The Greatest Abolitionist Movement
1) Christ Abolished the Hatred of Sin.
2) Christ Reconciled God and Men.
One of the greatest moments in American history occurred on the first day of 1863. On that day President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, thereby declaring freedom for all slaves in the United States. This proclamation is rightfully lauded as one of the most significant and celebrated decisions in the history of the world. And it was a long time in coming too. For years prior to the proclamation, individuals called abolitionists struggled and fought to end slavery. They were aptly named such because they sought to abolish what was clearly a racial and corrupt system.
But, what most people forget today is that the Emancipation Proclamation, as sensible as it sounds, was actually quite fragile when first issued. The Civil War was still raging on. President Lincoln was not nearly as popular then as he is regarded in the history books. In order for this declaration of freedom to endure, a price needed to be paid. Many historians argue that President Lincoln never would have issued the Emancipation Proclamation if it hadn’t been for a monumental battle just a few months prior. In September 1862, Northern and Southern troops clashed in the single bloodiest day of the Civil War, near a tiny creek in Maryland called Antietam. After the great struggle, the Confederate troops retreated in defeat. If the battle had gone the other way, it’s quite possible that our country, and the world, would be a lot different today. And it’s almost a certainty that no Emancipation Proclamation would have been issued on January 1, 1863.
What do we learn about this? Well, it affirms one thing we know to be true, that freedom comes at a cost. But, we learn more this evening as we consider the word of God before us. We see that an abolitionist movement does not guarantee reconciliation. For long after the Emancipation Proclamation, the enmity of slavery continues to plague our nation and at times we seem further from true reconciliation than ever before. A special kind of leader and a special kind of victory is needed for true peace. We find that fulfillment in Jesus Christ, as we read from Luke 23:5-12:
But they were the more fierce, saying, "He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee to this place." 6 When Pilate heard of Galilee, he asked if the Man were a Galilean. 7 And as soon as he knew that He belonged to Herod's jurisdiction, he sent Him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time. 8 Now when Herod saw Jesus, he was exceedingly glad; for he had desired for a long time to see Him, because he had heard many things about Him, and he hoped to see some miracle done by Him. 9 Then he questioned Him with many words, but He answered him nothing. 10 And the chief priests and scribes stood and vehemently accused Him. 11 Then Herod, with his men of war, treated Him with contempt and mocked Him, arrayed Him in a gorgeous robe, and sent Him back to Pilate. 12 That very day Pilate and Herod became friends with each other, for previously they had been at enmity with each other.
What does it take for reconciliation? First, perhaps we need to understand what reconciliation really means. In a simple way, it means to set on friendly terms again. To reconcile with someone is the opposite of continuing to hate them. The end result of reconciliation is peace. The first step toward peace is the defeat of hatred. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul described in detail how Jesus did this: “Having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, 16 and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. 17 And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near (Ephesians 2:15-17).”
Abolishing the hatred of sin doesn’t appear to make much sense to human reason. In order to defeat the hate, you must accept mistreatment. Paul tells us that Jesus abolished the enmity by taking it to the cross. In our Lenten series we’ve been tracing that very path from Gabbatha to Golgotha. Our text this evening tells us the specifics of what came along with abolishing the enmity. To accomplish that Jesus had to endure mistreatment. Luke lists three things. First, Jesus was falsely accused by the scribes. This was not just a random smattering of vain threats. Luke adds an adjective which tells us they were “vehement” accusations. Ever had someone publicly discredit your good name in front of others? It makes you angry doesn’t it? The scribes were doing that and more to Jesus. Not only were they trying to ruin His reputation publicly, they were trying to use those accusations to put Him to death. This was no game. This was a real, life and death situation.
The second thing we’re told is that Herod’s men treated Jesus with contempt. Another way of describing this act is that they were treating Jesus as worthless or despising His very existence. Essentially, the soldiers thought Jesus was a piece of dirt, that His rights or His value, meant nothing. This is really the opposite of Emancipation. The reason that slavery is abolished in America is that all peoples’ rights are considered valid. This was not the way it was for Jesus. His existence was despised.
The third act we’re told follows closely to the second. Luke adds that the soldiers also mocked Jesus. They had already discredited the person of Jesus, now they moved on to His work. They recognized the claim He made as the Son of God and King of the Jews. And so, with heavy sarcasm mixed with hatred, they ridiculed Him by arraying Him in a robe as if they believed Him. It’s certainly one thing to be rejected, but mocking takes things to the next level. At that point you’re not just showing disagreement, you’re openly harassing the target.
In all these things, we certainly see pure enmity. But, the question is, how did Jesus abolish it? You’d think that He could do it by force and power, and He would have a just reason for doing so. But, that was not His method, nor would it accomplish His end goal. Jesus abolished the hatred or by taking it on Himself, by assuming it. He answered them nothing, as Isaiah had prophesied of Jesus, “He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Yet, He opened not His mouth (Isaiah 53:3,7).”
The battle for reconciliation did not come down to which side could fight most vehemently against the other. Jesus won by taking the sin on His own shoulders and not responding. That is what it takes to abolish enmity. Only Jesus could accomplish such a victory. The power of the cross in that respect is foreign to human governments and institutions. No one doubts that the Emancipation Proclamation was a moral and noble pursuit, but it wouldn’t have come to anything without the force of an army. And despite that great moment of history, the enmity continues to linger to this day. One cannot help but stand in awe and wonder at the work of Jesus on this path to the cross. By what seemed to be such nonsensical measures He was accomplishing eternal peace for the world. Even the many so-called nonviolent protests and movements of our modern day cannot hold a candle to the peace of Christ. Outward force and the use of armies may fade to background, but hateful thoughts and intentions in the heart still abound under the guise of nonviolence.
This was the very purpose of our Savior’s Passion. He abolished the enmity of sin, a righteous punishment of God’s law on sinners. He took this punishment to the cross, on His own shoulders. He practiced true nonviolence, both in the heart and in action.
What does it take for reconciliation? We talk about being the bigger person. So often in conflicts, the first person to absorb the blows of the other and not react, ushers in the first steps toward peace. Hanging on to enmity makes the problem grow. This is certainly true of reconciliation between people. But, to have peace over sin, to have reconciliation with God, you need righteousness. One moment of sin allows enmity to have a place. As God warned Cain, so we should heed, “Sin crouches at the door, and its desire is for you.” In this regard, nothing has changed. We can boast all we want about worldly measures of peace and reconciliation, or how far we’ve progressed as people, but without complete righteousness it will not stand before God.
Jesus won on the cross, partly because He didn’t give into the accusations, mockings, and mistreatment. But, He also won because nothing they said against Him was true. He was perfect. He was righteous. No accusation stuck. The same is not true for us. All too often we practice our own versions of reconciliation, while allowing the enmity to exist. We should see this clearly for our lives because we have an example in our text.
How interesting it is that at the end Luke tells us that Pilate and Herod became friends, though they were once enemies. They were reconciled, but only in the way they wanted. The enmity still existed, it was simply covered up for a time. Pilate never sent Jesus to Herod because He trusted Herod as a friend. He did it to pass off the responsibility. Herod did not receive Jesus because he respected Pilate. He did it to gain some notoriety for himself and satisfy his ego. Pilate never respected Herod as a legitimate leader, Herod was a vassal ruler – a puppet king. Pilate and Herod really tried to play off of one another to get something they both wanted. Pilate wanted an excuse out of this trial. Herod wanted attention. They both won and so they became friends for a time.
Yet, if they had only set aside their petty desires for a moment, perhaps they would have seen true reconciliation through Christ. They were indeed close, having become friends through the common acquaintance of the Son of God. Yet, they were also worlds apart from the truth. Do you see yourself in their example or in Christ’s? Do you ever forgive someone, yet hang on to the enmity? Have you ever faked the handshake, the smile, or the hug of reconciliation, yet still seethed with anger in your heart? Are you willing to make excuses, to ignore Scripture, to block out your pastor or your trusted Christian friends just to hang onto the enmity? That’s not true reconciliation, it never leads to peace, and it’s not why Jesus died for you.
If we were on trial before Pilate and Herod, we would have no option but to plead guilty. It might be unkind for them to treat us the same way, with the various mistreatments, but eventually they would find something that against us that is absolutely true. Not so with Jesus. He endured it all – to the very point of the cross, up to His final breath on it, without blame. Because of that, nothing sticks to you anymore. You are reconciled. You have peace.
What does that look like?
Romans 8:33 Who shall bring a charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? No One.