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Faith Bible Church, NY
August 13, 1995
Jesus On Trial
I have entitled this morning’s message, “Jesus on Trial,” since we are going to be examining Matthew’s account of Jesus’ trial before Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor. But a better title might be, “The world on Trial,” because the real question that has to be answered is the one Pilate himself asks in Matthew 27:22, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” That will be the question each of us must answer for ourselves at the end of this sermon.
As we examine this morning’s text I want us to be aware of several lines of thought. First, Jesus’ godly response to all the injustices done to Him. Second, the continued declarations of Jesus’ innocence, and Third, the responses of the various people to Jesus, like the hatred of the hypocritical religious leaders, the fickleness of the crowd, the indifference of the multitudes and Pilate’s cowardice.
Turn to Matthew 27:11. Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane late at night. Throughout the night Jesus endured the unjust and illegal religious trials before Annas, Caiaphas, and the Sanhedrin. Peter has denied Him. Judas has gone his way to commit suicide. Morning has come, the Sanhedrin has confirmed its earlier judgement that Jesus must die for blasphemy. It does not matter that the charge is not true because blasphemy involves falsehood, and Jesus never told a lie. It does not matter that the trials they held were illegal in time, place, and manner of court proceedings. It does not matter that it was illegal for them to initiate a death sentence so soon after a trial. All that mattered to these wicked men was get rid of Jesus permanently. Our text picks up the scene as just after they arrive at the Praetorium.
The Praetorium was the governor’s residence in Jerusalem at Fort Antonia. John 18 tells us that these religious hypocrites who had just violated many commands of the Mosaic Law in bringing Jesus to trial now are very concerned about some of their own rabbinical traditions. They believed that going into a gentile home would “defile” them, so they would not enter themselves. Instead Pilate comes out, apparently on a porch or balcony of some sort, to address them.
John 18 tells that Pilate’s first question was proper in seeking justice and trying to figure out what accusation they had had against Jesus. They don’t give an accusation at first, but simply said, “If this Man were not an evildoer, we would not have delivered Him up to you.” Pilate thought it must have something to do with their religious laws, so he told them to go and judge Jesus according to their laws. Pilate had little concern about what occurred among the people as long as the peace was kept and Rome received her taxes since his job depended on those two things. But now their real motive comes out. They told Pilate that they were “not permitted to put anyone to death.”
I have pointed out before that Rome had taken away that right from the nations it conquered and reserved it for itself, but that had not stopped the Jews before, nor would it stop them in the future. They had already attempted to kill Jesus on several occasions, and in the future they would murder Stephen and make an attempt on Paul’s life even while he was in the custody of the Roman government. The only reasons the religious leaders wanted Rome’s involvement is because the people would view Rome as responsible for Jesus’ death instead of them, and Rome’s power would crush any riot that might start when Jesus was killed.
Luke tells us that they then began to accuse Jesus of being an insurrectionist by “misleading the nation, forbidding people to pay taxes and claiming to be a king. Pilate had to take this charge seriously, so he summons Jesus to him and he begins to question Him.
Verse 11, Now Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor questioned Him, saying, “Are You the King of the Jews?” And Jesus said to him, “[It is as] you say.” John 18:34 tells us more of the dialogue. Keep a finger in Matthew and turn to John 18 to follow the dialogue.
33 Pilate therefore entered again into the Praetorium, and summoned Jesus, and said to Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Are you saying this on your own initiative, or did others tell you about Me?” Though Jesus is the one on trial He takes charge and begins to question Pilate and draw out what Pilate knew and believed. Pilate is surprised by this and answers, 35 Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests delivered You up to me; what have You done?”
Pilate had thought the idea of Jesus being a king as ludicrous. First, Pilate would have been aware of Jesus’ activities, and nothing Pilate saw indicated that Jesus was a king. Jesus was now standing bound before Pilate after having been beaten. Jesus gave no appearance of a king. Second, the Jews that had brought Jesus had no loyalty to Rome and would have never revealed the identity of any true king of Israel much less capture him and bring him to Pilate for crucifixion. Pilate realized that this charge must revolve around some dispute between Jesus and the religious leaders.
36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting, that I might not be delivered up to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.” 37 Pilate therefore said to Him, “So You are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say [correctly] that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” Matthew simply condensed all of this Jesus affirmative answer that He was a king.
But notice Pilate’s conclusion about all this, 38 Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?” And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews, and said to them, “I find no guilt in Him.” Pilate demonstrated the same cynical philosophy prevalent in our own day with his nihilistic rhetorical question about truth, yet he made a judgement. This was not just his opinion that Jesus was innocent. Pilate’s statement to the Jews was in the form of an official verdict. “I find no guilt in Him.” Jesus should have been allowed to go free at this point, but Pilate’s interest in justice was skewed by his fear of the Jews.
Remember from several weeks ago that I pointed out that Pilate was in political trouble. He had made some bad errors in judgement which resulted in his position as governor tenuous. If another riot occurred or major complaint against was lodged with Creaser, he would lose his position and possibly his life. And since the Jews had forced Pilate to back down on one of his threats before, they were no longer intimidated by him. So it is here that though Pilate has already pronounced judgment that Jesus was not guilty, the Jewish religious leaders simply started making more accusations.
Verse 12 And while He was being accused by the chief priests and elders, He made no answer. 13 Then Pilate said to Him, “Do You not hear how many things they testify against You?” 14 And He did not answer him with regard to even a [single] charge, so that the governor was quite amazed.
The normal reaction of any prisoner in this sort of situation is to either deny the accusations being made against them, or start pleading for mercy. Jesus remains silent. The evidence had already been examined and the verdict had been pronounced so there was no need for Jesus to say anything. His innocence was obvious to anyone who cared to look. There was no need for a defense. In addition it fulfilled the prophecy given in Isaiah 53:7 that He would be oppressed and afflicted yet would not “open His mouth; like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth.”
As the Jews kept hurling their accusations, they mentioned that Jesus was from Galilee. Luke tells us that Pilate jumped at this chance to transfer the problem of Jesus to someone else. Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee was in Jerusalem, so Pilate sent Jesus to him. Luke 23 tells us that Herod questioned Jesus for sometime, mostly out of his own curiosity, but Jesus “answered him nothing.” The Jews present continued to hurl all sorts of accusations at Jesus. Herod could not find any point of guilt in Jesus, but he finally got tired of the whole thing. He had Jesus mocked by his soldiers and then Herod had a royal robe put on Jesus before sending Him back to Pilate. Pilate called the chief priest and rulers and told them that neither he or Herod could find Jesus guilty of any the charges brought against him.
Verse 15 of our text picks up the story again. “Now at [the] feast the governor was accustomed to release for the multitude [any] one prisoner whom they wanted. 16 And they were holding at that time a notorious prisoner, called Barabbas. 17 When therefore they were gathered together, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you? Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” 18 For he knew that because of envy they had delivered Him up. Pilate did not have the strength of character to act according to the verdict He had already reached. He wanted to release Jesus but he still wanted to somehow appease the Jews. He tried to use a custom that had developed to do it. Barabbas was a robber, a murderer, and an insurrectionist. He was not only a threat to Rome but to the people themselves. Certainly they would not want a man like Barabbas released in comparison to Jesus who had never harmed anyone.
Now an additional pressure was added in verse 19, And while he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent to him, saying, “Have nothing to do with that righteous Man; for last night I suffered greatly in a dream because of Him.” The Romans put a lot of weight in dreams, and Pilate would have taken this message from his wife very seriously. Pilate was now under great pressure in both directions. Justice and his wife’s dream pressured him to release Jesus. The Jews and fear for his position pressured him to condemn Jesus.
Pilate knew the religious leaders were envious of Jesus, but he did not know it was as strong as it was. While Pilate was getting the message from his wife, the religious leaders took advantage of the time to incite the crowd that had gathered.
Verse 20, But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the multitudes to ask for Barabbas, and to put Jesus to death. 21 But the governor answered and said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” 22 Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Let Him be crucified!”
Pilate had already abdicated his place of authority when he asked the crowd what he should do with Jesus. That decision was his, not the crowds, but his purpose was to appease them, not fulfill his own responsibilities.
Pilate is shocked at their cry to crucify Christ. Verse 23: And he said, “Why, what evil has He done?” But they kept shouting all the more, saying, “Let Him be crucified!” 24 And when Pilate saw that he was accomplishing nothing, but rather that a riot was starting… The crowd was now a mob ruled by mob mentality. Mobs are not sensible because reason and logic have no place in them. Pilate’s question made no sense to them. A mob does not need a reason to do anything, it simply follows the direction of its leaders whatever way they go. It is fueled by blind emotion, not reason and logic. Personally, I have no doubt that some of those that were shouting “crucify Him” did not even know whose death they were calling for. And now the mob was getting out of hand and a riot was starting.
Pilate had kept trying to defer the question, to pass it off to someone else, to appease the crowd if possible. Earlier he had offered to scourge Jesus if that would satisfy them, but it would not. Now Pilate was reduced to two choices. He could either uphold his earlier verdict and carry out justice by releasing Jesus or he could do what the crowd wanted.
Pilate turned out to be a coward and would yield to the will of the crowd, but before he did, he wanted to make it clear again what he thought. He takes a ritual from the Jewish law and uses it for his own purpose. Deut. 21 provided that if someone was murdered and the Elders of the closest city could not determine who had committed the crime, they were to offer a sacrifice and wash their hands saying they had not killed the man nor had seen the crime done and ask the Lord to not hold them accountable for the bloodguiltiness. In a manner similar to this Pilate …he took water and washed his hands in front of the multitude, saying, “I am innocent of this Man’s blood; see [to that] yourselves.” 25 And all the people answered and said, “His blood [be] on us and on our children!”
Pilate thought this would transfer the guilt to the people and absolve him, but of cou rse it could not. In fact, his guilt was compounded by this because by doing so he again proclaims Jesus to be innocent. His statement also shows that he has the power to do what is right, but that he is refusing to do so. He is willingly turning over his authority to a mob. He would not do it personally, but he would let the mob “see to it.”
The people willingly accepted the responsibility, but they would only do so for a short time. By Acts 5:28 they are indignant that the preaching of the apostles was accusing them of being responsible for the blood of Jesus. They no longer wanted to have that responsibility, but it was theirs and they could not get rid of it.
Pilate then carries out his final decision to do what he thinks will save himself at the expense of Jesus’ life. Pilate had made an effort to be just and save Jesus, but once he caved into the will of the crowd, Pilate did not give Jesus any consideration or compassion. He let the normal course of events of a crucifixion take place. Verse 26 Then he released Barabbas for them; but after having Jesus scourged, he delivered Him to be crucified.
The scourging was part of the punishment of being condemned to die. In some ways it was a benefit because it invariable shortened the length of time a person could endure the horror of crucifixion. The whip used for scourging was made of several long pieces of leather attached to a handle of some sort. At the end of each piece of leather a piece of stone, bone, metal, pottery shard or other sharp object was tied. The victim had his hands tied to a pole over his head with his feet dangling. Often there would be a scourger on both the right and left side who took turns lashing the victim. It would not take long before the back and sides were opened up exposing eternal organs which would soon be lacerated too. It was not uncommon for men to die of the scourging before they were crucified. How badly Jesus scourged is unknown, but it was severe enough that He physically collapsed while trying to carry his own cross a short time later.
Though it was the usual practice, Pilate did not have to let Jesus be scourged, but he did. Pilate also did not have to leave Jesus to the pleasure of his soldiers just because that was commonly done, but he did.
27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole [Roman] cohort around Him. 28 And they stripped Him, and put a scarlet robe on Him. 29 And after weaving a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand; and they kneeled down before Him and mocked Him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 30 And they spat on Him, and took the reed and [began] to beat Him on the head. 31 And after they had mocked Him, they took His robe off and put His garments on Him, and led Him away to crucify [Him.]
The soldiers had heard the accusations made against Jesus. Some them certainly would have been present in Jesus discussion about His kingdom with Pilate. Now they take up that theme to mock Him. They wove a crown of thorns and put on Him a scarlet robe made even more crimson from the blood flowing from His back. They gave Him mock homage and then with utter contempt, spat on Him. After they had their fill of their contemptible amusement they reclothed Jesus and began the procession to Golgotha, the place of the skull, where Jesus would be crucified.
In all the maltreatment Jesus received, not once did He speak against those who were abusing Him. Not once did He even speak harshly. Jesus had prepared Himself for this in the garden of Gethsemane and he was fully prepared to drink deeply of the cup of suffering.
Christian, what will you do with Jesus? Are ready to follow Him as He has called you to? Can you do it with that kind of attitude? Would you be willing, are you ready to suffer for the name of Christ? Are you able to love your enemies in this manner and pray for the good of those who persecute you, even as Jesus said we should in Matthew 5:44? This is the example of Jesus Christ we are to follow.
Non-Christian, what will you do with Jesus? There is no sitting on the fence. The declaration over and over again was that there was no guilt found in Him. Jesus was sinless, yet He gave Himself up to die in your place.
Will you be like the religious leaders who hated Him because His righteousness exposed their wickedness? Will you be like the crowds who chanted for Him to be crucified and reject Him simply because those around you do? Will you be like the greater crowd of people that remained silent and gave quiet consent to the injustice done to Jesus? Or maybe like Herod you condemn yourself by your mocking of the Lord? Or perhaps worst of all, like Pilate you have already reached a verdict to all the evidence about Jesus, but you refuse to stand up for what you believe for fear it might cost you something?
Jesus said that “whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it…”, He added, “what will a man be profited if he gains the whole world and loses his soul?” What could be so valuable to you that you risk your eternal soul for it? Fame? Fortune? Prestige? Power? Friends? Are any of those things really worth it?
Jesus also said, “He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me scatters.” There is no fence sitting on this issue. You are either with Jesus or against Him. Pilate did not want to make a choice, but it was forced upon him. He followed his wicked heart and turned his back on what he knew was true. He made his choice and will now live with it for all eternity. What will you do with Jesus?
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