John: Pilate’s Problem

Read John 18:28-19:16

I’m writing this post the day after International Holocaust Remembrance Day 2019. Honestly, I didn’t know there was such an event, but I am certainly moved to remember the atrocities committed against our Jewish brothers, sisters, moms, and dads. They weren’t killed by some supernatural phenomena, each person was corralled and killed by another human being, one who was out of touch with reality. I don’t want to be one of those who forgets; I’m sure you don’t either. Here’s an article from NPR that covered the story.

Perhaps you’re asking, why would I bring this up in light of the reading set before us today? I might be going out on a shaky limb, but the Roman occupation during the days of Jesus seems to bear the fingerprint of the Nazi invasion centuries later. Not the same, I get that but look at the DNA. More to the point, look at the common soldier or regiment commander that was “just doing his job.” This is Pilate’s problem.

Do I sympathize with Pilate? No. Please don’t get me wrong. He had the opportunity to dismiss Jesus and the Jews for their irrelevant arguments. Pilate could have simply ignored their request. Those who were in charge at Auschwitz could have ignored their orders as well if they were willing to put their own lives on the line. In my mind, there were two kinds of Nazi soldiers, those who were relieved when the Allied Troops liberated the camps and those who were angry. Both were wrong to do what they did, but I can understand the former much better than the latter group.

John’s narrative invites us to see Pilate as one who was trying to avoid doing what the Jews wanted. Look at these verses:

  • Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” — John 18:31
  • “I find no basis for a charge against him…” John 18:38
  • “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him.” John 19:4
  • As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him. John 19:6
  • From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jewish leaders kept shouting John 19:12
  • Finally, Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified. John 19:16

The tension in this story is immense. The Jewish leaders finally got up the nerve to act on Judas’ betrayal, they were not about to back down now. The mock trial by Annas and Caiaphas are done, they march Jesus to the governor’s palace. As we read the beginning of the passage today, take note of their Jewish leaders’ concern for their laws above the life of Jesus:

By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness they did not enter the palace, because they wanted to be able to eat the Passover. John 18:18

These men handed Jesus over to be killed, then went home to celebrate God’s provision — The Passover. In their minds, somehow, they remained clean. To be clear, they presented Jesus to Pilate for one purpose: to have Him killed by crucifixion. There was no other reason for their actions. Pilate knew this quite clearly.

John records the interaction between Pilate and Jesus in the following verses. I’m confident there were many that heard the exchange and talked about it for days, perhaps to try and void themselves of guilt. That’s just my guess, but I don’t think I’m out of bounds.

Take a moment and read John 18:33-37. Pay particular attention to the conclusion and Pilate’s question that follows:

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” “What is truth?” retorted Pilate. John 18:37-38

What is Truth?

Now we know the core issue, the root cause of the problem. Pilate can’t recognize truth when it is right in front of him. Neither could the Nazi commanders. Neither can the Planned Parenthood staff. While these groups are easily recognizable, the question really is this: can we see the truth? How about the 3rd-grade teacher that everybody loves? The pastor of the successful church down the road? Have we become so comfortable that we might join the masses that shout:

“No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” Now Barabbas had taken part in an uprising. John 18:40

And when we see Him paraded in front of us, would we react as expected? Will we puff up our chests and show the world how mighty we are?

And they slapped him in the face. John 19:3

This is profound. These people looked in the eyes of Jesus, stood within an arm’s reach of Him then took the initiative to raise their hand with a swift motion to slap Him in the face. No puppet strings attached. In their distorted minds, this somehow made sense.

Caught up in the moment, anonymous faces in the sea of people, they completely lost control of their humanity, let alone any memory of the One who healed the lame.

As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him, they shouted, “Crucify! Crucify!” John 19:6

In our world, we will find such disdain for human life and dignity expressed in many forms. It might be disguised as a law passed in New York or a gunshot in the dark of night, but evil is alive and well. As I safely press the button that opens the gate to my neighborhood, lock the door to the garage as the door closes, I wonder if I’m safe or if I’m just sticking my head in the sand.

On one hand, I don’t want to be blinded by the evil that is present, but on the other, I don’t want to be consumed by it either. Where’s the balance? If I pray like Elisha to have my eyes opened, do I really want to see? His servant was able to see the host of those that surrounded Elisha. My fear is we would only see evil. Ah, that’s the word: fear. As Elisha might say, why are we so afraid?

Why was Pilate so afraid? How about the Nazi captain at Auschwitz? What is the Planned Parenthood physician thinking about? They are all blind and it is our mission to reveal the truth that we absolutely know is real. Don’t we?

Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” Jesus answered, “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 19:10-11

The headlines read, Pilate Killed Three on a Hill. It was a story that ran in the back of the paper. It wasn’t news. Like the obits, they rarely make the front page. Just another day in the life of a Roman conqueror. But this wasn’t the end of the story. The greater sin was committed by those who knew better.

My prayer for you, if you’ve actually read to this point, is that you will recognize the truth when you see it, that I would know as well. We have Jesus with us, The Advocate lives in us. Elisha had the ability to see it all around.

Lord open our eyes to see that Your strength far outweighs the evil that invades our world. Let us be audaciously courageous! Remind us daily that Your power is far greater than that of the Deceiver.

Thoughts about serving others

This link includes a list of posts about Serving the Least, the Lost, and the Lonely.

My prayer is for you to join me on this journey. Subscribe to this blog below to get an email when a new post is available.

Let the Word evoke words. May your life encourage lives.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.