(from the Wednesday night Lent 2020 series: The Truth Opposed)
Ethan Couch suffered from a serious case of ‘affluenza.’ His condition was so severe that it was to blame for the events of June 15, 2013.
That evening, on a country road just outside Fort Worth, Texas, Breanna Mitchell’s SUV had broken down. A homeowner saw her distress and went out with her daughter to help Breanna. Another driver had also pulled over to lend a hand.
Meanwhile, Wal-Mart security cameras caught 16-year-old Ethan stealing two cases of beer. He dashed out of the store, hopped behind the wheel of his father’s enormous Ford F-350 dually, and along with seven other passengers, sped off, sailing 70-miles-an-hour in a 40-miles-per-hour zone. Ethan and his buddies burned through the beer. They race home, flying 70-miles-an-hour down the same country road where all those busy hands work on Breanna’s SUV.
By the time Ethan saw them, it was too late.
He loses control, careens into the disabled SUV, flips his truck, rolls across the road, wipes out Breanna and the helpers. He kills them all. He sends four other bystanders to the hospital. His seven passengers survive with injuries, although one friend is completely paralyzed. Police on the scene immediately arrest Ethan for driving with a suspended license, drunk driving, driving under the influence of drugs, intoxicated assault, and intoxicated manslaughter.
On the day of the trial, the defense lawyer points at Ethan’s serious case of affluenza. The judge studies those debilitating conditions, the effect it has on Ethan, and drops the charges. Ethan goes free!
Do you know what ‘affluenza’ is? ‘Affluenza’ is the condition of thinking that wealth buys privileges. The lawyer argued that Ethan “didn’t know boundaries because his rich parents didn’t give him any.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethan_Couch) That left Ethan unable to process consequences. Therefore, he could not be blamed for underage drinking, driving while intoxicated, speeding, and manslaughter because his parents never taught him those actions are wrong.
You realize, pride gets in the way. Pride— holding yourself accountable to no one. Ethan used wealth, status, and influence to escape the consequences of his crime. Pride protects ego at all costs even if that means rejecting truth and denying responsibility.
In our Wednesday meditations we meet opponents of truth. Each adversary confronts undeniable truth, but still refuses to bow under that truth. A courtroom advisor pleads with a judge: ‘Have Nothing to Do with that Innocent Man!’
That’s what the judge is trying to do! Pontius Pilate presides as judge over Judea. Before him stands Jesus. Hours earlier, angry Jewish leaders had arrested him. They charge him with conspiracy to overthrow the Roman Empire. Now, they want Pilate’s approval for the death sentence. Yet, look at this pitiful man! He does not fit the mold of an influential figure or charismatic leader. No crown, no rings and fine clothing, no fancy haircut and expensive lotions. No army fights for his release. No loyal band of supporters storm the courtroom demanding freedom. This beaten, bruised, bound man poses no threat to Rome. The charges are obviously false; Pilate clearly sees that the Jews arrest Jesus out of jealousy (Matthew 27:18). He stands innocent!
Even Pilate’s wife knows that. She sends an urgent message to her husband: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.” Literally she says, ‘Let there be nothing between you and that Righteous One.’ She does not merely call Jesus ‘innocent,’ but ‘righteous.’ Not only is Jesus empty of guilt, but he is full of moral purity. Never greedy for world power. Not devouring wealth at the expense of the weak and vulnerable. He carries no faults. No one can dredge up a past regret. Jesus is un-accuse-able! That’s why she pleads: ‘If you wrong this perfect Man, then you owe a debt you can never repay!’ If Pilate condemns an obviously innocent Jesus, then Pilate commits a great injustice!
Have Nothing to Do with that Innocent Man? Pilate’s trying! Every Passover Festival he pardons a criminal (27:15-17). This year, he presents an offer no one can refuse. He can either (1) set Jesus free or (2) he can release Barabbas, a man who rebelled against Rome and murdered Jews. (Really, the choice is like releasing Charles Manson or Mother Theresa. Who would you want free in your community?)
You realize, even this attempt sidesteps the truth. Jesus is innocent. Enough said! Why doesn’t Pilate simply set Jesus free? Because the crowds stand on the verge of rioting. If the Jews riot, then Rome will take notice. Rome will march its armies and quash the riot. Rome will also remove an incompetent Pilate from power. Pilate cannot have that happen. To prevent losing power, Pilate prevents a riot. To prevent a riot, Pilate caters to Jewish demands. The guilty set free. The Innocent condemned.
Pride protects ego at all costs even if that means rejecting truth and denying responsibility. Ethan Couch refuses to think the law applies to him and denies responsibility for his crimes. Pilate refuses to admit to be Jesus innocent in order to protect power, status, and pride. The Jews would rather condemn Jesus than to hear him expose their proud, corrupt hearts.
Have Nothing to Do with That Innocent Man? That’s what the proud heart wants! It does not want failures exposed. Each Sunday (even today!) we speak our faults. ‘God, I confess that I am by nature sinful. I have disobeyed you in my thoughts, with my words, and with my actions. I have failed to help the helpless. I have not defended the vulnerable. God, I plead for your mercy.’ Yet, inside is this little voice, this little tug that excuses behavior. Pride denies the truth that that mocking the husband was wrong …that shaming the wife was wrong. Pride denies the truth that your less-than-encouraging words about politicians are not words to be used. Pride puts you above others. It sets you on top of God’s commandments. It even creates excuses why what God calls ‘Wrong’ is acceptable! Pride denies truth so that criminals are not exposed.
That proud heart does not even want shortcomings highlighted. Each Sunday (even today!) we focus on Christ. Still, a little part of us wants credit. How often do the fingers bend back at us— pointing at ourselves for confidence? Pride pushes Jesus aside, crying, ‘I do not need you! I am a good person. I am do good. I am enough on my own!’
So many refuse to hear the truth that we can never stand right with God. Instead of hearing accountability, it is easier to ‘Have Nothing to Do with that Innocent Man!’ Have Jesus stand trial so that we do not have to confront responsibility.
You realize Jesus does just that, he stands there. Who would even tolerate such injustice? Who would stand there while people literally chant for your demise? Who would stand there in the place of people that clearly do not want you? And if we do not want our (actual) faults exposed, who would stand there silent while fingers lie about you?
Jesus could let people have their wish. ‘Have Nothing to Do with that Innocent Man?’ Fine! Tear open the heavens, step up onto his glorious throne, and tower as Judge over every single heart. Instead, he stands condemned by the proud, for the proud. For their benefit. For their advantage.
Pilate’s wife speaks truth: Jesus is innocent. God reveals that in a dream. That dream gives Pilate a chance to consider what his own heart is fully capable of doing. Pilate thirsts for political power and control, but Jesus hungers for God’s teaching. That dream gives the Jews a chance to consider what they want. Barabbas actually killed and murdered; he stands red-handed guilty. Jesus physically heals people and even heals hearts with forgiving words. That dream gives you (and me) a chance to compare the condition of our hearts to the heart Christ. Pride arrogantly thinks no need for a Savior, that we are God’s gift to the world. Yet, Jesus is actually God’s gift— because he alone is righteous.
He leaves a heavenly throne and lays aside his powerful status as Almighty God. He takes on the greatest injustice of all: sentenced for a crime he did not commit. Christ marches to the cross as our pride is heaped on him. He willingly carries all of it away and disposes of it forever. As the righteous Son of God, Jesus purges pride. He stands condemned for the proud and now we will never be condemned for our pride.
Have Nothing to Do with that Innocent Man? Never would we ever want to say such a thing! Instead, we want this Innocent Man! We confess our sins, we can lay out each failure one by one, knowing that Jesus drapes his righteous life over every crime. When someone asks you: ‘Are you sure you will enter heaven?’ you do not need to stare in the mirror. You can point at Jesus, the Righteous One. He has wrapped that righteous life around you (read Galatians 3:26-27). Jesus stands condemned for the proud, for your benefit, for your advantage. That is our pride.
In our Wednesday meditations we meet opponents of truth. Each adversary confronts undeniable truth, but still refuses to bow under that truth. No one wants to hear what is true. A courtroom advisor pleads with a judge: ‘Have Nothing to Do with that Innocent Man!’
He doesn’t want to! He does not want Jesus to take away his earthly power and status. The Jews do not want Jesus taking away their power and position over the people. Pride protects ego at all costs even if that means rejecting truth and denying responsibility. So, Jesus stands condemned by the proud.
Jesus stands condemned for the proud. He literally removes all boasting. We have life with God! Not because of our awesome efforts, but because of Jesus’ morally pure life. ‘Have Nothing to Do with that Innocent Man?’ Never! Jesus had everything to do with us so that we can live by this Innocent Man!