Sermon on Matthew 27:11-26
Midweek Lent 4
Jesus Came to Seek . . . His Judge
Text: Matthew 27:11-26
Jerusalem was just beginning to stir with the dawn of a new day. Craftsmen and tradesmen may have been getting up with their bodily alarm clocks. Others may have had plans to sleep a while longer. But while the rest of the city had been sound of sleep, their leaders had been hard at work. The Sanhedrin, the governing religious body of the Jews, had been hosting an impromptu trial. The accused was a man these teachers and priest hated—Jesus of Nazareth. After planted witnesses with false testimonies, they finally heard what they needed from Jesus. He proclaimed himself to be the Christ and the Son of God. He must die.
However, the sentence was out of their jurisdiction. The Jews didn’t have the power to execute. So even though the rooster had just crowed and the sun was just rising, they whisked Jesus away to wake up the Roman governor of Judea, a man named Pontius Pilate.
It was a strange partnership in crime. On the one hand, Pilate was known for being ruthless. It was not uncommon for him to be quick to sentence one to execution. That was certainly what the Jews were looking for. They wanted the deed done before any of the sick or poor or needy whom Jesus helped could say otherwise. But on the other hand, it was an unlikely match as Pontius Pilate had become one who learned to despise the Jews.
The feeling was mutual. The Jews hated Pilate and the Romans. Thus, Pilate had to waste time and effort deploying soldiers to squash the continual insurrections that broke out. There were many zealous Jews that attempted to lead rebellions against the Romans. About 30 years later it was still going on as the apostle Paul was asked if he was a sicarii, one of the daggermen who were rebelling. Perhaps the suspicion of rebellion was the reason for what we heard last Sunday in Luke 13. Apparently it was not too long before this that Pontius Pilate had commissioned the slaughter of several Galilean Jews while they were making sacrifices at the temple. But at this point the Jews didn’t care. Pilate was a means to their end.
Now Jesus was stood before Pontius Pilate, His Judge. This judge begins by questioning the whole point of this early morning ruckus—though he must have known something about what was going on since he would likely have commissioned the soldiers to arrest Jesus the night before. But now he asks what specifically the charge was.
The other gospel writers fill in more of the details. The Jews began with wild accusations that Jesus was subverting the nations and opposing taxes to Caesar. But then they accused Jesus of being the Christ, a king. This interested Pilate. Pilate knew power. He had power. What kind of king was he? It wasn’t wrong for the Jews to have a king. They had king Herod who was really just a figurehead. Was Jesus this kind of king? Was he a more powerful king? Was he a king that would lead a rebellion against the Romans?
The questioning begins with the first verse this evening: “Are you the king of the Jews?” But the gospel of John fills in some of the information left out before Jesus answers: “’Is that your own idea,’ Jesus asked, ‘or did others talk to you about me?’ ‘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?’ 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.’ ‘You are a king, then!’ said Pilate.” Now we pick up with the end of verse 11 this evening, “‘Yes, it is as you say,’ Jesus replied.”
Something was different about this man. Pilate seems to have been weighing all of this heavily in his mind. Surely he had at least heard of this miracle-man named Jesus of Nazareth. Surely he had at least heard that the Jews were looking for one named Messiah, or Christ. Now this pagan Roman who believed in many gods was interviewing one who claimed to be the Son of God. Somehow he almost acted as if he was God—so innocent, so quiet, so peaceful. His words were profound, talking about a kingdom not of this world. He talked about believing the “the truth,” which caused Pilate’s famous question, “What is truth?” But Pilate just couldn’t put his finger on it.
Verse 13 says, “Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?” If he was innocent, why didn’t he defend himself? Why didn’t he hire the best Jewish defense lawyer available? Clearly the charges were false. Clearly the Sanhedrin’s trial was highly illegal. But Jesus didn’t answer.
Thus, Pilate began a string of attempts to free him. The gospel of Luke tells us he sent Jesus off to king Herod. Herod didn’t see anything wrong either. Then Pilate tried bargaining using his own Passover-time custom, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” They preferred the notorious criminal. Then Pilate tried flogging Jesus and having him beaten. He brought him back out having been tortured and wearing fake royal clothing. Maybe they would feel sympathy for him. They didn’t. They cried, “Crucify him!” all the louder. Having been spurred on by his wife’s dream, he tried with one last attempt. He washed his hands in front of the crowd and said, “I am innocent of this man’s blood. It is your responsibility.” It was one last attempt by an official to show he felt the man was innocent. They didn’t care. Thus, Pilate handed him over to be crucified.
From that point forward Pilate has become the villain who sentenced Jesus to die. He is the ruthless Roman who didn’t have the guts to use the power he really had. Pilate could have asked his soldiers to slaughter this mob that woke him up so early in the morning—like the Galileans he slaughtered at the temple—but instead he allowed an innocent man to be sentenced to death.
But while this judge has become to us the facilitator of Jesus’ death, he is also a sinner just like the rest of us. Have not we also faced the same peer pressure as Pilate? Those Jews were causing a scene. They accused Jesus of subverting the land that Pilate was in charge of. They claimed that allowing Jesus to live would make Pilate an enemy of the emperor. Don’t we know that same pressure? “Everyone else is doing it.” “Come, on, it’s not that big of a deal.” “Why do you go to church? That’s a waste of time.” Friends, family, coworkers, the government—they all apply similar pressure not to follow Jesus.
Have we not also faced the same fears as Pilate? “What will people think if I believe this Jesus?” “What will happen to me if I stick my neck out there for Jesus?” “What if I make a scene and stand up for Jesus?” Sometimes we just think it better to take the safer, more passive route like Pilate did.
Have not we had the same doubts as Pilate? Pilate wondered if Jesus really was who he claimed to be. Pilate was unsure if Jesus really could do what he claimed to do. Pilate thought Jesus was perhaps something special, but was unwilling to fully believe it. Don’t we also have similar doubts and worries about Jesus and his power for our lives?
Pontius Pilate leaps off the pages of Scripture as being a mess of a man—a ruthless heathen, a brutal leader, a coward, a doubt, one who succumbs to peer pressure one who would rather take the safe route than do what’s right, one who can’t make up his mind, one who his guilty. Yet we are so much like this judge. We cave in to fears and peer pressures. We doubt. We take the easy way out. We are guilty as sinners.
While this atrocious trial was taking place, something else prominently grabs our attention. Pilate is wishy-washy. The Jews are bloodthirsty. But Jesus is quietly resolute in his mission. Again, he refrains from speaking for much of this trial. He accepts the task at hand. Yet even while suffering, even though beaten and battered, Jesus reaches out to Pilate. He clearly and simply testifies to the truth. “Yes, it is as you say,” (“I am a king”). “My kingdom is not of this world.” “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” In the most agonizing pain and suffering, Jesus still shows love for Pilate and reaches out to his judge to come to believe the truth.
What follows shows his love for us. Pilate succumbed to the pressure. He acquiesced and allowed the Jews to have their way. He sent Jesus off with his soldiers to be crucified. Now he was in the ruthless hands of the soldiers—those hands that pounded nails through and hoisted him into the sky. The Jews won that battle. They convinced Pilate to “Crucify him.”
But it was Jesus who was fighting the real battle. His battle was not over flesh and blood. His battle, like his kingdom, was not of this world. His battle was over sin and death. His battle was with Satan. The battle was fierce. It was intense. It was hellish. For that is what it took to win. Jesus had to carry the sin of all to defeat sin. Jesus had to suffer hell for all to conquer hell. Jesus had to give his life to death to destroy death. This all he did in the ensuing hours of Good Friday morning and afternoon.
Finally, around 3pm Jesus cried, “It is finished!” and gave up his spirit. The sentence of Pilate was complete. More importantly, salvation and forgiveness of sins were complete. It was not forgiveness for some. It was not salvation for a few. It was an atoning sacrifice for all—even for Pilate (whether he believed it or not). For The Son of Man Came to Seek the Lost, even His Judge, Pontius Pilate. And if the Son of Man Came to Seek and to Save even His Judge, then surely the Son of Man Came to seek and to save you. Pontius Pilate facilitated it. Jesus accomplished it.
What grace is this! Though Lord of all, he yields to Pontius Pilate’s law
And lets the Roman hammers draw a rush of blood for me.
Indeed. What grace is this! The Son of Man Came to Seek and to Save Us.
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