Good Morning! I hope you have been uplifted by our singing and by our communion services and I hope that now you are ready for the sermon as I begin in John 18:28. If you have a Bible, please turn there.
During our last lesson, we saw that Jesus was taken before the Jewish high court. We also saw that they condemned Jesus to die for blasphemy but they needed the approval of the Roman Empire to fulfill their wicked deed. Had it been in their hands, they could have stoned Jesus according to the law. (Lev 24:16) But to fulfill prophesies, Jesus had to be lifted up (John 12:32). That is where we pick up today. In John 18:28, it says, “...”
Now, stop here for a second. We are introduced in these two verses to a new person we’ve not heard of before. Pilate is a Roman governor or what they called the Procurator. Now, not much is know in history from Pontius Pilate. Josephus tells us some about him; but his background is sketchy. Some have speculated that in the beginning, he was only a Roman soldier. But he happened to marry a young woman who was of the household of Caesar. So, suddenly, Pilate becomes more than just an ordinary Roman soldier. He is put in a position of leadership in a small province answering directly to Tiberius Caesar. Now Pilate was very powerful; you must understand that. He is the one who carries the power of Caesar, as a Procurator. He has the task of keeping peace and gathering the taxes for the emperor. He also functions as Judge for all Judea. He is right under the Emperor. And the only way to go around him is by appealing to Caesar. People in the province had the right to do that, though it was risky and only undertaken for serious business. He and the Jews never get along very well. He’s not a very good politician. Diplomacy is not his thing. History says that Pilate ruled with a heavy hand, careless about Jewish traditions and beliefs. He also is said to have been easily angered. He was a spiteful kind of man. He held grudges and retaliated easily.
Right from the beginning, he went head to head with the Jews. Three infamous incidents marked his career. The first occurred on his first visit to Jerusalem. Pilate, who resided in Caesarea, decided to visit the Jewish capital with a detachment of soldiers in their formal gear. The only problem was that their formal gear included standards topped by a little golden bust of the Emperor. Now to the entire world, Caesar was regarded as a god. And to the Jews, that little bust was the equivalent of a graven image. Now all the previous Roman governors, out of respect for the Jewish belief, had disregarded the bust, but not Pilate. And so the Jews became so upset they began to demonstrate. They came out in the streets and protested for five days. Finally, Pilate surrounded them with soldiers. He told them to go home or lose their lives. But the Jews were so resolved; they bared their necks and bade the soldiers to strike. Pilate knew, if he did, Caesar would remove him; so he bowed under their pressure and removed the figurines. But remember, Pilate is spiteful. He holds grudges.
So time passes. And the historians tell us the Israelites wanted a new water system. They were in desperate need of a pipeline, an aqueduct that would bring water from the river into their city. It’s a municipal improvement so they seek out Pilate. And Pilate says, “Yes.” But in order to fund that particular project, Pilate goes to the temple and he takes a lot of money from the treasury. After all, the temple would benefit since it needed the ceremonial water for the cleaning of sacrifices. But the people rebel against that. That money is sacred. So they go out in the streets again and start to demonstrate. A historian says they were tens of thousands of these Jews, out in the city, protesting. I guess it was a little like the Red Square protest in China. Do you remember the thousands of students who went out to protest in the streets 8 or 9 years ago? They were rebelling against the heavy hand of communism. And the Communists moved in their soldiers and they slaughtered all the students. That’s finally what Pilate did. He brought in his troops, disguised them as regular folks with concealed swords, weapons and clubs. At a signal, they jumped on the protesters around them and stabbed and clubbed them to death. And then you had a repeat of his first mistake with the picture of Caesar, only this time, it isn’t a little bust he brings to Jerusalem, but engraved shields. So the Jews and Pilate don’t like each other at all. And now the Jews have to bring Jesus to Pilate to get his approval for death. You can almost feel the tension as you read the story. The Jews don’t want to fully go in. Pilate says, “What is the charge against Him?” Look at their answer. They are on the defensive. See v. 30. “…..”
Now it’s important that you notice this morning that Pilate has them exactly where he wants them. At this moment, Pilate has the Jews under his thumb. They are dependent upon him. But the Jews are smart. They are really smart! It’s not very long before they turn the tables around. At first, they say “Jesus troubles our nation!” And you can almost see a smile appearing on Pilate’s face. What does he care if the Jews have a few turmoils? In fact, it’s wonderful they have a taste of their own medicine! But now they change their approach. They say, “He opposes the payment of taxes to Caesar!” Luke 23:3. And then they say, “He claims to be a king!” Now this was a serious accusation anytime taxes weren’t paid and someone named themselves king. It was rebellion against Caesar. The procurator had to take care of it. If he didn’t, he could be reported to the emperor and removed. So he goes back to his palace to question Jesus. In John 18:33, you read, “…” (33-36).
Now Pilate is a very superstitious man. He has searched for a very long time for answers but all in the wrong places. He believes, as most Romans, in many gods. To him, Jesus’ claims are possible. He is not necessarily a liar. So he says in v. 37-38, “…..”
And with these words, Pilate renders his verdict. Don’t miss that. His decision is given. No, Jesus isn’t guilty. In his eye, he has committed not crime. But now, the Jews put on the pressure. They start acting as little children. Parents, here, know what I mean. We’ve all had those times when they come to us and say, “Mum, Dad, can I please go with my friends?” And you think about it for a moment and you finally say, “No, you can’t!” But as soon as they hear “No”, they begin to throw a fit. And they beg and plea and try to change your thinking. It’s exactly what the Jews did. So they say, “Pilate, He’s been stirring up people, not only here, but also all the way to Galilee with His teachings.” That’s a different charge. Not only do they accuse Him of creating local problems, among Jews, but they also accuse Him of creating an uprising against Roman rule. The charge is insurrection! He can’t let Jesus go.
So he considers his alternatives. And right at that time, he remembers Herod is also in town. He’s never been good friends with him, but the Herods have always been interested in Jesus. They have always tried to put their hands on Him. So when Herod received Jesus, he is delighted! He is so happy he becomes friends with Pilate that day. Do you know why? Herod has wanted to see Jesus do a miracle. He wants a little entertainment. But I tell you this morning, with great pride, our Lord wouldn’t entertain anyone. He stood silent with great dignity. Herod is not a seeker. There is nothing to say to him. There is a time to speak to men and a time to remain silent. It all depends on the heart. Don’t waste breathe on him that questions you for wrong motives! So, finally, Herod tires and sends Jesus back to Pilate. The man can’t get rid of the Jesus problem. Will he really have to deal with Him?
About that time, Pilate’s wife has a dream. She can’t sleep. Her intuition is telling her to stay clear of Jesus. So she sends a message to her husband. “Have nothing to do with this innocent man!” And so Pilate goes out of his palace, onto his terrace, and he says, “No, you can’t crucify Jesus! I’ll just have Him flogged.” But the crowd grows. Pilate knows what it means. He has seen Jewish mobs before. And this time, they are highly emotional. They are going through their fit. And don’t you know; it works. At this moment, Pilate acts as I have acted many times. He begins to weaken under the pressure. He does something very, very foolish. And I’m embarrassed to say that, at times, I’ve done the same thing. And maybe you have done it too. He grows so weak that he gives in. Yes, he tries once more to release Jesus by giving the choice to the crowd between a murderer and the Messiah. Surely they will pick Jesus. But it doesn’t work. He tries a second time to change the minds of the Jews by flogging Jesus. Surely, seeing the blood, the back ripped apart, the humiliation and the crown of thorns will appeal to their mercy. But it doesn’t work. They yell, all the louder, “Crucify Him!” And then they pull out their punch line. They say, “If you let Him go, Pilate, you are no friend of Caesar.” They are talking of his job, his future. If that gets back to Caesar’s ears, what will happen to him? And so, Pilate, so very weak, so self-absorbed, gives in to the mob and lets Jesus be crucified.
But right before that, he does one last dramatic thing. He walks out before all of the Jews; he takes a basin of water; he washes his hands; and he says, “On this day, I am innocent of this man’s blood! Let His blood be on your heads and upon your children’s heads!” And I end here this morning with our story. I know it has been quite lengthy. I apologize for this, but you can’t do justice to it by narrowing it down. And here are the lessons I draw from this today.
I. Watch Out For Hate.
For I find here, nothing in this world warps a man’s judgment as hate does. A man with hate can’t think, see or listen straight. Hatred distorts a man’s senses. The hatred of the Jews, in the story, made them forget their sense of propriety. The Jews, in the story, were careful about ceremonial cleanliness with Pilate’s palace and refused to enter. But they lied and crucified an innocent man. Hatred made them lose any logic. For years they rebelled, saying there was no king, but God. When Romans first arrived, trying to impose tax for the emperor, there was a very bloody rebellion because the Jews said that God, alone, was King and, only to Him could they pay tribute. Now Jewish leaders say there is no king, but Caesar.)
II. Watch Out For Crowds
It seems to me that the crowd was growing during the trial. And it also looks like they were becoming more and more emotional. And look at the power that it had. Now, I tell you today, there is power in a crowd. When people join together and walk up and down streets, it usually has an impact. That’s why thousands walk on our nation’s capitol, isn’t it? This weekend, the 300,000 runners march will take place in D.C. to protest against guns. And you know it will have an impact on politicians. But sometimes, the crowd has power in the wrong way. And it is all the more dangerous that most of us are attracted to crowds. We naturally tend to side with the majority. Isn’t it why we dress, today, the way we do? Isn’t it why we talk the way most of us talk! But I tell you, sometimes, we join the crowd without really understanding where the crowd is going. And it results in our doom. What a mistake to join the crowd without a lot of caution or to so much want to fit in and not make waves or be rejected that we always follow the crowds. I suspect some took part in Jesus crucifixion without ever knowing all they were doing. The one here is right!
III. Don’t Ever Compromise
The greatest mistake Pilate ever made was to move from his conviction due to pressure. You see, at first and almost all the way, he stood on right ground. He was strong. He told the Jews, “Absolutely not! You won’t crucify this man named Jesus!” But the people kept talking and putting on the pressure. And Pilate became weaker and weaker until, finally, he moved. He became so concerned with his job that he lost his courage.
Do you ever do that? It happens all the time. It happens to me sometimes. It happens to you. It happens to young people. A teen will stand at first and say, “It’s the way it will be” and all the others holler and shout and the teen moves. It happens to other ministers. At first they stand firm in the doctrine, but then liberal movements come in the church and they start to oppose. But then the liberals holler and protest again and again. And before long, the minister compromises. What a mistake it is. What a terrible mistake it is to lose your courage. Don’t ever compromise.
IV. You Can Never Be Neutral
See, Pilate, at the end, claims innocence. “I am not guilty of this!” But he wasn’t innocent. I know he protested at first. I know he said, “This isn’t right!” But in the end, he went along with it and he was just as wrong. The others did this to a man they thought was guilty. But he did this to an innocent. You and I, brethren, we’ve got the responsibility to protect the weak. Never let bullies get their way! If you see …………
And so, this morning, I beg of you, remember these lessons. Don’t quickly condemn what you don’t understand. I beg, watch out for the crowds and your attraction to them. And I plead with everyone, when you have the right position, don’t let anyone pull you away. Finally, remember, you are always to protect the weak. Stand up for what’s right, even if it means you’ll be all by yourself. So, today, let’s all consider our ways and let us respond to the invitation of the Lord if we need to as we stand and sing.