A Royal Mess

Christ Covenant Church
Jon Marq Toombs
11 December 2016 / Advent
John 18:28-19:16

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[Note: These are sketch notes, not a manuscript.]

Our sermon text for today is John 18:28-19:6. If you are willing and able, please stand for the reading of God’s Holy Word. The word of God reads:

The word of the Lord. (Thanks be to God!) May God add his blessings to the reading, the hearing, the preaching, and the praying of his word. All the church says, Amen!

Historical Narrative

The back-story of Pilate and his experience with the Jews is well-attested — and since it might help us understand why Pilate acted the way he did at Jesus’s trial I want to share a little with you now.

Pilate’s name means “armed with a javelin.” He was named after a weapon of his warrior ancestors. He was a capable Roman military leader who became a fairly capable political leader as well. Thus, Emperor Tiberius allowed him to serve as the Roman governor in Palestine for 10 years (26-36 AD).

Ten years marked by conflict and controversy.

By the time Jesus began his public ministry Pilate had been serving as governor for about 4 years. In that short time, Pilate had serious clashes with the Jewish leaders on two or three occasions. One clash in particular matters for our story today.

Several months before Jesus went up to Jerusalem, Pilate had set up several golden shields in his headquarters at Jerusalem. The shields were dedicated to the Emperor Tiberius. When the Jews heard about it they were triggered and protested that the shields were idolatrous. Despite their protests, Pilate refused to remove them. So King Herod went over Pilate’s head and sent a formal protest against Pilate to Emperor Tiberius. Tiberius was infuriated with Pilate and sent him a letter with specific orders: take the shields down and transfer them to another city; respect and uphold all the religious and political customs of his Jewish subjects. (See Philo, Flavius Josephus, Paul Maier, and Robin Jensen)

A few months after this controversy, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. The Jewish religious leaders arrested him and delivered him to Pilate to be tried, judged, and sentenced.

That brings us into our story.

Theological Meaning

Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters. It was early morning. [Post Tenebras Lux = after darkness light; evening/morning – night/day = new creation]

They themselves did not enter the governor’s headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover. [ hypocrisy incarnate — outwardly clean, inwardly dirty ]

The Jews had already held a mock trial under cover of darkness and found Jesus guilty of blasphemy. They wanted a swift and speedy trial without a lot of fan fare. They knew Jesus was popular and they did not want to stir up trouble among the masses.

Remember that just a week ago (in the context of the story) large crowds of Jews and Greeks — and many authorities (12:42) — were cheering for Jesus and singing his praises:

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord — even the King of Israel!”

This is how the trial of Jesus begins.

Three phases of the trial.

PHASE ONE OF THE TRIAL: ACCUSATION AND DEFENSE

So Pilate went outside to them [accomodate the Jews per Caesar’s instruction] and said, “What charge/accusation do you bring against this man?” They answered him, “If this man were not doing evil, we would not have delivered him over to you.” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” The Jews said to him, “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death.” [premeditated murder; also a farce: remember how many times the Jews picked up stones to stone Jesus and plotted ways to kill him!]

This was to fulfill the word that Jesus had spoken to show by what kind of death he was going to die [lifted up].

In John’s Gospel, “lifted up” means crucified on the cross, suspended between heaven and earth.

John 3:14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be  lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

John 8:28 So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am Yahweh, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me.

John 12:31-33 He said this (about the seed falling, dying, bearing fruit) to show by what kind of death he was going to die.

So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus [ ceremonially defiled for entering headquarters ] and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” [Either the Jewish leaders told Pilate, or Pilate heard what the crowds sang a week earlier.] Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation (ethnos) and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?”

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants / officers [ = angels not just disciples ] would have been fighting [Gk. ἀγωνίζομαι (agōnizomai) agonizing, striving, fighting as Peter did in the garden], that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. [echoes of John 3:3-8; 6:15; 12:42] For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”

Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”

PHASE TWO OF THE TRIAL: NEGOTIATE SETTLEMENT / CUT A DEAL

After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, “I find no guilt in him. But you have a custom that I should release one man for you at the Passover. So do you want me to *release* to you the King of the Jews?” They cried out again, “Not this man, but Barabbas!”

Now Barabbas was a robber. [echo John 10 = thief comes only to kill, steal, destroy, but Jesus is life-giver.]

Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him. [Under normal circumstances flogging was an act of torture intended to elicit a confession or gather intelligence. In this case, it was simply a an attempt to appease the Jews — a compromise between releasing and crucifying an innocent man.]

And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. They came up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and struck him with their hands.

Pilate went out again and said to them, “See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him.” So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold the man!” [echo John 1:29, 36 “Behold the Lamb of God!”]

When the chief priests and the servants / officers saw him, they cried out, “Crucify him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.” The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God.” [Ironically, according to the Law and the Prophets, Jesus was the Son of God = Christ the King.]

When Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid. [He was already afraid of the Jews and Caesar; now he is afraid of Jesus the King of the Jews.]

He entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to *release* you and authority to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above [ = echo of John 3 “born from above” — not again ]. Therefore he [ = Judas, Caiaphas, Annas, Satan ? ] who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.”

[The main point of the story is that Jesus was fearless and faithful even in the face of death. That often gets overlooked as we tend to focus on Pilate and the Jews or on the details of the flogging.]

From then on Pilate sought to *release* him, but the Jews cried out, “If you *release* this man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.”

[Now, Pilate said repeatedly that he found no guilt in Jesus = innocent. He looked for different ways to release Jesus. But he knew that the Jews had him stuck on the horns of a dilemma: on the one hand, Pilate did not want to execute an innocent man (especially one as popular as Jesus). On the other hand, but he did not want the Jewish leaders to send another formal protest to Tiberius.

“no friend of caesar” — Pilate knew what that meant, what that entailed, what the political consequences would be.

Paul Maier’s quote:

If you set this man free, we will send a delegation to Tiberius Caesar, accusing you of condoning treason in one who would set himself up as a subversive counter-king to Rome, and also of failure to uphold our religious law. Do you recall Tiberius’ threatening letter to you five months ago? If he supported us then in the case of the golden shields, he’ll surely support us now in a far more serious matter. You, Pilate, will lose your membership in the Friends of Caesar club. Your golden membership ring with Tiberius’ image will be pulled from your finger, and you will make your exit via the usual means for disgraced members: exile, or compulsory suicide. (161)

Although Jesus was the King, the fact is that he did not make himself king — the people called him king — their claims corresponded with reality — they confessed the truth.]

PHASE THREE OF THE TRIAL: VERDICT AND SENTENCE

So when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Stone Pavement, and in Aramaic Gabbatha. [verdict ex cathedra ]

Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover.

It was about the sixth hour. [echo of John 4 — Jesus at the well]

He said to the Jews, “Behold your King!” They cried out, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” [Ahem…and Herod Antipas, King of the Jews]

So he delivered him over to them to be crucified. (ESV)

Handed over to the Jews by Judas, to the Romans by the Jews. Handed over by God the Father to wicked men.

The way John tells the Story, Pontius Pilate appears as a tragic mixture of Peter and Judas Iscariot. Like Peter, he starts to defend Jesus but ends up denying him. Like Judas, he betrays Jesus to the Jews for his own personal gain.

Existential Connections

Applications?

Take comfort and courage knowing that Jesus laid down his life for you — just as he took Barabbas’ place and died the death of an insurrectionist/robber, so he took your place and died the death of a sinner.

 


Recommended Resources in Addition to Commentaries by Calvin, Ridderbos, and Wright

Jensen, Robin M.. “How Pilate Became a Saint.” Bible Review, Dec 2003. http://www.basarchive.org/sample/bswbBrowse.asp?PubID=BSBR&Volume=19&Issue=6&ArticleID=2(accessed 12/9/2016)

Maier, Paul L. In the Fullness of Time: A Historian Looks at Christmas, Easter, and the Early Church. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1997. Print.

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