The Innocent Charged – Luke 23:1-25

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March 19, 2017
Pastor Jeff Struecker

Sermon Notes

On New Year’s Day 1961 a recording band went into the studios of Decca records. They were trying to land a record contract. I’m going to assume that most of us in this room don’t have a record from Decca records. Mike Smith was an A&R representative for Decca records. This band in 1961 on New Year’s Day performed 15 songs in less than an hour. They were trying to convince Mike Smith that they should get a record contract. The band was obviously nervous and you could hear it in the way that they played. Smith had been around the industry for a while and knew what it sounded like for a band that was nervous. They had talent, a lot of talent. Smith went home and thought about it for a couple of weeks. He decided not to sign the band. In fact, he passed on this band and instead decided to sign another group that was in the studios just a couple of days before. Does anybody in this room own a record by Brian Poole and the Trems? The band that was in the studio on New Year’s Day was the Beatles. Mike Smith is considered to make one of the biggest blunders in music history. The Beatles would go on to sign a record contract with EMI and sell more than 600 million records. They would become the most successful band in the world. To this day, fifty years later, they hold more top hits in the Billboard top 100 than anybody in the history of music. Here’s what Mike Smith said about the Beatles after they recorded these 15 songs in the studios. He said, “The Beatles have no future in show business.” Can you imagine the sheer terror in Mike Smith’s mind when he was watching the British invasion or when we he was watching Paul McCartney and John Lennon turn the world upside down knowing that he went on record as having said this? This is where Mike Smith made his biggest blunder. He thought he know the music industry and what the music industry wanted. His words were, “Guitar groups were on their way out.” Then the Beatles would go on to take the world by storm. Mike Smith made one of the biggest mistakes in music history.

Today we’re going to read one of the biggest mistakes in the history of law when the judgment against an innocent man was passed. Today we will be looking at Luke chapter 23. I want you to see before we’re done today an innocent man is sentenced to die. I hope by the time that we’re done, you’re going to see your role in this sentence and your responsibilities for the sentence that Jesus endured.

I. Jesus took my charges

Last week I asked you to start to meditate on the suffering of Jesus. I think the more that you think about it the more you’re going to realize that he did that for me because he loves me.

Luke 23:1-7
1 Then the entire council took Jesus to Pilate, the Roman governor. 2 They began to state their case: “This man has been leading our people astray by telling them not to pay their taxes to the Roman government and by claiming he is the Messiah, a king.” 3 So Pilate asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus replied, “You have said it.” 4 Pilate turned to the leading priests and to the crowd and said, “I find nothing wrong with this man!” 5 Then they became insistent. “But he is causing riots by his teaching wherever he goes—all over Judea, from Galilee to Jerusalem!” 6 “Oh, is he a Galilean?” Pilate asked. 7 When they said that he was, Pilate sent him to Herod Antipas, because Galilee was under Herod’s jurisdiction, and Herod happened to be in Jerusalem at the time.

I want you to notice a few things about what we’re reading here. Luke skips over a couple of the other trials that Jesus goes through to get straight to the point today. He takes Jesus to the last court case before the Roman officials. This is holy week. This is the most holy day of the year for the Jews. Pontius Pilate is Caesar’s representative in Palestine. Pilate’s office is in a city called Caesarea Philippi. That’s where he normally does business but because this is the holy week there’s often problems in Jerusalem during the holy week Pilate decides to leave Caesarea and to come to Jerusalem to make sure that everything goes okay. Pilate is probably thinking to himself, “Boy did I pick the wrong day to leave the office!” Now these Jewish leaders and religious leaders have come to Pilate with a problem. They brought this rebel for Pilate and they make three specific charges against him. By the way, the very fact that they are taking this court case to the Roman authorities on the holy day itself is a sin. They’re working on the Sabbath which is a sin and they’re violating their own law to do this which says how bad they hate Jesus and how much they wanted him dead. The Jews don’t have the authority to kill a man on a holy day. They want Jesus dead today; so, they’re going to take him to the one guy who can kill him and try to convince Pilate to pass a death sentence against Jesus.

They bring three charges against him. The first charge that they bring against him is that he’s leading the Jewish nation astray. Literally that he is seducing Israel away from Rome. The second charge that they bring against him is that he’s opposing paying taxes. This is a flat-out lie, if you know the story from the book of Luke. Jesus was confronted by these men about taxes and he said to them to render unto Caesar that which belongs to Caesar but give to God that which belongs to God. Jesus said to pay your taxes. I wish he wouldn’t have because it would be easier on me if Jesus said don’t pay your taxes. What they’re saying is just a bald faced lie to Pilate but they want Jesus dead. Pilate doesn’t entertain the first two charges. He goes immediately to the crux of the matter. Jesus is claiming to be a king. Since he’s claiming to be a king, he’s claiming to have authority over the Jewish people, more authority than Caesar. Pilate says, “Is this true Jesus? Are you claiming to be a king?” He doesn’t even care about the first two charges he just wants to know about that last charge.

Jesus never gets a fair trial. He doesn’t get a fair trial from Pilate today. He doesn’t get a fair trial from the Jewish leaders. He doesn’t get a fair trial from Herod. He doesn’t get a fair trial from anybody. You can tell Pilate wants nothing to do with this and he finds an easy out.  Pilate says, “Wait a second. Jesus is from this area called Galilee? That’s not my problem. That problem belongs to the Jewish ruler in the area of Galilee, Herod Antipas. Send Jesus to Herod and let Herod deal with this guy. I don’t want anything to do with it because he’s a Galilean.” Did you notice that at no time in this passage does Jesus say, “Hey y’all, wait a second. I’m innocent.” In fact, as Pastor Michael read for us from the book of Isaiah, when the charges were brought against him Jesus could have and should have declared his innocence but he didn’t. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter and he was silent when the charges were brought against him.

How many of you in this room recognize the name Richard Jewell? Richard Jewell was a police officer and security guard during the 1996 Olympics. On July 27, 1996, Richard Jewell was working in Centennial Olympic Park during the Atlanta Olympics. Richard Jewell saw a green backpack that was left alone and he got suspicious. Jewell tried to keep the crowd safe by helping get a bunch of people away from this green backpack. Three pipe bombs inside that backpack exploded. Many people said that Richard Jewell saved their life. Then the investigation started. When the Department of Justice started the investigation, Richard Jewell went from being a hero to being a suspect. In fact, the Department of Justice leaked to the press that Jewell was considered a suspect. The man who literally saved people’s lives was now a prime suspect. All along Jewell was saying, “I’m innocent! This is wrong what you’re doing!” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, CNN, NBC, and the Washington Post all picked the story up. Since it was the Olympics, his face was on the front page of newspapers around the world. He instantly became one of the most hated men in the world. All along he was saying he was innocent. The investigation concluded and found that a guy by the name of Eric Rudolph really planted the bomb and that Richard Jewell was innocent all along. Attorney General Janet Reno said this about the Department of Justice’s handling of this man, “I’m very sorry that it happened. I think we owe him an apology. I regret that his name was leaked to the press.” Jewell was eventually vindicated and he started suing media outlets for the damage that they did to his name. All along Jewell was saying, “I’m an innocent man. You’ve got the wrong guy.”

Jesus should have and could have stood up and said, “I’m innocent. These charges are bogus.” But he doesn’t. He willingly allows himself to take these charges. I want to remind you the reason why Jesus allows himself to take these charges is because Jesus is about to answer to somebody much bigger than Herod Antipas and much higher in authority than Pontius Pilate. Jesus knows ultimately God the Father is his judge. You and I will ultimately answer to the righteous Judge, to God in Heaven, whose judgment is always perfect. These people got it wrong really bad when it comes to the case against Jesus. Jesus knew its God in Heaven that I will stand before one day. Maybe that’s what helped Jesus take my charges. It goes from bad to worse for Jesus.

II. Jesus took my criticism

He takes my charges but he also takes my criticism. The case goes to Herod Antipas and now the criticism and the ridicule gets ramped up a notch.

Luke 23:8-12
8 Herod was delighted at the opportunity to see Jesus, because he had heard about him and had been hoping for a long time to see him perform a miracle. 9 He asked Jesus question after question, but Jesus refused to answer. 10 Meanwhile, the leading priests and the teachers of religious law stood there shouting their accusations. 11 Then Herod and his soldiers began mocking and ridiculing Jesus. Finally, they put a royal robe on him and sent him back to Pilate. 12 (Herod and Pilate, who had been enemies before, became friends that day.)

Pilate was pretty shrewd. You have to give Pilate credit for this. Pilate said, “I don’t want anything to do with this case. I don’t want anything to do with this guy by the name of Jesus. Send him to Herod and let Herod deal with him.” Herod is not interested in truth. He just wants to be entertained. When that doesn’t happen Herod, his soldiers, and all of these religious leaders start to mock, criticize, and make fun of Jesus for the truth and for claiming to be the Son of God and the King of the Jews. Herod could have stepped in right here and stopped this whole trial. It could’ve ended at that moment but it doesn’t. Herod’s not interested so he sends Jesus back to Pilate. Now Jesus is Pilate’s problem again.

Luke wants you to hear something very carefully. Jesus’s suffering fixes broken relationships. The biggest broken relationship is between God and man. It is my sin and your sin that broke our relationship with the God. That’s the very reason why Jesus came to earth. Jesus’s suffering also fixes broken relationships between people. Do you have a friend that’s a believer in Jesus Christ who things are not right between you and them right now? Is there another brother or sister that should be in this room today but they’re not in this room because their mad at you or you’re mad at them? If that’s you, learn from the Bible today. Jesus’s suffering ultimately fixes the relationship between sinful people and a holy God but he also can restore relationships between two believers who are just out of joint or who are not walking arm in arm with each other. Jesus is enduring all of this because he wants to honor his Father in Heaven.

Sometimes people are going to criticize you. Sometimes they’ll even make fun of you and sometimes it’s not even your fault. I know it hurts when that happens. You and I can’t even imagine how bad this hurt Jesus. If you’re saying, I really care more about what God thinks about me than people around me think about me you would be willing to accept the hurt. It doesn’t hurt any less but you’ll be willing to accept the hurt when people criticize you because Jesus went through that for you.

III. Jesus took my condemnation

Ultimately Jesus took your guilty verdict. He took my condemnation. This is what the Bible teaches us next. Picture what you’ve already read. The religious leaders hate Jesus and they want him dead. Herod has the ability to stop it and he chooses not to do it. Pilate should have the guts to say this whole thing is a sham and call it off but he doesn’t do it. I wonder if the crowds, the very people who loved Jesus and who wanted to make him their king when he was giving them something to eat, are going rally behind Jesus when Pilate gives them a chance.

Luke 23:13-25
13 Then Pilate called together the leading priests and other religious leaders, along with the people, 14 and he announced his verdict. “You brought this man to me, accusing him of leading a revolt. I have examined him thoroughly on this point in your presence and find him innocent. 15 Herod came to the same conclusion and sent him back to us. Nothing this man has done calls for the death penalty. 16 So I will have him flogged, and then I will release him.” 18 Then a mighty roar rose from the crowd, and with one voice they shouted, “Kill him, and release Barabbas to us!” 19 (Barabbas was in prison for taking part in an insurrection in Jerusalem against the government, and for murder.) 20 Pilate argued with them, because he wanted to release Jesus. 21 But they kept shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” 22 For the third time he demanded, “Why? What crime has he committed? I have found no reason to sentence him to death. So I will have him flogged, and then I will release him.” 23 But the mob shouted louder and louder, demanding that Jesus be crucified, and their voices prevailed. 24 So Pilate sentenced Jesus to die as they demanded. 25 As they had requested, he released Barabbas, the man in prison for insurrection and murder. But he turned Jesus over to them to do as they wished.

If you read this account in the book of John, you would know that Pilate is so frustrated that he takes out a basin of water and washes his hands in front of the crowd and says, “What you’re doing is wrong. This man is innocent. If you proceed in this, I’m going to wash my hands of this whole event. His blood is going to be on your head.” The crowd says, “Absolutely, we will take his blood on our head. We don’t want that kind of leader. We want a leader like Barabbas who will lead a revolt and throw off the chains of Rome. I used to feel sorry for Pilate. I used to think he was just caught up in the whole fervor of the event until I paid close attention this week to what Luke said. Three times Pilate has said this man is innocent and still he sentenced Jesus to die. At least for the religious leaders, they believed Jesus was guilty and they wanted him dead. In Pilate’s case it’s worse because he’s a coward. He knows Jesus is innocent and so what pilot is guilty of is murder. He just sentenced who he knows to be an innocent man to die. This crowd is more than happy to take the punishment or to take the penalty for crying out for Jesus’s death.

If you paid close attention to your Bible, you noticed something is missing. Do me a favor and look down at your Bible. Your Bible may include verse 17 or it may jump from 16 to 18 with a little asterisk. If it has an asterisk it probably says this, “If verse 17 were in your Bible it would read like this, ‘Now it was necessary for him (Pilate) to release a prisoner to them during the Passover celebration.’” Is that statement true? Absolutely! Luke chapter 25, Mark chapter 15, and John chapter 18 say the exact same thing. Almost all scholars admit Luke didn’t write that. Somebody else added that in later and so some translations just leave that verse out altogether. There was a Roman custom that to appease the Jewish people on the highest holy day of the year they would send one of the hardened prisoners away free. Pilate sees this as his way out, “I have two guys, Jesus the innocent man or Barabbas the guilty man. Certainly they’re going to ask for Jesus to be released.” This thing blows up in Pilate’s face when he puts Jesus and Barabbas before them and they said, “We want Barabbas not Jesus.” This is a travesty of justice to the greatest proportion. The crowd just keeps getting louder and louder, “Release Barabbas!” When Pilate asked them, “What do you want me to do with this innocent man?” They say, “Kill him! We want this man dead.”

The reason why Jesus was willing to go like a lamb to the slaughter, the reason why he didn’t stand up and shout his innocence was because he was more concerned about following the plan of God then even his own life. He was willing to submit even his own life, if necessary, to follow the command of God. In other words, honoring his Father in Heaven was more important than even preserving his own life. If you call yourself a follower of Jesus and you want to be like Jesus, then you and I should have the same kind of radical commitment. “God, even if you ask my life from me, I will give it because honoring you is more important than anything else around me.” I know it’s tempting for you because it’s tempting for me to listen to the applause of the crowd. I know you probably want to have 10,000 people “like” what you said on Facebook but keep this in mind. The crowd is fickle and they’ll turn on you tomorrow as quickly as they’ll turn to you today. This crowd is the perfect example of that.

All morning long we’ve been looking at this court case from Jesus’s perspective but I ask you to stop for just the second and look at it from a different perspective. For just a moment I want you to imagine that you are Barabbas. I want you to imagine that you are guilty. You know you’re guilty and everybody around you knows your guilty. You’ve been convicted, sentenced to die, and you’re on death row waiting for your execution. While you’re on death row another prisoner moves into the cell next to you. You’ve heard about this guy and you may have an opportunity to talk to this guy. Jesus is an innocent man. Imagine that you’re standing there when Pilate says, “Do you want Barabbas the murderer and the insurrectionist or do you want Jesus the innocent man?” The crowd says, “Give us Barabbas!” then imagine what’s going through your mind five minutes after you’re released when you know you’re guilty and this man is sentenced to die and you know he’s innocent.

Luke makes the story for us today so that you and I are confronted with the question, who’s really at fault for sentencing Jesus to die? Is it the religious leaders fault? Is it Herod Antipas that is ultimately at fault for this? Is it Pontius Pilate that is responsible for Jesus’s death? Or, is it the crowd that’s at fault? I think what Luke is trying to convince us today is that it’s my fault and it’s your fault that this man had to die. Each Sunday our sermon is trying to take somebody in this room who doesn’t know Jesus personally to a point of understanding, what I call the great exchange. Here’s the great exchange. Your sin has forever broken your relationship with God. You can’t clean this sin up. You can’t be a good person. You can’t earn your way to Heaven. That’s not how the system works. So God stepped in to your mess and took the initiative. God sent his Son Jesus who lived a pure, perfect, and holy life. He never did anything wrong and never once committed a sin. Jesus took your guilt, your condemnation, your guilty verdict on himself. When you surrender your soul to Jesus Christ this is what happens at this transaction. God takes every sin, every thought, every action, and every attitude and places it on the back of his Son Jesus. Jesus’s death is payment for your sins. The Bible makes is very clear that somebody has to die for your sin, the wages of sin is death. There’s no way to work hard enough to clean yourself up from sin. Somebody is going to have to die for that and Jesus is willing the die on your behalf.

That’s only half of the equation. The other half of the equation is when you surrender it all to Jesus and turn your soul over to Jesus Christ as your Savior, God now gives you credit for the perfect life that Jesus led. When you stand before God he doesn’t see your sin anymore. He sees a man or a woman bought with the blood of Jesus Christ and he gives you credit for the pure perfect life that Jesus lived. I believe this is what Luke is trying to say. Jesus took your charges. You deserved the death penalty so do I. Jesus took the criticism, the insults, and the ridicule that you and I deserved. He took your condemnation. He was willing to accept the guilty verdict. When he should have stood up and said he was innocent he didn’t so that your sin could be paid for once and for all. I’m going to challenge you today. If you’re just coming to church for the first time or maybe you come to church many times but you never really come to Christ, totally and completely surrender it all to him right now. That’s why he suffered.

Next Steps

• I realize that Jesus took my place. Today, I commit my life to Jesus for the first time.
– I have been following the crowd and not speaking out about my faith. This week I will look for opportunities to tell people about my faith in Jesus.
+ When criticized or condemned I will trust in the Holy Spirit to defend me.

Discussion Questions

  1. What is your first reaction when people speak bad about you?
  2. Have you been hurt by someone who you thought was on your side? (Why does this pain hurt so bad?)
  3. There’s a difference of opinion about Pilate’s motives in this passage. Why do you think he sentenced Jesus to die?
  4. Who is ultimately responsible for Jesus’ death sentence? Explain your answer.
  5. Why didn’t God step in and rescue his Son? (Did God not know? Not Care? Couldn’t do anything to stop it?)
  6. The highest expression of love is a willingness to sacrifice. Jesus showed us sacrificial love. Do you sacrifice for your faith? (If so, explain how.)
  7. Pray that we would be willing to sacrifice everything, if Jesus asked it of us.

Further reading

Acts 8:1-4

May 5, 2019Pastor Jeff Struecker Sermon Notes I. The Gospel has always been under attack Acts 8:1Saul agreed with putting him to death. On that day a...

Acts 7

April 14, 2019Pastor Jeff Struecker Sermon Notes I. God calls a people Acts 7:1-8 “Are these things true?” the high priest asked. 2...