Thursday, March 23, 2023

The Wound of Mockery

Matthew 27:27-31

Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole Roman cohort around Him.  And they stripped Him, and put a scarlet robe on Him.  And after weaving a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand; and they kneeled down before Him and mocked Him, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!"  And they spat on Him, and took the reed and began to beat Him on the head.  And after they had mocked Him, they took His robe off and put His garments on Him, and led Him away to crucify Him.

Sermon for Lenten Wednesday #5                       3/22/23

The Wound of Mockery

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

I have got my rights!  I deserve this!  You owe me.  These are very common statements.  We hear them frequently.  We might even speak them now and then if the provocation is big enough.  There are some things that are just right.  We deserve what we earn.  We deserve what others get in similar circumstances.  We have a sense of entitlement to some things.

Of course that is all stuff and nonsense!  We hope for and want to have and imagine what we deserve, but we actually deserve nothing.  Everything we have is gift, right down to the very breath we breathe.  God is good.  He deserves.  He deserves our thanks, our worship, our praise.  He gets darned little of any of that, but He deserves it.  "I am the LORD, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another, Nor My praise to graven images."  Seeing what He deserves, and how He intends to guard His name, imagine the horror of the wound of Mockery.  That is the wound for our consideration this evening.

Our sermon a couple of weeks ago was about apathy.  Facing the prospect of the Passion when those you were suffering and dying for didn't care enough to stay awake with you for prayer was one thing, but this is something entirely different.  First of all, the pains of the Passion were no longer merely potential, or in the future.  Jesus was in the midst of them as our text speaks.  He was hours into the humiliation, the injustice, and the ‘punching and hitting' part of the thing.  Total strangers were having at Him with a fierce abandon, and mocking Him!  He whose name is Holy, who deserved worship and honor and thanks from every man, was being mocked with a crude and violent false honor.

Just a week or so ago, Jesus had revealed His glory, in part, to the disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration.  That glory – just seeing it - caused grown men to babble mindlessly and, when they heard the voice out of the cloud, to pass out.  He hid that glory within human flesh, but it was rightfully His.  Just walking among sinful men had to be a burden, considering His holiness.  Enduring years of opposition from those who were supposed to be leaders in the church that was supposed to be worshiping Him had to be difficult and frustrating.  He bore that burden for years.  But here and now they were mocking Him, making light of His true nature.  The were not content with arrest, or even just His murder, removing Him (or so they thought) from the scene.  They had to have the perverse pleasure of humiliating Him!  Even though these men in our text were Romans, and had no real idea of who Jesus was, they were working at humiliating Him.

They stripped Him naked.  He lived in a culture where nakedness was great shame, not a titillating turn-on.  Remember the shame of Noah when he got drunk and "uncovered himself" as he slept it off.  Many things had changed since the time of Noah, obviously, but not that sense of the shame of nakedness.  The soldiers clothed Him in the color of kings to laugh at the very idea of His royalty and worth.  They hit Him.  They placed a crown of thorns on His head.  Then they took the bundle of reeds they had given Him to use as a pretend scepter and beat Him on the head with it.  They spit on Him!  All the time mocking both Him and the people God had chosen to bear the promise of salvation through the centuries until the time was right.

I have been humiliated once or twice.  I was one of those kids that people made fun of.  I understand something about the pain of being teased and picked on.  We read about people who feel this sort of shame and disrespect going "postal" and murdering their associates, attacking their tormentors, shooting friends and enemies alike.  But none of them, and certainly not I, have ever endured such mocking, in circumstances so lethal, while we were doing such good for ones who mocked us.

Mockery was clearly one of the central elements to the suffering in the Passion.  It was deliberately so.  The soldiers, and the priests who had handed Jesus over to them, intended to make the suffering all the more bitter by highlighting how helpless and insignificant and without honor Jesus was.  They had the power, and they were the important people.  If it were not for the torment of the moment, the ideas they acted out are almost laughable.

They wanted to rub it in that Jesus was without power, helpless before them.  But just the opposite was true.  Jesus could have destroyed them with a thought, much less than by battling against their power.  Jesus was not helpless, He was simply humble for the great work of our salvation.  Far from being insignificant, Jesus was the most important person alive - or to have ever lived, for by His stripes and suffering, we are healed from our sins, our shame and our death, and raised to new and everlasting life in Him.

This is the point in the sermon where I connect us to the same sort of sin as our text reveals, so that we can understand how precious this suffering Savior is for us.  None of us were there.  None of us have deliberately mocked our Lord - at least I hope not.  But we have each been offered the opportunity to do our modern day version of that.  We have been offered the opportunity when we are invited to joke about Jesus or laugh at the ribald and often blasphemous jokes of others - professional comedians and casual acquaintances.  He died for us, but we can offer lame jokes, or laugh at someone - often an unbeliever - who makes jest of sound doctrine, or of the very Passion which bought our salvation.  If we were to object, we would, no doubt, be told to grow up, to get a thicker skin, to loosen our grip on things and lighten up.  It is only a joke!

But it is not.  It is the continued mockery of the world.  We have been counseled by good men with the best of intentions to not take such things seriously and not allow ourselves to be so lightly offended.  In a culture where crude jest about one's mother or grandmother are considered comedy rather than a just cause for coming to blows, and obscenity is the fallback position for any comic, we have become jaded and inured to such debased vulgarity that this affront to the honor of the Almighty is rarely even responded to.

But doesn't that make us part of the gang mocking Christ?  We can laugh at not only our Creator, but also at He who died in our stead.  The tremendous pain of the Passion is reduced to a punch line for the quickest wit in the room, and our flesh delights in the contrast between the holy and the obscene.  As I consider these thoughts, I can remember several common jests, mockery, that struck me as funny at the time.  Some of them I have even repeated without measuring what I was really saying or doing – just like those ignorant and violent Roman Soldiers.  They at least have the excuse that they did not know, they really had no way of knowing, just who it was that they were abusing in their mockery, not that their conduct was right and good no matter who they were knocking around.  I, and you, however, have always known who it was - and is - that these soldiers abused and our refusal to treat Jesus as holy in every act and every word mocks.

Have we mocked Jesus like those soldiers, or like the Jews on that night?  No.  We did it as we confessed Him and knowing who He is and what great things He has done for us.  Jesus' words from the cross strike me as particularly fitting for us, in this case, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."

And thanks be to our Lord that our sins are forgiven.  Our weakness is forgiven.  Our failing to think things through carefully is forgiven.  When we repent.

We need to recognize that what we have said or done has, at times, mocked our Lord.  Our society is not going to see it that way.  They don't take anything seriously except power, wealth, fame, and pleasure.  Religion?  You can take it seriously if you want to, but our culture considers it a form of insanity.  You can hold whatever private thoughts you want to, as long as it does not intrude on my life or limit my perfect liberty – or violate the rigorous confines of political correctness.

Laughing at God because some unbeliever can quip brightly and turn a phrase well is still laughing at God.  Ridiculing sound doctrine is still ridiculing the truth whether we see it for what it is or think that we have heard a new, clever joke.  We did not put the crown on Jesus' head.  We do not slap Him or pretend He is kings when we clearly don't believe it, but we engage in mockery none the less.

And He still bore our ridicule and mockery silently, and carried our sins to the cross and died there the way we deserve to die for our sins.  He did it in our place so that we might be forgiven.  He died, knowing it was coming; not their mocking only, but also ours.  He died to redeem us.

Now your sins are forgiven, when you repent.  You need to know that what your have done is wrong, and sin, and you need to turn from it with the sincere intention of leaving sins behind and being faithfully His.  When you do, your sins are forgiven, and you are made whole and holy once more.  The payment has already been made - and the resurrection is God's seal of acceptance.

Now we can shake ourselves off, and start afresh.  Each time we confess and hear those words of absolution, we can start afresh, knowing that Jesus has taken those sins, too, and we are forgiven and invited to go and sin no more, just like the woman caught in adultery was, so long ago.  Be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven.  Now go forth and live in the light of that forgiveness, and the knowledge of what was forgiven, you share in the wound of Mockery.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)

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