We gather tonight to reflect on the death of Jesus who gave His life as our substitute to pay for our sin. As we remember this sacrifice, it is appropriate that we consider our response to the work of Christ on our behalf.
Tonight we are going to look at the account of Pilate as he addresses the crowd of Jewish leaders and their cohorts. The text is found in John 19:1-16.
Jesus had been arrested in the Garden. First he was taken to the Jewish leaders. He talked to the High Priest Emeritus, Annas and then to his son-in-law the current High Priest, Caiaphas. These men had a specific agenda: they wanted to find some way to condemn Jesus to death. They viewed Jesus as a trouble-maker and a false prophet.
At daybreak both chief priests met with the Council of elders (the Sanhedrin) and the teachers of the law and asked Jesus to tell them if he was “the Son of God” (as referenced in Daniel) Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am.” The gathered Council declared that Jesus had blasphemed (it is not blasphemy to claim you are God if indeed you ARE God!).
Next they brought Jesus to Pilate who was the local Roman Governor. Pilate saw through the sham of a trial and knew Jesus was innocent. Because he had already had some problems with the Jews, his job was already somewhat tenuous. The Jews knew this and put pressure on Pilate. The Roman Governor looked for a way to declare Jesus innocent on a “technicality” so he could avoid a showdown with the Jews. He tried,
Dumping the decision on Herod
Offering to set Jesus (the innocent man) or Barabbas (public enemy #1) free as an act of generosity at Passover (they chose Barabbas).
He tried having Jesus mercilessly flogged (hoping that would be enough).
He asked Jesus to help him. . . to give him something he could use.
Finally he “washed his hands” of it all (but still signed the death warrant).
In verses 12-16 we see the final appeal of Pilate
12 From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jews 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 Passover Week, about the sixth hour.
“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.
There is an interesting dynamic in this exchange.
The Crux of the Issue
The most damning words of the text are uttered by the Jewish leaders and the crowd that was with them . . . “We have no King but Caesar”.
Notice the radical denial of what they professed to believe. The Jews claimed to hate the dominance and subjection of Rome. Their hope of a Messiah included someone who would throw off the bonds of the Romans and restore the days when Israel was a strong nation that stood on its own against opposing forces.
It is probably true that when Pilate first introduced Jesus as their “King” he was mocking the Jews. Jesus at that time had been whipped and beaten and must have looked horrible. However, the words of the people deny their faith. Jesus was charged with blasphemy yet these people proclaim that their only King is Caesar! They denied the Lord their God! In truth, it was the leaders who were doing the blaspheming!
The Old Testament law was clear. It was on the heart of every Jew: Fear the Lord your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name. [Deuteronomy 6:13]. This is from the same passage that gives us the words every Jew recited regularly,
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.
If the Jews had said, “We only have one King and it is the Lord God Almighty” these men would have been true to what they said they believed. It’s possible that these words before Pilate were telling us more about their heart than what they wanted to reveal.
In order to cover their sin and hatred of Jesus these men were willing to declare their loyalty to the Emperor! In order to manipulate the situation (and try to intimidate Pilate) these men were willing to sell their soul! God’s Redeemer was standing before them and they chose to align themselves with Caesar! They did this all in the name of being zealous for the faith! Those words, “We have no King but Caesar” must have been more painful to Jesus than the nails in His hands or feet.
The Process of Denial Do you have any idea of how men who were so steeped in the Law could drift so far from God? These men defined faith (and God’s will) by what seemed good to them. They were more concerned with what they believed to be true than with what God declared to be true. Sadly this is the same message proclaimed in pulpits across America. They urge us to single-mindedly pursue our desires instead of diligently training our desires in the ways of God.
The Lessons to Learn
There are some practical and important things for us to learn. First, as reprehensible as these men were, they are more like us that we want to admit. Here’s the thing that has convicted me in this passage: I wonder how many times, in an effort to convince ourselves that we are good and justified in what we want to do, we persuade ourselves that wrong is right.
Think about it,
Lot’s daughters convinced themselves that having children by their father while he was drunk was a righteous thing to do.
Abraham somehow thought giving his wife to another man because he was afraid was somehow a good idea.
The Israelites somehow convinced themselves that while Moses was on the mountain talking to God, it was a good idea to make a golden calf and worship it!
David somehow convinced himself that having sex with another man’s wife and then having him murdered was somehow justified.
Throughout history we have seen
Dictators justify mass executions of their own people!
Governments take supplies meant for disaster relief and appropriate or sell them for their own benefit.
Con men (some wearing the name of Christ) execute giant Ponzi schemes to steal people’s hard earned money to indulge their own lavish lifestyles.
Pastors deny foundational Christian truth (Deity of Chris, that Jesus is the only way to Heaven, the authority of the Bible, that salvation is only through the sacrificial atonement of Christ) in order to be more appealing to the contemporary mindset.
It is easy to shake our head at these men but I think it would be better to take their example as a warning. Let me ask you a simple question: How would you complete this sentence: “The only thing that really matters to me is ____?” People answer that question a number of ways,
The safety and comfort of my family
The happiness of my children
The approval of my friends
Maybe you said, “The only thing that really matters to me is my relationship with Jesus Christ.” If so, then bravo! You picked the right answer. My question is: is it the honest answer? If push came to shove and you had to choose between doing what God commands and doing what you desire . . . which would you choose? You know the answer and so do I. Why is it that we desire these other things more than obedience to One who saved us? Might it rightly be said that “We have no King but self-interest?”
Think about how quickly we change
God’s priorities to accord with our calendar
God’s definition of holiness to mesh with our amusements
God’s definition of truth to suit our situation
God’s definition of provision to justify our desires
God’s definition of forgiveness to adjust to our level of hurt
God’s definition of Christ’s Lordship to allow us to do “our own thing”
God’s definition of commitment to justify our unfaithfulness to each other
There is little in our nature that would lead us to believe that if we had been in that crowd that day, we would have done anything different than these men who sold their souls to crucify Christ.
That leads me to a second lesson: When we recognize the depth of our sin nature, we more fully appreciate the radical nature of God’s gracious gift of His Son.
It is tempting for us this evening to celebrate the fact that Christ died for sinners and yet feel that this does not apply to us as much as it does to others. Imagine two scenarios. It is something we can readily relate to. We gather at a community event to celebrate the service of soldiers who have returned home from a foreign land. We admire their bravery. We are sobered by their sacrifice. We mourn those who have died. We applaud with great feeling. We are truly moved.
The second scenario is a similar gathering. We have gathered to honor soldiers. The difference is that we are celebrating soldiers who came into our city and saved us from the ravages of war. We are the people that were made free. We are the ones who were released from the P.O.W. camps and the barbarity of the enemy.
Would those two celebrations be the same? They would not. The depth of appreciation, gratitude, and love would be much greater in the second celebration. We would go out of our way to show honor to the ones who had come to our rescue.
There is a stirring scene at the beginning of the movie “Saving Private Ryan”. It is now many years after the events that we will learn about in the movie. Ryan and his family are walking in what appears to be Arlington National Cemetery or in Normandy. Ryan arrives at the headstone of Capt. John Miller and he crumples to the ground overcome with emotion. The movie ends with him standing at that grave marker. His family understands, but they don’t really. Private Ryan knows that he would not be there; he would not have this family; if it hadn’t been for Capt Miller and his men. Ryan has spent his life trying to be worthy of the sacrifice that was made for him.
We need to understand that WE ARE THE ONES WHO WERE IMPRISONED! We are the ones who have turned away from Christ our Savior to indulge our desires, to save face, and to justify our sin. Tonight we do not just remember and give thanks for the fact that Jesus came into the world to save sinners; we remember that Jesus came into the world to save US!
It is a sad fact that over the course of time we can forget what others have done for us. I’m sure you know what it is like.
At a time of need you dropped everything to help a friend or family member.
You gave up your free time or family time to be there for someone
You gave a significant amount of money to help them through a tough time.
You talked with someone for hours on the phone day after day after day.
You gave someone a job who wasn’t really qualified
You sacrificed to pay for someone to go to school
You went above and beyond to give someone an opportunity they would not have had otherwise
You helped someone navigate through a legal mine field
You stood by someone as their friend when no one else would do so
And then one day the person simply walks away. They act like you are no one. They may even turn on you and attack. Your past generosity and kindness is forgotten.
Does that hurt? You bet it does. Yet isn’t this what we do to the Lord again and again? Every time we choose to follow some other King we forget what was done for us.
So tonight we remind ourselves of what Jesus has done for us. This is time to repent of our blasphemies and take responsibility for our lives rather than make excuses. Tears of regret, gratitude, and love are appropriate. Quietness makes sense. A renewal of our commitment is the only proper response.
Are you still running away? Do you wonder if it is possible that such a great act could really have been done for you? It’s true! Come to Him. Put your trust in Him. Receive Him today as your Savior and embrace Him as your King.
It is the cross and resurrection of Jesus that opens the door to a new beginning in this life, and a new confidence for the next life. When we see clearly, perhaps we will be able to stand before a hostile world and proclaim: “I have no King but Jesus”.
May God deliver us from the ever present tendency to forget His sacrifice and dismiss His love. May He free us from the mere profession of gratitude and lead us to live as those who are truly grateful. And in those moments of decision when we must choose whether to go the way of Christ or the way of self-interest, let us remember who we can truly trust, who it is that truly loves us, and who it is who alone deserves to be our King.