Matthew 27:24-26 (Good Friday)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
April 22, 2011
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is recorded in Matthew 27:
So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” And all the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” Then he released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified.
Pilate did not want to be responsible for the injustice. The crowd, on the other hand, didn’t care. Pilate hesitated to accept responsibility for his role in Jesus’ death. The mob did not. What about us?
Pontius Pilate no doubt recognized that he was putting an innocent man to death. The Gospel tells us that Pilate “knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered [Jesus] up.” (27:18) Besides, Pilate’s wife had also warned him not to have anything to do with “that righteous man.” She had suffered much because of Jesus in a dream. But the chief priests and elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to destroy Jesus. This is a mob made up of the chief priests, the elders of the Jewish people, those employed in the temple, and any others who the chief priests could sway to their side. This crowd is not a representative sample of the Jewish people. Recall that Jesus’ trial happened through the night when most people, including Jesus’ followers and supporters, would have been asleep.
Pilate decided to give the crowd what they wanted rather than risk their displeasure and the mess of a riot. But before he did so, Pilate washed his hands of the whole situation. This was an act to indicate his innocence in the matter. He did not want to be held guilty for this sham of justice. Pilate will crucify Jesus, but he will put the blame with the chief priests and their mob.
And they are more than willing to accept the blame! They are even willing to render a sentence against themselves, cursing themselves, “His blood be on us!” And then they draw down a curse upon their own children as well. The Church Father John Chrysostom wrote, “They acted with unutterable madness. They acted both against themselves and their children!” Pilate had declared, “I am innocent of this man’s blood.” However, this crowd offers to take it completely off the governor’s hands and to load it upon themselves. This implies that they assume all the guilt, and that they make themselves liable for any punishment that might follow, and that they will face God’s justice and will suffer His wrath. And to this sacrilegious declaration they even add their own children.
But the truth of the matter is that Pilate was not innocent of this man’s blood. The chief priests and elders and their mob were not innocent of this man’s blood. Nor are you and I. We all bear responsibility for the necessity of Jesus’ crucifixion. We all bear responsibility for the need to have the blood of Jesus Christ shed for the forgiveness of our sins. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Rom. 3:23) And, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” (Heb. 9:22)
Consider some of the hymn stanzas we sing today on Good Friday as we confess that you and I are the reason that Christ humbled Himself unto death on the cross so that He might shed His blood to win our forgiveness.
“Upon the Cross Extended”
Who is it Lord, that bruised You?
Who has so sore abused You
And caused You all Your woe?
We all must make confession
Of sin and dire transgression
While You no ways of evil know.
I caused Your grief and sighing
By evils multiplying
As countless as the sands.
I caused the woes unnumbered
With which Your soul is cumbered,
Your sorrows raised by wicked hands.
“O Sacred Head, Now Wounded”
What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered
Was all for sinners’ gain;
Mine, mine was the transgression,
But Thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior!
‘Tis I deserve Thy place;
Look on me with Thy favor,
And grant to me Thy grace.
And grace is exactly what Jesus has given to us by His sacrificial death and the shedding of His most holy blood. In a way that the Jewish crowd could have never imagined, Jesus’ blood is on them and on their children. And Jesus’ blood is upon us, too. But His blood is not on them or us in fulfillment of a curse. Jesus’ bore the responsibility for our sins in His body on the cross. He bore the sins of the chief priests, elders, and the Jews who cried out for His death. He bore the sins of Pilate and the Roman soldiers who sorely abused Him and crucified Him. He bore our sins in His body on the tree and shed His holy, precious blood. Because of Jesus’ death and the shedding of His blood, we are assured that St. John’s words are true, “the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7b) Jesus Christ has “freed us from our sins by His blood.” (Rev. 1:5) St. Paul writes in Ephesians 1:5, “In [Jesus] we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us.”
So rather than a sentence or curse against us, “His blood be on us and on our children” has become a request of faith. We desire to be covered by the atoning, forgiving, body-and-soul-saving blood of Jesus. And by His free gift of grace, we are. We are covered in the blood of Christ, washed clean from our sins, and forgiven from all our guilt. His blood is on us and on our children and we are saved.
Martin Luther once paid a pastoral visit to a young scholar who was in his last illness, and oe of the first inquiries made was, “What do you think you can take to God, in whose presence you are so shortly to appear?” With striking confidence the youth at once replied, “Everything that is good, dear father—everything that is good!” “But how can you bring Him everything good seeing that you are but a poor sinner?” anxiously asked Dr. Luther. “Dear father,” at once added the young man, “I will take to my God in heaven a penitent, humble heart, sprinkled with the blood of Christ.” “Truly that is everything good,” answered Luther. “Then go, dear son; you will be a welcome guest to God.” And so will you and I, because the blood of Jesus is on us. Amen.