What a messy political and religious situation Pilate found himself in. He is the governor in Judea, a proud, once independent nation now under the heel of Rome. They have a puppet ‘king of the Jews’ called Herod, and a ruling religious council called the Sanhedrin. But real power rests with him, the Roman governor. His task is to keep the peace and collect taxes.
The Roman historian Suetonius tells us that expectation was high that a king was about to arise among the Jews, who would gain world dominion. Pilate must keep the peace!
Growing up in the Roman empire, he was familiar with all the Roman deities – even the emperor was now demanding worship! He was also familiar with the Greek gods – one for each day of the year, even one in Athens to ‘the unknown God’, just in case! Philosophers abounded with their many schools drawing many disciples. Now Pilate is in Jerusalem where Jehovah ‘the one true God’ is worshipped by all the people. But even here, he finds there are Pharisees (very strict) and Sadducees (very lax!). Anyway, his main task – keep the peace and enjoy life!
One Friday morning he is urgently woken from his sleep to rubber stamp the execution of a Jew named Jesus. The Sanhedrin have found him guilty of blasphemy for calling himself God. They would have stoned him they have no legal authority to do so – so, off to Pilate. The charge is changed to suit their purpose – blasphemy is irrelevant to Pilate and Rome, so we have the new charge; ‘he claims to be king of the Jews’.
Highly emotive, explosive, treasonable… worthy of death, if true. Pilate is familiar with Suetonius!
‘Send him in!’ Pilate now has a ‘one-to-one’ with Jesus.
What Pilate sees now draws a sarcastic question, ‘Are you king of the Jews?’ The emphasis falls on the ‘you’, and it’s not so much a question as a statement of sarcastic surprise – ‘You, are king of the Jews?!’
Jesus is King
Jesus confirms he is indeed a King but Pilate need not worry, his kingdom needs no armies and will raise no taxes – it is from heaven and is concerned with the hearts, minds and consciences of its subjects. Jesus claims his purpose is simple, to testify to the truth. He adds that everyone on the side of the truth will listen to him.
The initial interview is very brief and cut short by a cynical comment from Pilate: ‘What is truth?’
Sound familiar? Is there a Christian who has not been confronted by this reaction?
When people respond to you in this cynical way, how do you feel? How did Jesus feel? Was he failing in some way?! Certainly not! Paul tells us that Jesus ‘while testifying, gave the good confession before Pontius Pilate’ (1 Tim. 6:13).
Jesus was not responsible for Pilate’s response. He gave the good confession – Pilate gave the bad response!
Jesus is the truth
The folks we meet today are in the same situation as poor Pilate, so many gods, so many religions, so many philosophies, morals, ethics, changing standards, so many voices! And one claims to be the truth? What is truth?
So, is there truth, absolute truth? Jesus claims exclusively to be the truth- is that true?
Well, it all hinges on his central claim to be God with us. If that is true, then of course, everything else slips into place. All he said was true, all he did was effective.
Back to Pilate- he doesn’t wait for an answer. He eventually rubber stamps the death penalty and Jesus is executed by a Roman crucifixion. God, dying? Why? How?!
It turns out that it was always God’s plan. His way of dealing with us and meeting our deepest, most urgent need. Sin, the moral disease affecting every human soul will sink us to hell and an eternal judgement from a holy God. Religion in any guise nor morality in any form can possibly deal with this human condition. But by an incredible act of mercy, grace and love – God can and God does.
Jesus said, ‘I have come to give my life as a ransom for many’ (Mark 10:45) and ‘I lay down my life for the sheep’ (John 10:15).
Sin brings death. Jesus dies for us.
Sin brings hell. Jesus goes to hell and back for us.
Why is Jesus the way, the truth, the life? Because no-one else has, no-one else could, and no-one else would deal with our sin!
As the old hymn puts it,
There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin,
He only could unlock the gate of heaven and let us in.
Well, was he, is he God? I did state that to save us from hell, Jesus went to hell and back for us! Yes, he came back! The third day he rose, proving he was who he claimed to be and proving that his work, works!
Reader, Jesus gave his life a ransom for many, in fact for any who will simply trust him. Did he die for you?