Before Pilate – John 18:28-40
By Pastor Lee Hemen
January 31, 2016
I hated it when my mother would drag us around to our relatives and then want us to show something off to them just so she could brag about it. I know she did it because she was proud of us but as a child it seem kind of, well, exploitive. No one likes to be used as a trophy or as a means to an end, whatever that may be.
How would like to be dragged from one place to another simply to be put on display and illegally tried? We are all angered when we find out that someone has been tried, held captive, or used as a human guinea pig. Few of us would like these prospects yet Jesus suffered these indignities. And now we find him dragged before Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor in charge of the occupation of his nation and people. Sadly, it was his own people who were using him as a means to an end, as a scapegoat for their own problems. Let’s find out what happens when Jesus is brought before Pilate…
None of us like to be used as puppets at the whim of others. This is what is happening to Jesus as he appears before Pilate. In fact, we discover…
I. The hypocrisy of manmade plans! (Vv. 28-32)
Then the Jews led Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness the Jews did not enter the palace; they wanted to be able to eat the Passover. So Pilate came out to them and asked, “What charges are you bringing against this man?” “If he were not a criminal,” they replied, “we would not have handed him over to you.” Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” “But we have no right to execute anyone,” the Jews objected. This happened so that the words Jesus had spoken indicating the kind of death he was going to die would be fulfilled.
1. John does not give us any details like Mark does. Mark’s account is fuller perhaps because he is writing it at the request of Peter who watched Jesus as he was being tried. (Mark 14:55-65) While Peter denied him, an officer had hit him, the high priest had examined him, and they thought they had enough out of his own mouth to condemn him; they, the chief priests, elders, Scribes, and the whole ungodly group, led him bound from Caiaphas’ house to the hall of judgment and the Roman governor Pontius Pilate. John explains that “By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness the Jews did not enter the palace; they wanted to be able to eat the Passover.” Mindful of themselves becoming unclean by entering a “gentile’s” house, and wanting to maintain their phony public piety, they willingly give Jesus to Pilate. In fact Pilate has to come out of the Palace where he was staying for the Passover and come to them! It is the interplay of corrupt politics. “So Pilate came out to them and asked, ‘What charges are you bringing against this man?'” They curtly respond, “If he were not a criminal we would not have handed him over to you.” Pilate was hated by them for his harshness and the fact that he was a Gentile ruling over them. And make no mistake Pilate despised them. He saw their hypocrisy for what it was. Believe it or not Romans valued truth and honesty. He knew what was going on and so he twists their hypocrisy back on them, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” The Jewish leadership wanted Jesus to be more than stoned, which they could have easily done, but if he were tried for a capital crime against Rome, well then Jesus would be executed by them as an ungodly criminal. They would be free from any involvement and keep their integrity intact to the unwashed masses. This is why they whine, “But we have no right to execute anyone!” Yet little did either party know that “This happened so that the words Jesus had spoken indicating the kind of death he was going to die would be fulfilled.” We see for ourselves the hypocrisy of manmade plans!
EXAMPLE: Ah the best laid plans of mice and men, right? Someone once quipped, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” I would say that life is what happens to you while you are busy making stupid plans! There are those who make horrible plans but chose to ignore the fact anyway. Here we find the Jewish leadership desperately working toward their own goals and never asking themselves if this was truly a good plan or not. It is like us many times when we scheme and think our plans are so relevant and blessed by God when in fact we have not even clue nor even inquired of him if they have any part of his plan at all! Here in John’s gospel as Jesus is before Pilate we discover the hypocrisy of manmade plans!
I believe Pilate realizes that the Jewish leadership was trying to use him for their own means; it is how much of politics has worked for centuries. We discover that when Jesus comes before Pilate that…
II. The kingdom of man doesn’t recognize the kingdom of God! (Vv. 33-37)
Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?” “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “It was your people and your chief priests who handed you over to me. What is it you have done?” Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
1. Pilate desired to hear from Jesus’ own lips if he were truly guilty of proclaiming himself king over Caesar. “Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?'” Luke writes that “they began to accuse [Jesus], saying, ‘We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Christ, a king.'” (Luke 23:2 NIV) This was a twisted lie. When in fact Jesus told them to “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” (Luke 20:25 NIV) Yes, he had overturned the tax tables in the temple, but those were the Jewish leadership’s and not Rome’s. His declaring he was the Messiah had nothing to do with political subversion against Caesar and they knew it. They also knew that if they could falsely pin on Jesus his desire to overthrow Rome rule, then he could be crucified by them as an insurrectionist! Terrorism was not held kindly even in Jesus’ day. Jesus’ desire was that everyone would understand who he was and so he asks Pilate, “Is that your own idea or did others talk to you about me?” However, Pilate was not interested in Jewish theological discussions; his concern was keeping the peace of Rome. “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “It was your people and your chief priests who handed you over to me. What is it you have done?” Some have wondered why Jesus did not plead his case here and thereby rescue himself with the facts. However, that was not the plan of God and so Jesus answers, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” One kingdom meets the other and yet Pilate incorrectly surmises, “You are a king, then!” I believe, and it is my own speculation, that Jesus sadly looks at Pilate sighs and responds, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” Neither the corrupt Jewish leadership nor the worldly Roman governor recognized the truth because the kingdom of man doesn’t recognize the kingdom of God!
EXAMPLE: Make no mistake this ungodliness lies squarely on the Jewish nation whose leadership refused to recognize Jesus as their Messiah, when in fact they suspected he was. The ingrained greed of their leadership and the corrupt nature of their power influenced them far more than the Law of Moses. Jesus told them, “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?” and he would rhetorically ask, “Has not Moses given you the law? Yet not one of you keeps the law. Why are you trying to kill me?” (John 5:46-47; 7:19 NIV) The same is true for our political realm as well. Make no mistake the kingdom principles are not adhered to by anyone in our differing political spectrum today. Believers are to be salt and light, seasoning and guides in a tasteless sin-darkened world. It is a dangerous thing to trust that the world understands kingdom principles. We see that the kingdom of man doesn’t recognize the kingdom of God!
All of us want the truth told to us but not all of us are willing to do what the truth tells us to do. And for some of us the truth is relative; meaning it is only applicable if it suits our needs, wants, or desires for the moment. Here we discover that when Jesus comes before Pilate that…
III. We can listen and never hear the truth at all! (Vv. 38-40)
“What is truth?” Pilate asked. With this he went out again to the Jews and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him. But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?” They shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” Now Barabbas had taken part in a rebellion.
1. I find Pilate’s response to Jesus spiritually chilling. It is the same response we receive not only from many in our political realm but from the world at large today. Paul correctly hits the nail on the head when he wrote, “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools”! (Romans 1:21-22 NIV) In fact Paul starkly observes the “wise” world “exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator”! (Romans 1:25 NIV) This is where Pilate was in his thinking. This is where much of the world remains. And so he responds, “What is truth?” There are those who consider themselves rational thinkers of sorts who are hung up on this shallow notion of absurd intellectuality. There can only be one truth. And so with this mistaken idea of what truth might be or could be, Pilate “went out again to the Jews and said, ‘I find no basis for a charge against him. But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?” Here is where the wisdom of God shines through the stupidity of mankind. Paul would assert that “there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men–the testimony given in its proper time.” (1 Timothy 2:5-6 NIV) This is the proper time. The truth of the situation and the corrupt nature of the process is physically heard by the paid off crowd as they shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” And who was this paragon of virtue, this noble character they want to welcome back into their national bosom? Well, “Barabbas had taken part in a rebellion.” He was a true insurrectionist unlike Jesus. Do you think Pilate missed the irony of the situation? After all, what is truth? We learn that we can listen and never hear the truth at all!
EXAMPLE: Other gospel narratives share that Pilate could find no fault with Jesus and could not in good conscious convict him of the crimes the Jews desired. Later he will wash his hands of the whole situation, signifying to himself and the rule of Roman law of his unbiased decision. Yet one wonders if later in his life if he did not wonder if the truth stood right in front of him all along that day. His wife had warned him, we learn, after all. Even today, we can listen and never hear the truth at all!
We discovered the hypocrisy of manmade plans! We see that the kingdom of man doesn’t recognize the kingdom of God! We learned that we can listen and never hear the truth at all!
This article is copyrighted © 2016 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.