Palm Sunday April 9, 2006


Evidence for Unbelief

Mark 15:12-15

Scripture Readings

Zechariah 9:9-12
Luke 19:28-40


390, 160 [alt. 725 Supplement 2000], 162, 616 (1-2, 7-8)

Dear Fellow Christians:

You can’t help but wonder how folks live with themselves these days. With all the evil things that people find to do, don’t you wonder sometimes if they have trouble getting to sleep at night? Do they have nightmares? Do their consciences scream at them in the quiet hours of the days or nights? Probably not. Those that are dead of soul are also often dead of conscience.

We ask such questions specifically today because of the occasion. Given the size of the crowds that apparently attended the events that took place on days we know as “Palm Sunday” and “Good Friday,” it seems likely that some or many citizens in Jerusalem took part in both events. How did the folks involved in both Palm Sunday and Good Friday feel the next day? We can’t help but wonder, for example, how Pilate felt on the Saturday following Good Friday? How did the Jews feel? Did they cry themselves to sleep at night with remorse? Like a Christian who has had too much to drink, did these souls wake the next morning feeling guilty and ashamed? Did the religious leaders seek out the solace of the synagogue to find comfort and forgiveness?

Again, probably not. The unbelievers back then probably had no more trouble sleeping than do godless men and women today. Human beings can be very resourceful when it comes to silencing their consciences. Sinful men and women can almost always come up with very plausible rationalizations to justify their sin. Back in the days of Pilate and Caiaphas, they no doubt did just what men do today: They grasped at the Evidence for Unbelief.

Such evidence is always out there, undoubtedly allowed by God to exist as a test. The result is that mankind can almost always find what even many objective observers would consider compelling evidence to validate sin and unbelief. God in his Word calls it, among other things, “lying signs and wonders” (cf. Matthew 24:24, 2 Thessalonians 2:9, et. al.)

Today we will study this spiritual phenomenon and in the process we will attempt to unravel and understand one of the greatest mood swings in history. It was on this day in history that the Jewish people welcomed Jesus Christ into Jerusalem as their Lord and King. Five days later they screamed for, and were granted, a sentence of death against this same man. What can we learn—what should we learn —from these events? With today’s Gospel lesson from Luke 19 as our background, our Scripture basis for our study is found in Mark 15, beginning with the 12th verse:

Pilate answered and said to them again, “What then do you want me to do with Him whom you call the King of the Jews?” So they cried out again, “Crucify Him!” Then Pilate said to them, “Why, what evil has He done?” But they cried out all the more, “Crucify Him!” So Pilate, wanting to gratify the crowd, released Barabbas to them; and he delivered Jesus, after he had scourged Him, to be crucified.

Here ends the Word God Himself has given us. Hold these words in reverence and learn from them—recognizing whose words these really are, for it is written, “Blessed are they who hear God’s words and treasure them(Luke 11:28). Amen.

So what happened between Palm Sunday and Good Friday? What happened and how did those individuals involved justify what happened? The fact is that not even most unbelievers can bloody their hands with an innocent life and come away with no pangs of conscience. Those involved would undoubtedly have searched for comfort in some bit of evidence that they could use to justify the evil that they had done. Not to worry, in this respect man is always most resourceful. Man can always find evidence for unbelief.

For the individual Jews in the Good Friday crowd that called for Jesus’ death, the evidence or justification was probably as simple as: “I was just doing what my leaders told me to do.” That defense has proved effective down through the ages for soldiers who were “just following orders.” How well do you think this excuse will play on Judgment Day? Will condemnation for the death of Jesus fall only upon Caiaphas, the High Priest and ultimate authority among the Jews at this time? As for Pilate, he would undoubtedly find some false comfort in the fact that he had avoided a riot by giving in to the Jewish cry for blood.

So then what about the Jewish rulers? How did the religious rulers, including Caiaphas, justify their positions and actions? What evidence did they find to justify both their dealings and their unbelief? These men had obviously fallen into the same silly delusion that we see among evil rulers of every generation. They justified their evil by virtue of the fact that their remaining in power was the ultimate good for the people. In this case, the Jewish rulers killed Jesus to preserve their own positions of power—something that was (in their minds) in the best interest of the people.

What evidence did they use to salve their consciences? Caiaphas did speak of the need for one man to die so that others would be spared, but what straws did he and the others grasp to justify their bloody actions against an obviously innocent man?

First, as you will recall, they accused Jesus of being a fraud. But then He did supernatural things like healing a man who had been blind from birth. “How could anyone fake something like that?” they reasoned.

So they had to dig deeper. “But he heals on the Sabbath!” You can almost hear the relief in their voices as they found something by which they could justify their evil. Jesus ruined their otherwise great excuse by citing Scripture that justifies the doing of good on the Sabbath, and by pointing out that “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath(Mark 2:27). More frustration for the Jews.

Finally, at the very end, they clung desperately to this one last bit of evidence: “This man is worthy of death because he blasphemously claims to be the Son of God” (cf. Mark 14:64).

Remember, the evidence for unbelief need not be smart, it just has to offer salve for a smarting conscience. It need be neither logical nor accurate—good thing for the Jews since this little bit of evidence guaranteed disaster of the worst sort for the Jewish nation. How so? Consider the folly—the absolutely ridiculous ignorance—of this charge by the Jews. The charge of blasphemy assumes that the individual is not God, not divine, not worthy of any of the glory, honor, or praise that belongs to God alone. Yet, the true Savior of mankind, the One who would fulfill God’s promise of old, would most certainly claim divinity! The true Savior, however, was not capable of blasphemy since He Himself was God. Do you see the problem here? By bringing the charge of blasphemy against one who claimed to be the Messiah, the Jews ensured that they would one day kill their Messiah since He would obviously rightly reveal to them that He was the Son of God. To kill any man who claimed to be the Messiah simply because he claimed divinity absolutely guaranteed the disastrous destruction of the true Messiah.

What about the individual Jews, those who one day hailed Jesus as King and the next called for his crucifixion? How did they reason all of this out in their hearts and minds? What was the evidence that gave them their needed complacency? In their minds it was probably as simple as this: Jesus failed to deliver.

The Jews had been conditioned to expect an earthly ruler when the Messiah finally came. This was so firmly embedded in their minds that they didn’t even listen to Jesus Himself when He told them that He did not come to establish such a kingdom, but that He offered freedom from the bondage of sin. They wanted freedom from the tyranny of the Roman government. When the Jews saw Jesus being led, bound and under guard from the Garden of Gethsemane, and when they saw the cowardice of His inner circle of disciples, right then they came to the conclusion that He was not what they had been looking for. The tragedy for them was that He was what God had intended.

To them Jesus was more like a novelty—a toy rather than a tool. They had been mystified by His miracles. Those had come to an end. They had been captivated by His radical ideas. Thos had lost their charm. They had been excited and inspired by His leadership. Now He was bound and seemingly helpless. Like children, they had grown tired of their toy and the only thing that was left was to gain a bit of morbid pleasure in seeing that toy destroyed. They acted like the nasty little boy who burns down his sister’s dollhouse simply because he got no pleasure out of the dollhouse in the way it was designed. How did they justify their actions? They probably felt no need. Their religious leaders had told them what they wanted them to do so any blame lay with their rulers (or so they probably reasoned) and not with them.

How well will all of this evidence play on the Day of Judgment? How convinced will God be when a man blames someone else for his sinful behavior and for his stubborn unbelief?

We have outlined the evidence for the unbelief of those involved in Jesus’ crucifixion, but how does all of this relate to you and to your everyday walk through life? The answer is “much in every way.” The Devil will most certainly devise evidence to tempt you, to draw you away from the truth, and to justify in your heart and mind any ungodly behavior in your life.

What is especially troubling about all of this is the fact that, by definition, the evidence that Satan brings into your life will be diabolically convincing and all but irrefutable without God’s Word. The lying signs and wonders that the forces of evil can parade before your eyes will always seem good, right, and logical to your sinful flesh and to your sinful, human reason.

What evidence will Satan bring into your life, personally? What evidence has he already brought into your life? These are questions only you can answer. Will your temptation come in the form of wanting to please the crowd? Will you regard the fact that “everyone is doing it” as evidence to justify your sin? Will you follow false-teaching religious leaders who teach what the Bible does not and who draw you into deception and error? Will your great temptation come in the form of your own lusts and passions, or will your evidence spring from the fact that certain sins “seem natural”? Will your evidence for unbelief come from false science which encourages you to doubt God’s Word whenever it conflicts with man’s logic or understanding? Will Satan use the numbers against you, convincing you that you must be wrong to believe in Jesus alone for salvation, since so many disagree? Will your evidence be the handsome man or the beautiful woman who does not share your faith in Jesus Christ, but with whom you feel so “right”?

Again, you alone can answer these questions. You alone can identify the evidence for unbelief or sin that the Devil has or will bring into your life. Understand that such attacks will come and that the only effective defense is the sure, certain, pure Word of God. Jesus himself once said to his followers in John 8:31-32, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.

The truth is that Jesus died for our sins—yours and mine. Though man and Devil rage and plot against this truth, their pitiful ravings dash ineffectually against this Rock. What is more, not one of our faults was hidden from Jesus. He knew us even better than we know ourselves. He knew how we would often disown Him as shamelessly as did his disciples. He knew that we would treat Him as a whim and a toy more often than as a powerful tool and Savior. He knew that we would often follow the crowd and be drawn to the lie. All of this He took to the cross. For all of this He gave His life—silently, willingly, unselfishly. For all of this we pray God to give us the consistency to live each moment of our lives as worthy of so great a gift, so great a Savior.

May God the Holy Spirit—who is now living and active in our hearts—cause each one of us to look forward with eager anticipation to the ultimate triumphal entry of our Savior Jesus on the great Day of Judgment. With joy we recognize that we need not fear that day, for our Lord has removed from our lives that which alone could have condemned us—our sins. Thanks be to God, who has given us this victory in our Lord Jesus Christ! Amen.

—Pastor Michael J. Roehl

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