Sermon on John 18:28-40 – “Pilate Before Jesus”

Sermon for Sunday, October 4th, 2020 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)

Old Testament reading:

[Deu 10:12-17 ESV] 12 “And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I am commanding you today for your good? 14 Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. 15 Yet the LORD set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day. 16 Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn. 17 For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe.

New Testament reading:

[1Ti 6:11-16 ESV] 11 But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 13 I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, 14 to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which he will display at the proper time–he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.

Gospel reading:

[Jhn 18:28-40 ESV] 28 Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters. It was early morning. They themselves did not enter the governor’s headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover. 29 So Pilate went outside to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” 30 They answered him, “If this man were not doing evil, we would not have delivered him over to you.” 31 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.” 32 This was to fulfill the word that Jesus had spoken to show by what kind of death he was going to die. 33 So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” 35 Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” 37 Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. 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.” 38 Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, “I find no guilt in him. 39 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?” 40 They cried out again, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a robber.

 

INTRODUCTION

In the sermon text last week we saw Jesus BEFORE the religious leaders of Israel – Annas and Caiaphas. Now Jesus is led to come BEFORE the civil leaders of Israel – Herod and Pilate.

John’s Gospel records only Jesus’ dialogue with Annas (and not Caiaphas). And it only records Jesus’ dialogue with Pilate (and not Herod).

For the account of Jesus BEFORE Herod we must look to the Gospel of Luke. There we find that when Pilate learned that Jesus was a Galilean, belonging to Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent Jesus over to Herod who was in Jerusalem at the time. Herod questioned Jesus at some length but Jesus did not answer. So, technically there was no dialogue between Jesus and Herod because Jesus did not respond! It was more of a mono-logue than a di-alogue. Herod then sends Jesus back to Pilate finding him not guilty.

Looking at our sermon text from John’s Gospel, it is these words in the first verse that strike me in a heart-wrenching gut-wrenching way:

“It was early morning.” [REPEAT: It was early morning]

More fully, it reads “Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters. It was early morning.”

And with this we have reached the very last day of Jesus’ life. And we, knowing this is the day of his crucifixion, feel the heavy weight of this day in all its profound meaning.

And it seems all the more startling as the text provides those words—not quite in passing, not quite nonchalant—but certainly understated. “It was early morning.”

It was the last day of Jesus’ life! Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

And that brings me great pains to think about! Pain that is assuaged only by knowing that in Christ’s death do we have the blessing of eternal life.

Now this is a text that could be preached upon for many many weeks. And so while I have three topics in my outline this week, they by no means exhaust the passage.

We’re going to look at just these three elements:

I. The Defiled Pharisees

II. The Dialogue with Pilate

III. The Delivered Passover Lamb

First,

I. The Defiled Pharisees

Now, this might not be the best term here technically. There is some debate as to whether the Sanhedrin, the Jewish religious leaders, were Pharisees or Sadducees or some combination of the two. But I’ve titled the section “the Defiled Pharisees” since … well … it fits in my rhyming scheme.

We find that they (the religious leaders) led Jesus to the governor’s headquarters, but they would not themselves enter in because they did not want to be defiled!

Imagine that! Here they are falsely accusing, arresting, and assaulting an innocent man. But, they don’t want to go into a Gentile’s house because they might become ceremonially unclean if they were to touch something unclean there.

But pollution comes not from the outside, but from inside.

Jesus taught “For out of the HEART come evil thoughts. … These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.”

It is like as if the Pharisees had been out “mudding” on 4-wheelers but were afraid to eat french fries lest the ketchup splatters on their clothes.

These criminal religious leaders fail to see that they are already defiled.

So let’s consider this application.

APPLICATION: Do not carry to excess your care about small maters and neglect what is of highest importance. [REPEAT: Do not carry to excess your care about small maters and neglect what is of highest importance.]

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says of the Pharisees: “You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!”

The poor camel! He is always the big oaf in the Bible. He’s the example of absurdity. A camel can’t fit through the eye of a needle and he can’t be swallowed either. But the figure of speech draws our attention to the absurdity of what is happening.

The Pharisees are straining out a gnat—they are keeping their distance from the Gentiles—all the while swallowing a camel—sinning grossly in their hatred of Jesus and in their treatment of Jesus.

Funny how the Pharisees won’t go in the house of a Gentile, but will ask the Gentiles to do their dirty work – killing an innocent man.

And they don’t even have a specific accusation to bring.

They say “If this man were not doing evil, we would not have delivered him over to you.”

And Pilate says, and I’m paraphrasing, “Why don’t you take care of this?”

And they say, again paraphrasing, “The Romans don’t let us put anyone to death, and we really want to get this guy, so we need you to do it for us.”

They are indeed defiled pharisees.

But let us move on the dialogue with Pilate. This is the core of this passage. The dialogue with Pilate.

II. The Dialogue with Pilate

Here we have Pontius Pilate asking Jesus a series of 4 questions, only 3 of which Jesus answers.

a. The first question he asks is “Are you the King of the Jews?”

Jesus answered Pilate, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?”

Interestingly, this phrase “King of the Jews” occurs only in one other place in the Gospels. Do you know where? Right at the beginning. The wise men from the east came to Jerusalem saying “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?” (Matthew 2:2) So others had indeed said this of Jesus that he is king of the Jews.

But the enemies of Jesus were using this phrase to alarm Pilate and Herod, as if Jesus were claiming a kingship that opposed the existing order. But as we see in the next answer, Jesus explains that his kingdom is not of this world.

b. The second question Pilate asks is “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?”

Remember the pharisees had said “”If this man were not doing evil, we would not have delivered him over to you.” So Pilate had to ask Jesus specifically, “What have you done.” Maybe he was hoping Jesus would fess up to some crime and make his job easy.

And Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”

The kingdom of God is a spiritual kingdom.

Now there are many Christians – godly ministers and people – who contend that before the end of the world there will be a 1000 year reign of Jesus Christ on earth in a physical kingdom. But to my understanding, passages like this disallow any such view. The kingdom of God is a spiritual kingdom, and the kingdom of God is now. We are already in the kingdom. It was inaugurated with Jesus Christ’s first coming to earth and continues in the Christian church worldwide. It is a mistake to look for a physical kingdom of God on earth.

c. Pilate then asks as third question: “So you are a king?”

Because Jesus has a kingdom, he must be a king; this much Pilate inferred.

Jesus answered him, “You say that I am a king. 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.”

Those who are born OF God are “of the truth” and listen to the Word of God.

We know the truth not because it is natural to us, but because we have been born again, born of God, by the Holy Spirit so that we now listen to the Word of God. We get truth from the Word of God, not from our own efforts to understand.

d. Finally the fourth question Pilate asks to Jesus is, “What is truth?”

Now this is the question that Jesus does not answer. Or at least the Apostle John does not record an answer.

Pilate asks “What is Truth.” The better question might be “WHO is truth.”

Truth is staring him right in his face.

Jesus is the way, the TRUTH, and the life.

Truth standing right in front of Pilate.

The other day I cleaned my garage for almost a full hour. I didn’t set out to clean it. But I was looking for a tool I had misplaced. And I looked and looked. And I was starting to get concerned that someone had stolen it! And I looked under everything and over everything and through everything. But to no avail. Of course, the whole time, the tool was basically right in front of my face. But that was a place that was so obvious to me that the tool could not be that I didn’t even think about looking there.

You know you’re looking for something, it is often staring at you right in the face. Maybe you’re looking for your reading glasses when you are already wearing them.

Pilate is blind to the truth that I right in front of him. Let’s then consider this application:

APPLICATION: The truth you seek is right in front of you in the word of God.

Jesus said, “I am the way, THE TRUTH, and the life.”

What does this mean? “I am the truth.” Jesus, the word of God, is the one who determines what truth is, for truth is dependent upon him. He is the King of Truth.

For this purpose he came into the world. Yes, to be the King, but really to “bear witness to the truth.”

And that witness, that very truth, is recorded for us in the Scriptures. We shouldn’t be like Pilate asking “What is Truth?” when the truth is right in front of us, in our homes, in our libraries, in our pockets if we have a small enough Bible.

Now, another application that a minister-friend of mine pointed out from this passage is also worth noting. It might be that Pilate never gave Jesus the opportunity to answer that fourth question – “What is Truth.” The text says, “After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, I find no guilt in him.”

APPLICATION: Pilate did not wait for an answer. Let us not be like Pilate. Let us wait for the answer.

This has application both in our horizontal relationships and our vertical ones. When we converse with other people let us have the patience to listen to their answers and not assume we know what they are saying or what they will say. Have patience.

Isn’t patience about the hardest fruit of the Spirit to have? I know a few who have it. It probably isn’t one of my spiritual gifts, however. It is an area to grow in.

Now, this application of waiting for an answer is also applicable to our vertical relationship; our relationship with God. The time scales in our minds usually are very short-sighted. When we want something, we want it now. A job, a godly spouse, physical healing, escape from addiction, a new car, better tools and better toys. As we get older and grew in maturity in the Christian faith we may grow in our appreciation of God’s timeline. We are able to look back and see how God brought things together for good.

As we look forward, we need to keep in mind God’s greater timescale and have patience in his answering our prayers. We need to put our trust in Him.

So then, we’ve had the Defiled Pharisees, the Dialogue with Pilate. Now we come to our third section, the Delivered Passover Lamb.

III. The Delivered Passover Lamb

After Jesus was betrayed he was delivered over to the Roman cohort, who delivered him over to Annas who delivered him over to Caiaphas, who delivered him over to Pontius Pilate who delivered him over to Herod who sent him back to Pilate. And Pilate delivers Jesus over to the people from to make the decision about his fate.

Piilate says to the people, “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?” 40 They cried out again, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a robber.

With this Jesus will be delivered over to the Roman soldiers for crucifixion.

And with this he is the delivered passover lamb.

Like the lamb that God provided Abraham in place of his son Isaac, and like the lamb’s slaughtered in Egypt in place of first-born sons of Israel, God has provided Jesus to be the substitute for us.

It is clear that the religious leader never meant for Jesus to have a real trial. The whole ordeal is a sham trial. He has committed no sin. There are no witnesses against him, merely accusations. Calvin theorizes that the Pharisees “had their bellows at work throughout the whole city to inflame the people.” They spread lies: This Jesus is a blasphemer. He wants to promote civil unrest against the Romans. He doesn’t think you should pay taxes! He probably doesn’t even return his shopping cart! And for this and so much more he deserves death!

So when it is asked whether the people want Jesus to be spared or the robber named Barabbas, they have their minds made up. The Pharisees have gotten their wish through propaganda; they have used false information to persuade people to their viewpoint.

CONCLUSION

In your Bible this whole passage might be called “Jesus Before Pilate.” But it might better be said the other way around: “Pilate Before Jesus.”

From this chapter 18 with its bouncing from Annas to Caiaphas to Pilate to Herod, it seems as if the reader is being drawn to ask, “Who is in charge?” “Who is the king.”

Clearly it was none of those religious or civil leaders. But rather Jesus is King and he is in charge. Even in his trial and death, he is in charge.

He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

In the Old Testament this term – King of Kings – is used only for the great empire rulers: Artaxerxes of Persia and Nebuchadnezer of Babylon. But Jesus’ kingdom is far more impressive. It will encompass the whole earth as the gospel pours forth and goes to all nations. In 1 Timothy and in the book Revelation, Jesus is called “king of kings and lord of lords.”

And in the ancient world it was the king who was the final judge. Paul appealed his own case to Caesar. And Solomon adjudicated the difficult cases in his kingdom. The king is the judge.

Whenever two people meet is the lesser person who “comes before” the presence of the greater person.

And so while we have Jesus before Pilate, and Jesus before Herod, and Jesus before Annas and Caiaphas, in reality they are all standing before Jesus. Jesus is the King and he is the judge. And he will come again to judge the living and the dead.

So just who is standing before who? They are all standing before the king.

Jesus is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He is he King of the Jews. Not those who are Jews outwardly, but all who believe in him.

He came into Jerusalem as a king riding on a donkey. And he remains king even while he is being judged by the people. They do not listen to his voice, they do not seek truth.

But everyone who is of the truth listens to his voice.

And his voice, his word, is the truth that guides us in life and in death. We follow only his voice; he is the only truth, the only king without competition. Praise the Lord that Jesus is King.

 

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