The Man Who Crucified Christ

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : John 18:28-40
John 19:1-16

How would you like to be known for all time as the person who crucified Jesus Christ? There is a man who’s remembered just that way. You can learn something important by listening to his story.

When Christians repeat the words of our ancient statement of faith, the Apostle’s Creed, we affirm our belief in Jesus’ virgin birth, his death on the cross, his resurrection, his rule over all things, and his future return to earth. But in the midst of rehearsing all these truths about Jesus, one other man’s name is mentioned. We say that Jesus “suffered under Pontius Pilate.” Who was he?

Pontius Pilate was the Roman governor of the province of Judea during the years of Jesus’ public life. If it hadn’t been for a trial over which he presided one day, Pilate would have been totally forgotten, just another minor official of a long-dead empire. But the trial was Jesus Christ’s. Pilate’s verdict at that trial was to condemn Jesus to death by crucifixion. So he will forever be remembered as the man who crucified Christ.

FROM THE HIGH PRIEST’S HOUSE TO PILATE’S HALL

This message is one in a series following the course of Jesus’ last day on earth. That day began on Thursday evening, when Jesus and his disciples celebrated the Jewish Passover and then the Lord’s Supper together. Afterwards they went to the garden of Gethsemane, just outside the city walls, where Jesus spent the night praying, and the disciples spent it sleeping. There Jesus was arrested by the temple police, led to the spot by his friend Judas, the traitor. Jesus was then taken to the house of Caiaphas, the Jewish high priest, for interrogation.

Early on a Friday morning they brought Jesus to Pilate the governor. Jesus had been condemned at a hastily convened hearing by the religious leaders of Jerusalem, who were jealous of his popularity and power. But these men were especially offended by his claim to be equal with God. Because of this, the priests and leaders of the people were determined to get rid of Jesus, and to do so in a brutal, shameful way. They didn’t want just to kill him. They wanted to have him publicly executed as a criminal on a Roman cross, so that Jesus would not only be dead, but disgraced. That is why they needed Pontius Pilate’s help.

Only the Roman governor had the right to sentence a man to crucifixion. So Jesus was taken to the judgment hall of Pilate, as the Gospel writer John describes.

Then the Jews led Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning. The Jews did not want to be made “unclean.” They wanted to be able to eat the Passover meal. So they did not enter the palace.

Pilate came out to them. He asked, “What charges are you bringing against this man?”

John 18:28-29, NIrV

There is a double irony in this scene. First, there is the fact that Jesus Christ, the sovereign Lord of heaven and earth, is brought to stand trial for his life in a human court. The perfect Son of God, who one day at the end of history will judge all people, now is to be judged by a fault-filled man.

The other astonishing thing here is the behavior of Jesus’ accusers. The religious leaders who brought him to Pilate would not take him inside the governor’s palace. They stopped and waited outside, we are told, because they wanted to be able to eat the Passover and did not wish to be defiled. According to their tradition, entering the house of a non-Jew would make them ceremonially unclean, which would prevent them from participating in their religion’s holiest feast later that same day.

Imagine that! These men thought that physical contact with members of another race would defile them, but they thought nothing of staining their hands with innocent blood. They scrupulously avoided breaking what they held to be God’s rules, while in the very act of destroying God’s Son. They show us what terrible things can be done in the name of religion. Religious people are capable of great evil when they pay so much attention to rules and traditions that they forget God’s deeper concern for justice, mercy and love.

THE TRIAL

So Pilate came outside. “What’s the charge against this man?” he asked. “We wouldn’t have brought him to you for punishment if he didn’t deserve it, if he wasn’t a troublemaker,” came their testy reply. These leaders were nervous. They didn’t want a lot of questions asked and time wasted. They just wanted the governor to do what they asked and condemn Jesus immediately.

But Pilate was bothered by the case. He seemed reluctant to hear it and indecisive, like a man being tugged in two different directions. One of the Gospels says that Pilate’s wife sent him a message during the trial telling him she had been bothered by a dream about Jesus and warning him not to get involved with anything against this righteous man. Pilate would gladly have followed her advice, but he couldn’t. He was in a position where he had to make a decision, either one way or the other, either for Jesus or against him. Not that he didn’t try to dodge the issue. Pilate would have dearly loved to be able to shift the responsibility for deciding about Jesus onto someone else.

In fact, the story of Jesus’ trial before Pontius Pilate is basically an account of the various maneuvers Pilate employed to avoid being forced into a decision about Jesus. First he tried to find someone else to judge the case, but no one would. Pilate heard that Herod, the ruler of Jesus’ home territory of Galilee, was in Jerusalem, so he sent Jesus there in hopes that Herod would take over the case. But Herod could get nothing out of Jesus, and sent him back again.

Then Pilate had an inspiration. He remembered that it was the custom at the time of Passover to pardon a condemned prisoner and release him, as a gesture of Roman good will. He would offer to release Jesus! There was another prisoner being held for execution that morning, a terrorist named Barabbas. So Pilate turned to the crowd and asked which one they wanted him to free. Surely, he thought, the people would choose the man who had done so much for them, teaching the multitudes, feeding the hungry, healing the sick. But instead they roared their choice for Barabbas. In the only popularity contest of his life, Jesus lost to a murderer.

Pilate had one last desperation move. He ordered his soldiers to beat Jesus. A few lashes with a Roman whip would lay a man’s skin open to the bone. A few more would kill him. After Jesus had been beaten, Pilate brought him out to the crowd once more. “Behold the man!” he cried. What he meant was: “Look at him. There he stands, humiliated, torn, bleeding. Hasn’t he suffered enough? You cried for his blood. Aren’t you satisfied with this? Isn’t this enough for you?” He was trying to compromise with them, you see. But it didn’t work. They shouted over and over, “Crucify him!” In the end, Pilate gave in, and turned Jesus over to be executed.

HOW TO CRUCIFY CHRIST

Why did he do it? Two reasons stand out. First, he did it because he paid more attention to his self-interest than to his conscience. Pilate, despite his famous claim to the contrary, knew what the truth was. He knew that Jesus was innocent of wrongdoing, as he himself repeatedly declared to the crowd. He knew what was right and what he ought to do. His duty was to see that justice was done.

His conscience told him that he ought to release Jesus, no matter what the consequences. But all the while another voice was speaking in his mind, offering excuses for taking the easier way out. “If I release him,” Pilate said to himself, “think of the trouble it will cause. There will be a riot. Many more people will probably die. And I could very well be ruined. My political career, perhaps even my life, would be finished. Is one man worth all that? Who is he anyway? Who would miss him? Who would even care? Why risk everything for him? It’s better that he should die than that I be ruined.” Pilate’s choice was between doing right or protecting himself. He chose the latter.

The second reason Pilate crucified Christ was because he cared about his place in the world more than he cared about honoring Jesus Christ. Pilate, like so many successful men, was in love with the world, with his status and position, with his prosperity and possessions, his name and career and reputation – with all the things that made him comfortable and gave him pleasure. Set over against all of that was this one man, Jesus Christ. Everything was at risk when Pilate had to decide for or against Jesus.

The balance was tipped at the decisive moment when someone in the crowd shouted that if Pilate released Jesus, he would no longer be Caesar’s friend. This was a veiled threat to stir up trouble for him with the emperor in Rome. Caesar was Pilate’s master. The governor’s position rested entirely upon Caesar’s pleasure. His job depended on his ability to stay in Caesar’s good graces. To do that Pilate had to maintain order and avoid any bad report.

So Pilate’s choice came down to this: He could either be either Jesus’ friend or Caesar’s. He could keep his place in the world or risk losing it. He could have earthly power, security and luxury or have Jesus Christ. And when it was put to him that way, though Pilate would like to have chosen Jesus, he just couldn’t bring himself to pay what it would cost.

What about you? Do you realize you are facing the same decision as Pilate? What shall I do with Jesus? The Jesus who suffered under Pontius Pilate and was condemned to death two thousand years ago is alive right now. Although innocent, he voluntarily accepted his sentence so that by carrying our sins to the cross, he could pay for them by his death. But Jesus rose again from the dead, confirming that he is God, and so he lives today. He gives forgiveness and eternal life to everyone who believes in him.

So what will you do with Jesus? You must decide whether you believe in him or not, whether to say “yes” to him, or “no.” The Bible says that those who reject him are crucifying the Son of God all over again. Would you do that, crucify Christ all over again? There’s no evading this question. You can’t try like Pilate to send him away and let others decide about him. He keeps coming back to you. You can’t say that you don’t want to be confronted with him, that you’d rather just ignore him. He’s standing before you. You must decide. Will you say yes? Will you believe in him?

You can’t compromise. You can’t have Jesus and also hang onto the world. You will have to pay the cost of following Christ. It could cost your reputation, your job, your family or your life. It will cost your self. You must choose either to crucify Jesus or crucify yourself, deny yourself, take up your cross and follow him. Will you do that?

One last note. You know that Pilate decided against Jesus. Wanting to hang onto his place in the world, he crucified Christ rather than give it up. But in the end he lost it all anyway. History records that just a few years after the trial of Jesus, Pilate was recalled to Rome and deposed by the emperor and sent into exile where he died by suicide.

The truth is, if you choose the world instead of Christ, you will ultimately lose both. You can’t keep the world; it doesn’t last. Learn a lesson from the man who crucified Jesus Christ.

Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, help everyone to realize that you confront them with a choice, and enable them by your grace to say yes to you and to eternal life. In your name. Amen.”