March 18, 2009

"I Was There : Pontius Pilate" - Mar 18, 2009

Greetings, from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The part of God’s message which we meditate on tonight comes from:

Matthew 27:24 (NIV)

24When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!”


A Christian doctor by the name of Luke wrote the Gospel that bears his name. At the beginning of Luke’s Gospel he says that he carefully investigated the events concerning Jesus that he was to write about. As part of his careful investigation Luke interviewed eye witnesses who were there.

Concerning Jesus’ final condemnation, it would be hard to find a better eyewitness than Pontius Pilate. He was the Roman governor who actually authorized Jesus’ crucifixion. He spoke privately with our Savior just hours before His death.

Tonight we imagine that later in his life, a close friend has written a letter to Pontius Pilate requesting to know what really happened to the Man called Christ. From our own careful examination of the Scriptures comes Pilate’s reply.

Pontius Pilate:

In answer to your question, yes, I was there in Jerusalem when Jesus was accused and condemned and crucified. I played a major role in the whole affair. Though, to you I can admit that I am not proud of that fact. I make no claim to be a religious man, and I don’t have a lot of room in my life for regret. But that was one time that I wish things had gone differently.

As you know, I obtained the governorship over Judea before Jesus came into prominence. And as you also know, I wasn’t exactly pleased with this appointment. There were plenty of other places I’d rather rule over than the dusty, Jew infested lands of Palestine. The Jews didn’t want me there, and I didn’t want them around either.

I spent a good deal of my time in the Mediterranean port city of Caesarea. It was the capital of Roman Judea, where the my troops were headquartered. But, whenever the Jews held a religious festival I was required to preside in Jerusalem. Which is where I was when I met Jesus.

It was the Jewish feast of the Passover that brought me to Jerusalem that time. The Passover was that festival where the Jews sacrificed healthy young lambs to remember how they had escaped from slavery in Egypt. Only this time, the Jews wanted more than a lamb to be sacrificed.

Jesus had been teaching around the country for a number of years now, and He had gained a following. But the religious leaders of Jerusalem were not among them. They hated Him. I just didn’t know how deeply their hatred went until they came asking for His blood.

It was early on a Friday morning that they came. They handed Jesus over to my men, and requested that I come out to meet with them.

As the Roman governor of this area, men usually come to me. But, they didn’t want to risk making themselves “ceremonially unclean” by entering the residence of a lowly Gentile.

To insult my sovereignty even more, when I asked them what charges they were brining against this man, they tried to avoid the question altogether.

“If he were not a criminal”, they replied, “we would not have handed him over to you” (John 18:30 NIV).

As if any Roman judge would just say, “Okay, how should I punish him then?” without proper procedure and evidence. Sure, I might have acted as judge and jury in my own interests, but I certainly wasn’t going to be the puppet of these hypocrites.

It had been made clear to me that these men wanted Jesus dead because they envied Him, not because of some crime He had committed (Matthew 27:18).

If there’s one thing I’ve learned as governor, it’s not to get involved in petty squabbles that have no real impact on me or Rome’s policies. So, I smugly told these men to go judge Jesus themselves. The Sanhedrim still had some authority granted from Rome, let them use it.

But, like I said, they wanted Jesus’ blood. And execution was one thing they were not permitted do without my approval.

Finally they made a charge. They said that Jesus opposed the payment of taxes to Caesar and that He claimed to be a king. If this were the case, I’m sure I would have known about it already. But, I withdrew back into the Palace to question Him anyway.

It didn’t take many questions to ascertain that this Man was no leader of a rebellion. He did admit that He was a King, but the Kingdom He claimed to rule was a “spiritual kingdom”.

So, there it was. He was a religious teacher, teaching spiritual things. Rome couldn’t care less what this man was doing. Obviously He posed no threat to Rome’s rule over the province. So, I went back out and told them I found no basis for their charges against Jesus.

The growing mob below me was not about to accept this judgment. But, as they yelled out more accusations, I found out that Jesus was from the North country. From Galilee. That was Herod’s territory, so I tried to pass off this problem to him. “Send Jesus to Herod”, I told my men, “Let him judge the man”.

I hoped that this would be the end of the matter. But this was only the first of a number of failed attempts that I made to get Jesus released. This first time, I was just avoiding the bother of one more problem to tend to. But the reasons for my trying to release Jesus changes as the day marched on.

Jesus had been unusually quiet in my presence. He didn’t respond to the accusations that the Chief Priests were making at all. He made no attempt to defend Himself. Only when I pressed Him did He briefly speak to me. I was amazed at His complete control over himself, his silence and His lack of malice.

Apparently He wouldn’t talk to Herod at all, and after Herod and his men roughed Him up a bit they sent Him back.

So I tried again. I went out to the growing crowd and said,

“You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. 15Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death. 16Therefore, I will punish him and then release him” (Luke 23:14-17 NIV).

Sometimes we flog the criminals we’re going to crucify. When we want to elicit some information from them before they die, we load the thongs of the scourge with bits of lead, spikes or bone. It’s quite effective. Some have taken to calling scourging the “death before death”.

I had hoped that when the rabble saw a “punished” Jesus, a lacerated and bloody Jesus, they would consider it enough. Whatever grudges they held against this man, surely this humiliating torture would be sufficient revenge.

But when they saw Him torn raw, bruised and barely conscious they actually began chanting, “Crucify”.

I tried again to make them see what they were doing.

I came out before them and washed my hand in a ceremonial way. Surely they, with all their temple rituals would understand what I was doing. I told them,

“I am innocent of this man’s blood. …It is your responsibility” (Matthew 27:24 NIV).

Any rational jury would have recanted at this point. I was telling them that they were murdering an innocent man if they pressed on with this. But they would not listen. In fact, their response was,

“Let his blood be on us and on our children” (Matthew 27:25 NIV).

This was madness.

Even when given the choice between a known murder and this timid teacher, they chose the murderer.

You see, we have an established custom at the Passover, us and the Jews. The people choose one of the death row inmates and we actually let him go free.

But they wouldn’t ask for Jesus, they had Barabbas released instead.

Like I said, this was madness. And to add to all the strangeness of this day, the Chief Priests demanded that Jesus MUST die because He had claimed to be the Son of God.

Like I said, I don’t consider myself a religious man. But this rattled me. I took Jesus back into the palace and questioned Him again.

“Where do you come from?” (John 19:9 NIV), I asked.

But to my frustration, He didn’t say a thing. I said to Him,

“Do you refuse to speak to me? …Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” (John 19:10 NIV).

The crowd was chanting wildly in the distance. I was unsettled and fearful. The air itself was charged like, before a lightning storm. But He just stood. Bleeding. Breathing. And then He replied,

“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” (John 19:11 NIV).

There He was again. Without fear. Fully confident. Pointing me back to His God. Back to sin and truth.

Like I said before, I know what truth is. And this man was genuine to the core. He wasn’t crazy like the crowd. He wasn’t uncertain like me. He believed every word He said, like it was prophecy with all of His God’s power behind it.

I know my wife thought that the power of God was with this man. It’s not a usual thing for my wife to send me a message while I’m sitting on the judgment seat in the middle of a matter. But on that Friday, she did. She had had a dream. She said it was because of this innocent man, and that I should have nothing to do with Him.

That’s part of the reason I was so rattled by His claim to be the Son of God.

After talking with Him that second time, my mind was made up. I was going to set Him free. I’d shed other Jewish blood if I had to. Something was going on here that was beyond me. Something I wanted no part of.

Stupidly, I tried again to reason with the crowd. I knew they would not listen to me. But I had made up my mind. He would go free.

And that’s when they hit the chink in my armor.

The Jews began shouting,

“If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar” (John 19:12 NIV).

I might think myself important. I might live my life according to my own selfish interests. But to think that I was irreplaceable to Rome would have been the height of arrogance. I’d provoked the Jews enough times and made enough enemies that they just might be able to convince my superiors that there was some truth in their accusation. And I wasn’t ready to give up my way of life for a Jewish teacher that I had just met today, even if He was calm and collected in the face of His own death. Even if I knew He was innocent.

You see, truth doesn’t really matter. What matters is who has the power, and how they use it.

One last time I brought Him out to the crowd that was now at full roar. I knew what was coming. When I told them,

“Here is your king” (John 19:14 NIV), they screamed,
“Take him away! Crucify him!” (John 19:15 NIV).

I yelled back,

“Shall I crucify your king?” (John 19:15 NIV).

And the Chief Priests replied,

“We have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15 NIV).

And then I let the hypocrites have Him. I told my men to crucify Him with the others.

Yeah, I was there in Jerusalem when Jesus was crucified.

Let it be known, that this man testified a good message before me. Nothing but the truth. He was the only one in the whole affair that was clearly innocent, and He was the one that I put on a cross.

Here ends Pilate’s letter.

What Pontius Pilate says is true. Jesus did speak a good message to him. Nothing but the truth. Indeed, Jesus was the only one in the whole course of human affairs that is without fault.

But Pilate was wrong about who put Jesus on the cross. It wasn’t just his fear and weakness that did it. It wasn’t just the mob of angry Jews. It wasn’t just the Chief Priests who brought the phony charges. It was us too.

You know it. Our sins made His suffering necessary. Because only through His blood are our hands washed clean for real and forever.

Pilate is a good eyewitness, but we know more than he did. We know that the King of Truth was silent – so that He would make it to the cross. We know that He laid Himself open to violence – because He was protecting us from hell.

For this complete self abandonment, for this love driven sacrifice, we are forgiven in the sight of the eternal God. And now we live, not like Pilate did, for all that is temporary. Now we live, not like Pilate did, to himself and for himself. Now we live to God, because of God’s Son, and to His everlasting glory. All praise be to the God of our Salvation.


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