Return to Sermons | Home

“Questions at the Cross: Shall I Crucify Your King?
John 19:15


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Fourth Sunday in Lent—March 10, 2013

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

During Lent this year, for both our special evening and Sunday morning services, we are considering “Questions at the Cross,” questions asked by Jesus and others during the first Holy Week.  The entire sermon series is listed on the back of today’s bulletin.

This morning we continue with the question Pontius Pilate asks the bloodthirsty mob crying out for Jesus’ crucifixion: “Pilate brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge’s seat . .  And he said to the Jews, ‘Behold your King!’ But they shouted, ‘Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!’ ‘Shall I crucify your king?’ Pilate asked. ‘We have no king but Caesar,’ the chief priests answered.   Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified. So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). Here they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side, and Jesus in the middle.”

Today’s “Question at the Cross”: “Shall I Crucify Your King?”

The Roman poet Cicero wrote that crucifixion was, “the most cruel and disgusting punishment. . . it is impossible to find the words for such an abomination.” And the Jewish historian Josephus describes crucifixion as, “the most wretched of deaths.”  That is why a Roman citizen couldn’t be crucified.  No matter how great a criminal they might be, death by crucifixion was considered too shameful, too demeaning, beneath the dignity of any Roman citizen. It was reserved only for the lowest scum, the worst criminals, the most vile offenders.

“Shall I Crucify Your King?”  Pontius Pilate repeatedly declares Jesus not guilty.  “They shouted, ‘Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!’”  “‘Why?,’ replied Pilate. ‘What crime has he committed? . . . I find no basis for a charge against him. . .  I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty. . . As you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death.’”

“Shall I Crucify Your King?”  It was not Jesus who deserved this horrible punishment, but you, and me, and all of humanity.  Paul declares in Galatians, “The whole world is a prisoner of sin,” and in Romans pronounces the judgment we deserve, “For the wages of sin is death.”  On account of our sins we all deserve eternal death and damnation in hell.

“Shall I Crucify Your King?”  A Lenten hymn asks, “O, dearest Jesus, what law have you broken?”  The Apostle John answers, “He appeared to take away our sins; and in him is no sin.”  Jesus had broken no law, committed no sin.  He suffered the most cruel, the most shameful, the most painful, demeaning, and wretched of deaths not for his own sin, for in him is no sin.  “He appeared to take away our sins.”  Paul puts it this way in 2nd Corinthians: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

That is God’s great exchange.  Your sins were all placed upon Jesus; he suffered and died in your place.  “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us.”  God accepts his Son’s sacrifice for you.  Because of Jesus’ suffering and death, your sins are all forgiven, God does not count your sins against you.  Paul puts it this way in Colossians: “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.  Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.  But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.”

That is the first part of God’s great exchange.  “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us.”  Jesus wipes your slate clean of all your sins. But, just an absence of sin isn’t enough for you to get into heaven.  Admission into heaven requires more than just a blank slate. Admission into heaven actually requires a full slate, full of perfect works of righteousness.  And that’s the second part of God’s great exchange.  He credits to you the perfect righteousness and holiness of his own Son.  “So that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

When God looks upon you, he sees a complete absence of sin, because all your sins have been taken away and paid for by his Son.  But, when God looks upon you, he sees not only an absence of sin.  He also sees in you perfect righteousness and holiness, because the righteousness and holiness of his own Son is credited to you.  “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

That’s what it’s all about.  Christianity, the Bible, the Church, Lent, Easter, our congregation, our worship here each week.  It’s all about God’s great exchange, for you.  The Augsburg Confession of the Lutheran Church puts it this way: “The Son of God . . . suffered, was crucified, died, and was buried in order to be a sacrifice for all [our] sins  . . . to reconcile the Father to us . . . and to appease God’s wrath . . .  we receive forgiveness of sin and become righteous before God . . . when we believe that Christ suffered for us, and that for his sake our sins are forgiven and righteousness and eternal life are given to us.”

“Shall I Crucify Your King?”  It is one of the great ironies of history that the cross should have become the foremost symbol of the Christian faith.  We are so accustomed to the cross representing an inspiring, comforting religious symbol, it is hard for us to get back into the mindset of the first century, when for most people the cross was the total opposite of inspiring or comforting, a gruesome method of torture and execution.  As Paul says in today’s Epistle Reading, “Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.”

To both Jews and Gentiles in Paul’s day, the idea of Christ crucified made no sense at all.  Because, the Jews were expecting the Messiah, the Christ, to be a mighty warrior-king, who would overthrow the Romans and establish on earth with military might the greatest kingdom the world had ever seen.  “But we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews.”  They could never accept Christ crucified, who instead of overthrowing the hated Romans suffered under Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, was crucified, died, and was buried.  Such a failure could not possibly be their Messiah.

“Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified; a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.”  In the pagan philosophy and mythology of the non-Jews, their gods would never allow themselves to suffer so.  The gods they worshipped were mighty and powerful: Zeus, Apollo, the great gods of Mt. Olympus, not the dead God of Mt. Calvary.  They could never accept a God so weak, so powerless, that he would allow himself to be crucified.  For them the very thought of God being put to death was ludicrous, nonsense, foolishness.  And worst of all, not to die in some glorious way, but to die on a cross!  It was impossible, just plain silly.  As the Roman Governor Festus once said to Paul, “You are out of your mind, Paul!  Your great learning is driving you insane.”

“Shall I Crucify Your King?”  An ancient citizen of the Roman Empire transported over the centuries to a modern American city would be absolutely dumbfounded by the large number of impressive buildings that have crosses prominently perched on their steeples.  Why would people put crosses, of all things, on top of these great buildings?  The cross atop our bell tower is the highest object towering over our community, and at the front of our sanctuary we have both a massive wooden cross and a life-size stained-glass portrait of Christ’s crucifixion.  Why would we commemorate such a horrific event?  Why would we so prominently display this symbol?

“Shall I Crucify Your King?”  “Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified. So the soldiers took charge of Jesus.  Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha).  Here they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle.”

“Jesus in the middle” describes how he was crucified between two criminals, which is why we often depict three cross on Calvary.  But, “Jesus in the middle” is also a way to help you understand the significance for you of his death on the cross.  Paul puts it this way in 1st Timothy, “There is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men.”  Jesus is your mediator, your go-between with God.  Just as he hung on the cross between two others, his death on the cross stands between you and God, “Jesus in the middle,” his suffering and death shielding you from God’s wrath and earning you forgiveness, and God’s favor, and eternal life. 

“Shall I Crucify Your King?”  “We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.  But, to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”  For us, the cross and Christ crucified have been transformed, into symbols of hope, forgiveness, and God’s love.  Paul puts it this way in Romans, “God demonstrates his love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. . .  we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son . . .  we have been justified by his blood.”

That is why the cross has become the cherished symbol of our Christian faith: Because Jesus Christ’s death on the cross means our sins are all forgiven.  That is why the cross and Christ crucified cross are transformed for us into inspiring, comforting symbols of hope, forgiveness, and God’s love, love so great that he gave up for us his own Son.  “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

Amen.

  Return to Top | Return to Sermons | Home | Email Pastor Vogts