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Aug 26 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

August 24, 2014 – John 18:28-19:16

An Encounter with Mystery

Then they led Jesus from Caiaphas into the Praetorium, and it was early; and they themselves did not enter into the Praetorium so that they would not be defiled, but might eat the Passover. Therefore Pilate went out to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this Man?” They answered and said to him, “If this Man were not an evildoer, we would not have delivered Him to you.” So Pilate said to them, “Take Him yourselves, and judge Him according to your law.” The Jews said to him, “We are not permitted to put anyone to death,” to fulfill the word of Jesus which He spoke, signifying by what kind of death He was about to die. John 18:28-32

Intro: We have learned something about Iraq in the last eight years

(something we probably should have known before dismantling its government)
The stability of the nation has always been threatened by divisive and explosive factions
– previously, political activists and religious radicals had been held in check
• Saddam Hussein’s “reign of terror” preempted independent acts of political violence
○ Iraq’s new, US-backed replacement government has already failed
○ now they are finding it extremely difficult to form another new government
• internal divisions have left them vulnerable to outside invasion

The current situation in Iraq can help us make sense of Pontius Pilate
– Pilate was at once an effective administrator of Rome and brutal oppressor of Israel
• this region was well-known for its unrest and rebellious past
• so Pilate decisively and mercilessly suppressed potential uprisings — for example:
○  a protest erupted after Pilate expropriated “sacred money” to finance an aqueduct
○ Pilate had soldiers dress in street clothes and disperse themselves in the crowd
○ on cue, the soldiers began to club the protestors, beating many of them to death
– eventually Pilate went too far and was summoned back to Rome

Religious history has a way of rehabilitating scoundrels
– the Coptic Orthodox Church (Egyptian Christians) – eventually regarded Pilate as a saint
– but this completely misses point of his role in gospels
• not only because it is based in pure fiction
• but the story is not about Pilate; it’s about the Galilean in his custody facing execution

Jesus was thrown in front of Pilate

It’s unlikely Pilate would have ever met Jesus otherwise
– until now, Pilate had not even heard of Jesus
• and though he spoke with Jesus, he was not especially  interested in him
○ that is, Jesus for himself or his message
• Jesus was a legal problem that had been dragged into Pilate’s court

I doubt that Pilate had reservations over:
1) executing a potential Jewish activist
2) or taking the life of a religious figure
– yet for some reason he was resistant to killing Jesus
• perhaps because Roman law required specific charges to be brought forward in court cases

[Festus, when Paul was given opportunity to argue his case before King Agrippa] it is not the custom of the Romans to hand over any man before the accused meets his accusers face to face and has an opportunity to make his defense against the charges (Acts 25:16)

• but it seems there was more than that in Pilate’s reticence to condemn Jesus
○ it is as if he eventually began to discern a potential supernatural aspect to this person
○ I suspect that Jesus got to him — he disturbed the pragmatic Roman procurator

When Pilate asked, “What accusation do your bring against this Man?”
– they were at first evasive – their charge of blasphemy wouldn’t fly in a Roman court
• Pilate discerned that it had to do with their own religious issues
• but when that they wanted him executed, he decided to interview him

Vv. 33-38a The story follows Pilate as he alternately moves inside and outside

So from the chief outside, he goes to interview Jesus inside
“Are You the King of the Jews?”
– Jesus answered with a question
• the Lord he did this a lot–in fact, he hardly ever gave a straight answer
• his odd responses usually implied, “You’re asking the wrong question”
○ or “You’re coming at this the wrong way”
– Jesus put Pilate on the spot
• in essence, “Do you really want to know the answer or do you just want something ‘for the record?’”
• “Are you leading the charge, or are you acting as someone’s lackey?”
– I am not certain Jesus expected an answer
• he may have wanted no more than for Pilate to think about the question

“I am not a Jew, am I?” – here is the central problem
– Pilate did not have the context to understand all of what was going on
• in Matthew, Pilate twice refers to the Lord as “Jesus who is called Christ”
• but in the same two speeches Mark, substitutes “the king of the Jews”
○ a Roman would not appreciate the full weight of the meaning of the word “Messiah” (Christ)
○ but “king” would be a near enough equivalent that Romans would understand
– a few years ago, I was interviewed by a Los Angeles Times reporter
• unfortunately, he was not familiar with the beliefs or cultures of the Evangelical, Fundamentalist, and Charismatic Christians
○ I constantly had to explain what seemed to him subtle differences between them
○ he was trying to get to the heart of what set me apart from my dad
• what happened is he reduced nuanced perspectives to gross exaggerations
○ when I mentioned his exaggerations to my dad after the article was published, he said,
“Well, yes–they just want to sell papers”
– in a similar way, Pilate was out of his depth
• so everything Jesus said went right over his head

“Your own nation and the chief priests delivered You to me”
– this is the sad truth, and John saw it clearly (1:10-11)
• we can pause a moment and appreciate fact
○ Jesus knows our experience of not being accepted or known for who we are
○ of being unrecognized and rejected by those closest to us
– “My kingdom is not of this world”
• it does not belong to this world
○ it is not a product of this and does not conform to this world’s ways
• that’s why we can’t think our way into kingdom
○ can’t be educated or trained into it
• we must come like children, with hands out, trusting his love, mercy, and grace

“For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world”
– this is who I am, it is what I am about
• but like My kingdom, I am not of this world — I’ve come into it
• Jesus came, not with his philosophy of the truth, but his experience of it
○ he does not produce an argument for the truth, but a testimony of it
○ “Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice”
– Pilate is face to face with the destiny of humankind
• but all he says is, “What is truth?”
○ perhaps he meant no more than, “Which truth, may just mean, “Yours or theirs?”
○ but it sounds more like a cynical response from the practical mind of a Roman soldier
• at any rate, Pilate did not wait for an answer

Vv. 38b-19:16, In this section we have a sequence of rapid scene changes

1. Pilate went outside and tried to negotiate with the chief priests
2. Next, he returned inside to scourge and abuse Jesus
3. Then he went outside to present Jesus (humiliated) before his accusers (“Behold”; twice)
– again, the negotiations broke down
• upon hearing that Jesus claimed to be the Son of God, Pilate became “more afraid”
• perhaps not a new level of fear, but a new kind of fear
4. Pilate went inside for a second interview with Jesus
– at first, Jesus said nothing (Matthew tell us that Pilate was “quite amazed” at this)
• the Lord’s silence is as mysterious as his speech
5. Pilate returned outside to argue for Jesus’ release
– again, he presented Jesus to them (“Behold”)
– at last he gave up

There was one point where Pilate put his foot down
– vv. 18-20, “What I have written I have written”

William Barclay observed, “In the end this very Pilate had allowed himself to be bullied, coerced and blackmailed . . .”

• but he took a stand regarding the sign posting the crime for which Jesus was crucified
– I think there’s a reason for Pilate’s stubbornness on this point

Conc: We overlooked a footnote John inserted in 18:33

“. . . to fulfill the word of Jesus which He spoke . . .”

The story is not about Pilate
– or his going back and forth trying to figure out what to do with Jesus
• it not about his getting Jesus or not really caring
• the story is about Jesus–fulfilling a destiny, a word spoken,
○ a plan that was laid out from the foundation of the world
• and we are not not just pasted on to this plan – from the start it included us

Jesus resisted being treated impersonally, routinely, administratively
– he forced Pilate to deal with him, that man
• he made Pilate look him in the eye and then make his own decision
• Pilate was allowed to let someone else answer his question, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?”
○ but a person who cynically asks, “What is truth?” is not likely to embrace mystery
○ neither are twenty-first century Americans, like ourselves
○ we want everything proven, observable, clarified

The words “Messiah,” “king” and even “Lord” are as foreign to us as Messiah was to Pilate
– what we may find more relevant is, “Step back and let the expert take over”
• in that case, we know what to do
• and it is the way of responding that we learn and practice in contemplative prayer
○ surrender
We surrender our intellectual demand for an answer to everything
We surrender our worldview to the truth of him who is “from above”
We surrender our will and our willfulness
We surrender our fear, greed, and false self with all of its worldly attachments
We surrender to Jesus the Christ, the wisdom and mystery of God

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