This week I’ve been reading what is often called “the most famous trial in history.” The trial of Jesus.
I was reminded that the judge was a man unqualified for the job. His position was the result of the right connections. And a fortuitous marriage to Claudia Proclua, whose father was Tiberius, the Roman Emperor.
So in A.D. 26 Pontus Pilate was appointed governor of Judea. He was responsible for maintaining law and order in the raucous land filled with Jews that hated Rome. He handed out justice. And collected taxes.
Historians describe him as tactless. Stubborn. Cruel. Censorious. Demanding. Self-justifying. Tyrannical. And disrespectful of religion. Pilate was everything that Jesus wasn’t.
Now the Roman Procurator is faced with the most difficult decision of his life. He’s in the presence of an innocent man. And he knows it. Yet incredibly, on the most infamous Friday in history, are the words of John, “Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified” (19:6).
“The most cruel and horrifying death” was crucifixion, wrote the Roman philosopher Cicero. The historian, Tacitus, denounced it as “a despicable death.” It was a horrifying and excruciating death that was reserved for slaves and criminals.
Pilate Knew Jesus was Innocent
The Bible record is clear. The Governor knew Jesus was not guilty of the trumped-up charges of treason and sedition by the Jews. In fact, John wrote that Pilate “sought to release him.”
After examination, Pilate said, to the chief priests and rulers, “I have found no fault in this Man…he has done nothing deserving of death” (Lk. 23:13).
A second time he tried to reason with the crowd and asked, “What then shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” (Matt 27:22).
Finally, for a third futile time, Pilate responded, “Why, what evil has He done? I have found no reason for death in Him. I will, therefore, chastise Him and let Him go (Lk. 23:32).
So Why Did Pilate Convict and Crucify Christ?
1. He took the course of least resistance. Instead of withstanding the pressure of the people, he surrendered. The crowd cried, “Crucify Him!” Louder and louder the shouts rang in his ears. He saw he couldn’t convince them. He sensed an uprising was imminent. So, he gave in.
2. He was afraid. The apostle John says so (19:6). Afraid of the mob. Afraid of losing favor with the Emperor. Afraid of being branded a traitor. And ironically, afraid that Jesus really might be the Son of God! Yet, this fear did not translate into godliness.
3. He was governed by self-interest. He did what worked, instead of what was right. Crucifying Christ was expedient. Advantageous to his profession. William Barclay wrote, “It is clear why Pilate acted the way he did. The Jews blackmailed him into crucifying Jesus.” He didn’t want to be labeled a foe of Caesar. Or be demoted. Or worse. Kill Christ. Pacify the people. Keep the peace. That was the easy answer.
4. He was self-deceived. In the end he tried to “pass the buck.” Blame the Jews. Refuse responsibility. Symbolically he took a basin of water, washed his hands and said, “I am innocent of the blood of this just Person.” (Matt 27:34).
No you’re not, Pontus Pilate! You’re guilty too. You bear responsibility. You’re accountable to God.
Why did Pilate consent to Christ’s crucifixion? In a word. He was a coward.
What About You and Me?
Could we be guilty, too? Like Pilate? Listen to the warning of the Hebrew writer.
“For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame”. (Heb 4:4-6).
Now go back and read points 1-4 about Pilate again. Yes, really. And as you read ask, “Is it I?”
Have you ever surrendered to the of ease of expediency and compromised your convictions? Have you ever succumbed to fear and failed to speak up for what is right? Have you ever surrendered to self-interest instead of God’s Word? Have you ever been blinded by self-deception instead of opening your eyes to the Truth? Have you ever capitulated because of cowardice and yielded to the pressure of your peers? And in doing so, buckled under pressure and rejected Jesus?
Fortunately, today you have another opportunity. And a chance for a better choice. Pilate’s question comes to you. “What shall I do with Jesus?”
The choice is yours.
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman