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May 8 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

May 5, 2019


Mark 15:1-15 and John 18:33-38

Intro: Way back at the beginning of John’s narrative of Jesus’ ministry, when John the Baptist first saw Jesus, he said, “Behold, the Lamb of God. who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29)

John’s source for the image of the lamb was the sacrificial worship of Israel
– this symbol was embedded in Israel’s collective memory
• the offering of a lamb provided atonement for Israel’s sin
• “atone” means to cover
– when it came to sin, God had his people covered

Again early in Jesus’ ministry, Nicodemus came to him for a nighttime chat
– during their interview Jesus told him,
And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life (Jn. 3:14-15)
• later, Jesus told people who came to him in the temple,
When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority . . . . (Jn. 8:28)
• and even later,
“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die (Jn. 12:32)
◦ that is, Jesus would die by crucifixion

These themes come to a dramatic climax and fulfillment in chapters 18-19
– there, the Lamb of God is lifted up on the cross

Jesus is the heart of story, but Pilate moves the plot forward

Rome had installed Pilate as governor over Judea and Syria
– unfortunately for him, he did not govern well
• the way he is remembered in history:
◦ he was a typically ethnocentric Roman
◦ to him, the local population was mostly barbarian
◦ it was his to enforce the Pax Romana and keep the populace in line
◦ he took no interest in Jewish customs, culture, or religion
• ignoring the concerns of the Jews, Pilate repeatedly offended them
– due to their dire complaints, Pilate was recalled to Rome

This story of Jesus’ trial follows Pilate back and forth
– he goes from Jesus’ accusers, then to Jesus, then back to his accusers
• meanwhile he has Jesus swinging on a rope
• exonerated one minute, then beaten the next
– but if Pilate drives the plot, he is also at the mercy of it
• his back is to the wall
The only hero in the story is Jesus
– even his lifeless body is more interesting than Pilate
• and Jesus is definitely more cherished

The episode begins with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane

Verse 4 reads,
Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them [those who came to arrest him], “Whom do you seek?”
– Jesus did not stumble into the cross – he saw it coming
• he knew it was the final accomplishment of his ministry
• all of this was moving toward God’s intended goal
◦ perhaps that is why in chapter 19, John mentions more more times the fulfillment of scripture than in any other chapter
◦ and all those quotes are piled up at foot of cross
1. when the soldiers cast lots for his tunic (Jn. 19:24)
2. when Jesus said, “I thirst” (Jn. 19:28)
3. when the soldiers did not break his legs (Jn. 19:36)
4. when a soldier pierced Jesus side with a spear (Jn. 19:37)
– all three of the Synoptic gospels tells us that Jesus prayed that God would spare him this cup
• John says nothing about Jesus’ desperate prayer
• but he does tell us that Jesus spoke of his cup when he was arrested
◦ Peter took a swing at someone in the mob that came for Jesus
◦ but Jesus ordered him,
Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?
◦ God had not removed the cup and Jesus was resolved to drink it
(only John tells us that it was Peter who cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant, and only Luke tells us that Jesus healed the servant’s ear)
G. Campbell Morgan’s observation is too true: “I sometimes think that our Lord is still often healing wounds that zeal-without-knowledge people make on other souls.”

From the garden, Jesus was dragged before two priests

First Annas, the former high-priest, then his son-in-law Caiaphas
– ultimately Jesus stood before Pilate – what did he look like to Pilate?
• he did not wear the clothes of a Rabbi
◦ he was dressed like a commoner, a working-class man
• Jesus had endured a sleepless night that was long and fatiguing
◦ already his face was swollen and bruised by the beating he received
• Jesus was presented to Pilate as a troublemaker
◦ for Pilate, everyone in Palestine was a troublemaker
◦ Pilate did not want to bother with him
– but whatever Jesus’ appearance was, standing there with his hands tied,
• something about his presence impressed Pilate
• it was obvious that the man before him was innocent
◦ and he says as much – three times

Pilate’s first question to priests, What is the accusation?
– he gets down to business, anxious to get this over with quickly
• they dodged giving him a direct answer
If this man were not doing evil, we would not have delivered him over to you
◦ Pilate threw this case back on them, “Deal with him yourselves”
◦ but then they give reason for bringing Jesus to him:
they were asking for the death penalty
Soon Pilate was in chambers alone with Jesus
– he asked the Lord, Are you the King of the Jews?
• Jesus asked, Is this your question? Is it what you think? Or is it the opinion of others?
• Pilate’s response,
Am I a Jew? Do you think I came up with this? My idea? Your own people handed you over to me. What have you done? Tell me why you’re here. This is your opportunity to explain your side of the story
▫ he wanted to determine if a real crime has been committed
– Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world
• John doesn’t mention the kingdom as much as the Synoptic gospels
◦ but what a profound truth he reveals here!
• Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world, and his servants do not fight to defend it
◦ obviously, Jesus did not pose a threat to Rome
◦ but at same time, his kingdom did not fall under Rome’s jurisdiction

Pilate felt like he has something now, So you are a king?
– Jesus’ response: You say that I am – those are your words, not mine
• it was not how Jesus identified himself
◦ it was, in fact, something that he avoided (Jn. 6:15)
• Pilate needed an accusation that could stick
◦ he wanted a confession – but Jesus did not hand it to him
◦ Jesus did not make Pilate’s job easier, but more difficult
– Jesus went on to reveal who he is and what he was about
For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth
• and then we have a very important addition:
Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice
• Jesus handed Pilate the key to understanding him
If you want to know truth about me, guilt or innocence, listen to me; hear what I am saying
◦ Jesus has taken this conversation to another level

Pilate either missed the clue or else he didn’t take the bait
What is truth?
• I’m not going to tell you how to interpret this
◦ maybe he was sincere – maybe what he wanted was the truth
◦ but that’s not how I hear him say these words
• I hear a hard-nosed Roman soldier with no time for this nonsense
Truth? How am I supposed to render a verdict on truth? If philosophers can’t agree on what truth is, then what’s the point? I’ll tell you the truth I know, and right now it is the only truth that matters: Truth is walking from the battlefield with your life. Truth is the sharp point of a sword. There’s life and there’s death; you are either one or the other–that’s truth.
• this is how I hear Pilate answer Jesus
“Why bring philosophy and religion into this? Do you think your accusers give a damn about truth?”
◦ he is cynical and has no interest in probing the issue any further than he must
– so Pilate turned on his heel and left without waiting for an answer

Pilate’s next move was to have Jesus “flogged”

His purpose may have been twofold:
1. To elicit information or a confession (cf. Acts 22:24)
2. To work out a compromise
– Pilate let his soldiers have their fun with Jesus
• he then presented him, battered and broken, still wearing the crown of thorns and purple robe
◦ he says to the priests and elders, Behold, the man
◦ Look, here he is, nothing but a man; he is no king nor is he a threat
• but saying Behold, the man may have been a mistake
◦ because for all his suffering, Jesus was still every inch a man
Through this whole scene, Jesus was the rock. He was not the angry one. He was not the confused and desperate one. The crown and robe were appropriate even if not meant to be, because in every what Jesus was majestic
– when the priests and officers cried out, “Crucify him”
• Pilate told them, Do it yourselves, for I find no guilt in him
◦ and then there’s a new twist,
We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God
◦ a new piece of information has surfaced
John explains that when Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid
• up until now we did not even know Pilate was afraid at all
◦ but he had been afraid, and now his fear was intensified

Pilate now asks a different question
– before it was, What have you done?
• but now he wants to know, Where are you from?
◦ Jesus went silent
• so Pilate warned him,
Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?
(Pilate really believed he had that kind of power or authority over Jesus)
From then on Pilate sought to release him
◦ but we know how that went
◦ as Jesus told him, the only authority he had with Jesus had been given to him from above
– why does John report these conversations between Pilate and Jesus?
• maybe he wanted to demonstrate the fact that Jesus got to Pilate
◦ second and third generation Christians may have had doubts
◦ in the Roman Empire, Christianity worked for slaves and the poor
◦ but did it have a chance of taking hold within the populace?
• Pilate was not moved to faith in Jesus
◦ but the Lord got to him
◦ and the Lord could reach into the heart of Rome itself

Conclusion: John handles Jesus trial differently than the Synoptic gospels

Andreas Kostenberger explains the difference this way, “… John transforms the entire notion of a trial and presents Jesus’ ministry in its entirety as a trial, yet not one where Jesus is on trial but one where those who rejected him . . . are put on trial and found guilty by a series of witnesses to Jesus’ messianic identity.”
– John acts as a court reporter
• and in the courtroom of his gospel, everyone must stand where Pilate stood
• Jesus had said,
The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day (Jn. 12:48)
– the most tragic outcome of that trial:
• not that Pilate could not save Jesus, but that Jesus could not save Pilate

But he has rescued and recovered us
And now he stands with us in our trials
He who was dragged into the depths
of human suffering
knows our hardships, our pain, our sorrow
And because he is with us now,
we do not have to allow the hardships of life
or the bad people
and the evil that they do
make us turn cynical and embittered
The truth has found us
and the truth has set us free

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