The Trial of All Centuries: Jesus Christ Stands Before a Human Judge (Matthew Sermon 145 of 151)
May 26, 2013 | Andrew Davis
Imputed Righteousness, Incarnation, Sovereignty of God, Judgment
So, we come to this text this morning; I was meditating on it, the phrase “The trial of the century” came to my mind. How many of those have there been? Our century is pretty young now, and already we've had two or three that I've read that have had that label. The Trial of Saddam Hussein, 2005-2006, had that label in some places.
Last century, there were lots of trials of the century. The Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925 was the trial of the century that pitted evolutionary convictions against scripture, very fascinating, in Dayton, Tennessee. Two years later, there was another trial of the century: Sacco-Vanzetti. Two Italian immigrants were tried and convicted of murder, many thought, unfairly, because of their anarchist convictions. Then, a few years after that, there was another trial of the century, that was the Lindbergh kidnapping trial, and that was very famous, and it captured the nation's attention. At the end of World War II, there were the Nuremberg war criminal trials for the Nazis, and that was captivating as just evil was paraded before the eyes of the world, and those Nazis tried to give a defense for the heinous things that they'd done. Of course, there was the OJ Simpson trial in 1995, also called the trial of the century. All of these have been sensational in their own way, they've all been significant in their own way.
Yet of far greater significance in redemptive history, as we come to the text today, is the trial of Jesus Christ before Pontius Pilate. It’s significant in redemptive history, because Jesus is the most significant man in redemptive history, the most significant figure of the Bible, central towering figure of the Bible, presented as the only Savior of the world. And that is a very significant trial that happened once for all time in history.
But connected with this text today is a different kind of trial, intimately related to it, and it's a trial that individual sinners put Jesus on every day as they sit in judgment on Jesus and stroke their chins and try to figure out what they're gonna do about Jesus. And so, in that way, Pontius Pilate represents them, and they sit on the judgment seat while Jesus stands, God in the dock, God on trial before them, and they try to decide what to do with Jesus.
And that's a very significant trial for each individual person. He is on trial every day, every hour, before the watching world. We could make an argument in that vein that he is the most tried man in history. He's been on trial more than anyone else in history, again and again, the watching world. And so, at that point, the phrase, “Trial of the century” just shrinks into insignificance. This is more than just the trial of the millennium, this is the trial of eternity, the trial of all ages. This is the trial of Jesus Christ as he stands before a human judge.
And it's interesting how the Scripture, in some sense, in the New Testament, presents this as good and right. Jesus said in John Chapter 7, “Do not judge me - Do not judge by mere appearance but make a right judgement.” He said two chapters earlier in John chapter 5, he lays out evidences, John the Baptist was a witness, shining and testifying. The works Jesus was doing were testifying in his name. Jesus himself testified, the Father testified, and the Spirit testifies. And so, in some ways, this is appropriate. To some degree, Jesus invites us to do this very thing.
Now, how fascinating is it that, at the end of all things, it will be 100 percent reversed, and Jesus will sit on his judge's throne, and he will judge every single human being that has ever lived. And that trial will settle the eternal destiny of every single person that stands before him. So, for a time, Jesus allows us to judge him, but in the end, he is the judge of all the Earth. Now, shortly after I became a Christian, I read a book by Josh McDowell called Evidence that Demands a Verdict. And so that really pulls into this idea of a court trial, and it's an apologetics book, and it lays out various forms of evidences. One of my favorite parts of that book are the various prophecies, the fulfilled prophecies, that testify to Jesus as the Savior of the world. And they're listed out in an insert there, and you can take that, and you can memorize those 25 prophecies, or you can just get a sense of the overwhelmingly clear testimony of the prophets to Jesus.
The Spirit of Jesus, the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of the prophets, and they point again and again to Jesus, how he was called Immanuel, God with us, in Isaiah Chapter 7, the same chapter that predicted he would be born of a virgin. How his birthplace was predicted in Micah 5:2 to be Bethlehem, Ephratah. How his national origin as a Jew, the Son of Abraham, predicted by Genesis 12:3. How his descent from the tribe of Judah was predicted in Genesis 49:10. How his descent from King David, in particular, his family, his house, predicted in 2 Samuel 7:13. His sinlessness predicted in Isaiah 53:9. His miracles, predicted in Isaiah 35:5 and 6. His parables, predicted in Psalm 78:2.
His triumphal entry into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey in Zechariah 9:9. His betrayal by a friend for 30 pieces of silver, predicted by Psalm 41:9 and Zechariah 11:12. His rejection by the leaders, the builders of the nation of Israel, predicted by Psalm 118:22. The plucking of his beard, the spitting in his face, his being smashed in the face with a rod, his flogging, all of them predicted in various places, mostly in Isaiah. His condemnation by a Gentile ruler, predicted in Psalm 2. His death by crucifixion, his hands and feet pierced, predicted by Psalm 22. His burial in a rich man's tomb predicted by Isaiah 53:9. His body not experiencing decay, predicted in Psalm 16:10. And his glorious resurrection victory predicted in many places in the Old Testament, but specifically, Isaiah 25:8. All of this is overwhelming evidence that demands a verdict from us, the watching sinful world, as we sit on that judge's throne and we stroke our chin and try to decide what we're gonna do with Jesus, try to figure out whether Jesus really is both the Son of God and the Son of Man.
Now, the gospel writers, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, all wrote what they wrote to give us further detailed evidence, to help us make the right judgment, to judge with right judgment, as Jesus said, and make a right decision. I think the clearest statement of that is made by John when he writes, “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing, you may have life in his name,” John 20:31. Having done all that, then Jesus sent out witnesses into the world. Clearest verse on that is in Acts 1, in verse 8, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria to the ends of the earth.” Jesus had said in John chapter 16, “You must testify, and the Holy Spirit will testify.”
And so this trial is going on, it's going on right now, it's going on all over the world, this trial of Jesus before human judges. And the issue is, what will we say about Jesus? “Who do you say that I am?” as he said in Caesarea Philippi. “What about you?” Matthew 16:15, “Who do you say that I am?” Picture the sinner trying to decide, well, how he's gonna answer that question. What is the answer to that question? Will he make with Peter that incredible testimony, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!” Will he be able, like doubting Thomas, who was doubting no longer when he saw the evidence before his eyes or the resurrection of Jesus, will he be able to say, “My Lord and my God!” and make that testimony? And if you can make that testimony by faith now, based on this evidence, you will live forever in his presence. And you'll be learning, as I prayed a moment ago, forever of his greatness and his glory in heaven.
But some day, all of that's going to be reversed. Jesus is gonna come back in glory, and he's gonna sit on a throne in glory, and all the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people, one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he's gonna consign some of them to hell, and he's gonna bring others of them to heaven. And he will have the right to do this because he is the judge of all the earth. So that's what's in front of us.
But there's another level to this that I want you to see. It says, in Galatians 2:20, the Apostle Paul said this, “I have been crucified with Christ.” And that testifies to the fundamental doctrine of our union with Jesus. And so we, as sinners saved by grace, should see in Jesus our substitute, how Jesus took our place. Now, we know, we're gonna talk about later, without the shedding of blood, there could be no forgiveness. The Son of God, the Son of Man's blood could have been shed any one of a number of ways. He could have been knifed in an alley. He could have been stoned to death or pushed off a cliff, as his enemies wanted to do at various times. But God wanted to put him on display. He wanted a show trial, to some degree. That's what a trial of the century is, it's a show trial. He wanted him up on display.
No one lights a lamp and puts it under a bowl. And so Jesus, very famously, was going to be put on trial before the Jewish nation, that's already done now, in our account, but then before the Gentiles as well, the ruler of the Gentiles, in this case, Pontius Pilate, so that the entire world would try and convict and reject the Son of God. But for us, we need to see this, see God's hand in all of this. We need to look at the sufferings of Jesus and say, “I, the sinner, deserve that.” I deserve to be in chains. I deserve to be in bonds, standing before a judge, and have the judge decide my fate. I deserve to be flogged. I deserve to be beaten. I deserve to be spat upon. That's my suffering that he went through. He is my substitute. I deserved all that. I'm a sinner. Jesus stood trial in my place, and with Christ, I was tried, and with Christ, I was convicted, and with Christ, I was condemned, and with Christ, I died. We know it doesn't end there, Amen? With Christ, I rose again, vindicated before God. He is our substitute. We are united with Christ by faith. Those are the levels that we have to see this at, and that's just the introduction to the introduction. We have no hope of getting out of here at any normal time, so just settle in and let's just look at this account and see what we can learn.
The Charge Against the Silent Jesus: “The King of the Jews” (vs. 11-14)
Jesus Arraigned Before Pilate
It begins with the charge made against Jesus as he stands silent before Pontius Pilate. Look at verses 11-14, “Meanwhile, Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ Yes, it is, as you say,’ Jesus replied. When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer. Then Pilate asked him, ‘Don't you hear the testimony they're bringing against you?’ But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge, to the great amazement of the governor.”
So Jesus is now arraigned by Pilate. The religious trial is over. Annas, Caiaphas, the council, Sanhedrin has condemned him. Look at verse 1-2 of this chapter. It says, “Early in the morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people came to the decision to put Jesus to death, and they bound him and led him away, and handed him over to Pilate the governor.” You could say that this verdict was preordained, and it was. It was preordained by Jesus' human enemies, they hated him, and they had already made up their minds, they wanted to kill him, but they wanted to kill him by trial. Again, not by an assassin while he slept, or anything like that. They wanted a trial. They wanted to reject him in that way.
So it was preordained at the human level, but you know it was even more significantly preordained by God, that God ordained before the foundation of the world that Jesus would be our substitute. And so this was a preordained verdict, and so he was handed over by these hypocritical Jewish leaders. It says in John's gospel, they wanted to be able to eat the Passover, so they didn't go into Pilate's palace, and made him come out to them. Just the hypocrisy that we see there, they maintain an outward compliance to the laws of Moses, but they are murdering an innocent man, and more than that, infinitely more than that, they're seeking to murder the Son of God. We see the hypocrisy.
The Charge: “Are You the King of the Jews?”
And they bring this charge, and it's implied in the question. Verse 11, “Are you the King of the Jews?” as Jesus stood before the governor. What a picture that is. Jesus stands before a human judge, on trial before a human judge, creator of all things visible and invisible, the one by whom all created things are being sustained at every moment by the word of his power, arraigned before Pontius Pilate. And the charge comes down, “Are you the King of the Jews?”
Now, I think Jesus is clever. Politically-aware enemies thought this would be the charge that worked. Notice the charge that worked at the religious level was blasphemy, but that's not going to cut it with Pontius Pilate, so they changed the charge a bit to sedition, basically, rabble-rousing, insurrection. It's implied in the charge, King of the Jews. Now, they had tried to nail Jesus earlier on tax evasion, remember that one? They tried to get him on that one. Jesus could not be pinned down because he knew the theology of government better than we do, and he said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and give to God what is God's.” So the paying of taxes is a subset of our service to God.
So he evaded that, but they went with this idea of King of the Jews, and it's a weighty charge. It is a threat, in some way, to the Roman authority there in the region. They would set up kings of the Jews, like Herod was called “King of the Jews,” that kind of thing, but they would be puppet kings under Roman authority. A king of the Jews that is pushed to power, rises up by popular demand, is definitely a threat to Roman authority, at that point. So it's a weighty charge, and a clever one. In Luke's gospel, Luke 23:5, it says, “He stirs up the people all over Judea by his teaching.” Started in Galilee and now he's here.
And so that's the idea of sedition, the idea of being a rabble-rouser, being somebody who's threatening the peace of the nation. And that, again, would have been of interest to the Romans because they wanted to just keep things quiet. They wanted that Pax Romana, the Roman Peace, so that they didn't have to dispatch more legions to Palestine. They're stretched thin, looking over their empire, and they want things kept quiet. They don't want riots. They don't want people gathering and chanting things with fists in the air. That's dangerous for their rule, 'cause then they're gonna have to mobilize.
Isn't it hypocritical, though, that these Jewish leaders are saying, in effect, Jesus is threatening Rome, so give us Barabbas, who's threatening Rome. Doesn't make any sense. He was an insurrectionist. Pilate saw right through all of it. He knew they weren't loyal to Rome at all. Must be something deeper going on here. But he begins the trial, “Are you the King of the Jews?"
Jesus’ Enigmatic Answer
And Jesus gives a rather enigmatic answer here. One translation has it this way, “You have said so.” That's odd. What do you do with that? “Are you the King of the Jews?” “You have said so.” Jesus was a puzzlement to Pilate, but he would, by the end of this encounter, he would be far more than that, but that's how it began, a strange statement. I think, in effect, Jesus is saying, “You said the words, but you don't understand the meaning.” I think that's what's going on by “You have said it,” but you don't understand it.
He goes into it in more depth in John's gospel. You remember the discussion they had on his kingdom. Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” This is John 18:36-38, “‘My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. As it is, my kingdom is from another place.’ ‘You are a king then,’ said Pilate. Jesus answered, ‘You are right in saying I'm a king.’” That brings goosebumps. You don't have any idea how much of a king I am. You vastly underestimate my kingship.
He goes on. “In fact, for this reason, I was born, and for this, I entered the world to testify to the truth.” Everyone on the side of truth listens to me. So, he says he's a king, but he says his kingdom is from another place. And he goes beyond that and he says he entered the world of his own volition. “This is why I entered the world.” Wow. So this is an answer unlike any Pilate had ever heard. This is a man unlike Pilate had ever seen or dealt with.
Was Jesus “King of the Jews”?
So now I ask you was he, in fact, the king of the Jews? Was he the king of the Jews? Yes, he absolutely was King of the Jews. Remember how this gospel, indeed, how the whole New Testament began. It began with the shortest genealogy I can find in the Bible, and that's Matthew 1:1, “A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” So there's a genealogy you can memorize. The one that follows is a little harder, 42 names in that one.
There's a very short genealogy right at the beginning. Why does Matthew begin with that? To establish his right to rule on David's throne. And the fact that he is a son of Abraham, he is the fulfillment of the promises made to Abraham. That's why.
So, yes, he was the King of the Jews, but not of the Jews only, for it says in Isaiah 49, “God the Father said to him, ‘It's too small a thing for you to be my servant, to restore the tribes of Jacob, and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles.’” It says in Zechariah 9:10, “He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the river to the ends of the earth.” That's his domain, it's everywhere, it's everyone. And thus when he returns in Revelation 19:16, he has written on his thigh these words, “King of Kings and Lord of Lords.”
Was Jesus a Threat? No… and Yes… A Thousand Times Yes!
So Jesus was, in fact, the king of the Jews, but not like Pilate meant. Pilate meant are you a threat? Are you a threat to me? Are you a threat to my life? Are you a threat to my power? Are you a threat to Rome? Well, was he a threat? Absolutely, he was a threat. He was an infinitely greater threat than Pilate could possibly imagine, but not like Pilate meant, not like Pilate meant.
What do I mean by that? Jesus said, “Do not fear those who kill the body, and after that, can do nothing to you. I'll tell you who to fear. Fear the one who has the power to destroy, after death, both the soul and the body in hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.” Jesus was an infinite threat to Pilate. I think Pilate knows right now what I mean by those words. But no, I'm not a threat the way you mean.
Now, in the end, it says in Daniel chapter 2, you remember how Nebuchadnezzar, that tyrant king over the Babylonian Empire had a dream of a statue, and that statue with the head of gold and chest and arms of silver, and belly and thighs of bronze, and legs of iron, feet partly iron, partly clay, remember that whole thing, represented kingdoms of the world and the flow of human history. Do you remember in the dream, he had a vision of a rock cut out, but not by human hands, that smashed the statue at its feet, and the whole thing crumbles like it was made out of crystal and just gets turned into this pile of chaff that the wind blows away. But this rock cut out, but not by human hands, grows and becomes a vast mountain that fills the whole world with its glory. That's the dream, the interpretation Daniel gave, “In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms, and bring them to an end, but will itself endure forever. This is the meaning of the vision of the rock cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands - a rock that broke the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold to pieces.”
So, when Jesus comes back, in Revelation 19, it says that he has a sword coming out of his mouth. That's just metaphorical language for he does battle by the breath of his mouth. When he says to a created being, “Be dead,” you're dead. I've always wondered why the armies of heaven are with him. They're just there as spectators. They are absolutely not needed. Jesus has this one completely under control, and it says he has an iron rod with which to strike down the nations. He will rule them with an iron scepter. And so Jesus is a threat. He's a threat to any who get it wrong when they judge Jesus. He's a threat, an eternal threat, but not like Pilate meant.
Jesus’ Silence: In Direct Fulfillment of Prophecy
And so Jesus stands there, and after saying, “You have said so,” he then becomes silent before Pilate, an unnerving silence, a supernatural silence, a prophesied silence. It's predicted. Look at 12-14 “When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer. And Pilate asked him, ‘Don't you hear the testimony they're bringing against you?’ But Jesus made no answer, not even to a single charge, to the great amazement of the governor.” Isaiah 53:7, “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet, he did not open his mouth. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent so he did not open his mouth.
Now, earlier, before his Jewish enemies, his Jewish persecutors, rulers, in Luke 22:67-68, they said, “‘If you're the Christ, tell us.’ Jesus said, ‘If I tell you, you will not believe me, and if I ask you a question, you will not answer me. So why should I talk to you?’” That's, in effect, what happened. There's no point in me talking to you. This whole thing is unjust, you are wicked, and you will not listen to my words, and I'm not gonna say any more of them. And so he's silent. He will not grace their insulting questions with an answer, and so he's silent.
Pilate's amazed. He's never seen any prisoner acting like this ever. And I tell you it becomes increasingly unnerving to Pilate. Most renditions of Pilate movies and all that get Pilate wrong, they get Pilate wrong. Pilate was like a trapped animal, increasingly terrified by the circumstances, trying to find some way to get out of it. That's Pilate. You get that, that's Pilate in the scriptures.
He's never seen anyone deal with the threat of crucifixion like Jesus. He's seen prisoners beg and plead for their lives, he's seen some be terrified and reduced to quivering masses of jelly. I'm sure he's seen some be sullen and defiant, or he's seen others be loud and defiant, but he's never seen anyone with the supernatural regal comportment that Jesus had.
Pontius Pilate on Trial (vs. 15-24)
Pilate Really the One on Trial… Jesus “Fate” Was Sealed!
And I think it unnerved him. because really, you know who's on trial here? Pilate's on trial. That who's on trial. Jesus is gonna die on the cross. Son of Man will go, just as it is written about him. There's no doubt about that, not in Jesus' mind, he knows exactly what's going to happen. But what's Pilate gonna do? Pilate was the one on trial, and this is especially clear in John's gospel. John's gospel makes it plain that Pilate was increasingly terrified of Jesus and of the entire circumstances.
Frankly, I look on Pilate like, I don't know, some kind of an animal inside a cage and the walls are pressing in like this, and he's bouncing side to side, back and forth, like you ever seen a squirrel do that in front of your car? And they can't decide which tire to get run over by, just going back and forth. And so the walls are pressing in on him. On the one side, you have his convictions about Jesus, and on the other side, you have his reading of the temper of the Jews and the threat that they're gonna go above him to Caesar and remove him from his position in disgrace, maybe resulting in his own death by Roman authorities.
Pilate’s Conviction: Jesus Was Completely Innocent (vs. 18; John 18-19)
So what do I mean by his convictions about Jesus? I think he was convinced, first and foremost, clearly, that Jesus was innocent. And he wanted to set him free, that is plain, but I think it goes beyond that. I think he believed that Jesus was supernatural. I think he believed he was an incarnation. I think he believed that he was a God that had come down to Earth in human form. We can see, in the Book of Acts, that they thought this was true of Paul and Barnabas. This was a common thought in polytheism, that basically the gods and goddesses would take on bodies and come down to earth and just cause trouble, and get people into trouble.
And I think that Pilate thought probably that's what's going on. He probably heard about the miracles, and in the middle of it, his wife interferes in a court trial by sending him a message concerning a dream she's had. How strange is that? I mean, that's like grounds for a mistrial, I think. But providentially, she has an unnerving dream, and she sends this message, saying, "Don't have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.
And so he is convinced that it's out of envy that they had handed Jesus over, and so he has these convictions about Jesus, that he's innocent. Three times in John's gospel, he says, “I find no fault in him. I find no fault in him. I find no fault in him.” He keeps trying to set him free. But at one point, the Jews say to him, “We have a law, and according to that law, he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.” It says in John 19, when Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, and went back in to Jesus and asked him, “Where do you come from?” Not just afraid, friends, even more afraid. He was afraid of Jesus. And at that point, Jesus did not answer Pilate a word. I think he thought he was supernatural.
Lessons from Josephus: God Sovereignly Orchestrated Jewish Power Over Pilate
So that's one wall pressing. What's the other wall? How do we understand? Because in the end, he turns away from his convictions about Jesus, and he gives in to the Jews. And it all starts with the fact that they demanded that he come out to them, and he came. Now, that's strange. He's the Roman governor. He's like the king of that whole area under Caesar. Yes, but he had the power of life and death. And he goes crawling out to them, why? Well, the Bible doesn't give us the full answer, but it's pretty clear that they had some kind of leverage over him.
Josephus is the one that tells us what that leverage was. Josephus was a Jewish historian that tells us, gives us insights into the things that happened when Pilate took his seat of office in AD 26. As soon as he comes in there, he puts the insignia of his imperial guards in the temple grounds. They were considered to be idols, and so the Jews gathered and began to riot, demanding that he take the idols out of the temple. Pilate doesn't wanna begin his work day or his work life there by slaughtering a bunch of Jews, that's very bad. I told you they don't want riots, they need to send more troops.
And so he threatens them. Basically, he's bluffing, and he says, “If you don't disperse, I'm going to kill you.” They bear their necks and say, “Go ahead and do it.” And at that point, it all starts. He has to back down because he doesn't wanna begin with the slaughter. And so they win, he takes the idols out of the temple. A few years later, there was an aqueduct, a water system was put in and it violated some Jewish law. Can you imagine being a Roman trying to govern these people? And they assemble together and start chanting, emboldened even more now by what happened the first time. This time, Pilate infiltrates the crowd with plainclothes Roman soldiers, again threatens that if they don't disperse, he's gonna kill him. They bear their necks and he kills a lot of them. But Caesar Tiberius hears about this, and is enraged at Pilate, and says, “If you don't manage things better, you're gone.”
And we have evidence of all this in John's gospel, when they say, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar.” Anyone who claims to be king opposes Caesar. And that's kind of what did it. “We're going to tell Caesar on you.” He already has word from Caesar, any more trouble and you're out. You know what's happening in all this? God is orchestrating everything to give the Jews leverage over Pilate so that they will what? So that he will what? So that he will kill Jesus. And why is that? Because he wants to save you and me. And so he orchestrates this whole thing. Does God do that kind of thing? Does God orchestrate details and governments, and all that? Oh, he does it every day, all the time. The king's heart is like a watercourse in the hands of the Lord.
The Clever Attempt: Pass the Decision Over to the Crowd (vs. 15-17)
And so here's Pilate going back and forth, trying to release him, and so he tries various clever attempts like the Barabbas thing, I like that one. “Hey, don't you have a custom here that around this time, around the time of the feast, that I can release a prisoner to you?” Now, he's mindful of the fact that a week before that, it was Hosanna day, remember that? And Jesus rides on a donkey, and everyone loves Jesus. So he's incisive. He would not have gotten his position without being a clever politician who gets out of traps very well. And so he figures, okay, the people love Jesus, the leaders are jealous, so let's try to drive a wedge between the leaders and the people, but he doesn't understand the power that the Jewish leaders have over the crowd.
And so, in verses 15-17, it says, “It was the governor's custom at the feast to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. And at that time, they had a notorious prisoner, called Barabbas. And so when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, ‘Which one do you want me to release to you, Barabbas or Jesus who is called Christ?’ But all the elders and the chief priests had persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and have Jesus executed.”
The Clever Attempt Thwarted by the Jewish Leaders (vs. 20-21)
So that was all set, it was already a failure before it began. Verse 21, “‘Which of the two do you want me to release to you?’ Asked the governor. ‘Barabbas,’ they answered.” Talk about a double take of all double takes, “Barabbas? Why would you want him?” He was an insurrectionist and a murderer.
The Maniacal Frenzy of the Crowd (vs. 22-24)
But at this point, the crowd is whipped into a maniacal, and I would argue satanic frenzy. It's not really the chief priest and the elders that are doing this, it's Satan who's whipping this crowd up into a maniacal frenzy. “‘What shall I do then with Jesus who is called Christ?’ Pilate asked. They all answered, ‘Crucify him!’ ‘Why? What crime has he committed?’” He's innocent. He hasn't done anything. “They shouted all the louder, ‘Crucify him!’”
Pilate’s Pathetic Attempt to Evade Responsibility (vs. 24)
Now, somewhere in-between here, he tries to flog Jesus. This happened at the end, in our account, but it happened earlier in John's account. I think John's more chronological. He's still trying to do everything short of killing Jesus, so he orders that he be flogged, which ordinarily, if it's not stopped in time, can be fatal, straps of leather, chips of bone or lead ripping flesh off backs, rivers of blood, generally done before crucifixion, to some measure, to weaken the victim so that he would die a little more rapidly.
He's trying everything he can to set him free, but finally, they play that card, “We're going to tell Caesar,” that's in John's gospel, and he realizes, “There's nothing more I can do.” Verse 24, “When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. ‘I'm innocent of this man's blood,’ he said, ‘It is your responsibility.’ And then they answer, ‘Let his blood be on us and on our children.’”
Jesus’ Blood on the Jewish Nation (vs. 20-25)
The Stunning Statement Interpreted Throughout Redemptive History
Here, we have the final rejection by the Jewish nation of Jesus. In John 1:11, it says, “He came to his own, but his own people did not receive him.” And so they say, “We will take responsibility for Jesus' death.” They say it in this language, very interesting: “Let his blood be on us and on our children.” Now, there are two ways of understanding that. First of all, just biblically, that expression means we will take responsibility. It's our responsibility. It's our fault. We will take that responsibility. You have that again and again. Leviticus 20:9 says, “If anyone curses his father and mother, he must be put to death.” He has cursed his father and mother and his blood will be on his own head. In other words, he's responsible for what happened to him.
In Acts 18:6, Paul talks about his responsibility to preach the Gospel to the Jews. And it says in that verse, “When the Jews opposed Paul and became abusive, he shook out his clothes in protest and said to them, ‘Your blood be on your own heads. I'm clear of my responsibility.’” Jesus had warned this very thing in Matthew 23, “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites,” that sevenfold woe. He says, “Therefore, I'm sending you prophets and righteous men and teachers, and some of them you will kill and crucify, and others you will persecute in your synagogues and pursue from town to town, and so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Yes, I tell you all of this blood will come down on this generation.” He's meaning you're going to be responsible. By killing the Son of God, everything subsumed under that. You'll be the guiltiest of every generation for killing me, and for killing the ones that I send.
Now, it's interesting, they say there, basically, let his blood be on us, and on our children, means, “From this point forward, we will take responsibility for the death of Jesus.” Friends, that didn't last long. In the Book of Acts, do you remember how they arrested the 12 and brought them in, and they had already commanded that the apostles stop preaching the gospel, but they kept on preaching. And so, in Acts 5:28, these same Jewish authorities who were directly responsible for killing Jesus said, “You have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man's blood.” Oh, wait a minute, what happened? In such a short time, in a matter of maybe a year or two, they no longer want his blood to be on them or on their children, not willing to take responsibility.
But friends, praise God, there's a second, deeper, more powerful meaning to this phrase, “Let his blood be on us and on our children.” What can wash away our sins? Nothing but the blood of Jesus. And so we sang that Cowper song, how beautiful was that, “There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel's veins.”
And isn't it beautiful that God, in some cases, chooses to hear these words completely differently than what they meant? That God is willing to forgive some Jews who repent of their sins and turn in faith to Jesus, and receive, through the blood of Jesus, full forgiveness for all their sins. And so his blood could be on them and on their children for the saving of their souls. And how beautiful is it that God has ordained, I believe, and many other scholars believe, that at the end of redemptive history, the Jewish nation, as a whole, will turn away from their rebellion against God and against his Christ, and believe in Jesus, and his blood will be on them, for their own salvation, forever and ever. As it says in Zechariah 12:10, “I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication, and they will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son.”
The Final Verdict: Jesus Condemned to Die (vs. 26)
Pilate Could Not Evade Responsibility
And so, in verse 26, the final verdict comes down, guilty. He handed him over. He released Barabbas to them, but he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified. Pilate tried the hand-washing thing, he washes his hands, he says, “It's not my fault.” But he's the one that rendered the verdict, he was the one responsible, he had the burden of responsibility, and he used it to condemn Jesus, the only perfectly innocent man that's ever lived. He handed him over to be crucified.
But Who Really “Handed Jesus Over” to be crucified?
But who was it really that handed Jesus over? Who was it really that delivered Jesus up? Was it not God the Father? “He who did not spare his own son, but delivered him up for us all, how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”
Barabbas Set Free: A Type of All of Us
And isn't it beautiful how Barabbas is a picture of substitutionary atonement? I'm not saying Barabbas is in heaven. I'm just saying Barabbas walked that day. He walked out of prison, he walked a free man. And why? Because Jesus died in his place. And how beautiful is that? Wouldn't it be cool if Barabbas was in heaven? Absolutely, it'd be cool. For him to say, “I was a murderer, I was an insurrectionist, and Jesus saved me.” How powerful is that? 1 Peter 3:18, “For Christ died for sins, once for all, the righteous in the place of the unrighteous, to bring us to God.”
The Trial of Eternity Going on Right Now
And so what applications can we take from this? Well, the trial of eternity is going on right now, maybe even in this room. There may be some in this room who are in an unregenerate state or walked in in an unregenerate state, and you are kind of sitting there, deciding what to do with Jesus. “What am I gonna do with Jesus?” You could decide not to decide, but that's to decide. You know that. You've heard the claims that Jesus is the Son of God, Son of Man, shed his blood, died on the cross, raised from the dead on the third day, that if you repent and believe that, that you are a sinner and that he died in your place, you'll have eternity to praise him and worship him, you'll be forgiven of all your sins. That's the gospel. You've heard that.
Well, what are you gonna do? As I've said, you need to see right now, with eyes of faith, someday it's gonna get reversed. As it says in Matthew 25, “When the Son of Man comes in his Father's glory and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory and all the nations will be gathered before him. And he will separate the people one from another, as a shepherd separates his sheep from the goats.” And he will say that those on his right, the sheep, “Come, you who are blessed by my father. Take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. And then he's gonna say to those on his left, to the goats, “Depart from me, you who are cursed into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”
And you know what? He'll have the right to do it because he is the judge of all the earth. As it says in John 5, “The Father judges no one but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son even as they honor the Father.” Come to Christ. Come to Christ now. You don't know when you're going to die and appear before the judgment seat of Christ. Come to Christ now.
Understand the Power of His Blood
Secondly, understand the power of his blood. What a beautiful song we sang, “There is a fountain filled with blood.” It's beautiful though only to Christians. It's kind of gross otherwise. Sinners plunged beneath that bloody flood? But you know, as we look at that, when we survey the wondrous cross, we see beauty there, don't we? We see love there. We see power there. Understand the power of the blood. And I'm speaking now to Christians. You may have come in here with a guilty conscience today.
You may have come in here with a guilty conscience, you know probably why? Because you've sinned, because you're guilty, the Spirit is convicting you. But you know the remedy is always going to be the same. It's always gonna be the same. It'll have nothing to do directly with your sanctification, with you doing better, trying better, giving God ten good works to pay for it, or any of that. It has nothing to do with that. It all comes back to this one thing: Christ died in your place. His righteousness was imputed to you, your sins were credited to him. That's the basis in which you're gonna be cleansed. There is no other forgiveness or salvation other than the blood of Jesus. That blood that was shed by the Lamb of God was applied to you by faith, be cleansed then.
Listen again to the words I preached a few months ago from Hebrews 9:13-14, “The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean, sanctify them so they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death so that we may serve the living God!”
Some of you need that cleansing today. You've come in here guilty. You've lusted. You've lied. You've been selfish. You've turned your back on your responsibilities. You have sinned and you know it. You're not fighting. You're not among those that resist it. You know it's true, but you feel so guilty. Then allow your guilty soul to be plunged again beneath that flood. Confess your sins. And he is faithful and just and will forgive you your sins and cleanse you from all unrighteousness.
If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus cleanses us, purifies us from every sin. Praise God for that. And so do that, be cleansed now, and then, we can say, “Go and sin no more.” Amen? Stand up by the Spirit and say no to those temptations and those lusts and those sins.
Be Appalled at the Fickleness of Human Praise
Thirdly, be appalled at the fickleness of human praise. “Hosanna” one week, “crucify” the next. It's been said many, many times, but I just want you to find that tendency in your own heart too. I think it's sweet to worship and praise God. Have tears coming down your face? I do that a lot. Don't look at me during corporate worship. Please don't look at me, just worship. But I do, I am moved by that. But could the same person who's weeping at the greatness of God later sin that same day? And how ugly is that? Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. Let's not do that.
Let's be appalled at the fickleness of human praise, and let's not trust our own praising tendencies. Let's realize the reason you're praising is that God sovereignly took hold of you and, by the Spirit, compelled you to praise him, and is healing you now of your sins, but be appalled at the fickleness of your own hearts. “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love. Here's my heart, Lord, take and seal it. Seal it for your courts above.” I don't want my heart to wander anymore. Let's just start with today. Let's not let our heart wander the rest of the day. Amen? Let's praise Jesus the rest of the day.
Learn from Pilate: The Fear of Man Brings a Snare!
I also want you to be appalled at just how susceptible we are to praise from people. Pilate killed Jesus because he feared man, that's all. Not because he thought Jesus was guilty. And so we need to not be so influenceable. Is that a word? I don't think so. But anyway, easily influenced. We're all tired. I'm almost done, dear friends. I'm almost done. But don't be so easily influenced by what other people think, that's why Pilate killed him.
And we can't just wash our hands in a shabby little ceremony and blame-shift. That's the reason we don't witness like we should, we're afraid what people are gonna say and what people are gonna think. I love that verse that Jesus said in Matthew 11:17, “We played the flute for you and you did not dance. We sang a dirge and you did not mourn.” Those are those societal puppet masters that are trying to get us to dance to their tune. Let's not dance to their tune. Dance to the tune of God and the Bible, don't be swayed by what other people think and say.
Do Not Shirk Your Responsibility: Either for Decisions or for Your Sins
And do not shirk, fourthly, your responsibility. Take the blame. Don't try to wash your hands and say, “It's not my fault. It's not my fault. I didn't do it, it's not my fault.” We all do that. Adam and Eve did. Do you see that? God comes and convicts them, and what does Adam say? “It's your fault. God forgive me, this woman. And it's her fault too.” What did the woman say? “It's the snake's fault.” We are blame-shifters, like Pilate.
Face your responsibilities, face them openly and honestly, and if you come short, husbands, of loving your wives, as Christ loved the church, then face it and repent. Wives, if you come short of submitting with godly submission to your husband, then repent and live differently. Parents, if you've come short of the standard of training your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, then don't blame-shift, don't blame them. Live up to the standard. Children, the same thing. Don't blame your parents for your sins. Honestly taking on your sins because they are yours is the step toward never doing them again.
Be a Witness in the Trial of the Centuries
And then, finally, be witnesses in the trial of the century. What do you say? We are witnesses. We get to go out this week and testify to Jesus as people are kind of trying to decide what to do with Jesus. Take that insert. Learn some of those prophecies. Talk to them about those prophecies. Talk about the miracles. Testify to Jesus, and I don't mean just give your own testimony, that's fine, and I think it's good for us to say what God's done in our life. But share the Scriptures, share the miracles, share the gospel. It has the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes. Let's be witnesses by the Spirit of God to Jesus this week. Close with me in prayer.
Father, we thank you for the time we've had in your house. We thank you for the richness of your Word. Thank you for the children who sang earlier. I thank you for the labor that went into that time. And now, as we go from here, having heard the fullness of your Word, we pray that we would live up to the things you've taught us. We thank you for all of these things, and for the power of the Word of God to change us. In Jesus name, amen.