“Word for Today” – Luke 23 – www.concordialutheranchurch.com

September 17, 2009 at 4:45 am Leave a comment

Friends 1At Concordia, we are currently in a teaching series covering the life of Moses titled, “Never Lost.”  Thus, I have been spending a fair amount of time in the book of Exodus lately.  In Exodus 2, Moses, after he inadvertently kills an Egyptian soldier (cf. Exodus 2:12), flees to the wilderness of Midian where he meets a man named Reuel (cf. Exodus 2:18-21).  Although it’s not common, “Reuel” has quickly become a favorite name of mine.  It is from the Hebrew words re’eh, meaning “friend,” and el, meaning “God.”  What a wonderful moniker – to be called a friend of God.

Even today, being God’s friend is a notion which delights and comforts countless Christians.  Phillips, Craig, and Dean sing a song which declares, “I am a friend of God.”  More classically, I have been to nary a funeral where they have not sung, as consolation for grieving hearts and souls, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”  As people who believe in God, we trust not only that he is the transcendent sovereign of the universe, but also our immanent friend.

As much as we may want to be God’s friend, we also struggle giving up other affections which would damage and even destroy our friendship with God.  As Jesus’ brother James warns us, “Don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God” (James 4:4)?  It is a difficult, and finally impossible, feat to be a friend of God while also maintaining ties with wicked ways of this world.  Consider Pontius Pilate, for instance, in our reading for today from Luke 23.

During this time, Pilate’s political career is on the rocks.  His approval ratings are plummeting.  The first century Jewish philosopher Philo relays the story of how Pilate had some golden shields inscribed with a dedication to the emperor of Rome at this time, Tiberius Caesar, and thus infuriated the Jews:

Pilate, not more with the object of doing honor to Tiberius than with that of vexing the multitude, dedicated some gilt shields…in the holy city…But when the multitude heard what had been done…they entreated him to alter and to rectify the innovation which he had committed in respect of the shields…But he steadfastly refused this petition, for he was a man of a very inflexible disposition, and very merciless as well as very obstinate. (Philo, On the Embassy to Gaius, par. 299-301)

For the Jews at this time, even an inscription dedicated to someone other than God smacked of idolatry and thus offended their religious sensibilities.  In response to Pilate’s offense, the Jewish leaders crafted a letter of protest which Herod Antipas, one of the tetrarchs of Palestine, eagerly forwarded to Tiberius in an attempt to bolster his own political capital.  Upon receiving the letter, Tiberius shot off a nasty letter to Pilate, demanding that he remove the offensive shields.  This episode made Pilate and Herod Antipas bitter enemies.

In Luke 23, then, Pilate faces a choice.  He can either strike back at Herod Antipas with a political low blow – some sort of smear campaign – or he can show him kindness – offer him an olive branch of sorts – in hopes of mending their broken relationship and thus better cementing his own political position because he has newfound friends in high places.  Pilate opts for the latter.  Knowing that Antipas has long been a fan of Jesus (cf. verse 8), when Jesus lands in Pilate’s Praetorium, accused of insurrection, Pilate ships him off to Antipas as a goodwill gesture.  Thus Luke writes:  “That day Herod and Pilate became friends – before this they had been enemies” (verse 12).

“Herod and Pilate became friends.”  Pilate uses his shrewd political prowess to make a new friend.  The problem is, he made friends with the wrong guy.  He opted for friendship with a ruler of the world rather than friendship with the Son of God.  And when he has yet another opportunity to befriend Jesus and stand fast against those who falsely accuse him, he instead “surrenders Jesus to their will” (verse 25).  Jesus is crucified.

Friendship means fidelity.  In other words, friendship with God means you can’t rely on God and his ways while also flirting with ways of this world.  To be a friend of Christ means to be a friend of Christ alone.  Thankfully, Jesus is a forgiving friend.  Even when we run off to befriend the world, Jesus still stands with his hand outstretched, inviting us back to friendship with him.  I hope he is a friend of yours, for he wants to be.  And there is no better friend to have.

Entry filed under: Word for Today.

“Word for Today” – Luke 22 – www.concordialutheranchurch.com “Word for Today” – Luke 24 – www.concordialutheranchurch.com

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