(Shared at Northern Bays Churches combined service)
Reading: John 18:28 to John 19:16a
Joh 18:28 Then the Jews led Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness the Jews did not enter the palace; they wanted to be able to eat the Passover. Joh 18:29 So Pilate came out to them and asked, “What charges are you bringing against this man?” Joh 18:30 “If he were not a criminal,” they replied, “we would not have handed him over to you.” Joh 18:31 Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” “But we have no right to execute anyone,” the Jews objected. Joh 18:32 This happened so that the words Jesus had spoken indicating the kind of death he was going to die would be fulfilled. Joh 18:33 Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Joh 18:34 “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?” Joh 18:35 “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “It was your people and your chief priests who handed you over to me. What is it you have done?” Joh 18:36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” Joh 18:37 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” Joh 18:38 “What is truth?” Pilate asked. With this he went out again to the Jews and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him. Joh 18:39 But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?” Joh 18:40 They shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” Now Barabbas had taken part in a rebellion.
Joh 19:1 Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. Joh 19:2 The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe Joh 19:3 and went up to him again and again, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they struck him in the face. Joh 19:4 Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him.” Joh 19:5 When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!” Joh 19:6 As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him, they shouted, “Crucify! Crucify!” But Pilate answered, “You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.” Joh 19:7 The Jews insisted, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.” Joh 19:8 When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, Joh 19:9 and he went back inside the palace. “Where do you come from?” he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. Joh 19:10 “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” Joh 19:11 Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” Joh 19:12 From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jews kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.” Joh 19:13 When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge’s seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha). Joh 19:14 It was the day of Preparation of Passover Week, about the sixth hour. “Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews. Joh 19:15 But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!” “Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked. “We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered. Joh 19:16a Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.
Years ago there was a popular children’s song that went: “deep and wide, deep and wide, there’s a fountain flowing deep and wide”. The chorus went “jump right in, lose your sin”. Often the little kids needed some help and teaching on what “losing your sin” meant, – especially when they got the words wrong and sang “jump right in, lose your skin”.
In this reading today, Pilate was really trying to save his own skin. He had to keep the peace and prevent rioting or revolt, more than anything else, to keep his job and future career path open. Ironically in this passage Jesus says to him: “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. That especially applied to the high priest Caiaphas who also had vested interests to do with influence and power. It’s fascinating that just six years after Jesus’ death both Pilate and Caiaphas were removed from office and deposed.
In today’s reading Jesus’ “religious” trial by Caiaphas is over, and they take him to Pilate. Verse 28 continues: By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness the Jews did not enter the palace; they wanted to be able to eat the Passover.
There’s this curious standoff. The Jews won’t go it to Pilate’s unclean gentile home. They’re obsessed about staying clean to eat the Passover, (keeping their rituals) but strangely they’re okay with getting Jesus killed. Earlier in Pilate’s rule there had been widespread protesting because they had objected to the Roman standards his soldiers brought into the city bearing the Imperial image. Pilate gave in and had the standards removed. Ironically, the last thing the high priests say in this passage is this: “We have no king but Caesar,” (19:15). They’re happy to compromise for the sake or retaining power and control.
So Pilate would have been wary of them. He’s forced to shuttle in and out of his palace as he tries to solve this problem of Jesus. Early shuttle diplomacy. A bit like the kids’ “in and out the window” song. Except it was a grand set of doors I imagine.
1. He goes out outside to speak to the Jews (Joh_18:29-32).
2. He goes inside to question Jesus. (Joh_18:33-38).
3. He goes outside again and tells the Jews they had no case against Jesus (Joh_18:38-40).
4. He goes back inside and has Jesus flogged and mocked. (Joh_19:1-3).
5. He goes outside again to say he finds no basis to condemn Jesus, who is then brought out wearing the crown of thorns and purple robe. Pilate declares: “behold the man” (Joh_ 19:4-7). They yell out that he must die because he claimed to be the son of God
6. He’s afraid now and goes back in, taking Jesus with him and asks him: “Where do you come from?”. (Joh_19:8-11)
7. Lastly, Pilate brings Jesus out again and says: “Here is your king!” (Joh_19:12-15). He gives in and has him crucified.
There are two things that are relevant for us the conversation between this governor and Jesus. Being united from different church families today is not just important because Jesus prayed back In John 17 – “Father make them one” – and “may they be brought to complete unity – that the world may know you have sent me.” Unity is also important because the two main issues that he and Pilate talk about are more relevant now than ever before: Who is Jesus? And What is truth?
Pilate was probably amused that a prisoner in such a predicament could claim to be a king. He eventually says, “you are a king then!” But when the Jews complain that Jesus claimed to be the Son of God, Pilate is afraid and asks this key question: “where do you come from?”. Jesus doesn’t reply – he’d already told Pilate “My kingdom is not of this world”.
Firstly, Who is Jesus?
A king with a Kingdom which is “not from this world” rather than “not of this world” in that it’s not purely a spiritual thing – it’s a Kingdom that has broken into our world already beginning with Jesus’ ministry. We are also told to pray “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” because this is what it’s all about. Each new believer becomes a will-doer of God and a worker in the Kingdom sharing the good news of the Kingdom. Jesus as King and Lord (which means God) is more than a theory. He has a claim on the lives of men, women, and children today – he calls them all to follow him.
In this post-modern age where people want every viewpoint to have equal validity, Jesus’ claim to be God and the way back to God might well upset people. But just as Jesus was not afraid to debate this with authority, nether should we. We need to be united in our witness in the world as to who he is. At the very least we need to be giving a reason why he gives us hope.
Then secondly, What is truth?
The question “what is truth?” that Pontius Pilate asks is key to our witness today. At school, university and in society in general solid objective truth is disputed. In some current educational theories, people make their own truth and meaning.
As Christians from all kinds of backgrounds, we need a united witness to say – but wait a minute. Just from a logical point of view – two opposite things can’t both be true. This is really important for our values, morals, ethics, relationships, and a host of other things.
Pilate was so obsessed with keeping the peace and his job, that he missed the point of it all. Truth was staring him in the face. Jesus was and is the truth.
Of course, some would say that Pilate’s other mistake was to ignore the truth when he didn’t listen to his wife who warned him when he was sitting on the judge’s seat with this message: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.” (Matthew’s gospel).
We are called to work together for this king in seeking and extending his kingdom. And it means boldly speaking truth when we have the opportunity. Surprisingly, people are more open than we think. And more in need of help, purpose, meaning and confidence in life in this crazy covidised age of uncertainties and disappointments.
When we get to know this King Jesus and follow him, our lives become more purposeful and meaningful, which is a great antidote to the struggles of this age, of uncertainly, anxiety, pointlessness, and depression. We can live through anything when we have someone so captivating and inspiring to live for. Truth that’s at least worth serious debate.
If the struggles of this age are getting to you, talk to someone who can pray with you to find a way forward – in the way, the truth, and the life that Jesus the King offers.