Posted by: Johnold Strey | March 20, 2014

Sermon on Matthew 27:25

“LET HIS BLOOD BE ON US AND ON OUR CHILDREN”

Lent Sermon Series: Sermons Preached by Jesus’ Enemies

Text: Matthew 27:25

Introduction

Tuesday, February 24, 2004: the day before Ash Wednesday, ten years ago. My church office phone rings. It’s a reporter for the local paper where we used to live, the San Mateo County Times. The reporter wants to ask some questions about the movie that is scheduled to be released the next day, Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. A few questions into the phone interview came the predictable question: “What do you think about the controversy surrounding the movie?” I played dumb. “Controversy? What controversy?” “You know, the controversy from the fact that some say the movie is anti-Semitic.” The claim that The Passion of the Christ spoke negatively about Jews came from the statement blurted out by the Jewish crowd in the verse that forms the springboard for tonight’s “sermon” preached by Jesus’ enemies—“Let his blood be on us and on our children!” It’s kind of strange that this verse, which was omitted in the final cut of the movie, was viewed as anti-Semitic. Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, is painted in a pretty bad light by the Gospels and yet no one claims that the Bible or the movie is anti-Italian! But somehow The Passion of the Christ was deemed controversial even after editing out this statement from the crowd: “Let his blood be on us and on our children!”

Controversy

There is controversy in this account, but it is not anti-Semitism. The controversy is the trial and the verdict of Jesus. The verses prior to tonight’s verse reveal the real controversy, at least as far as proper justice is concerned. Pontius Pilate knows that the Jewish religious leaders have handed Jesus over to him for the death penalty without just cause; the only cause was their intense envy and hatred for the Messiah that their people had waited for over many centuries but they failed to recognize before their eyes. Pilate tries to devise a way to free Jesus, reverting to a custom he had of releasing one prisoner back into the population, and giving them two choices: the innocent Jesus, or the known and notorious Barabbus. Surely this would bring the crowd to its senses! As Pilate concocts this plan, a message comes from his wife: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.” When the crowd rejects Pilate’s plan, he asks them point blank, “What crime has he committed?” Everything is screaming toward Jesus’ innocence, but the crowd before his palace shouts, “Crucify him!” And there is the real controversy.

Pilate knew he had an innocent man before him. More than once he used the brutal force of his position and the military forces at his disposal to put people in their place. But now he had a riot on his doorstep. Caesar back in Rome would not look too favorably on him if this crowd got out of control. Well-known Anglican theologian N.T. Wright wrote in his popular commentary on these verses, “Pilate commanded troops. He had sent them to quell riots before and could do so again. He didn’t have to be pushed around. But, like all bullies, he was also a coward. He lurches from trying to play the high and mighty judge to listening a little too much to the growing noise of the crowd.”

And what did the growing noise of the crowd shout out when Pilate literally and figuratively washed his hands of responsibility? “‘I am innocent of this man’s blood,’ [Pilate] said. ‘It is your responsibility!’ All the people answered, ‘Let his blood be on us and on our children!’” How ironic that at the start of the Passion History, the Jewish religious leaders made their plans to arrest Jesus, but with a caveat: “But not during the Feast…or there may be a riot among the people” (Matthew 26:5). And now, in the midst of the Passover celebration, the Jewish religious leaders work up a rioting crowd before Pilate that blurts out in utter shamelessness, “Let his blood be on us and on our children!” 

To say that someone’s blood was “on” another person was a Jewish expression of responsibility for someone’s life. Much ink has been spilled about this statement from the Passion History. As I prepared this sermon, I had the chance to read through about 20 commentaries that talked about these words—ranging from commentaries written in the late nineteenth century to those written in the current century. I found it interesting that older commentaries tended to view these words as a curse that the Jews had unwittingly called down on themselves, while newer commentaries generally suggested that such a claim is saying too much.

We must be careful not to say any more than the Holy Spirit has recorded for us in the Word of God. A specific group of Jews exhibiting mob mentality flippantly agreed that they and their children would be responsible for the death of Jesus. It does not say that God concurred with their foolish words and placed a curse on all Jews of all future generations. Did God hold them to their words and curse them and their children? If so, perhaps their self-condemnation became reality when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in 70 A.D. But beyond that, we can neither say more nor speculate further.

Flippancy

What we can say is that this crowd was utterly and shamefully flippant about the miracle-making, grace-proclaiming, dead-man-raising Son of God who stood before them weak and weary, bruised and beaten and soon to be further bloodied. And still they shout, “Let his blood be on us and on our children!” Every piece of evidence from Jesus’ life, every piece of evidence from the phony overnight trial before the Sanhedrin, and every piece of evidence in Pilate’s kangaroo court said that Jesus was innocent. Those who stirred up this crowd into a mob knew that, and yet they could not have been more flippant about it. What’s a little sin if it helps me get my way? What’s a little blood on my hands if the end result is that I get what I want? What’s wrong with the end justifying the means?

“How flippant!” we think. “How cold and cruel!” we say to ourselves. And yet at the moment we think those thoughts, we glance back at verse 25 in our Bibles and bulletins, and to our shock and surprise, there is a mirror at that spot in the page with our own faces looking right back at us. For the flippancy of this crowd, the sin deemed too controversial for discussion in society and inclusion in a movie, is mirrored in our own hearts and lives. How often doesn’t the end justify the means for us? How often do we not assume the worst of others and damage their good name in the process when events do not turn out the way we want? How often don’t we justify our blatant and repeated sins by making excuses for ourselves and by placing the blame on others—all the while failing to see that the blood of the Son of God is on our hands! No, my friends, there is not one of us here who cannot see ourselves in that ancient but very real crowd. None of us could blame this crowd for treating Jesus so flippantly, for we who bear his name and yet fail to live up to the name he has given us have done the very same thing in our own way.

Irony & Beauty

“Let his blood be on us and on our children!” How flippant! And yet how ironic! The Passion history is full of unexpected and ironic turns and twists that make us sit up and take notice as we hear the story again each Lent. Perhaps there is no greater irony than hearing this chant of the crowd and realizing what those words mean when we put them in an entirely different context. For the people of God, the crowd’s words have an ironic but beautiful twist. Consider the apostle Paul in Ephesians (1:7): “In [Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins.” Consider the apostle Peter in his first letter (1:18-19): “You know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ.” Consider the apostle John in his first letter (1:7): “The blood of Jesus, [God’s] Son, purifies us from all sin.”

The crowd flippantly called for Jesus’ blood to cover them. And more often than we care to admit, our sins have joined our lips to their death-chant. But in beautiful irony that only God could accomplish, the very words that the crowd cried out express how God would cover their sins and ours. The confession of faith that comes from the ironic double-meaning of their words finds forgiveness and cleansing in the blood that Jesus would pour out for them and for the world and for you just moments after this mob scene moved from Pilate’s palace to Calvary’s cross.

“Let his blood be on us and on our children!” As I think about that phrase, another Bible verse that talks about the blood of Jesus comes to my mind. In the final book of the Bible, St. John’s Revelation, he provides us a picture of the saints gathered around God’s throne in heaven. And here is how the saints are described in one particular verse (7:14): “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” The saints in heaven wear white robes—clothing that symbolizes purity and holiness. And how did their robes become white? “The blood of the Lamb.” Jesus’ blood, shed for us on Calvary’s cross paid the penalty for the sins of the world. The crowd may have treated Jesus’ blood flippantly, but what Jesus’ blood does for the world is beautiful and incredible! And what Jesus blood does for the world is now your prized possession through faith in the Son of God. Jesus’ blood washes away your sins, each and every one—even our flippancy toward him and his Word, our flippancy at what our sin does to others and toward the seriousness of sin’s consequences on our souls—all of it is cleansed, washed, scoured, bleached, and purified in the holy and precious blood of Christ.

Conclusion

When the reporter from the San Mateo County Times asked me about the supposedly controversial and anti-Semitic aspects about The Passion of the Christ, I told him, “No honest Christian is going to watch this movie and say, ‘Look at what those Jews did to Jesus!’ A Christian will watch this and say, ‘Look at what my sin did to Jesus!’”

And that is also why, in an ironic twist of meaning, we can also cry out, “Let his blood be on us and on our children!” Once those were flippant words from a careless mob. But to you and me and to all who look to the blood of the Lamb of God for full forgiveness and sure salvation, those words turn from a careless cry to our confident confession. Let his blood be on us. Let his blood cover us, atone us, cleanse us, and assure us that one glorious future day we will stand among those who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. “Let his blood be on us and on our children!” Amen.

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