"An Ironic Trial" (Luke 23:1-25)
Back in 1995 Alannis Morissette sang...
An old man turned ninety-eight
He won the lottery and died the very next day
It's a black fly in your chardonnay
It's a death row pardon two minutes late
Isn't it ironic...don't you think
It's like rain on your wedding day
It's a free ride when you've already paid
It's the good advice that you just didn't take
Who would have thought...it figures
Well life has a funny way of sneaking up on you
When you think everything's okay and everything's going right
And life has a funny way of helping you out
When you think everything's gone wrong and everything blows up
In your face
A traffic jam when you're already late
A no-smoking sign on your cigarette break
It's like 10,000 spoons when all you need is a knife
It's meeting the man of your dreams
And then meeting his beautiful wife
An isn't it ironic...don't you think
A little too ironic...and yeah, I really do think
Irony. One definition of "irony" is "an outcome of events contrary to what was, or might have been expected." (Random House Webster's College Dictionary)
That being the case, we might say that the trial of Jesus was "An Ironic Trial." The outcome of events was not what you might have expected. You would expect an innocent person to go free. But that didn't happen. That's because the outcome of this trial was for our benefit, not for Jesus. To paraphrase the songwriter: GOD has a funny way of helping us out when we think everything's gone wrong and everything blows up in our face. The death of the Son of God is a funny way of helping us out, a funny way of saving us. And as the disciples saw their Master arrested and taken off to die, they probably thought that everything was blowing up in their face. But the result of this "Ironic Trial" was the very means by which God saved us from our sins.
There was irony in the way Jesus was treated in front of Pilate the Roman governor of Judea. First, it was ironic that it was the religious leaders of Israel who were trying to put Jesus to death. Here was the long-awaited Messiah in their very midst, and they wanted to kill him.
Second, their false charges against Jesus were accompanied by the truth, even though they did not acknowledge the truth. They charged Jesus with treason, that he opposed paying taxes to Caesar...a false accusation. Then they charged Jesus with claiming to be the Christ, a king...and this was indeed the truth. But they brought this up in order to make Pilate think that Jesus was planning a rebellion, which he was not. Jesus made it clear that his kingdom was not of this world. His kingdom was his rule in the hearts of men by faith.
Pilate did not take Jesus seriously. He wanted to let Jesus go, but his accusers persisted. Hearing that Jesus was from Galilee up north, Pilate sent him to Herod who was in Jerusalem for the Passover feast. Herod was the local ruler of Galilee, but was basically a Roman puppet, answerable to Pilate. But like many politicians, Herod was a proud man. He had his own ambitions. He resented the rule of Pilate. Herod considered Pilate to be his enemy.
To Herod, Jesus was simply a plaything. He wanted to see a miracle. He asked him many questions. The religious leaders kept on accusing him. But Jesus refused to answer Herod's questions or to defend himself against the false accusations. And so, Herod had Jesus beaten, put a royal robe upon him, and sent him back to Pilate, who finally caved in and sent an innocent Man to his death.
St. Luke writes, "Herod and Pilate became friends with each other that very day, for before this they had been at enmity with each other." Now isn't that ironic? Who would have expected that to happen? The death sentence of Jesus caused these enemies to reconcile, to become friends. But they missed out on the most important person with whom they should have reconciled. How tragic that they were not reconciled to God. Instead, they killed his Only-begotten Son.
Yet, although they missed out on being reconciled to God, it is through the death of God's Son that you and I are reconciled to him and become his friends. St. Paul writes in Colossians 1: "And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard." (Col. 1:21-23) Before we were brought to faith through God's holy Word and through the waters of Holy Baptism, we were enemies of God. But by faith in the saving death of Jesus, we are reconciled to him, holy in his sight, free from accusation. We become God's friends.
There is more irony in the case of Barabbas. St. Luke explains to us that Barabbas was guilty of insurrection and murder. Evidently he had led an uprising in the city, probably trying to start a fight against the Romans...as many did in those days but were swiftly struck down.
The first ironic thing lies in the meaning of his name: Barabbas. Bar in Hebrew means "son" and abba means "father." Put it together and you get "son of the father." How ironic, then, that Jesus is the Son of the Heavenly Father.
So here we have the lives of two "sons of the father" in the hands of Pilate. When the crowd cried for the release of Barabbas, Pilate wanted to release Jesus. He appealed to the crowd, and in essence was asking, "Which son of the father do you want?" The crowd chose Barabbas to go free and for Jesus to be crucified. How ironic is that? The guilty one goes free and the innocent one goes to die.
Yet that is exactly how it is for you and me. Barabbas illustrates God's backward way of doing things from our perspective. Our disobedience makes us guilty. We may not be guilty of insurrection or murder like Barabbas. But any sin great or small in our eyes makes us equally guilty in God's eyes. And although we human beings are God's special creation, yet we really are not "sons of the father" in our sinful condition apart from him.
But Jesus, God's true, obedient Son, took our sins with him to the cross. We go free and Jesus goes to suffer and die for us. The Son of the Father earned for us the right to be called children of God. And through the waters of Baptism and by faith in him, that is what we become. Washed clean, marked with his Name, adopted into his holy famly, we are true sons of the Father in Jesus.
As true sons of the Father, give thanks to him for Jesus' sake. Thank him for sending Jesus to be your Savior. Worship you Savior this Holy Week. Reflect on his Passion for you all week long. Come worship him with your fellow believers on Maundy Thursday, as we commemorate the institution of the Lord's Supper at the Last Supper of Jesus. Come and meditate on his crucifixion on Good Friday. Come to the Easter Vigil as we remember that we are buried and risen with Christ in Baptism. All this we do with one eye on the cross and one eye on the already empty tomb, which we will celebrate a week from today.
And because you are God's child, remember this: When you think everything's gone wrong and everything blows up in your face ... remember that God does indeed have a funny way of helping you out. It is ironic, that's for sure, that the God of the universe should care about us. The cross is quite an unexpected way of saving us. That same God of the universe is a God of love. And out of love for you, he sent his Son for you. And Jesus is still FOR YOU today when you think everything's gone wrong and everything blows up in your face.
Through Jesus, our Heavenly Father's face shines upon us. He saves us in his unfailing love. And he will always work to help you out in the midst of life's sin and shame and trials and tragedies. He is with you, and he is FOR YOU, to forgive, to love, to nourish, to comfort, and to strengthen.