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Lesson 95: What Will You Do With Jesus? (John 18:28-19:16)

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June 7, 2015

A legend tells of an Irish king who disguised himself and went into the banquet hall of one of his barons. He was escorted to a lowly place among the throng who sat at the feast. The brilliance of his conversation and the nobility of his manner soon attracted the attention of someone with sufficient authority to escort him to a higher table. The same thing occurred again, and soon he was seated among the nobles of the realm. After another display of great wisdom, one of the lords spoke out, “In truth, Sir, you speak like a king. If you are not a king, you deserve to be one.” Then the king removed his disguise and took his rightful place among his subjects (Let Me Illustrate [Revell], Donald Grey Barnhouse, pp. 180-181).

That’s what should have happened when Jesus Christ, the eternal Word, laid aside His glory, took on human flesh, and dwelt among us. Although He was a common carpenter from the despised town of Nazareth, by His words and His deeds, including His miracles, the Jews should have recognized Him as their promised Messiah and King. But the Jewish leaders were so blinded by their sinful pride that even the stupendous miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead only hardened their resolve to kill Jesus.

In John’s portrayal of Jesus’ trial before Pilate, he wants us to see that even though Jesus was despised and rejected by the Jews, mocked by the soldiers, and finally condemned by Pilate, the man on the cross is the King. John wants us to see the majesty of Christ as He faced this suffering on our behalf. He also wants us to see the depth of sin that resides in every heart. Apart from God’s grace, we would have responded to Jesus as the Jewish leaders or Pilate or the Roman soldiers did. But also, hidden in this story is the way that we all should respond to Christ:

You can reject Christ for many reasons, but His kingly majesty calls you to trust in Him as Savior and Lord.

I’m going to spend more messages from different angles on these verses, but today I want to focus on the question that Matthew 27:22 reports that Pilate asked the Jews: “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called the Christ?” That’s the crucial question that every person must answer. You can’t remain neutral about Christ. To ignore or disregard Him is to decide against Him. Our text reveals four possible responses to Jesus Christ:

1. You can reject Christ because He threatens your religious pride and self-righteousness.

This was the tragic response of the Jewish leaders. It was the worst choice possible because they knew the Old Testament with its prophecies about the Messiah. They knew about Jesus and His ministry. They had seen His miracles and heard His teaching, as He spoke openly in their synagogues and in the temple (John 18:20). But in spite of this, they led the attack against Him.

So, referring to Caiaphas, the high priest, Jesus tells Pilate (John 19:11), “He who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.” (Note that there are gradations of sin and guilt! There will be gradations of punishment; Matt. 11:22, 24.) When Pilate presents the bloodied Jesus with His crown of thorns and sarcastically says to the Jews (John 19:14-15), “Behold, your King!” they cry out, “Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him!” Pilate asks, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests tragically and hypocritically answer, “We have no king but Caesar.” They hated Caesar, but they spoke more truly than they intended! The Lord God was not their king, as He should have been. If they had been subject to the Lord, they would not have rejected Jesus as their rightful King. Although Pilate knew and they knew that they despised Roman rule, the truth was that their only king was Caesar.

Why did the Jewish leaders reject Jesus as their Messiah? There are many reasons. For one thing, He didn’t fit the image that they had of Messiah as a mighty warrior who would free Israel from her political enemies. This was a major reason why even the disciples could not conceive of a suffering Servant as the Messiah. He didn’t fit their expectations. In a similar way, I’ve seen people who initially profess faith in Christ, but they expect Him to solve all their problems and to protect them from trials. When things don’t work out that way, they reject Him.

Matthew 27:18 tells us that even Pilate could see that the Jewish leaders had handed Jesus over because of envy. He was stealing their following. Large multitudes followed Jesus because He healed their sick and He taught them with authority, not as their scribes taught (Matt. 7:29). After Jesus raised Lazarus, the chief priests and Pharisees convened a council and were saying (John 11:47-48), “What are we doing? For this man is performing many signs. If we let Him go on like this, all men will believe in Him ….” He threatened their grip on power.

But underlying all of the reasons why the Jewish leaders rejected Jesus was that He threatened their religious pride and self-righteousness. John (18:28) brings this out with exquisite irony: “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.”

For sake of time, I cannot deal here with the question of why Jesus and the twelve ate the Passover the night before, while the Jews seemingly were going to eat it after Jesus was crucified. (Good commentaries offer several possible solutions.) But I point out the gross hypocrisy and religious pride of the Jewish leaders. They didn’t want to be defiled by setting foot inside a despised Gentile residence so that they could observe their religious ceremony; but they had no scruples about murdering an innocent man who had done nothing but good for three years!

But before we condemn the Jewish leaders, we need to make sure that there are no logs in our own eyes (Matt. 7:1-5)! Religious pride and hypocrisy are not the exclusive sins of the Jewish leaders. How often we as Christians think like the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable (Luke 18:11), “God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.” It’s so easy to take pride in our church attendance or our morality or good deeds and look down on those who are not outwardly as good as we think we are! It’s even easy to take pride in your Bible reading or Bible knowledge! As Paul said (1 Cor. 8:1, my translation), “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.”

A true understanding of what the Bible teaches about God’s holiness and your sinfulness and God’s grace as demonstrated at the cross leads you to “pour contempt on all [your] pride.” It leads you to view people who have not trusted in Christ with love and compassion, as you realize that, except for the grace of God, you would be just like they are, or worse. Religious pride and self-righteousness will keep you from the Savior. But there’s a second character in this drama who teaches us that…

2. You can reject Christ because, while you have nothing against Him, to follow Him would cost you your career.

Here we’re looking at Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea from AD 26-37. He was a weak leader who made some serious blunders early in his rule. He had his soldiers march into the temple area with shields bearing the image of Caesar, which to the Jews was idolatrous desecration. Caiaphas called out 2,000 Jews who surrounded Pilate’s house in protest. He foolishly threatened to slaughter them, a threat that politically he couldn’t carry out. When he had to back off, he lost face and undermined his leadership.

Later, he built an aqueduct to bring water into Jerusalem, but he used funds from the Jewish temple tax to pay for the project. The Jews rioted and this time Pilate did slaughter many of them. The Jewish leaders protested to the Emperor Tiberius, who issued a scathing rebuke to Pilate for his poor leadership. Since Tiberius was notoriously paranoid and had executed many for trivial reasons, Pilate couldn’t risk another complaint to Rome by his subjects. He hated the Jews, but he knew that they held the upper hand over him.

When the Jews brought Jesus to Pilate, he asked them what the charges were (John 18:29). Their reply no doubt angered him (John 18:30), “If this Man were not an evildoer, we would not have delivered Him to you.” They expected Pilate to do whatever they wanted. In turn, he taunted them by saying (John 18:31), “Take Him yourselves, and judge Him according to your law.” He knew that they did not have the authority to execute Jesus, which his taunt forced them to admit. After questioning Jesus, Pilate concluded that He was not a threat to Rome’s power. Next week I plan to look further at Pilate’s exchange with Jesus about His kingdom, where Pilate scoffs, “What is truth?” But for now, note that Pilate’s conclusion was (John 18:38), “I find no guilt in Him.”

But at this point, he begins to compromise his integrity in an attempt both to placate the Jews and to free Jesus. He brings up a custom to free a prisoner for them at the time of the Passover. He suggests a notorious robber, murderer, and insurrectionist (Luke 23:19) named Barabbas. Pilate was hoping that the Jews would not want such a dangerous man back on the streets and would agree to release Jesus instead. But, if Pilate thought that Jesus really was innocent, he should have stood on principle and released Him.

When the Jews insisted that he release Barabbas, Pilate tried another ploy to get Jesus released: He had him scourged, thinking that this punishment would satisfy the Jews (John 19:1; cf. Luke 23:22). There were three levels of Roman scourging: a less severe whipping for lesser crimes; a more brutal flogging reserved for more serious criminals; and a horrific, sometimes fatal beating that preceded execution. This extreme scourging was done with a leather whip containing pieces of metal or bone and it could leave its victim with his bones or entrails exposed. Because this severe scourging was only carried out after the death sentence had been pronounced, some reputable scholars think that John 19:1 refers to the lighter form of scourging, which was followed by the brutal scourging after Pilate condemned Jesus to death.

But whatever the case, if Pilate really thought Jesus to be innocent, he should not have scourged Him at all. After the scourging, Pilate repeats (John 19:4), “I find no guilt in Him.” When the angry mob cries out (John 19:6), “Crucify, crucify!” Pilate asserts Jesus’ innocence a third time: “Take Him yourselves and crucify Him, for I find no guilt in Him.”

At this point, the Jews take another tack to get Pilate to comply with their illegal wish. They say (John 19:7), “We have a law, and by that law He ought to die because He made Himself out to be the Son of God.” Now Pilate is spooked! As a superstitious Roman, he believed that sometimes the gods came incognito to earth. If you treated them well, they would look out for you in the future. But if you treated them badly, they would make life miserable for you. To increase Pilate’s fear, his wife sent word to him as he examined Jesus and said (Matt. 27:19), “Have nothing to do with that righteous Man; for last night I suffered greatly in a dream because of Him.”

So, Pilate questions Jesus further (John 19:9): “Where are You from?” This time, Jesus doesn’t answer him. He knows that Pilate is morally vacillating and has already compromised judging truthfully. Jesus’ silence angers Pilate, who threatens (John 19:10), “You do not speak to me? Do You not know that I have authority to release You, and I have authority to crucify You?” Jesus calmly puts Pilate in his place by answering (John 19:11), “You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above; for this reason he who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.” He is reminding Pilate that he is not the absolute power; he will answer to God, who is over all authority and rule.

Pilate again tries to release Jesus, but the Jews then pull out their trump card (John 19:12): “If you release this Man, you are no friend of Caesar; everyone who makes himself out to be a king opposes Caesar.” If word got back to Tiberius that Pilate had released a man who was a threat to Rome, his career and perhaps his life would be over. The Jews have him cornered, but he’s frustrated with them, so puts in three more digs. He stands Jesus, beaten and bloody, with the crown of thorns, in front of them and mockingly says (John 19:14), “Behold, your King!” When they still demand Jesus’ crucifixion, Pilate taunts (John 19:15), “Shall I crucify your King?” The Jews utter the insincere, blasphemous, but true words, “We have no king but Caesar.” God was not their king, as seen in their rejection of King Jesus. So Pilate, weak and defeated, handed Jesus over to be crucified. But his last dig was to write on Jesus’ placard (John 19:19), “Jesus the Nazarene, the King of the Jews.”

It’s easy to take potshots at Pilate. He was morally weak and self-serving. He was not a strong or wise leader. But put yourself in his place. Would you risk losing your job, your comfortable way of life, and perhaps your life to defend an innocent man? Have you ever compromised your integrity at work to keep your job? The boss asks you to falsify some records and lie to cover his wrongful actions. When you balk, he suggests that if you don’t comply, he can find someone else to take your job who will comply. What do you do? Pilate didn’t have anything against Jesus and he thought that Jesus was innocent of the charges; but to do the right thing and free Jesus would have cost Pilate dearly. So he rejected Christ thinking that he was protecting his own interests. But in reality, he lost his soul! But there’s a third option in this drama:

3. You can reject Christ because you’re living for good times and are indifferent about eternity.

Here we’re looking at the Roman soldiers. They not only scourged Jesus, they also made sport of Him by pushing the crown of thorns on His head, putting a purple robe on Him, mocking Him by calling Him the King of the Jews, and hitting Him in the face (John 19:1-3). While this was sickening, we’ve witnessed the same kind of thing repeatedly in the news, where American prison guards or soldiers treat prisoners in brutal or degrading ways.

But before we judge them, we need to admit that if we were in similar circumstances, we might want to inflict vengeance on those who had killed our buddies and who would kill us if they got the chance. These Roman soldiers didn’t willfully reject Jesus, as the Jews did. They hadn’t investigated who He was. They weren’t into religion. And their job required them to scourge and crucify prisoners regularly. They were just “having fun,” trying to relieve the boredom of their jobs.

While I hope that they wouldn’t stoop to this level of brutality, there are people like these soldiers today. They don’t hate Jesus or have anything against Him. They’re just living for their jobs and some good times. When you try to tell them about Jesus, they’re indifferent: “If religion is your thing, that’s fine. But it isn’t for me.” Even if you tell them that Christ suffered and died for their sins, they don’t care. They reject Christ because they’re not concerned about eternal matters. They’re living for good times.

But there’s one other character in this story who represents the proper response to Jesus Christ, even though there’s no indication in the story that he actually did respond rightly.

4. You can accept Christ’s death in your place for your sins.

The character here is Barabbas, the robber, murderer, and rebel who was freed instead of Jesus. While at first you may not see yourself in Barabbas at all, he represents each of us in at least three ways (several sources make these points, but I first read them in Leonard Griffith, Gospel Characters [Eerdmans], pp. 166-170):

First, Barabbas should have been on the cross instead of Jesus because he was guilty and deserved to die. You may protest, “But I’m not a robber!” But we’ve all robbed God of His rightful glory and lordship over our lives. You may come back, “But at least I’m not a murderer!” But Jesus said that if we’re wrongfully angry with our brother, we have murdered him in God’s sight (Matt. 5:21-22). “But,” you still protest, “I’ve never led an armed rebellion against the government.” True, but we’re all rebels against the King of the universe. We’ve all sinned many times over against God and His rightful rule.

Second, Barabbas did nothing to earn his pardon. He wasn’t pardoned because of his good behavior or promises to reform. If anything, he was pardoned because of how notoriously evil he was. He couldn’t brag after he got out about how he deserved to be pardoned. He couldn’t claim that he was pardoned for his exemplary behavior. In the same way, Paul says (Rom. 4:4-5) that God justifies the ungodly not through their good works, but by faith alone.

Third, Jesus died in Barabbas’ place. Barabbas, whose name means “son of the father,” should have been on the cross that day. Instead, one who is the eternal Son of the eternal Father hung there in Barabbas’ place. Jesus died in his place—and in your place.

But Barabbas’ pardon was not automatic. He could have spit in Pilate’s face and said, “I don’t need your pardon! Crucify me!” And, he would have been crucified, while a different prisoner would have gone free. In the same way, the pardon that Christ offers to all is only effective for those who receive it. The Bible promises (John 3:16), “Whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life.” Like Barabbas, the guilty rebel, you’ve got to accept the pardon that Christ’s death offers you.

Besides saving yourself from God’s judgment, why should you trust in Christ?

5. The kingly majesty of Jesus Christ calls you to trust in Him as Savior and Lord.

Even though Jesus was spit upon, hit in the face, scourged, crowned with thorns, mocked as king, and unjustly crucified, John shows His glory and majesty. Jesus could have called 12 legions of angels and annihilated His persecutors. But He bore all of this abuse at the hands of sinners for the joy set before Him of bringing many sons and daughters to glory. J. C. Ryle points out (Expository Thoughts on the Gospels [Baker], pp. 271-272) that Jesus, the innocent, wore the crown of thorns so that we, the guilty, might wear a crown of glory. He was clothed with a robe of shame and contempt so that we might be clothed with His spotless righteousness and stand before God’s throne in robes of white. He bore contempt so that we might receive praise and glory at the last day.

As John’s portrayal of Jesus’ trial before Pilate shows, He really is the King of the Jews. Pilate presented Him bloody and mocked, wearing the purple robe, and said (John 19:5), “Behold, the Man!” He uniquely is the representative man, the Son of Man, the second Adam. Pilate scoffs (John 18:38), “What is truth?” Jesus is the truth and came to bear witness of the truth. The Jews accused Him of making Himself out to be the Son of God (John 19:7). He didn’t just make Himself out to be the Son of God (John 5:18); He really is the eternal Son of God! Three times Pilate declared Jesus to be innocent (John 18:38; 19:4, 6). He truly is the lamb without blemish, sacrificed for our sins!

Conclusion

Like the Irish king in the legend, Jesus’ true identity was somewhat disguised. But if you consider His sinless life, His profound teaching, His many attested miracles, His amazing claims, and His bodily resurrection from the dead, you will see that He is the only rightful Lord and King. So I ask again, “What will you do with Jesus, who is called the Christ?”

Application Questions

  1. Do you ever find yourself looking down on others who aren’t as committed to Christ and priding yourself in your commitment? How can we fight this sort of spiritual pride?
  2. Have you ever been faced with the temptation to compromise your faith to protect your job? How did you deal with it?
  3. How can we impress spiritually indifferent people with the urgency of eternity?
  4. If you have compromised your testimony for Christ, how can you recover?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2015, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Soteriology (Salvation)

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