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This is now the 5th stop that we are making in our journey with Jesus on His way to the cross. Each step along the way has brought a little closer to the terrible destination that awaits Him. Tonight we will finally come right to that destination.
Last week followed Jesus through the chief priest of Israel – Caiaphas. Tonight we follow Him through the governor of Judea – Pontius Pilate. Put these two together and what we see is that both the Church, represented by Caiaphas, and State, represented by Pilate, reject Jesus.
And as we will see, both reject Him for exactly the same reason. Jesus threatens their position among men. To follow Jesus would require them to forsake their reputation and position in society that they have worked so hard to attain. This is something that neither Caiaphas nor, as we will see, Pilate is willing to do.
This is the question that we must deal with as we continue this journey to the cross.
I. Introduction of Pilate
St. Luke is the only one of the four gospel writers to mention Pilate’s name before that early Friday morning when the Sanhedrin bring Jesus to him for crucifixion. In the third chapter Luke writes, “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea…” Luke anchors Pilate into the coordinates of world history just as the Christian Church has done in the Apostles Creed when it says, “he was crucified under Pontius Pilate.”
In 1961, while archeologists were excavating a site called “Caesarea Maritima,” “Caesarea by the Sea,” they uncovered a block of stone that was a part of a pagan temple dedicated to Tiberius Caesar. There was an inscription on the stone identifying the building and dating it to the governor in office. “Tiberium, Pontius Pilate, Prefect of Judea.” Once again, as we saw last week, archeology bears witness to the historical accuracy of the biblical text.
Pilate was appointed governor of Judea in 26 AD, just seven years before the events that we will explore this evening.
The second time that Luke refers to Pilate’s name is in the 13th chapter, where he writes, “there were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.” (Luke 13:1). Pilate made a decision to establish his authority with the Jews that went all wrong and resulted in bad blood between he and the Jews and a damaged political reputation with Rome. Something that the Sanhedrin will not hesitate exploiting to their advantage if it comes to it.
II. Dialog #1 – Sanhedrin bring Jesus to Pilate
From John’s gospel we read, “Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters. It was early morning.” (John 18:28). This was Friday morning. The day that we call ‘Good Friday.’ By the end of this day, Jesus would be crucified.
As we said last week, the Sanhedrin consisted of 70 of the elders of Israel plus the High Priest. If you add others who may have worked for the Sanhedrin and the Chief Priest and his staff, this could have been quite a crowd, possibly over 100 in all. Very possibly, this is the crowd that Pilate appeals to and that makes its terrible demand that Jesus be crucified.
As they bring Jesus to Pilate, he asks for the charges against him. “What accusation do you bring against this man.” (John 18:29) It’s as if he were confused, maybe he hasn’t had his morning coffee yet. They’ve brought this man to him but haven’t told him what the charges are.
And it’s almost as though the Sanhedrin is caught off guard by this. Maybe they thought that the size of the group would be enough. They reply, “If this man were not doing evil, we would not have delivered him over to you.” As if to say, ‘Don’t you think we know what we’re doing?”
Pilate responds, “Take Him yourself and judge Him by your own law.” The Sanhedrin had the authority to have their own court system and administer justice within limits. But they quickly let Pilate know that this is a case that supersedes those limits. “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death.”
Realizing that Pilate would not simply go along with their demands just because they said so, they come up with three charges against Jesus. “We found this man misleading our nation; and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar; and saying that he himself is Christ, a king.” (Luke 23:2).
Of course, the first two of these are blatant lies. The third is taken totally out of its proper context. But it is the one that Pilate decides to investigate further, even if it’s just to seem like he’s interested in their problem.
III. Dialog #2 – Pilate and Jesus in Pilate’s Chambers
John writes, “So Pilate entered his quarters again and called Jesus and said to him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?” Pilate had been well versed in the Jewish Messianic hope that their God would send a king like David who would free them from foreign domination and restore Israel to the former days of domestic prosperity and international glory.
Jesus answered Pilate, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” Is Pilate asking because he thinks that Jesus is a rebel who plans to overthrow the Roman government? Or, is he asking if Jesus is the Jewish messiah?
Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? As if to say, ‘I know that this is about your religion. But I don’t understand what it’s really all about.’
“Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” Pilate’s not really interested in discussing theology. He wants to know what Jesus has done to get the Sanhedrin so hopin’ mad.
But rather than plead his case with the Sanhedrin, Jesus testifies to Pilate about Himself, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from this world.” Three times Jesus repeats the same point, the kingdom that He is talking about is not OF THIS WORLD.
The kingdoms of this world have geographical boundaries and the kings of this world use military force to protect those boundaries. But His ‘kingdom’ knows no geographical boundaries. It’s made up of people from every nation on earth regardless of their nationality.
Citizens of the kingdoms of this world become citizens by natural birth. But citizenship in His kingdom comes only by being ‘born again’ an action that only the Holy Spirit can make happen.
Citizens of His kingdom are not out to overthrow the kingdoms of this world, but to live within them as good citizens, good families, faithful neighbors and the like.
Pilate hears none of this little sermon but responds to Jesus, “So you are a king?” Here is one of those places where the written word is a problem compared to the spoken word. Pilate’s reply can be interpreted in two different ways depending on voice inflection. “So, you ARE a king?” Pilate has found grounds for Roman law to be concerned about Jesus. Or, “So, YOU are a king?” Pilate can’t believe that this pathetic individual standing before him could possibly think that he is a king.
Jesus answers, “You say that I am a king.” As if to say, “you are using the word ‘king,’ not me.” In fact, a quick word search through the gospels reveals that Jesus never directly refers to himself as a king.
Kings have their particular purpose, but “For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”
Is Jesus preaching to Pilate? Sure sounds like it. “Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” Will Pilate listen to His voice? Will he repent and believe? Will he believe and be saved? Frankly, isn’t that the purpose of every word that comes from the mouth of Jesus?
But Pilate responds, “what is truth?” (John 18:33-38). Rather than repent and believe, Pilate wants to turn this into a philosophical debate. Some make it a debate about science, or history, or reason or their own personal experience. Others make it all about politics or economics or why bad things happen to good people. Anything but actually LISTEN to the truth; the truth about our sinfully hopeless condition before God; the truth about God’s radical acceptance and forgiveness and love for sinners.
IV. Dialog #3 – Pilate and Sanhedrin
Not really interested in pursuing this any further, Pilate ‘went back outside to the Jews and told them, ‘I find no guilt in him.’
The irony of what is happening here is almost unbearable. It was the mission of Israel to be a ‘light to the gentiles,’ just as it is the mission of the Christian Church today. They were to the ‘mouth of God’ in the world, proclaiming the truth, just as we are. Jesus said, “”The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.” (Luke 10:16) We are to speak the truth to this world that doesn’t know it because it doesn’t know Jesus.
But now, at this most critical point, they refuse to be the people whom they have been called to be and it is the gentile, Pontius Pilate who preaches to them. “I find no guilt in this man.”
Without his knowing it, Pilate proclaims the truth about Jesus to the Jews. Jesus has no guilt in Him. He is the ‘guiltless’ man. And we don’t just mean that He has no ‘moral’ guilt or ‘legal’ guilt. But we also mean that Jesus is without the ‘original guilt’ that every other man and woman is born with, regardless of how morally or legally guiltless they may be. Crazy as it sounds, Pilate is proclaiming Jesus’ divinity to the Jews.
V. Dialog #4 – Pilate and Sanhedrin
They of course, don’t want to hear of it. So Pilate offers them the opportunity to select Jesus as the yearly prisoner release that the governor of Judea was famous for doing. That way they can say that He is guilty, but that Pilate pardoned them, Jesus is totally discredited and everyone is happy. He even puts the worse criminal next to Jesus just to make the choice that much easier for them. But this doesn’t work at all. They choose Barabbas.
Next, Pilate has Jesus flogged, hoping that this will appease them. When Jesus is returned to Pilate, He is a bloody mess, and wearing a ridiculous crown made of thorns. “Pilate said to them, ‘Behold the man.’” No doubt Pilate is appealing to the mercy of the crowd. ‘Look at him! Will this satisfy your thirst for punishment?’
But here again, Pilate unwittingly preaches the truth about the Christ to the Jews. “Behold, THE man.” Not ‘a’ man but THE man. TRUE MAN. All mankind is wrapped up in this one man. What happens to THE man is credited to every man. The sin He is about to be punished for is the sin of every man, concentrated in THE man. The death that He dies, He dies once, for ALL men. By His death, sinful men are credited as having received the full punishment for their sin. By His resurrection from the dead, sinful men are reckoned as righteous before God.
What a sermon Pilate is preaching to the Jews! First, he preached to them about the divinity of Christ. Now he preaches to them about the humanity of Christ. True God and true Man.
How does Pilate’s congregation respond to such a wonderful sermon? “Crucify him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, ‘Take him yourselves and crucify him.’ The Jews answered him, ‘We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God.’ Now finally, they speak the real reason that they are so upset with Jesus. “He has made himself the Son of God.”
And then we read, “when Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid.” Even in the polytheistic religion of the Greeks, the gods were known to come down from heaven to earth disguised as mortals. In Acts 14, Paul and Barnabas visit Lystra and heal a man born lame. And the people, in great fear say, “the gods have come down to us in the likeness of men.” (Acts 14:11).
VI. Dialog #5 – Pilate and Jesus
Now, the same thought is running through Pilate’s mind. “He entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, ‘Where are you from?’ Look how close to the truth Pilate is! Throughout His ministry Jesus had made it clear that He came down from heaven. He is Immanuel, God with us. He is true God dwelling among us. Pilate has touched on the two natures of Christ. Now he is about to touch on the unity of those two natures in the incarnation of God becoming man.
“But Jesus gave him no answer.” He is a jealous God and He will not be lumped together with the Roman gods or any others.
So Pilate said to him, ‘You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” Jesus answered, ‘you would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore, he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.”
VII. Dialog #6 – Pilate and Sanhedrin
“From then on Pilate sought to release him, but the Jews cried out, ‘If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.” So, the high priest plays his trump card and strikes Pilate’s Achilles heel. He knows what god Pilate worships, his political career. It is the one thing that he will not deny when it comes right down to it.
Jesus had told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24) Pilate will not deny himself. And neither will we. There is no other way for us to be saved than for Jesus to die.
“So when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Stone Pavement, and in Aramaic Gabbatha. Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour (about 12 noon). He said to the Jews, ‘Behold your King.’ They cried out, ‘away with him, away with him, crucify him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The chief priests answered, We have no king but Caesar.’ So he delivered him over to them to be crucified.’ (John 19:1-16)