 9th April 2017 – People at Jesus’ trial and crucifixion
In the square: Matthew 21 vv 1 – 11 Jesus’ triumphal entry
Isaiah 50 vv 4 – 9a The prophet faces opposition in proclaiming God’s message
Matthew 27 vv 25 – E Jesus’ trial and crucifixion
- Introduction. In the Diocesan Lent course ‘A Place in the Crowd’ we have been invited at various points to imagine that we are one or more of the people in various parts of the passion narrative. It is not easy for any of us to enter into the mindset of someone very different, especially of someone who has already been cast in a bad light. Our immediate reaction is to condemn the baddies in a story. How could Judas Iscariot betray Jesus? How could those in authority condemn Jesus to crucifixion? However such condemnation is immediately a block to an understanding and any sort of empathy with the baddies. We immediately put ourselves with the group of the goodies and then find it difficult to see our own faults. When reading the gospel for today I was struck by the large number of groups and individuals in the narrative; something like 12. For simplicity I shall put them in 3 groups, those in authority, the crowds and a variety of individuals or small groups Briefly, because we have already had a long reading as well as for some another reading in the square, I will invite you to think about how these people viewed Jesus and their response to him and how we might re-act to such groups today. You may find it helpful to open a Bible at Matthew 27 on page 33 of the New Testament.
- Those in authority. Our gospel reading began at v 11. In verses 11 to 25 there are broadly two authority groups involved in Jesus’ passion; the Jewish authorities and the Roman authorities. The Jewish authority was the Sanhedrin, the national council, led by Caiaphas the high priest and his father-in-law Annas. As the Apostle John tells us, Caiaphas had already decided that it was prudent that, for the sake of the nation, one man, namely Jesus, should die to save the nation from what might otherwise, as he saw it, be allowed to grow into a significant force with Jesus at the head seeking the restoration of the Davidic kingship and the ousting of the Roman authority. Many, although not all members of the Sanhedrin, were persuaded that such a move was prudent and therefore supported the High Priest. One can imagine such a decision might be followed in many countries of the world today. In other countries, including our own, a charge of plotting terrorist activity could end in a long prison sentence. There was though a small problem for Caiaphas. Judah was not a sovereign state. There were rules from the Roman Senate that had to be obeyed. Only the Roman Governor could authorise the death sentence on a condemned criminal. Caiaphas had to find suitable evidence to convince Pontius Pilate that Jesus should be crucified. Actually he wasn’t very convincing in charging Jesus with blasphemy. That was more of a religious matter than a civil matter. If it had been blasphemy against the Roman gods that would have been more convincing. Laws of blasphemy continue to be misused in a number of countries – Pakistan, Nigeria and Indonesia to name some. Sometimes secular authorities are more understanding than religious authorities. Pilate was all for releasing Jesus, especially having received a message from his wife about a bad dream that she had had. However at the time of a great festival he had to be especially careful. If he had the crowds in Jerusalem on his side then he could safely release Jesus but with the crowds, as well as the Sanhedrin, against him, there was the danger of starting a major uprising that he hadn’t got the resources to quell. He reluctantly yielded to the Sanhedrin’s demands. We have seen in recent years such uprisings in many Middle Eastern countries, notably in the Arab Spring in N Africa. We do things slightly differently in the UK, with petitions to Parliament. Either way the popular will influences the outcome. How do you view those in authority? Can you identify with them, whether they be ministers of state or bishops in the church or even those at more lowly levels, in the difficult decisions that they have to make? Or do you naturally criticise and denigrate them?
- The crowds. And so we naturally turn to the crowds. If you were in the square for the preliminary part of the service you will have been reminded from the reading of the first 11 verses of Matthew 21 of what is known as Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem for his final week before his crucifixion. The crowd welcomed Jesus with shouts of ‘Hosanna’ and proclaimed him Son of David and even as king. I suspect that the nucleus and possible the bulk of this crowd was composed of Galileans many of whom were familiar with Jesus’ teaching and healing and were to a greater or lesser extent Jesus’ followers. It was a crowd sympathetic to Jesus. The other crowd that was around on the day of Jesus’ crucifixion was probably a much more general crowd, many of whom knew little of Jesus. They were Jews who had come from many countries around the Mediterranean Sea and even further afield, some making a regular visit to Jerusalem, some making a once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage, for the great feast of Passover, to celebrate God’s supreme saving act of the Old Covenant, namely the Exodus from Egypt. They were a fairly neutral crowd and therefore easily influenced by the High Priest and members of the Sanhedrin, to call for the release of Barabbas and the crucifixion of Jesus. After Jesus’ death, and having celebrated the Passover, I guess the Galileans, apart from the 11 Apostles and the women closely associated with Jesus, beat a fairly hasty path back home, whereas many other visitors, from more distant parts, remained to celebrate Pentecost. Some of these people are recorded in Acts Chapter 2 as being God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven and to whom Peter said “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (2v 36).
Have you ever joined a protest march, carrying a banner? In what way can you identify with either the crowd at the triumphal entry or the crowd on the day of Pentecost or the crowd at Passover?
- The others. I am going to leave you to think about the other people in the account of Matthew 27 – the soldiers, Simon of Cyrene, those who offered Jesus a drink of wine, the centurion, the women who supported Jesus, Barabbas, the two thieves crucified with Jesus. Where was God the Father in all of this? If we are in some small measure to communicate the gospel effectively to those outside the fellowship of the Church we need to understand such people, their hopes and fears, their longings and regrets, the challenges and decisions they face in life. This is no easy task. A preliminary step may be to face our own hopes and fears, to understand ourselves more fully. I invite you during this Holy Week to read Matthew chapter 27 and try to enter into the mindset of the groups and individuals in the account of Jesus’ trial, crucifixion and burial before coming to Easter Day with new understanding, new hope and strengthened faith in our risen Lord Jesus, the Saviour of the World.
Word count: 1277 Christopher Miles