Sermon from 28th Mar 2021 (Palm/Passion)

Mark 15:15 (EHV)

15 Since he wanted to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. After he had Jesus flogged, he handed him over to be crucified.

Dear Heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit upon us so that we may trust the crucifixion of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ is all the satisfaction we need. Amen.

Are you satisfied?

I mean, really satisfied?

Most people aren’t. Most of us are always searching for a little more.

If we understand satisfaction to mean we’ve judged that we have enough or that we have sufficient, then we’re not always satisfied. As the Rolling Stones sang so long ago: “I can’t get no satisfaction!”

We know we’re not satisfied because we keep looking through the catalogues, we keep paying attention to those adverts, we keep searching for things over the internet, we keep longing to go on holidays to our dream destinations, and we keep walking through shops wondering how our life might be a little bit happier, a little more fulfilled, or a little easier if only we had the latest gadget, or the latest updated model, or the latest home improvement item, and so on. We keep seeing what other people have and we’re tempted to want what they have. We want something more than what we have.

This means, if any of us are looking to replace or add something to our life, then we’re not satisfied.

But our desire to be satisfied goes beyond just having more things or having more satisfying experiences.

We also want to satisfy people, or we’re looking for people to satisfy us.

We might want to satisfy people around us for a number of reasons.

We want to make people happy, because if we make people happy, then they might like us, accept us, or love us. They might consider we’re worthy and good enough for them if we’re able to satisfy them. For this reason, satisfying people can help our sense of self-worth and can makes us feel accepted and valued by others.

But we also want to make people happy because it might make our own life easier. This is why we have such sayings as “Happy wife, happy life!” We figure our own life is more likely to be trouble free and enjoyable if we keep everyone around us satisfied. For this reason we might try to avoid conflict, disagreements, confrontations and difficult subjects, just to keep everyone else happy. If they’re happy, then we think we’re happy, even if we’re silently fuming inside.

We also don’t like letting people down because we feel as if we’re in debt to someone else. If we’ve let someone down, we feel as if we’re not satisfactory and have to make up for our inadequacy. For this reason we may avoid committing ourselves to volunteer, or help out, or serve on a committee. If we don’t have to satisfy anyone’s expectations, then we’ll feel satisfied.

If we have to satisfy others and then later discover we’ve let someone down, then we may feel insecure and unworthy. We feel our worth is being questioned or threatened. And so we may be tempted to work hard to make up for any of our short-comings just so we might satisfy them and live in peace and contentment.

We might also want people to satisfy us for a number of reasons.

As selfish and self-centred people, we often want people around us to satisfy us and our desires. If they let us down or don’t give us what we want, we question their care, their compassion, their understanding, or their love for us.

Whether we like to admit it or not, most of us have high expectations for those around us. We want our children to perform or keep up with certain standards. We want our politicians to perform up to our standard. We want our church leaders to be exemplary and without fault. If any of them let us down, we expect them to try harder or we feel justified in our judgments against them.

Unfortunately, our dissatisfaction in so many areas of our life leads to a big spiritual problem.

The spiritual problem with not being satisfied is that, when we fear not being satisfied in anything or anyone except God, or when we desire to be satisfied in anything or anyone else apart from God, or when we criticise or condemn people who have been made in the image of God, or when we trust we won’t be satisfied with God until we get what we want, then we’ve broken the 1st Commandment (along with a number of others). Our fears and desires to be satisfied (or to satisfy those around us) shows we don’t trust God and we’re not content with what he gives us.

Understanding a little about the spiritual problem we have when we want to satisfy ourselves (or when we want to satisfy others), today we hear how Pontius Pilate wanted to satisfy the crowds. Apart from our Triune God, he’s one of only two people we refer to in our Creeds. The other is the Virgin Mary.

As we listen to the account of Jesus’ trial before Pilate, we’re given the impression Pilate felt under pressure. He wanted to keep the crowds happy. For the sake of his own comfort and happiness and job security he needed to satisfy the crowds.

Just like so many politicians of past, present, and future, he bowed to public pressure for his own sake. He decided a criminal would go free and an innocent person would pay the ultimate price to keep everyone, including himself, happy. Those who shouted the loudest got what they wanted. The crowd was satisfied with the cruel and painful punishment dished out on Jesus.

We might feel justified on judging or criticising Pilate. He seemed weak and spineless. He did what the outspoken people wanted. Maybe we think we would have done differently if we were in his shoes, but we fail to realise how easily we also bow to the need to satisfy those around us or how much we’re willing to sacrifice things and people just to satisfy ourselves.

In the end, despite the fact these words describe how Pilate wanted to satisfy the crowd seems to criticise Pilate’s decision, there’s an ironic and divine twist to these few words.

You see, someone else was also satisfied. He’s not mentioned in the text, but the implication of Jesus’ crucifixion, and what it means for us and our eternal relationship with God, meant that he also needed to be satisfied.

If we understand satisfaction in this case to mean the crucifixion and death of Jesus is enough and what he did for us is sufficient, then God the Father is satisfied. If he’s satisfied, then there’s nothing more for us to pay. There’s nothing more for us to do. What Jesus did for us is enough. There’s no longer the need for any more animal or human sacrifices. There’s no longer any need for us to make up for what we’ve done. Jesus is the last and all-sufficient sacrifice for the forgiveness of all our sins. The need for God to punish our sins was fully satisfied by the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ.

So yes, in an ironic twist, through Pilate’s decision the crowds were satisfied by the crucifixion of Jesus, we are satisfied that we’re forgiven and go free through faith in the crucifixion of Jesus, and God is satisfied with the obedient death of Jesus. He has paid the full price of death for you and me and his death is all sufficient.

In a sense, Barabbas wasn’t the only criminal set free that day. Through faith in the death of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins we were also set free. We’re set free from the bondage to sin, death and the devil. We receive the benefits of his death and the forgiveness of our sins through faith trusting his death is all sufficient.

Our Lutheran Confessions confirm this and teach that we no longer need to satisfy God by making up for our sin. As Article IV of the Augsburg Confession says:

‘It is taught that we cannot obtain forgiveness of sin and righteousness before God through our merit, work, or satisfactions, but that we receive forgiveness of sin and become righteous before God out of grace for Christ’s sake through faith when we believe that Christ has suffered for us and that for his sake our sin is forgiven and righteousness and eternal life are given to us.

So, while we might be tempted to criticise Pilate’s decision, God’s work of forgiveness, life and salvation was being done through him. You and I are satisfied as we receive the benefits of Jesus’ death on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins.

But you might be wondering then how does this affect our own need to be satisfied?

Well, in regards to us feeling we’re not good enough for those around us, and our fears that we can’t satisfy them, we believe and trust we’re forgiven for the sake of Jesus’ death. His payment of blood is enough. His forgiveness is enough. His adoption of us as God’s children is enough. His cleansing of our hearts is enough. His promise of eternal life is enough. We’re secure in our identity through faith in Christ and gladly believe his promises and receive holy gifts.

In regards to us feeling we’re not satisfied by those around us, we believe that since Jesus’ death is enough for us, then it’s also enough for those around us. Through faith we can let go of our own need to be satisfied and forgive as we’ve been forgiven. Our forgiveness of those around us is a powerful witness that we believe the death of Jesus is enough and is sufficient.

In regards to the temptations all around us and the feeling we don’t have enough belongings or experiences or health or strength and so on, how might we feel satisfied with what we have? Well, the antidote here is thankfulness. When we’re thankful for what we have, then we’re also satisfied with what God has provided us. What God gives us is enough.

So, coming back to the question I asked earlier, are you satisfied, I mean, really satisfied?

And more specifically, are you really satisfied with what Jesus did for you?

If so, may…

… the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus. Amen.