Monday, March 9, 2015

A moral struggle, and a defeat (John 19:1-16)

Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe and went up to him again and again, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they slapped him in the face.
Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews gathered there, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him.” When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!”
As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him, they shouted, “Crucify! Crucify!”
But Pilate answered, “You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.”
The Jewish leaders insisted, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.”
When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, and he went back inside the palace. “Where do you come from?” he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. 10 “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?”
11 Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”
12 From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jewish leaders kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.”
13 When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge’s seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha). 14 It was the day of Preparation of the Passover; it was about noon.
“Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews.
15 But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!”
“Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked.
“We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered.
16 Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.

In this passage, we are continuing to be spectators in Pilate's court. He is experiencing a tremendous moral struggle. As the governor of Judea, he has been brought face to face with Jesus, and last week we looked at how he asked, "What is truth?"

Pilate is listening sometimes to his own conscience. During this struggle, we hear him say several times, "I find no fault in this man." He knows that Jesus is innocent of the trumped up charges. He knows, too, why the religious leaders have started this whole thing: For he knew it was out of envy that they had handed Jesus over to him. (Matthew 27:18)  We can't give him the benefit of the doubt here. He knew.
Pilate's conscience is also telling him that there is something really unusual about the Person standing before him . . . after all, he has sat in this very courtroom hundreds of times, listening and passing judgment. He knows what people look like when they are facing a death penalty -- some are trembling, begging for mercy, while others are hard and impassive, lying to get out of trouble. Pilate asks Jesus

                   Do you refuse to speak to me? Pilate said. Don't you realize I have power
                   either to free you or to crucify you? (verse 10)

The scholars tell us the word he used for "to me" is an emphatic word. "Do you refuse to speak to ME?"  In other words, sure, you could keep silent before anyone else, but I'm the one who can speak a word and sentence you to death.

Instead of responding as most people would, Jesus answered him calmly; He told him about the real source of authority -- God, not Caesar. Jesus talked about the nature of His own kingdom, a kingdom not of this world. And He told Pilate about two kinds of people: those who were on the side of truth, and those who were not.

Now Pilate begins to think Jesus may actually be a supernatural being. We can see this because in verse seven, the Jewish leaders finally tell Pilate the real reason why they want Jesus gone. Up until then, they had been very careful to frame their accusations in ways that would make Pilate agree with them. But now, in the heat of the moment, the truth pops out. "We have a law, and according to our law, He must die....because He claimed to be the Son of God." With everything else his conscience is telling him, Pilate is scared now (verse 8).
Here is a culture note..... it was very common for Romans to be extremely religious, offering sacrifices to gods and demigods. They believed in Hercules and many others, and were "tuned in" to spirituality. So, even though Pilate did not embrace the Jewish religious beliefs, and in fact despised the Jewish people, he was more than likely beginning to think that perhaps this Person truly is supernatural. That is why John tells us "When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid."

Now something really unusual happens -- since the Romans were tuned into the spiritual and occult, when Pilate's wife had a dream, she sent him a message. We can't know what was in the dream, but God sent it to her, and she tells Pilate not to have anything to do with "that innocent man."  So here is Pilate, struggling with his conscience, feeling that Jesus is innocent, might even be supernatural, and he gets a message from his wife.... in verse 10 Pilate says he has the authority to do the right thing. But he has another problem.

Pilate has a lot to lose. He is already on probation with Rome, because he has mishandled some previous events. If he muffs this one, he could really be in trouble, and take a chance on losing his power, advantage, respect, and the palace that he and his wife enjoy. So, yes, he is in charge, but if he doesn't handle this correctly, he could be replaced.
The Jewish leaders know his problem all too well, and they use it to the hilt. Look at verse 12, where Pilate tries to set Jesus free. They shout, "If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar." Oh, dirty pool. That hits right in the middle of Pilate's moral struggle. The right thing to do was to set this innocent man free. But oh, what a price he might have to pay.

And so, Pilate did what we are often tempted to do in a situation like this. He tried to avoid the decision! We'll come back to this next time . . .


Belinda said...

Oh Pilate! What a terrible spot you are in! In this day and age, I think most of us are experiencing this type of dilemma more and more. Do the right thing and suffer the consequences, or go along with the crowd and keep the peace. I can almost sympathize with Pilate.

And He stands His ground knowing the consequences. Oh to be more like Jesus!

Cathy said...

I wonder what the rest of Pilate's life must have been like. Did his conscience trouble him, as it did here? Ws he able to wash his hands of it and not think of it any more? There doesn't seem to be anything concrete in the records past his recall to Rome. He was looking to keep his position in the world secure, and in the process, lost it. "What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?