The following is the sermon by Pastor Ken Haupt which was to be preached during worship on 3/15. We share it here in the hopes that it will allow you to keep your “Eyes On Jesus” as a part of your devotion time at home this week.

“The eyes are a window into the soul.” This old saying suggests that you can tell the character of a person by simply looking into his or her eyes. If a person’s eyes appear dark and foreboding, you can presumably conclude that the person’s soul is evil, or at least seriously troubled. A person with bright, sparkling eyes, on the other hand, would display a calm and peaceful soul.

If it is true that the eyes are a window into the soul, then there are a lot of people in this morning’s Gospel reading who had very dark and foreboding eyes. They were the kind of eyes that our Lenten series calls “murderous eyes.”

When you look into the eyes of these persons, you see souls that are literally hell-bent on harming someone else. Their eyes reflect souls that were looking for opportunities, not to befriend but, to destroy someone else in one form or another.

This morning we will take a look at each of the five examples of murderous eyes in our text, as well as yet another set of eyes that looked at people much differently. As we do, let us consider whether the attitudes we see looking into their eyes just might be present in your soul and mine as well.

Murderous eyes # 1 look to DESTROY.

“Now the Festival of Unleavened Bread, called the Passover, was approaching, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some way to get rid of Jesus, for they were afraid of the people.” (VV. 1-2)

In the case of the chief priests and the teachers of the law the term “murderous eyes” is to be taken literally. They really did want to kill Jesus, we are told, because “they were afraid of the people.”

In first century Palestine the priests at the temple in Jerusalem not only officiated over the religious life of the Jews; they were also rulers and judges. The election of the High Priest was more political than religious. While some priests did support rebellion against Rome, those at the highest levels were puppets of Rome. They lived lavish lives off of the Temple tax while so many of those who paid the tax struggled to survive.
In the “Thorncrown Journal” Doug Reed writes,

The priesthood was undoubtedly jealous of Jesus’ popularity, but their main motivation for seeking to kill Jesus was fear. When a new king came to power, he would set his version of the priesthood in place…. If Jesus came to power, they thought they would be out of a job or killed…. In their opinion, Jesus was inviting the wrath of Rome.

The high priests and teachers of the law saw Jesus as a threat to their power structure, and so they were determined to bend the justice system as necessary to put Him to death.

At this point, most of us are feeling quite secure. We have never murdered another person. Oh, we may not always look at other people as we should, but we certainly do not have murderous eyes that seek to destroy them. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but according to Jesus each of us has had murderous eyes at some point or another. I refer to the following words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount:

You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, “You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.” But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, “Raca,” is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, “You fool!” will be in danger of the fire of hell.

Let’s take a quick survey. Who has never ever gotten angry with another person? Guilty all. The word “raca” was a slur that meant “empty-headed,” which is just another way of calling someone “mindless, stupid or braindead.” Who here has never called anyone “mindless, stupid or braindead”? Again, guilty all. Who here has never even once called another person a “fool”? Only a fool would deny having done this. Oops, I just did it myself. The point is that every one of us has at one time or another looked at someone with murderous eyes, which simply means looking at the person with an attitude of dismissiveness or contempt. It is as though we are thinking that this person doesn’t even deserve to exist, that the world would be better off without people like this. Sorry for the bad news, but we are all guilty of looking at other people with murderous eyes that seek to destroy them.

Murderous eyes #2 look to BETRAY .

And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus. They were delighted and agreed to give him money. He consented, and watched for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them when no crowd was present. (VV. 4-6)

Because of this secret agreement with the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard, Judas will forever have the unflattering reputation of having betrayed the Savior of the world. Scripture doesn’t tell us definitively what Judas’ motivation was, although the thirty pieces of silver would suggest that greed was part of it. Nevertheless, we do know how tragically the story ends. After the death of Jesus, Judas develops such overwhelming guilt over what he had done that he returns his thirty-pieces-of–silver reward to the temple and goes out to commit suicide. Although Judas was not directly involved in the crucifixion of Jesus, his agreement to “hand Jesus over” made him a party to the conspiracy which led to that end. By looking for an opportunity to betray Jesus, Judas became another example of someone with murderous eyes.

Again, this example of murderous eyes seems to exempt us from any group of people who conspire to betray someone else. Yet, before we become too secure in our self-serving presumptions, let’s take a closer look at what Judas was actually doing. The basic nature of Judas’ sin is that he was choosing to use Jesus for his own selfish ends. Judas had objectified Jesus, seeing Him more as a thing to be used than a person to be loved. Once objectified, Jesus became an object to be manipulated and used for one’s own advantage.

Have you ever manipulated another person to do something that advanced your own interests over his or hers? Maybe it was as simple as gossiping about another person so that other people would think more highly of you. Or, maybe you discouraged someone from seizing some opportunity so you yourself could take advantage of it. At the root of such behavior is the ability to objectify another person, to see him or her as a means to an end. I once heard a pastor put it quite succinctly when he said, “Instead of using things and loving people, we tend to use people and love things.” And when we do, we become examples of murderous eyes that look to betray others.

Murderous eyes #3 look to RETALIATE.

While he was still speaking a crowd came up, and the man who was called Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them….

When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?” And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear.

But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him. (VV. 47a,49-51)

When a crowd that was led by Judas came after Jesus, His followers’ reaction was violent retaliation. Despite the fact that Jesus had taught non-violence for three years,–“turn the other cheek; go the extra mile; love your enemies”– when faced with a threat, his followers nevertheless reverted to violence. When confronted by an enemy, how much easier it is to retaliate rather than respond in love.

Don’t tell me that you have never retaliated against someone you perceived to be a threat. I’ll bet we all have. When we are in church and Bible class, we speak so piously about loving other people, but when faced with a threat out there, we practice “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” Regardless of what our instincts would have us believe, eyes that look for ways to retaliate against other people are murderous eyes. And there is not a one of us here this morning who has not exhibited murderous eyes that have sought to retaliate against someone else.

Murderous eyes #4 and #5 look to ACCUSE or DENY.

Then seizing him, they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance. And when some there had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them. A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, “This man was with him.” But he denied it. “Woman, I don’t know him,” he said. (VV. 54-56)

It’s not uncommon to hear one child say something mean or cruel to another child. If an adult hears the comment, he or she may admonish the child for speaking such hurtful words. Immediately, the child will try to justify the remark by saying, “Well, it’s true.” However, the truth of a hurtful remark is irrelevant; it’s the intent to harm that matters.

What the servant girl said to Peter was true, but her intent was to be harmful. By accusing Peter of having been with Jesus, she was implying that Peter was guilty as well. Guilt by association we call it. Peter had the opposite problem. He had murderous eyes that were looking for a way out of a difficult situation by denying the truth about his relationship with Jesus. Peter was practicing guilt by disassociation.

How often have we used the truth, not to help but, to harm another person? Perhaps, the most common way is gossip. Another way is divulging a confidence you have promised to keep secret. These sins against the Eighth Commandment have the effect of killing or murdering another person’s reputation. They are simply an indirect means by which our murderous eyes look to make harmful accusations against another person.

Also, like Peter, we sometimes disassociate ourselves from Jesus when we fail to speak up about immorality for fear we will be considered a prude, or when we choose not to witness to an unbeliever so as not to be thought of as a religious fanatic. Guilt by disassociation.

Fortunately, not all the eyes in this morning’s text are murderous eyes. There are also the “merciful eyes” of Jesus, whose look at Peter symbolizes His forgiving love for everyone who looks out through murderous eyes.

Merciful eyes look to FORGIVE.

The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly. (VV. 61-62)

How important it is that Jesus “looked straight at Peter.” He didn’t roll His eyes in annoyance or shake His head in disgust. There must have been some disappointment in that look, but mostly it was a look of understanding. Jesus knew Peter better than Peter knew himself. Peter had pledged that he would die defending Jesus, but Jesus had predicted the very denial that had just taken place. Jesus understood just how spiritually weak Peter was, which was the reason Jesus was there in the first place. With His uniquely merciful eyes Jesus could see the need to give His life into death as a sacrifice for sinners like Peter and, for that matter, all the others in our text who had murderous eyes. We remember His words on the cross for those who were executing His crucifixion, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we have seen again this morning, your murderous eyes and mine are every bit as real as those in our text. Our murderous eyes, which look to destroy other people and deny our Lord, are the same eyes that watch Jesus go to the cross because of our sins. He was willing to look death straight in the eye so that He could say of us, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” His merciful eyes, which endured both death and resurrection for us, have totally transformed our souls from dead to alive, from sinful to saintly, from murderous to merciful.

Since the eyes are a window into the soul, our renewed souls can now shine through a new set of merciful eyes. Because of Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit, we can now look at other people as opportunities for helping, supporting and encouraging.

We can look for ways to build up people rather than destroy them. We can look for ways to honor people rather than betray them. We can look for ways to forgive people rather than to retaliate against them. We can look for ways to compliment people rather than accuse them. We can even look for ways of sharing the Good News of a merciful Savior with other people rather than denying Him with silence.

The eyes are a window into the soul. I know that each of you now has a forgiven, calm and peaceful soul. How do I know? I can see it in your eyes.

Rev. Kenneth W. Haupt
March 15, 2020

Holy Week Services at Holy Cross Lutheran Church