Tre Ore Service April 7, 2023
“Not Fair” Matthew 27:27-31, 35-44
Rev. John R. Larson Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
(This Sermon preached at Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church, Centennial, Colorado)
Nobody likes a bully. They don’t play fair. They’re probably bigger than the person that they’re picking on. They’re older. Stronger. Have more influence. Maybe the one that they pick on has a disability – physically or emotionally. Bullies take pleasure in making life a living hell for their victim. No one likes a bully.
What if the bully is more than just one? What if the bully was a gang of 15, 20, 25 people? That makes it worse. Unbearable. Maybe against one bully you stand a chance, but not against a dozen or two.
What makes it all the worse is that when bullies get together they feed off of each other. They have to do “one better” than the last trick that was played on their victim. Now the bullies smirk when they see the brutality that was done and they know that they can do it even better than the last. What a bully sees inspires them to a lower level of viciousness and cruelty.
Just last Thursday I saw a bumper sticker on a sharp looking, burnt orange Ford Mustang as they drove on Kipling Parkway in Lakewood. The sticker read, “Unholy”. For some reason they wanted to describe themselves and their character in such a way. Bullies would fall under the category of “unholy”.
There were plenty of folks who were “unholy” that crucifixion Friday. There were plenty of bullies that day. And there didn’t seem to be anyone there to stop them. You heard the account on that Friday morning. It was cruel. It was bullying. Here is what we read. Jesus was flogged – whipped. They stripped Him of his clothes – all bloodied – and mocked Him by having Him wear a scarlet robe. They pushed down a crown of thorns on His head, thorns facing in. They put a staff in His right hand – just like a king should possess. They hit Him over and over again with the staff. They spit on Him. They demanded that He show His omniscience by speaking the name of the offenders who hit Him. They knelt in front of Him, laughing, mocking, insulting this “King of the Jews.” Once He had been nailed to the cross both criminals, the one on the left and the one on the right, insulted Him every few seconds. The words of the devil, used in the wilderness, when he tempted Jesus multiple times, were used once again, “If you are the Son of God”. Now the words were, “If you are the Son of God come down from the cross – then we will believe in you.”
If you are looking for fairness you came to Shepherd of the Hills on the wrong day. If you’re looking for right to win out against wrong you came on the wrong day. Psalm 22 talks about this day like this:
But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads: He trusts in the Lord; let the Lord rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him. (Verses 6-8)
Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men have surrounded me, they have pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.” (Verses 16-18)
Nobody likes a bully, but evidently somebody loved a bully – in fact somebody loved dozens of them. On the cross, having been bullied, hated, despised, laughed at and mocked, Jesus looked to His bullies and said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34) As Isaiah spoke of the actions of Jesus, “I offered my back to those who beat me; my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting.” (Isaiah 50:6)
Like I said, this was not the day for being fair. How Jesus was treated was not fair. But He didn’t respond in justice but with mercy. And this is true not just on that day but also on this day. Not just for them but also for us. All of us. Another Old Testament prophet gives us the picture of what happened on Good Friday:
Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:4-6)
That day wasn’t fair. But as sinners who could only plead guilty to every one of our sins, we don’t look for God to be “fair” and “just” but for Him to be merciful. That day the thief on the right, who had joined with all the other bullies for too long, came to a different conclusion and sought mercy from Jesus. The thief on the right changed his tune and spoke to the thief on the left, “Don’t you fear God, since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he spoke to Jesus. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And Jesus spoke to this thief, this criminal, this bully who had just been insulting Him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” (See Luke 23:40-43)
You’re looking for fairness? You won’t find it on Good Friday. It wasn’t fair that some thugs got their way in the death of Jesus. It isn’t fair that a criminal got a free ride to heaven. And it isn’t fair that we are treated as sons and daughters of the King. I’m glad that God isn’t fair. None of us would stand a chance if He was. As the Psalmist says, “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him.” (Psalm 103:8-11)
I titled this sermon, “No Fair”. And it wasn’t. And it isn’t. How good!! Amen!!