If I was to ask you to explain the word ‘ironic’, I wonder what examples come to mind? If you’re of a certain age, I’m pretty sure that in your head you’re going “isn’t it ironic? Don’t you think? It’s like raaaaiiiiin” – you’ve got the classic Alanis Morrissette song ‘Ironic’ in your head…which ironically doesn’t actually have true ironies in the lyrics!
But maybe you’ve never heard the song… But you think of examples of irony like Britain having a newspaper called ‘The Sun’. Or the fact that apparently the Bible is the most shoplifted book in America?!
Or when the comic actor Charlie Chaplin entered a Charlie Chaplin look-alike contest and only came 20th! What an outrage!
If we’re thinking about events, then irony is when what appears to be the case on the surface differs radically from what is actually the case. And there is nothing more ironic than what we see in our passage today. Sometimes irony can be really funny, but here in this passage, it is tragic and serious – it really matters.
And if we miss the irony here, then we’ll miss the punch that this passage has. We’ll miss seeing who Jesus truly is and what he went through for us. And we’ll miss how easy it is for us to be blind to those things.
So let’s pray before we begin.
Father God, thank you that in all the confusion and uncertainty of life, your word is a lamp for our feet and a light for our path. Please would you help us to see clearly as we open up this passage this morning. Please speak to us. Please give us ears that are willing to listen. Please change us, both individually and as a church family together, by your Spirit as we hear from your word.
In Jesus name, Amen
We’re working our way through Luke’s gospel, so let’s start by getting our bearings again. We’re at a critical moment. Jesus has been betrayed by one of his very own disciples, who has led the chief priests and members of the temple guard to him at the Garden of Gethsemane. He’s then been arrested and taken back to the official residence of the high priest.
And so, we get to verse 63 of chapter 22, where we read this:
Now the men who were holding Jesus in custody were mocking him as they beat him. They also blindfolded him and kept asking him, “Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?” And they said many other things against him, blaspheming him.
You might have played the game ‘blind man’s bluff’, where you put on a blindfold, and you’ve got to try and stumble around and catch other people whilst they shout or even prod you.
And those guarding Jesus play a particularly unpleasant version here. They mock him as one who can prophecy by striking him and shouting ‘prophecy who struck you’. The other gospels tell us that they also punched him and spat in his face.
Jesus being a prophet seems a like a good joke. Many are tempted to treat Jesus in the same way today. Maybe even you? But here’s the first tragic irony that we need to see –
1. The irony of mocking the prophet.
You see, in doing these things, they are actually fulfilling Jesus’ very own prophetic words. Before even arriving in Jerusalem, Jesus has said that:
“…he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him”.
Not only that, but we’ve also just seen Peter deny Jesus 3 times, exactly as Jesus prophesied. Everything that is happening with the guards is actually confirming his amazing prophetic abilities. But he has dignity and he knows where he is headed – so he doesn’t perform on demand.
Because he doesn’t just have amazing abilities as a prophet, he is the prophet. There had been many prophets, but they all pointed to the great prophet. God had promised that one day a prophet would come, who would fulfil God’s promise to make a way for sinful people to be washed clean and to be able to enjoy a relationship with him.
Early on in the Bible, in Deuteronomy 18, God says “I will raise up for you a prophet like Moses” – as in, one who will speak God’s words and will rescue you.
And then later on, in the book of Isaiah – still written hundreds of years before Jesus – we read more about that prophet. We heard the reading earlier in the service. It said:
I was not rebellious;
I turned not backward.
I gave my back to those who strike,
and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard;
I hid not my face
from disgrace and spitting.
The portrait that Isaiah paints of this great prophet is as a suffering servant. One who would know rejection, disgrace and spitting. And Isaiah tells us that through his suffering, we will be healed.
And so, not only are the guards fulfilling Jesus’ own words, but they are also fulfilling the words of the ones who prophesied about him hundreds of years beforehand.
The guards have the great prophet before them. The one who speaks God’s words. The one who knows everything. The one who knows the future! I mean, wouldn’t we love to know the future? They could have asked him when the next earthquake is due, or which horse breeder to buy shares in…
But instead, they mock him and put him in a blindfold. And yet they are the ones who are truly blind. They are the ones who are foolish.
I was on a climbing expedition in Bolivia many years ago now, and we were just about to start up this big peak, really early about 3am in the morning, and this fairly old looking man came over and asked if he could climb with us because his wife wasn’t feeling well.
We didn’t really want to be held back by him, we were worried he would be a liability, and we were probably fairly dismissive, but after some questions we agreed that he could join us.
But during the day we started to think this guy really knew what he was doing, we were far quicker than usual – and we finally asked what he did… and found out that he was a top professional mountain guide in the Swiss Alps – but he was just out in Bolivia for a holiday!
We suddenly realised his humility and dignity, and that he was really helping us. We felt foolish.
I wonder if you’ve ever had a similar experience, not recognising who someone is. The joke is always on you in the end isn’t it? You are the one who is foolish. Here they mock Jesus, even as he goes through this, not just to help, but to save sinful human beings – like them, like you and I. And if we’re tempted to mock or scorn him now, we will be the ones who are foolish in the end.
So, what must have been a long night for Jesus, with the guards, finally comes to an end. But there’s no let up. We’re told, verse 66, that
“When day came, the assembly of the elders of the people gathered together, both chief priests and scribes. And they led him away to their council”.
Jesus is brought before the leading figures of Israel and put on trial as soon as morning comes. They had been wanting to get him for ages, and they don’t hang around. They must have thought ‘yes, we’ve got him!’.
They intend to destroy him, and they think they’re in full control, but yet again, wonderfully, the message of who Jesus is and what he has come to do, cuts through their words and actions. And we see that it is Jesus who is in control.
The council, or Sanhedrin, the ruling body of Israel, had only limited authority over life and death – so they know that they need to get him before the Romans - before Pilate - as soon as possible. And so, they cut to the chase. They say, verse 67,
“If you are the Christ, tell us.”
Christ is the same word as ‘Messiah’. Christ is the Greek word and Messiah the Hebrew word. And both mean ‘anointed one’. The one promised in the Scriptures. And Luke makes it crystal clear to us in his gospel that Jesus is the anointed one, the Christ.
But the term Messiah had become political. It was thought at the time that it would be someone who would overthrow the Romans and restore Israel.
And so those questioning Jesus knew that if they could get him to say it, it would look like direct rebellion against the Roman authorities. But Jesus knows exactly what they’re up to – he knows that they only want to trap him – so he answers like this, verse 67,
“If I tell you, you will not believe, and if I ask you, you will not answer. But from now on the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God.”
Rather than answering their question directly, Jesus actually gives them a warning. He’s saying “you don’t even want to accept or believe that I am your idea of the Messiah – but the reality is that I am far, far more than the picture of a Messiah that you have in mind. I am the ‘Son of Man’”.
The awesome title Jesus most used for himself was the ‘Son of Man’. It’s used 82 times in the gospels! And it refers to Daniel chapter 7, where Daniel has this incredible vision.
A vision of “one like a son of man” who would come “with the clouds of heaven” and who would be given “everlasting dominion” and “glory” and a “kingdom”. And Jesus is saying “that’s me”.
You see, Jesus shows them,
2. The irony of judging the judge.
The irony is that they think that they hold power over Jesus to judge him. And yet, very soon, he will be sat at the right hand of God, and he will be the judge of all things.
One day the Jewish authorities will see him as their eternal judge. Jesus is not just some political messiah who will overthrow the Romans. No, he will have an everlasting kingdom, recognised by everyone who has ever lived, and he is the true judge.
And it’s clear that straight away they get at least some of implications of what he’s saying - because they all then say, angrily:
“Are you the Son of God, then?”
“You say that I am.”
They see that only the Son of God could claim that sort of position. You can imagine their eyes red with rage. “Blasphemy!” they cry.
They want to kill him, but they don’t have the power. So, they all jump to their feet and he is bundled off to the Roman Governor Pilate, so they can get the death sentence they so desire.
Pilate has probably not been up long. But now Jesus is thrust before him by the Jewish leaders. Little does Pilate know that this will be a day he will be remembered for, for hundreds and even thousands of years.
They begin to accuse Jesus before Pilate,
“We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ, a king.”
They’re deceitful and cunning. They know that Pilate won’t care about blasphemy or Jesus claiming to be God – so they twist the charges against Jesus, putting him up against the occupying Romans. He’s misleading the nation, he’s stirring up rebellion, he says he’s a king. It’s treason.
Is that really what Jesus meant when he said ‘give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s’? They either don’t know the truth or they deliberately forget it.
Maybe we can even relate – maybe we sometimes conveniently forget what Jesus says, or choose not to wrestle with his word?
And there’s another tragic irony here.
3. The irony of rebelling against the king.
The priests were supposed to be those who led the people in God’s ways. They were the religious ones. They would have known that the Scriptures promised that one day the great prophet, the Christ, the King would come.
We’re told in 2 Samuel that this King would be in the line of David and his throne and kingdom will be established forever. They were supposed to be waiting for him.
And yet, when he comes, they are blind to him, and they rebel against him. Rather than Jesus misleading the nation, they are misleading the Jewish people. They are forbidding them to give tribute to their true King. They are rebelling against their King – to the point that they want him put to death.
And they even claim that he is the one committing treason. It’s so tragically ironic.
But what about Pilate?
It seems he quickly realises that Jesus is not a threat. He says to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no guilt in this man.” But we’re told they are urgent and stir up the people against Jesus. They want Jesus, their true king, removed.
Pilate is trapped. He knows Jesus is innocent, but he’s also worried about public opinion.
He wants to please the crowds - so he plays his get-out-of-jail free card – and suddenly remembers that Jesus is from Galilee, part of Herod’s jurisdiction, so he sends him off to Herod – which we’ll hear about next week. He doesn’t want to take responsibility for a decision.
But if we read on, we see that when Herod sends him back, Pilate caves in and gives the crowds what they want. He’s spineless, and Jesus is condemned to death.
We’ve covered a lot of ground. But what are we to make of all this?
We need to see that on the eve Jesus’ death he proclaimed to the world who he was, with mastery and dignity and skill. He proclaimed that he was the great prophet, the Messiah. He proclaimed that he was the Son of Man who would sit at the right hand of God and judge the world. He wasn’t misleading people; he was the true King.
What was going on? Peter gives us a summary, when he writes,
“Christ suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.” (1 Peter 3:18)
Back in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus accepted the cup of suffering and wrath – so that we, the unrighteous, might be able to have a relationship with God. And today we’ve seen him starting to drink that cup. He knows that this is the path he has to walk.
And it would be the most tragic irony of all, if after seeing who Jesus truly is, and what he chose to go through, we do not respond in wonder, and faith – and worship.
4. The irony of not responding in wonder, faith – and worship
Maybe you’re watching today, and you’re tempted to mock Jesus or Christianity, like the guards. “He just looks so weak”. “How can he possibly know what’s best for us?”. “It’s ridiculous to read the Bible literally, it’s anti-intellectual”.
Or maybe you’re like the priests – whatever you hear about Jesus, you’ve already decided you don’t believe and you’re not willing to give him a chance.
And yet, as you’ve seen who he is today - wouldn’t it be amazing if this picture of God’s son was true? Surely, it’s at least worth investigating properly?
Or maybe we’re watching and we’re religious like the priests. We’re regulars at church…but we haven’t actually recognised Jesus as King. We’ve hardened our hearts against him. Maybe we even think we can sit in judgement over him.
We might think, “God’s got a lot of questions to answer”. “It’s outrageous for Jesus to think he should be King of every area of my life”.
Or we’re so easily like Pilate, aren’t we? We don’t mock Jesus; we don’t want to get rid of him – but we’re worried about what other people will think. We don’t want to make things difficult for ourselves. We’re not willing to look different or to speak up for him, or to point others to him.
Which one are you? Who do you need to repent of being this morning? I’m sure we all relate to at least one of them in some way.
But, all of them look fools as we look back don’t, they?
And what fools we will look, as one day we stand before Jesus as our judge– if we’ve seen who he is and what he’s done, and yet we’ve not been willing to listen or to be courageous. It would be such a tragic irony.
So, let’s pray.