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“Court TV—Channel 33 A.D.”
Mark 15:1-29

Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Palm Sunday—April 1, 2012

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

This morning we begin our observance of Holy Week with the celebration of Palm Sunday, continuing with special services on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, and climaxing with our joyous celebration of Christ’s resurrection at our two Easter services next Sunday.  One way to look the events of Holy Week is as a courtroom drama.  The Supreme Court does not allow cameras, but this past week many listened with great interest to audio of the debate going on there.  Americans have become fascinated by and even somewhat obsessed with real-life courtroom dramas.  Cable channels broadcast court proceedings from around the country.  It’s interesting to watch these real-life dramas being played out before judge and jury.  So, this morning, let us go live to Jerusalem, for “Court TV—Channel 33 A.D.”

Episode I—Pontius Pilate

“Then the whole assembly rose and led him off to Pilate.”  This courtroom drama actually begins the night before, when the chief priests and the local ruling council, the Sanhedrin, find Jesus guilty of blasphemy and condemn him to death: “The high priest said to him, ‘I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.’  ‘Yes, it is as you say,’ Jesus replied. . .  Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, ‘He has spoken blasphemy!  Why do we need any more witnesses?  Look, now you have heard the blasphemy.  What do you think?’ They answered, ‘He is worthy of death.’”

But they cannot carry out the death sentence, because the Romans occupying their country have recently reserved the power of execution to themselves alone.  That is why early the next morning they lead him to the palace of the Roman governor Pontius Pilate and accuse him not of blasphemy but of serious crimes against the Roman Empire.  “And they began to accuse him, saying, ‘We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar.”  They know exactly which buttons to push to get the Roman governor’s attention.  In their indictment they charge Jesus with the two most heinous crimes, from the Roman Empire’s perspective: Opposing payment of taxes and claiming to be a king in opposition to Caesar.

“So Pilate asked Jesus, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ ‘Yes, it is as you say,’ Jesus replied. Then Pilate announced to the chief priests and the crowd, ‘I find no basis for a charge against this man.’”

Pontius Pilate is the first of four characters in this drama who declare Jesus not guilty.  He interviews Jesus, who tells him, “My kingdom is not of this world.”  Pilate concludes that he is nothing more than a rabbi with religious views about a spiritual kingdom, views which threaten not the power of Caesar but of the chief priests and ruling council who are accusing him.  Pilate sees right through their trumped up charges for what they are: An attempt to get him to do their dirty work and eliminate this unorthodox rabbi for them.  And so Pilate issues a summary judgment of not guilty and dismisses the case.  But the prosecution files an appeal.

Episode II—Herod Antipas

“But they insisted, ‘He stirs up the people all over Judea by his teaching. He started in Galilee and has come all the way here.’  On hearing this, Pilate asked if the man was a Galilean.  When he learned that Jesus was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time.”  When the prosecution appeals Pilate’s summary judgment, he tries another legal maneuver to set Jesus free: change of venue.

“Herod asked Jesus many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer.  The chief priests and the teachers of the law were standing there, vehemently accusing him.  Then Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked him.  Dressing him in an elegant robe, they sent him back to Pilate. . .  Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers and the people, and said to them, ‘You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him.  Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death.’”  Herod Antipas is the second character in this drama to find Jesus not guilty, and again Pilate declares Jesus innocent. 

Although Jesus is actually not guilty of anything, Pilate tries another legal maneuver to set him free: a governor’s pardon.  “Now it was the governor’s custom at the Feast to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd.  At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Barabbas.  So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, ‘Which one do you want me to release to you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?’ . . .  With one voice they cried out, ‘Away with this man! Release to us Barabbas!’”

The release of the guilty Barabbas in place of the innocent Jesus is really symbolic of what Jesus did for all of humanity, for you and me.  As St. Peter says, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross.”  We who are guilty, who deserve condemnation in the court of divine justice, who deserve everlasting punishment in the prison of hell, have like Barabbas been pardoned and set free because Jesus was condemned and crucified in our place.

“Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. But they kept shouting, ‘Crucify him! Crucify him!’  For the third time he spoke to them: ‘Why? What crime has this man committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty. Therefore I will have him punished and then release him.’  But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed.  So Pilate decided to grant their demand. He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will.”

A standard character in courtroom dramas is the “surprise witness.”  The Gospels report two very surprising witnesses who are the third and fourth characters in this drama that testify to Jesus’ innocence.

Episode III—The Thief on the Cross

“Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed.  When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. . .  One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: ‘Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!’  But the other criminal rebuked him. ‘Don’t you fear God,’ he said, ‘since you are under the same sentence?  We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.’”

In fiction, the surprise witness at the last moment sets the innocent man free.  But, by his testimony, this surprise witness at the last moment is himself set free: “’Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’  Jesus answered him, ‘I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.’”  By his testimony of faith in Christ, this surprise witness is set free from his sins, set free from eternal punishment. 

Acts says, “Everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name. . .  Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved.”  Like the thief on the cross, put your trust, your faith, your hope in Jesus.  Jesus’ promise to him is also his promise to you: “You will be with me in paradise.”

Episode IV—The Centurion

The second surprise witness and the fourth character in this drama to testify to Jesus’ innocence is the very man in charge of executing him.  “Jesus called out with a loud voice, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.’ When he had said this, he breathed his last.  The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, ‘Surely this was a righteous man.’” 

With that final testimony, the riveting drama “Court TV—Channel 33 A.D.” signs off the air.  But, the Good News is, there will be an exciting sequel in just three days!  As St. Paul says in Romans, “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.  Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”


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