6 April 2012
St. John's, Chicago, IL
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
There was quite a stir several years back, when Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ first hit theaters. Some tried trumping up allegations that anti-Semitic remarks that he had allegedly made were proof that he treated the Jewish leaders unfairly in this portrayal. They maintained that the film was laying blame at the feet of the Jews.
Upon hearing this, I wanted to respond: "I'm sorry. Did we see the same film? Because The Passion of the Christ that I saw clearly did not assign blame to one group. There is lots of blame to go around. It is more complicated than that."
The Sanhedrin was guilty, do not get me wrong. The high priest, who should have been the spiritual leader for the entire nation, this last generation of the Old Testament Church, led the people in rejecting and despising the very God he thought he served. The scribes and Pharisees who had been viewed as righteous, upright men, were proving to be the unwitting agents of the devil.
But the Jewish leadership was not the only group to blame. Governor Pilate was proving he had a lack of a spine. He kept returning to his instinct that Jesus was indeed innocent -- perhaps a little touch of mental illness and delusion, but pretty harmless. Yet the crowds looked ready to riot. They would interfere with imperial politics, and create problems for Pilate in Caesar's court. Pilate was realizing he could end up dying over this ridiculous little religious squabble. Better to give the mob what it wants.
And so, Pilate joins the ranks of the guilty. He too is sinning against God by ordering the crucifixion of Christ. The enlisted men who served the governor are in his mix, too. Being the very men who shoved the thorns, who cracked the whips, who hammered the nails, these soldiers have the guilt of Christ's blood on them too.
But wait, the night before, Peter denied even knowing Jesus, the other apostles simply ran away into the darkness, trying to save their own lives as they abandoned Jesus. They are guilty of forsaking their Savior and leaving Him to be arrested and killed.
Crowds of the curious and passers-by gathered on Golgotha. While a few were there weeping, most were there to mock and decry Jesus. They jeered and gloated over the Man that they felt was becoming too popular and engaging in false teaching. In their condescension and cruel words, they too were guilty of this terrible miscarriage of justice.
And then there is you. You are not free from guilt. You see, Jesus had no sin whatsoever. He was undeserving of death. Yet there He was, submitting to the death deserved by every other human being ever -- including the sin of those in the Old Testament Church and the New.
The oldest paintings of the crucifixion have an actual skull underground at the "Place of the Skull," and traditionally this is supposed to be the skull of Adam, the first man. The blood from Jesus' precious wounds then falls onto the skull of Adam, reminding all that Jesus' sacrifice is for every person in every age, all the way back to Adam.
So there He is, Jesus, lifted up on the cross to bear your sin and be your Savior. He speaks from the cross this glorious word of absolution: "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." Who is the "they?" Not simply the Jewish Temple leadership. Not merely the Romans. Not just the people gathered on Golgotha.
Saint Luke carefully chooses the words of this Gospel, and when Jesus said "forgive them," He was referring to everyone. Everyone else in the entire world who ever was, is, or will be born is guilty and deserving of the death sentence of the cross and the pain of hell endured there. But Jesus declares this blessed absolution to all, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do."
In fact, His absolution is not just for all at that moment. Another clue that everyone is included here is that Jesus uses a verb form that is not in most English translations; He actually says, "Father, KEEP FORGIVING them, for they know not what they do." Not just the sin at that moment of mocking and crucifying Him, but all sin, through which you transgress against Him.
Jesus prays for you! He absolves you. He removes all guilt you have in this torture and death, rescuing you as He declares a lasting absolution. Dear friends in Christ, you are lovingly saved by the Savior, rescued by your Redeemer, and loosed by your Lord.
Do not despair when you behold or ponder your dear Lord on His cross. The image is not one of deep despair; but an image of loving victory on His part. A victory with lasting, absolving results! "Behold, the life-giving cross, on which was hung the salvation of the world!"
Yes, every last person is guilty of the Lord's death. However, every last one has had his sin atoned, paid for by the Savior. You are absolved. And Jesus KEEPS on absolving you, as He prays to the Father on your behalf.
Christ Jesus has absolved you, and He keeps on delivering that forgiveness to you through His precious gifts of Baptism, Absolution, the preaching of His Gospel, and in His Holy Supper. Each and every time you receive these great blessings, the Lord Jesus continues to speak those sweet, loving words: "Father, KEEP FORGIVING them, for they know not what they do." Amen.