We live in a culture where law and litigation take place continually…perhaps even more so than at any time in history. We who live in our little corner of the world likely understand this better than most after recent events. Over a month ago, the world (to a degree) descended upon our community, as a jury rendered a guilty verdict in the murder trial of Chris Kyle and Chad Littlefield. It is a sad situation in every respect. There are no winners in a situation such as this. Unfortunately, this is the way that such matters go in too many cases. That is why when we come to this continuing story of Jesus, as goes from the Jewish authorities and is led before Roman authorities, we see the drama of his arrest and trial continue to unfold. Only for Jesus, He is not before a court of His peers…because He has none...He is the Son of God. And He is not able to be subject to true witnesses or even a fair court, as He is subject to a number of trumped up, false charges. However, in His case, there are winners. He chooses to give up His life in order that we might have our lives. We are the ones…the ones who put their trust in Him…who come out of His trial and the following events as winners. I believe that this message can get dulled by our own lack of connections to the Word and commitment to Jesus Himself. But, this story…His story…is what makes the difference for each and every person. It is a story that should resonate with us every day in some way. We have everything to be thankful for, because Jesus endured what He did for you and me.
Long before the Jewish leaders had Jesus arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, they had determined to kill Him (John 11:47-54). However, the Jewish council did not have the right to execute prisoners, so it was necessary to get the cooperation and approval of Rome. This is the reason for the need to jump through all of the political hoops. All of this means a visit to the Roman procurator (governor), Pontius Pilate. There are three stages in both the Jewish trial and the Roman trial…and as we have seen, the first portion of the first trial at the hands of Annas was a farce. If the Jews could prove that Jesus was anti-Roman, then it would be much easier for them to get the death penalty for a person that they considered to be a trouble-maker. Stage two of the Jewish trial takes place before Caiaphas and whatever members of the Sanhedrin he could get to come…and this is recorded in more detail in Matthew, Mark and Luke’s accounts. When Jesus clearly confesses that He is the Christ, the council finds Him guilty of blasphemy, and therefore according to the Law, worthy of death. Stage three is merely a formality as the Jewish leaders assemble to declare that Jesus is to be condemned to death.
As soon as the Jewish leaders vote to condemn Jesus, the officers take Him to the palace where Pilate resides during the Passover season…just in case there might be any outbursts of Jewish nationalism. While the religious leaders do not hesitate to condemn an innocent man, they are very careful not to be defiled by walking on Gentile ground! It would just be an awful matter to become ceremonially unclean during the days of Passover…the irony is so thick you could cut it with a knife. It is logical for Pilate to ask for the official accusation. Instead of stating the charges clearly, the Jewish leaders hesitate and beat around the bush, likely making the professional politician suspicious. Luke 23:2 lists their official charges – He leads the nations astray…He opposes paying tribute to Caesar…and He claims to be the Jewish Messiah and King. When they are considered against the truth, all are easily dismissed. Even though He did claim to be King, it was never in the political sense. And Pilate is not anxious to get involved in a Jewish court case…especially at Passover…so, he tries to evade the issue. His reasoning is that the Jews should deal with their own political issues. They would have the jurisdiction to be able to do it.
Had the Jews alone judged Him, Jesus would have been subject to being stoned to death, as righteous Stephen was. But, Jesus was to become a curse for us and die on a tree (Deuteronomy 21:22-23, Galatians 3:13). Crucifixion would require Roman intervention. Pilate’s question asking Jesus if He is the King of the Jews is recorded by each of the Gospel writers. As a Roman governor, Pilate would certainly be interested in the claims of any king. However, Pilate is not prepared for Jesus’ answer, “It is as you say” (Matthew 27:11, NAS). Jesus turns the question back around with a question of His own, in order to determine Pilate’s heart, because it is really Pilate on trial here, not Jesus. (18:34) Pilate’s response to Jesus shows what Romans thought of Jews – “Am I a Jew?” reveals a certain sarcasm and disdain.
Jesus is not a prisoner because Pilate had Him arrested, but because His own nation’s leaders had Him arrested. So, Pilate asks, “What have you done?” Jesus then tries to explain Himself and His kingdom. Jesus’ authority comes from God. His kingdom is spiritual. He does not depend upon worldly or fleshly means to advance His cause. In v.37 Jesus explains more clearly who He is and what kingdom belongs to Him. Pilate likely has little idea what His words mean or their significance. But, for us, it is necessary that we understand Jesus’ words and their meaning. When Pilate responds with the question, “What is truth?” he asks a bigger and more profound question than he could possibly understand. And we really do not know if he was being sarcastic or sincere. At least he has the courage to face the crowd and declare his verdict…that he finds no fault in Jesus or His message. Unfortunately, this only riles up Jesus’ accusers even more. They press Pilate by claiming that Jesus has even riled up people in Galilee, which was Herod’s jurisdiction, so he sends him to Herod. This does nothing to resolve the situation, as Herod sends Jesus back. Pilate still has to deal with Jesus and the Jews.
Rick Gillespie-Mobley, in his sermon: Let’s Be Honest About What We Believe, shares this -- Can you imagine how embarrassing it would be if we had to stand up and say what many believe based on our game plan for life: I believe in God the Father, maker of heaven and earth who is not worthy of me making a few hours of every week in my schedule to pray or talk to and to attend worship. I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, who really has no right to tell me how to live my life after I leave the assembly of the saints. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried, but he should not expect me to make any kind of similar sacrifice on His behalf. I will tell off who I want to tell off, and I will give when I feel like giving. If I do not want to do my part, then others just have to take up the slack for me whether they want to or not. He sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, from which He shall come to judge the living and the dead, with me being the exception because He knows my heart. I intend to one day get serious about serving God, but until then He should not judge me.
If only…but, He does know the truth. He sees through our half-truths and outright sins. He knows our hearts better than we know ourselves. And rather than expecting Him to get on the same page with us, we need to rethink our Christian life and walk, because it is about getting on the same page with Him. We are special people, but not because of any of our humanistic reasoning and concepts, but it is because of what He did for us. And we must live like He lived. What is truth? This is the truth.