by J. Randal Matheny, editor
Jesus appeared before Pilate, ostensibly to be judged by him. Actually, it was Pilate who wound up being judged by Jesus. The encounter between the two showed the great difference between them.
See the differences between these two men in three areas.
Pilate runs from his responsibility. Before knowing the charge (granted, the Jews responded mean-spirited to his question), he told the Jews to go judge the issue for themselves (v. 31). He tries political maneuvers to free Jesus, rather than using his authority to simply announce that he was releasing a wronged man.
Jesus, on the other hand, is not a chess piece being thrown between Pilate and the Jews in a political game. He is not there by accident, but choice. For he has taken upon himself the responsibility of the world’s sins.
Pilate can’t assume his responsibility, but Jesus takes on even ours.
Many today are like Pilate. They don’t want to take responsibility for their eternal destiny. Men run from assuming responsibility for their wives’ and children’s spiritual welfare. Elders sit in closed rooms making deacon’s decisions instead of caring for the spiritual needs of the church. Preachers enjoy public attention behind a pulpit instead of getting in homes to teach the gospel. “Members of the church” (what a horrid, non-biblical phrase!) like to be passive members, without function, and let Elders, Deacons, Preachers and Teachers take charge of the work.
Some realize that it’s everybody’s job to teach the lost, strengthen the weak, admonish the erring, distinguish between truth and falsehood. Some are like Jesus.
It appears Pilate had little purpose in Israel besides keeping things quiet until he could scoot back to Rome. Something like how, one day last week, a Brazilian described Americans who came to Brazil with multinational companies. They stay a while, do their job, all the while thinking of the day they can go home. Pilate was a reed blowing in the wind. The Jews managed to manipulate him. The head authority, Rome’s supreme representative, failed at politics.
Jesus declared his purpose clearly: “For this reason I was born, and for this reason I came into the world — to testify to the truth” (37b). Our Lord never wavered from his purpose. It was established pre-incarnation, in heaven; pre-creation, before the world began. He followed it true, never looking back, never questioning whether he was doing the right thing. Though in the last moment he cried for options, in his heart he wanted above all to please his Father and do his will. Even when he didn’t feel like it.
Some are like Pilate. They’re clueless about church. Entertainment center? Babysitting service? Social club? That’s why they like to be “members.” Come-and-go, pay your dues. Less than zealots, more than visitors. No obligation to work but every right to criticize.
Some have caught the vision. Single-minded, their one, abiding reason for being called to the kingdom is the King’s own battle cry: saving souls for eternal salvation. Carry forward the mission of Jesus, redeeming people from sin, wresting them from Satan’s control, putting them under the Savior’s wing, securing them in the knowledge and mercy and power of God. Every moment contributes to the cause. No effort wasted on unnecessary frills. These are like Jesus, because they pursue his purpose.
Times there are when I’d love to hear the tone of voice in a Biblical phrase. John 18:38 is one of those phrases, where Pilate mutters, “What is truth?” But we have a good clue as to his attitude. And it’s not wistful, wishful, hopeful of finding truth. Pilate has spent his life avoiding the truth. He’s cynical — after all, he’s a politician and knows everybody is in it for the money or power.
Jesus is a witness to truth. The witness extraordinaire. Truth in the flesh. The Word. The expression of the very mind of God. Revealer of what no man could discover on his own. Jesus’ declarations are stark, simple, breath-taking, mind-reeling. “I am he,” and the multitude falls to the ground.
But Pilate insists on holding on to his cynicism. He’s the political slider who will give up an innocent man to a lynch mob just to keep his superiors happy. In his judgment of Jesus, he’s not the Authority. Instead of fiat judgments, all he can do from John 18:28-19:15 is ask questions:
– What accusation do you bring against this man?
– Are you the king of the Jews?
– What have you done?
– What is truth?
– So do you want me to release for you the king of the Jews?
– Where do you come from?
– Do you refuse to speak to me? Don’t you know I have the authority to release you, and to crucify you?
– Shall I crucify your king?
Pilate is the man of questions, not the man of truth and certainty. He had few pillars to sink into a shifting scenario and keep him grounded. He was all over the place.
Many are like Pilate. Truth is what gets them out of a bind. What serves the purpose for the moment. What keeps the peace. What makes the crowd happy. Whatever gets them through the day.
Some are like Jesus. Truth is inflexible, resolute, gives steel to the spine, able to speak fearlessly and flawlessly even to those who hold the sword over their heads. Truth can speak from a cross as well as from a throne. From a burning stake, as well as backyard steak. From the sandy, bloody ground of a coliseum surrounded by lions as well from the smooth surface of a pulpit facing smiles and yawns. These truth-tellers are like Jesus, because time and place does not change their story.
Pilate didn’t judge Jesus. He was judged by Jesus. That encounter was the ruin of the governor who washed his hands and the salvation of the damned who dared not look toward Heaven.
Who will we be like: Pilate or Jesus?
When Jesus appeared before Pilate, the difference between the two was stark.