Scripture Reading: Luke 22:1-6

1 Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called the Passover.

2 And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to put him to death, for they feared the people.

3 Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve.

4 He went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them.

5 And they were glad, and agreed to give him money.

6 So he consented and sought an opportunity to betray him to them in the absence of a crowd.

 

Sermon: "Putting Jesus to Death"

 

"God is dead."  Those are the famous words proclaimed by Friedrich Nietzsche.  Others have sought to put God to death.  Whether in the philosophical realm but also culturally, people have sought to put God to death. Today, we see a group of people who collaborate to put the Son of God, Jesus to death.

 

First, the chief priests and scribes sought to put Jesus to death.  Why?  Jesus was a threat to the established political and religious establishment.  People loved and followed him.  By the physical death of Jesus, they could also put to death the fanfare that Jesus created; Jesus would become irrelevant and forgotten.

            Similarly, our culture seeks to put Jesus to death.  What are some ways in which we as a society put Jesus to death culturally?  We want to make him irrelevant;.  We want people to compromise in their convictions and morals (I know morality has a negative connotation even in the church, as it's associated with moralism and legalism; it may be a bigger sin to be a moral stickler than to be morally loose).  We want you to be quiet about your beliefs; don't talk about Jesus or religion.  And when we do succumb to such pressures and become passive in our faith, it is as though Jesus is put to death. 

            If this happened during the time of Jesus, there would be no reason to put Jesus to death!  The established authorities would want Jesus to remain a good moral teacher who has followers who conform to nice Jewish customs.  And even to this day, established authorities work to keep Jesus in check - don't practice your religion in public or speak about it. Another way this works is by giving people positions of apparent power, which in reality are meant to be controls to individual faith.

            The book, The Heavenly Man, recounts the life and trials of a Christian leader in China, Brother Yun.  As he was tortured and imprisoned for this faith, he was given numerous opportunities to avoid all that and still be a Christian - join the government-controlled Three Self Church.  However, he refused because in so doing, the authorities would be in control over the church, not God.

            The culture would want us to put Jesus to death.  Oftentimes, today, you can ridicule Jesus without consequences.  The world will influence us to compromise our faith in Jesus.

 

Second, Satan seeks to put Jesus to death.  Satan entered into Judas.  Do you feel the force of that statement?  This is scary.  This probably scares many of you.  How do I know?  You try to rationalize this event.  What does this mean?  Is this just a harsh translation?  Did Satan just influence Judas?  Is it just that Judas' actions was something that Satan would have done?

            However, in some real way, Satan entered into Judas.  Satan is God's historic archenemy.  He has wanted to put God to death throughout all history.  We see the cosmic battle between God and Satan in Revelation and throughout the Bible.  Satan wants to put Jesus to death and enters into Judas for that purpose.  1 Peter 5:8-9 warns us:

 

8 Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

9 Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.

 

Satan is a superior being in many ways - he is stronger, smarter, and more charismatic than almost any other being.  However, his downfall is his pride.  So, no matter how much God is superior, Satan will keep trying to overthrow or undermine God.  He is like a Southern rebel who is still fighting the Civil War.  Satan will work in all kinds of ways to undermine God. 

            Satan entered into one who was close to Jesus.   Judas' betrayal of Jesus is demonic, satanic.  The act of Satan was demonic in a real scary sense.  But we also get indication of a more normal way in which Satan uses Judas, exploiting a weakness.

           

Third, Judas Iscariot seeks to put Jesus to death.  The picture of Judas possessed by Satan to betray Jesus should also scare us.  One of Jesus' twelve disciples would fall away completely.

            In Judas, we see the need to beware the power of the lusts of our flesh.  James 1:13-15 gives us this warning:

 

13 Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God," for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.

14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.

15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

 

Consider for what you would be willing to forsake Jesus.   For what would you "sell your soul to the devil"?  Is it for a relationship?  Perhaps, there is something you just have to have.  You want to look good.  You would forsake Jesus for the opportunity to have or do (blank).  Sin can be this irresistible to us. 

            The scary thing is that Satan knows it.  He knows us.  He knows and will exploit our weaknesses.  Why are we so ineffective?  Because Satan has already turned many of us away from God.  We wonder why we don't see more powerful works of God or manifestations of spiritual activities, such as the presence of demons.  One reason is that we aren't really inclined toward God.  Secondly, Satan doesn't need to exercise his power in such paranormal ways.  He already has us where we want, not seeking God, not living for him.  He's efficient - many companies can learn a lot about management and productivity through him.  You busy this guy with work, surround this woman with friends, entice that person with the internet, we're too easy.

            There was this one particular scene in this movie set in Scotland, where there is this rugged, passionate, charismatic Christian young man who spends a lot of his time exhorting fellow young people to believe in Jesus and live for him.  He meets this girl, a friend of his sister's, who pours out her heart to him, sharing her struggles to believe, expressing grief, prompting this man to emotionally exhort her to believe Jesus.  In the midst of this emotional exchange, there is also physical attraction that develops, and the man, as he is pleading with her to believe is also drawing nearer to kiss the girl.  And as the girl draws near to kiss him, she stops and laughs hysterically, declaring, "You're too easy!"  Whether it be sexual lust, lust for power or money, or a lust for satisfaction in some other way, sadly, many of us are way too easily tempted to forsake Jesus, essentially putting to death his power and grace.

            We need the grace of God.  We need to live by the power of the Holy Spirit.  We are too easy a prey.  However, God is not.  As powerful as Satan, the desires of our flesh and the influence of the world, God's grace is that much stronger.     

    

 

This collaboration may have been the machinations of these three.  They were eager to put Jesus to death.  They took joy and delight in this conspiracy.   The reality is that some of us have been seeking to put Jesus to death.  What's more, we've put Jesus to death.  It's not just the chief priests, Satan, and Judas responsible for the death of Jesus.  But in his death, there is actually life.

 

Apparently, they succeeded in putting Jesus to death.  Or so they thought.  In succeeding in putting Jesus to death, they did not thwart the plans of God.  On the contrary, what Satan and man meant for evil, God used to fulfill his purposes.  God was not caught off-guard by the plans to put Jesus to death; all this was under the sovereignty of God.

 

What is more, by putting Jesus to death, Jesus took on the divine wrath of God for the sins of his people.  Jesus offered himself willingly as a sacrifice; he was not a mere victim at the mercy of his perpetrators.  Rather, he was the Passover Lamb that took on the sins of the world.  He knew the will of the Father and fulfilled it.

 

The gospel can't be put to death.  Death is the power of the gospel.  Jesus is victorious over death!  What seemed to be the downfall and humiliation of Jesus was actually his greatest moment of triumph.

 

Living as a Christian is about engaging these forces that put Jesus to death with the power of God.  It's not easy.  By our own strength, we are far too easy an opponent.  But by the grace of God, even the most demonic manifestations will be vanquished.  And it's about entrusting our lives to the sovereign God who is able to work his good out of the evils of man.