Wednesday, March 25, 2020
And the high priest tore his garments and said. “What further witnesses do we need? You have heard the blasphemy. What is your decision?” And they all condemned Him as deserving death.
If looks could kill. Can you picture eyes filled with rage? Likely you’ve seen it in the eyes of someone; perhaps you’ve seen it on your own face when you look in the mirror. In the ancient world and still today in some cultures, the “evil eye” is a glance that’s thought to cause harm to the recipient. That’s how I envision the eyes of the chief priests and scribes, the Sadducees and Pharisees, as they plotted Jesus’ death in tonight’s lesson. They were filled with hatred and murder as they saw Jesus being greeted with praise in Jerusalem during Holy Week, and before that, when face-to-face with Jesus, they heard Him speak woes and reproaches to them. If they could’ve shot arrows from their eyes at the Lord, they would’ve.
I don’t remember what I did to deserve it, but I remember my reaction to the punishment. My father had punished me and sent me to my room. I vividly remember going into my room and behind closed doors muttering, I hate you; I hate you; I hate you! Out of earshot of my father, of course. I’m sure my eyes had that murderous look like the Jews had. But later, I knew that I’d gotten what I deserved for my crime and needed to be sorry and change my ways.
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! said Jesus (Matthew 23:29), no doubt with a rather stern, fatherly look. This wouldn’t fit in with Dale Carnegie’s advice given in his 1936 bestseller How to Win Friends and Influence People. But it was what they needed to hear, and those words were spoken in love, just as my father had done in disciplining me. God and His representatives never speak the Law to us in hatred, but only because we need to recognize our sin and know what to repent of.
Jesus said, woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, saying, if we had lived in the days of our fathers, we wouldn’t have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets. Thus, you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fulfill the measure of your fathers (Matthew 23:29–32).
Jesus wanted them to recognize they were two-faced and repent. So He says mocking them, fulfill the measure of your fathers to bring them face-to-face with the murder that lay in their hearts under their pious charades of honoring the murdered prophets and behind their pious sayings of “We wouldn’t have done what our fathers did.” But their father’s guilt is real when the sons lack repentance, so Jesus challenges them to push things forward to their logical conclusion: I know your hearts! I can see the murder in your eyes! Go ahead! Walk in the steps of your fathers! Why don’t you go ahead and kill Me too and continue your family tradition! Can you see where I went with that? I also think Jesus is telling them to fulfill the Father’s plan of salvation.
There is nothing new under the sun. Murderous thoughts and looks are as old as the fall into sin. Cain’s downcast eyes became murderous toward his brother. Murder is and has always been the curiosity of man, just look at all the TV shows about murder. But the original source is the devil, who, Jesus says, was a liar and murderer from the beginning. John says that the murderer Cain was OF the evil one (1 John 3:12). In addressing the Jews who wanted to kill Him, Jesus identifies Satan as the father of all who hate God’s Son.
But how does that pertain to us? Aren’t John and Jesus just using Cain and the murderous Jews as an example? Surely the Lord’s not talking to us pious Christians, is He? But listen to His Word. John writes, everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him (1 John 3:15). And a bit later, if anyone says, I love God, and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen (4:20). Follow the logic. If I claim to love God while hating my brother, I am both a murderer and a liar and can’t love God, and if I don’t love Him, then I must hate Him. Looks like Cain and the hostile Jews and all of us are in the same boat. This is why we make this confession to Jesus in the hymn:
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. (LSB 453:4)
Don’t lie to yourself. You have said in your heart, I have reasons for hating my parents. I can make excuses for wishing that my brother was dead. I have good cause for casting an evil eye upon my neighbor. That’s enough to make you a murderer in God’s sight and place you under His wrath. The Jews fulfilled the measure of their fathers in tonight’s lesson, and if we’re honest with ourselves, we must see ourselves right along with them.
You have to admire, then, that the Father would allow His Son to be murdered at the hands of sinful men, just to save a bunch of rotten, rebellious sinners with eyes filled with rage against God and man. But God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by His blood, much more shall we be saved by Him from the wrath of God (Romans 5:8–9).
The wrath of God is not a murderous look from the Father, but a look of righteous judgment upon the guilt of sin. We all deserve God’s wrath just as much as I deserved my father’s punishment, but instead of giving us what we deserved, God put it on Jesus, and Jesus willingly took it, for us and for our salvation.
From the cross, Jesus looked at the masses of humanity and said, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34). Original sin, which produces lies, hatred, murder, and every other sin, is so deep a corruption that we can’t recognize the depravity of what we think, say, and do unless it’s revealed by God’s Word. But once our murderous eyes have looked in horror on what we really have done, nailing the innocent Son of God to the tree with our sins, then we’re also ready for the joyful Good News of the forgiveness of all of our sins for the sake of Christ’s voluntary sacrifice at the hands of murderers, the death by which He has ended the wrath of God toward us. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by His life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation (Romans 5:10–11). We can rejoice in Christ, who has turned your murderous eyes away from sin, guilt, and despair and lifted them up to look upon Himself as your Savior. Amen.