Sermon on John 19:1-16 – “The Evil of Expediency”

Sermon for Sunday, October 11th, 2020 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)

Old Testament reading:

[Psa 47:1-9 ESV] 1 To the choirmaster. A Psalm of the Sons of Korah. Clap your hands, all peoples! Shout to God with loud songs of joy! 2 For the LORD, the Most High, is to be feared, a great king over all the earth. 3 He subdued peoples under us, and nations under our feet. 4 He chose our heritage for us, the pride of Jacob whom he loves. Selah 5 God has gone up with a shout, the LORD with the sound of a trumpet. 6 Sing praises to God, sing praises! Sing praises to our King, sing praises! 7 For God is the King of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm! 8 God reigns over the nations; God sits on his holy throne. 9 The princes of the peoples gather as the people of the God of Abraham. For the shields of the earth belong to God; he is highly exalted!

New Testament reading:

[1Co 9:19-23 ESV] 19 For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

Gospel reading:

[Jhn 19:1-16 ESV] 1 Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him. 2 And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. 3 They came up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and struck him with their hands. 4 Pilate went out again and said to them, “See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him.” 5 So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold the man!” 6 When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, “Crucify him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.” 7 The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God.” 8 When Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid. 9 He entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. 10 So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” 11 Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.” 12 From then on Pilate sought to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.” 13 So when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Stone Pavement, and in Aramaic Gabbatha. 14 Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, “Behold your King!” 15 They cried out, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” 16 So he delivered him over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus,

INTRODUCTION

A friend of mind provides a story that is a good introduction to this passage. And it fits well with the theme of the sermon I have today on “The Evil of Expediency.” The story goes like this:

“Perhaps you have known someone whose loyalties seem to shift with every blowing of the wind. Perhaps it was someone at your workplace – a coworker who seemed very loyal to the boss who was the boss at that time. And even though he is very unpopular among the coworkers, he stood up for the boss, he was very loyal to that boss. But then suddenly when the boss is replaced with a new boss—someone who is very different than the old boss, someone who is actually an enemy of the old boss—suddenly this coworker of yours is loyal to the new boss. Just as loyal. Fiercely loyal. How could that be? How could their loyalty shift so suddenly? Perhaps it is that their loyalty never shifted at all. Perhaps it is that their loyalty was to themselves consistently.”

The coworkers loyalty was to whomever would grant them the greatest advantage at the time.

Well, if you haven’t had a coworker like this, surely you’ve known a politician to have this kind of expediency.

Expediency is “a regard for what is advantageous to self rather than for what is right or just.”

Expediency lacks principle. Or perhaps more accurately, it follows a shortsighted principle of “I, me, mine.”

In our text we have two examples of the Evil of Expediency. The first and main example is Pilate. The second example is of the chief priests.

In each case we find them driven by expediency. By immoral opportunism. Political populist pragmatism. They lack principle. The lack backbone. They lack the guidance of the Lord.

I. The Evil of Expediency in Pontius Pilate

Consider first the case of Pontius Pilate. He was likely from a well-connected family. Perhaps there was high hopes for him and his career. But now he is stationed as governor of Judea, a position of rather low prestige. From the Roman perspective this is an out-of-the-way province, from the center of the world’s activities in Rome.

Pilate ends up spending 10 years at governor in Judea, but at this point is in his 6th year. He wants to succeed, meaning he wants his boss—Tiberius Caesar—to promote him to a greater position preferably back in Italy. Mostly, Pilate doesn’t want to be noticed at all. For if he comes to Caesar’s notice, it is most likely because an uprising or rebellion has occurred. Pilate wants to avoid that at all cost.

What Pilate’s views on religion and ethics were we don’t know. He seems to have feared the polytheistic gods of the world. We know that because when he hears that Jesus is declared to be the son of God, the text says, “When Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid.”

In the Roman worldview, there were many “sons of god.” Hercules, for example, was a son of Zeus. And you didn’t want to anger of the gods or sons of gods.

So Pilate hesitates. He knows that there is no case against Jesus. Jesus has committed no crime. If Pilate were judging based on the principle of law he would let Jesus go.

But he has another consider. Himself. While he may be afraid of angering the gods if he has Jesus put to death, he is persuaded by the chief priests to be even more afraid of the Romans. While in Pilate’s mind, Jesus may be a son of god, he knows that Caesar also declares himself to be a son of God.

So while Pilate sought to have Jesus released, the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.”

And so at this point Pilate discards acting on the principle of law and bows to the pressure of the chief priests, and delivers Jesus over to be crucified.

II. The Evil of Expediency in the Chief Priests

The evil of expediency was not just Pilate’s way about him, it was clearly the mindset of the Jewish religious leaders as well.

Not only did they pressure Pilate to crucify Jesus, but when Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” [REPEAT: “We have no king but Caesar.”]

This is a remarkable statement in light of Jewish history. While it is tragic that these religious leaders are rejecting the messiah Jesus as King, it is almost inconceivable that they can say “We have no king but Caesar.”

The Jews never much liked having foreign rulers over them. And they had many. Not only were they once slaves in Egypt, but in the promised land itself they had been ruled over by the Mesopotamians (Judges 3:8), the Moabites (Judges 3:14), the Midianites (Judges 6:1), the Philistines (Judges 13:1), the Babylonians, the Greeks, and now the Romans.

And throughout these occupations, the people of God continued to have faith in Him. Never would they say “We have no king but Eglon of Moab” or “We have no King but Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.”

It is then so shocking to hear the Jews say “We have no king but Caesar.”

They are falling from the faith of the God of Israel, who is the true king.

The Psalms are full of this language of calling God “king.”

Give attention to the sound of my cry, my King and my God, for to you I pray. – Psalm 5:2

You are my King, o God; ordain salvation of Jacob! – Psalm 44:4

Sing praise to God, sing praises! Sing praises to our king, sing praises! For God is King of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm! – Psalm 47:7

Yet the chief priests say “We have no king but Caesar.”

Now, many will argue that Christianity is a religion that came from Judaism. This is nonsense. Judaism began here at the point at which the chief priests and the people rejected the messiah and rejected God as king. The true faith – what we call Christianity – is continuous with the faith of the prophets, of Moses, of Abraham, of Noah, and of Adam. Christianity is not a branch off of Judaism, Judaism is a branch that has fallen off of the tree of true faith. Ultimately there has always only been two religion – there is belief in the one true God and unbelief; those for whom God is king and those for whom another is king.

In the evil of expediency the chief priests have rejected the messiah to save their own skin, for fear of the Romans coming to put down a religious uprising.

They acted not on principle, but on expediency.

Now, let us take a step back and look at verse 11 for this application.

APPLICATION: Some sins are greater than others.

As Presbyterians we know that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. We are totally depraved, sinful from birth and sinful til death. All sins are mortal sins. All sins are deserving of death. Yet, at the same time, some sins are greater than others. Jesus says to Pilate, “he (the chief priest)who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.” The chief priest should know better. He has been given the Scriptures of the Old Testament. He has been trained, but has rejected that training. Pilate’s sin is lesser than the chief priest’s sin.

Some sins are greater than others.

The Westminster Larger Catechism addressed this question:

Q. 150. Are all transgressions of the law of God equally heinous in themselves, and in the sight of God?
A. All transgressions of the law are not equally heinous; but some sins in themselves, and by reason of several aggravations, are more heinous in the sight of God than others.

Then question and answer 151 explains what makes some sins more heinous than others. To summarize it’s rather lengthy 4-part answer, some sins are worse because (1) the person is in a place to know better, (2) if the persons sinned against are of a superior station or are too weak to defend themselves, (3) whether the sin was done willfully, and (4) the circumstances of time and place. It is worse to curse in church than in the streets.

The chief priests have sinned worse than Pilate.

APPLICATION: Thou shall not bend God’s law.

God has designed his law to be applicable to all circumstances. We are not to determine at which times and places his law applies. It applies and everywhere. For example, it is always and everywhere wrong to put an innocent man to death. Pilate does not get a pass because he was worried about what Caesar might think. Nor do we get to pass on God’s laws because we are worried what the consequences of following them might be. Ethics are not “situational.” God’s law does not bend.

I consider this to be a great feature of God’s law. It makes it simple and actually possible to follow. You don’t need to calculate whether to follow the law or not; you know that you are always to follow it.

Being “Politically savvy” is despicable in the eyes of God if it breaks his commandments. A compromise between truth and error is always error. Let me say that again: a compromise between truth and error is always error. So let us not bend God’s law.

CONCLUSION

Living then, by principle and not be expedience, we show where our loyalties lie. Will we stay true to Jesus Christ?

Next week, God Willing, I will be preaching on the Sufferings of the Servant. Those suffering begin in our passage today. Before he is delivered over to be crucified, he is flogged, his kingship is mocked with a purple robe and a pain-inducing crown of thorns. In Matthew’s Gospel it is also noted that they put a reed in Jesus’ right hand as a mock scepter – a ceremonial staff that kings have carried on occasion even in antiquity.

In these suffering, and indeed the worse sufferings soon to come, Jesus does not seek an expedient way out. Had he, like Pilate, sought the evil of expediency, he would have denied his kingship, denied his purpose in the world, and saved his own skin.

But Jesus came into the world to die for sinners. It had to be done. And he would not avoid or evade his responsibility.

As we follow the law of God – in agreement with His very purpose for us in this life — let us praise the Lord Jesus Christ who, out of love for us, denied himself and sought not an expedient escape but who suffered for our salvation. Praise the Lord.

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