Summary: This sermon is for Dr. King Sunday and challenges us to be willing to pay the price to stand for righteousness. Justice and Righteousness must go hand in hand.
Will You Pay The Price Of Righteousness?
Have you ever gone into a store and saw something you really wanted, but you looked at the price tag, and even though you wanted it, you decided the price was too high to pay. Today and tomorrow all over the country , people will be celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Many will be quoting his quote from the Old Testament book of Amos 5:24, “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”
Although those words are associated with Dr. King speaking, the words are actually a command from God to his people who had rejected the concept of righteousness. Righteousness comes about when we are in a right standing with God and are treating each other justly. That’s why the two greatest commandments are to first love God and then to love each other as we love ourselves. The only problem with love, is that it always costs us something. You can’t love without giving up something you have.
Dr. King was constantly connecting the concepts of righteousness with the concept of love for all people. Righteousness is always going to connect us back to God. We think that we can have justice independently of God. But the sin in the human heart, will over rule justice any day of the week.
Pontius Pilate was a roman governor who could decide whether a person found guilty of a crime would live or die. Jesus was brought before Pilate on the charges that he had been plotting to overthrow the Roman Government, that he had forbidden people to pay taxes to Ceasar, and that he claimed to be a king. Pilate listened to the evidence and declared that Jesus was innocent and should be set free. His verdict for justice was challenged.
The people didn’t want to look too closely at the evidence, they simply wanted a problem solved. They didn’t care about the truth. Jesus was a threat to the lifestyle of the rich and powerful. He had challenged them on their love of money and their lack of concern for the poor and needy. They had to get rid of him. They demanded that Pilate’s verdict be one of guilt and then execution by crucifixion.
Three times Pilate claimed him to be innocent. As a matter of fact, even though Jesus was innocent, Pilate was willing to have him beaten just to teach him a lesson about upsetting the wrong people. But that was not enough. The people and leaders demanded their way and gave Pilate a threat. “If you do not give us what we want, we will send message back to The Emperor that you are siding with a man who’s trying to replace Ceasar.”
All of a sudden, justice is not in Pilate’s best interest. If he does what is the right thing to do, it could cost him his job, his reputation, and his life. This is an easy choice for him to make. It wasn’t like he was the one who had Jesus arrested. He had not asked for this case?
He was personally opposed to having innocent people killed, but obviously the majority is making a lot of noise and therefore they must have a good reason for doing this. The pressure of sin to compromise was weighing heavily upon him, and so he gave up Jesus to be killed. The cost of righteousness had proven to be too high.
Those of you who went to see the movie “Just Mercy” in which an innocent man was on death row. There was plenty of evidence presented that the man was innocent at the hearing for a new trial, yet the judge ignored all of it in his ruling. The judge was placed in the same position as Pontious Pilate, and like Pilate he decided the cost of righteousness was too high.
We can look at Pilate or at the judge and condemn them as being cowards and unworthy of their positions, but before we condemn them totally, we need to ask “how much of Pilate is living inside of us?” When do we ignore the facts because it is no longer in our interests to carefully consider them.
In Matthew’s gospel, Pilate brings out water and washes his hands and says “I am innocent of this man’s blood.” But then he goes ahead and turns him over to be executed. We will all be tempted to do the same thing. We want to shed our responsibility for not speaking up or out, by saying “I personally am against this, but go ahead and do it anyways.”
We all have two weakness that Satan seeks to exploit. The first is that we want to be liked and accepted by others. Nobody likes to get the cold shoulder treatment, the icy stairs, or the knowledge that others are saying terrible things behind your back or even to your face. We don’t want offend those whom we may need to turn to for help.