These hands are a blessing from God, obviously, but have you ever thought about the cruel and brutal things these hands can do? I have been thinking about that recently, because the last several months I have read a few books about the history of our nation partly just to get a feel for how these recent times of tension and unrest and violence compare to other times in years past. Sadly – and this is no surprise, of course – but these kinds of things are nothing new. What really struck me, however – and again, this is no surprise either, of course — but it is sometimes extremely difficult to comprehend the kind of utter brutality and inhumane cruelty human beings with their hands can inflict on other human beings, sometimes acting like animals and treating others in a way we wouldn’t treat animals because of anger or revenge or hatred or due to the need for survival. Thinking about the kind of brutality these human hands can be capable of is the kind of thinking that is almost too difficult to ask yourself to do.
But it’s the kind of thinking that is necessary to ask ourselves to do, when we think about Jesus Christ, our Savior. Tonight’s reading is from Matthew 27: 27 Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium (the palace hall of Pontius Pilate) and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him. 28 They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29 and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand. Then they knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said. 30 They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. 31 After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him. This is the Word of the Lord.
And this, brothers and sisters in Christ, is what happened right after what we were told in the last verse of the Passion History which Pastor Free read a few moments ago, “Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.” Even before the stripping and the crowning; even before the kneeling and the mocking; even before the spitting and the striking; before all this cruelty was the brutality of flogging. Flogging was considered by many to be the most brutal and most cruel of all the Roman punishments — so brutal and so cruel, in fact, that some laws allowed a maximum of forty of those blows from that whip tipped with lead points, designed to break open the skin and causing such pain and injury that it was almost considered an act of mercy to have to go through it, because people would die more quickly when they later on were crucified and hanging on a cross.
And, yet, even with all that physical punishment which is almost too hard to force our minds to think about, what was the cruelest and most brutal blow Jesus suffered that you and I do have to think about? It was the spiritual realization that he was receiving these blows not because of anything he had done wrong, but all because of what you and I had done wrong. In one of the hymn stanzas of the powerful hymn we sang before the sermon that we did not sing, we would have sung these poetic, yet poignant, words:
Whence come these sorrows, whence this mortal anguish?
It is my sins for which you, Lord, must languish.
Yes, all the wrath, the woe that you inherit, This I do merit.
This is brutality! His head was crowned with piercing thorns because of how I use my head to think and act in ways that pierce the heart of God. This is brutality! His broken body was knelt before by mocking soldiers because of how I use my body to kneel before the kinds of pleasures that break the heart of God. This is brutality! His face was hit with vile spit which makes us want to turn away in disgust because of how often I do turn my face away from my dear Savior and disgust the heart of God.
But do you know what was the greatest brutality? Do you know what is the greatest brutality of all that allows us to be praising our Lord with joy in our hearts in the midst of all this? The greatest of all the brutalities, praise God, dear, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, is the brutality which all the brutality inflicted upon the Son of God inflicted upon Satan. Jesus was allowing this punishment to be carried out so thoroughly against him so that you and I could be so thoroughly assured that the price was completely paid – that the payment price for my sins against God and against others was completely paid – that all I owe to my God because of all I have done against my God was completely paid. “Satan,” was can say, ‘Satan, I mock you with the mockings of Jesus. Satan, I strike you with the strikings of Jesus. Satan, I crown you with the loser’s crown once placed on my dear Savior Jesus, because through my dear Savior Jesus I am one of the billions of people throughout the history of this world who have been given the trust to hang on to this Jesus hanging on that cross — yes, one of the multitudes of people who will someday wave our palm branches before the throne of God, because we would not fall to your lie that there was no hope for us in life or death because of the truth that our sins caused the death of God’s Son. Satan, the death of God’s Son has caused the death of you!” That’s brutal! And that’s why we are going to live in heaven someday.
And that is also why with God’s help on earth we strive day after day to put to death the kinds of things that Jesus put to death on the cross. In one of the hymn stanzas we did sing earlier, we sang:
I’ll think upon your mercy without ceasing,
That earth’s vain joys to me no more be pleasing;
To do your will shall be my sole endeavor Henceforth forever.
The apostle Peter, who earlier that evening denied the name of Jesus, later wrote in the name of Jesus as a forgiven child of God: “Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin. As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God” (1 Peter 4:1-2).
Can there be anything more wonderfully brutal than that? To use our hands and hearts and voices to show Satan that we love Jesus, who first loved us. To use our hands and hearts and voices to show Satan we want to live for Jesus, who so perfectly lived for us. To use our hands and hearts and voices to show Satan we know we will die with Jesus at our side, because Jesus so innocently died for us as the wonderful Substitute, the irreplaceable Replacement, our beautiful Savior. That’s the kind of brutality that is beautiful to see and behold and think about every day of our life – the wonderfully brutal and complete conquest of the devil by the Son of God, who came to earth, the Bible says, to destroy the devil’s work – and the wonderfully brutal resistings of Satan by us Christian soldiers of the cross who march out to spiritual battle every day, armed with the humble love and forgiving grace which is so kindly and compassionately seen in the shining face of our crucified — and risen — Lord.
So many people do not see that shining face as their Savior’s face and still live in the brutal hand-grip of the father of lies. Let’s do all we can with the gentle way in which we live to lead people to the life-saving hands and the powerful words of the one who opened not his mouth while being brutally beaten, so they can join us in opening their mouths to sing his praise in the midst of all the brutal things we are called upon to endure – and then finally in the place where we will rest, knowing that the devil’s hands of brutality cannot touch us again – and all because those hands of brutality in a Roman praetorium never really did have any control over Jesus at all. Amen.