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Gospel Lesson
24 Mar 1999

Matthew 27:11-26, 54, a sermon outline

What will YOU do with Jesus?

The governor asked questions about Jesus and the centurion made a confession about Him. THESIS: The governor's questions and the centurion's confession challenge us to respond to Jesus' claims. TITLE: "From Questions to Confession"

This is the last Sunday before Easter, sometimes called the Sunday of the Passion. As I read the biblical record of that fateful Friday, I note the predominance of Jewish people. There were the Jewish religious leaders, the Jewish crowds, and the Jewish disciples of our Lord Jesus, who was also Jewish Himself. I also notice that most (if not all) of us here today are Gentiles. As we think about the Crucifixion of our Lord, let's look at what Matthew wrote about two Gentiles who had meaningful encounters with Jesus.

1. The questions Pilate asked: a. (11) Are You the king? Another king would have been a threat to Pilate, and to his bosses in Rome. Today, some people's image of Jesus as King of their lives is a threatening idea. Some people are reluctant to let Jesus be in control because they are afraid of what He may ask them to do. I invite such people to read Philippians 2:5-11. Jesus is the kind of King who always does what is best for His people. What about you? Are you afraid to let Jesus be your King? Who is in charge of your life? Are you your own decision-maker? Or is Jesus?

b. (12-14) Don't you hear the people? Pilate could not comprehend anyone who was so sure of Himself and of His mission that He would not be intimidated by the shouted accusations of a jealous and angry mob. Someone once said, The test of a person's greatness is what it takes to stop him. Jesus was truly great--nothing could stop Him from doing the right thing. When people start to speak against you, do you take time to answer them, or do you keep on doing what you know God sent you here to do? From time to time, we all fall short of the example of Jesus. But when we do, He invites us to confess and repent, and He promises to forgive us. Notice carefully that Jesus had no need to reply to the accusations because He was in the very center of God's will for His life. If you are out of God's will, then please do listen to godly counselors when they speak to you.

c. (15-19) Jesus or Barabbas? Pilate gave the people the choice between the most popular Rabbi in anyone's memory and the most notorious criminal in town. We, too, face a choice. Our choice is between having our lives and destinies controlled by the Lord Jesus or by our own decisions. I don't mean to call any of you a notorious criminal. But when even the best of us is compared to God's Son, our sinfulness is obvious. Isaiah 64:6. Pilate had the authority to release Jesus. Even his wife urged him to do the right thing. But instead of making up his own mind, instead of listening to good advice, Pilate tried to pass the buck. You cannot let anyone else decide for you about your relationship with God--this is one buck that cannot be passed. Whom will you choose? Who will control your life, Jesus or you?

d. (20-26) What shall I do with Jesus? Pilate's question is crucial. What will you do with Jesus? The words you use to answer that question are not as important as the actions you take in response to it. Pilate said he was innocent of the blood of Jesus. He even washed his hands to symbolize his lack of responsibility. But there is not enough soap and water in the universe to remove anyone's responsibility for his or her own actions. God gives every person freedom to choose what to do with Jesus, and God holds each of us responsible for our own decision. Pilate's actions tell us what he decided to do with Jesus. Don't follow Pilate's example. Don't reject Jesus. Instead, follow the example of the centurion.

2. The confession the centurion made: (54) Surely, He was the Son of God. This Roman military commander had witnessed thousands of men die, but none like this one. The centurion had been a participant in the events Matthew records in verses 27-53. He had seen and heard things that no one could understand completely. He may not have understood fully what he said about Jesus, but as much as he did understand, he believed. When I accepted Jesus as my Savior, I did not know or understand nearly as much about Him as I do now. But as much as I understood, I believed. What about you? No one is asking you to have all the answers, just one: What will you do with Jesus? Who do you say He is?

Conclusion

Consider carefully Pilate's questions and the centurion's confession. Invitation: (1) Accept Jesus as your Savior. (2) Give control of your life to Lord Jesus. (3) Confess & repent of any sin in your life.


Gospel Lesson
Frank Schaefer
27 Mar 1999

Matthew 26:69-75

“Peter--A Disciple in the Making”

This is Palm Sunday on which the crowds at Jerusalem cheered Jesus as the new King. “Hosannah,” they shouted. “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” Here is what always boggles my mind about this scene: five days--only five days--later that same crowd shouts “Crucify him.” Hard to understand, or is it? If you look around today you notice that such fickleness seems to be part of human nature. We all know how quickly public opinion can turn around. Today, you may be celebrated as a superstar one day and your reputation may be down the drain the next day.

What must have really hurt Jesus, more so than the turnabout in his public opinion poll, is the fact that even his closest friends and followers, especially his disciples, left him in his hour of despair. Today we want to look at one person in particular, Simon Peter, of whom Jesus once said he was the rock on which God was going to build the church.

Peter did have a lot of good qualities and leadership potential. He was a God-fearing, loyal person. He was zealous for the kingdom of God. Now, he wasn’t one of those submarine Christians that emerge on Easter Suandy and Christmas Eve in church. No, Peter was a fighter, one to change the world in the name of God, one to speak up and even willing to lay down his life for the good fight. Once Peter swore an oath to Jesus, never to fail him. He said: “Lord I am ready to go with you to prison--and even to die for you.”

Reminds me of the question our Sunday School teacher once asked us. When we talked about the end times, about the day of tribulation, when the followers of Jesus once again will be thrown in prison and put to death on account of their faith. She asked “will you say you’re a Christian even if they will throw you in prison for it?” “Would you die for Jesus?” No doubt, Peter’s answer to that question was “yes.” But then we read our passage this morning and we see Peter fail. He wasn’t able to live up to his promise. He turns around and denounces Jesus. “I don’t know that . . . Jesus for heaven’s sakes.” And then he rmembers Jesus’s words, “before the cock will crow three times you will have disowned me.” And what had Peter answered the Lord: “Never. Never in a million years.” Tears run down his face. “Jesus was right. I’ve betrayed my Lord.” Peter learned something that day: through the grace of God I stand. If I am going to stand as a Christian I need the help of God. “Not by (human) might, not by power, but by my Spirit says the Lord”

Much later, Peter writes in his first epistle: “I am writing all this for the purpose that you “stand fast in the grace of God.” Stand fast in the grace of God. Not by might, nor by power, but by the power of the Holy Spirit. Peter had learned that lesson the hard way.

This morning we have nine young men and women who made a promise in front of God and God’s people to be faithful to Jesus in life and in death. How do we know that they will keep their promise? How do we know we will keep the promise we made? The truth is: we don’t, and we can’t be sure about our promise. We stand fast in the grace of God and God alone.

So, we aren’t perfect, we don’t always do the right things and we don’t always know the right answers--isn’t that right confirmants? We might not even be sure whether we really understand the significance of God’s salvation. But one thing is sure: we can stand, we can prevail, we can endure everything . . . . .when we stand in the grace of God.

And that’s good news in a world that tells us: “if you screw up in any way, you’re through. If you go bankrupt, you’re not creditable, if you have any kind of criminal record you’re not fit for society, if you live on welfare you’ll never get anywhere, if you’re divorced there must be somthing wrong with you.

But God tells us throughout this Holy Week: even if you fail once or twice or three times, as long as you get up on your feet again, he who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it. And you will stand not because of your own power, but because the power of the Almighty who led Jesus through the depth of human despair and came out victorious.

No matter what the world tells us God says: “my son, my daughter, by my grace you WILL stand!” “Not by power, nor by might, but by my Spirit says the Lord!” And at the end of his life, Peter did fulfil his promise to Jesus to die for him, by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is reported that he was smuggled out of Rome by the church at a time when Christians were thrown in prison and executed on account of their belief in Jesus. Peter was already in safety, travelling away from Rome, when he had an apparition of Jesus walking toward Rome. And Peter asked Jesus: “domine, quo vadis?” (my Lord, where are you going?) And Jesus answered him: “I am going to Rome to be crucified again.” And Peter said, “no, Lord, you are not.”

And he turned around, went into Rome, handed himself over to the authorities and was crucified. His only request was, “please don’t crucify me like they did my Lord, because I am not worthy of dying like he did.” So, they hung him on the cross upside-down. The same Peter who had cursed Jesus in order to save his own life, stood tall on his promise to dy for his Lord, not on his own strength, but because he had matured in the grace and the power of God.

Impressed by the way in which Peter and thousands of other Christians died, a Roman historian wrote: “if the Christian faith is worth dying for, perhaps it is also worth living for.” Good word! Brothers and sisters, let us walk confidently, but not in the confidence of the self-made Christian, but in the confidence of the grace and the power of God in our lives. Let us learn from Peter, who learned to stand and walk in the power of the Holy Spirit, despite our human weaknesses. Amen.

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