************ Sermon on John 18:32 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on March 21, 2021
"Pilate is Necessary"
Our Lord endured six trials which made a mockery of justice. First, He endured three trials before the Jewish leaders: one before Annas the former high priest, one before Caiaphas the serving high priest at night, and another before Caiaphas in the morning. Second, our Lord also endured three trials before the Roman authorities: before Pilate, before Herod, and before Pilate again.
As we look at the first trial before Pilate I have three points this morning: first, Jesus led to Pilate's court; second, Jesus accused in Pilate's court; third, Jesus examined in Pilate's court.
I Jesus Led to Pilate's Court
A First, we are told the Jews "led" Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. "He was led like a lamb to the slaughter" (Is 53:7). Jesus was led, pulled along, guided, carried along. The Jews wanted Him tried in the governor's court.
Jesus was led to the judgment hall of Pilate. This is remarkable when you consider how much the Jews hated Pilate. The Jews hated Pilate because of three infamous incidents. Incident number one: when Pilate was first named governor of Israel, he came into Jerusalem with soldiers carrying a metal carving of the emperor. Among Romans, Caesar was regarded as a god and worshiped as a god. To the Jews, this was a graven image. All previous Roman governors made a point of not entering Jerusalem with any such offensive idols. But Pilate refused to back down. Incident number two: Jerusalem needed water. Pilate decided to build a new aqueduct. But who would pay for it? Instead of taxes, Pilate robbed the temple treasury in Jerusalem; he stole from God. Incident number three: Pilate had shields in Jerusalem inscribed with the name of Tiberias the emperor who was worshiped as god; again, the Jews saw something devoted to the honor of an idol.
The Jews led Jesus to the governor's judgment hall. But verse 38 tells us they stopped at the entrance. According to their laws, if they entered a Gentile habitation they would defile themselves and be unable to eat the Passover. Did you know there is no ceremonial law in the Old Testament that actually forbids contact with the Gentiles? This was one of those rules made up by the Pharisees to keep Israel separate from Gentiles.
B Jesus was led by the "Jews." In John's gospel, "Jews" are those Jewish leaders who oppose and hate Christ. The Jews hated Pilate but they hated Jesus even more and wanted Him dead. They wanted Him dead for a long time already. At the start of His ministry they wanted Him dead for clearing the temple. At the end of His ministry they wanted Him dead for doing the same thing again. They wanted Him dead in Nazareth and tried to throw Him off the cliff. They wanted Him dead when He did miracles on the Sabbath. They wanted Him dead when He embarrassed them before the crowds with His teachings.
C The Jews wanted Jesus dead but the Romans took away their authority to execute anyone. The power of the sword belonged to Rome alone. That's why they were at the governor's palace. Pilate is necessary for Jesus to be killed. Yet, we also know the Jews had no problem killing Stephen a few years later. So why are they suddenly so concerned with not violating the rules of the Romans? Why do they want the Romans to execute Jesus instead of doing it themselves? The human or earthly reason has to do with the crowds and how they acclaimed Jesus on Palm Sunday; the Jews want the crowds to blame the Romans and not they themselves for the death of Jesus. But there is also a deeper spiritual reason I will share further in this sermon.
D So what we have before the governor's palace is quite a collection of personalities: Annas, the former high priest; Caiaphas, the serving high priest; other members of the Sanhedrin; members of the temple guard; false witnesses; screaming crowds; Pilate; Roman soldiers; and, of course, Jesus.
II Jesus Accused in Pilate's Court
A Jesus was led to Pilate's court. This brings us to our second point: Jesus accused in Pilate's court. Pilate comes out and asks, "What charges are you bringing against this man?" (Jn 18:29). All trials need a charge, an accusation. So, what has He done wrong? What are the charges? Pilate assumes there has to be some wrongdoing, some crime, but what crime?
Now this creates a couple of problems for the Jews. First, though the Jews led Jesus to court, they don't want Pilate to be judge; instead, they want Pilate to be executioner. They don't want justice for Jesus, they want death. They don't want a trial, they want to go straight to capitol punishment. Second, Jesus did nothing wrong. He was completely innocent -- exactly as was prophesied by Isaiah:
Isaiah 53:9 (NIV84) — 9 ... he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.
"What charges are you bringing against this man?" (Jn 18:29). The Jews come up with a strange answer in verse 30: "If he were not a criminal we would not have handed him over to you." Do you hear what they are saying? "He must be guilty or else we wouldn't have arrested him."
"What charges are you bringing against this man?" (Jn 18:29). They have no charges. They want Jesus executed and they can't come up with a single reason. Actually, according to Luke, they did come up with some charges:
Luke 23:2 (NIV84) — 2 And they began to accuse him, saying, “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Christ, a king.”There was no evidence that Jesus subverted the nation. Jesus did not forbid the payment of taxes; in fact, Jesus paid His taxes and made the sure the disciples paid theirs. If Jesus was king, this meant he was starting a revolution against Rome; again, no evidence. Everyone knows these charges are nonsense, so much nonsense that they are not even mentioned in John's gospel.
B Verse 31. Pilate said, "Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law." Their law was the law of Moses, and the law of Moses gave them the right to execute. So, Pilate just gave them an exception to the rule that only the Romans can kill; Pilate just gave them permission to kill Jesus.
The Jews so badly wanted Jesus dead. You would think they would now be rubbing their hands with glee and dancing with joy. But that's not what happened. Instead, they said, "But we have no right to execute anyone" (Jn 18:31). Can you believe this? The hypocritical liars are now quoting Roman law. They have no problem twisting and distorting and abusing God's law but yet they now want to obey the letter and the spirit of Roman law. Unbelievable!
Back to what I said earlier: the Jews want the Romans to kill Jesus. Why? What is going on? Verse 32 gives us the deeper answer:
John 18:32 (NIV84) — 32 This happened so that the words Jesus had spoken indicating the kind of death he was going to die would be fulfilled.This brings us back to John 12 which we looked at on our first Sunday of Lent. Jesus showed the kind of death He was going to die when He said, "But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself" (Jn 12:32). Remember what we learned back then? We said to be "lifted up" means to be crucified. When the Jews killed someone they threw them down to the ground and stoned them. When the Romans killed someone they lifted them up from the ground and crucified them. Jesus said He was going to be killed by crucifixion. The Lamb of God we looked at last week was going to be offered up on a cross.
The Jews tried to stone Jesus many times during His life. For instance, at Nazareth they wanted to throw Him off a cliff and then stone and crush Him. None of these attempts were successful. Because Pilate had to kill Jesus. Because it was God's plan Jesus die the cursed death of the cross. Because if the Jews killed Jesus the plan of salvation goes up in flames. Because if the Jews killed Jesus then Jesus is a liar, He is a fraud. Jesus had to die by being lifted up onto a Roman cross. He was not to die by being thrown down, crushed and mutilated by stones.
Think about this and be amazed. The hatred of the Jews was under the sovereign control of God so Jesus would die according to the plan of God. He would die on the cross.
III Jesus Examined in Pilate's Court
A Jesus has been led to Pilate's court. Jesus has been accused in Pilate's court. This brings us to our third point: Jesus examined in Pilate's court. Pilate asks four questions.
First, Pilate asked, "Are you the king of the Jews?" (Jn 18:33). The actual Greek puts it this way: "You are the king of the Jews?" "You" is emphasized. "You?" As if this is absurd, ridiculous, goofy, and preposterous. If Jesus is the king of the Jews why did His own people and the chief priests hand Him over to Pilate? That doesn't make any sense at all. And, after the agony of the Garden, after the three trials before the Jews, after an entire night without sleep, Jesus certainly doesn't look like a king. "You are the king of the Jews?"
B Second, Pilate asked, "Am I a Jew? It was your people and your chief priests who handed you over to me" (Jn 18:35). Do you hear what Pilate is saying. Pilate says this is a Jewish issue, and not a Roman one. There is no crime against Rome. This has nothing to do with Roman politics or the Roman military. "Am I a Jew?" Let the Jews handle this.
C Third, Pilate asked, "What is it you have done?" (Jn 18:35). Understood, but not stated, "What is it you have done to so upset and offend the Jews?"
John 18:36 (NIV84) — 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.”
Our translation says it twice. But in the Greek Jesus says it three times: "My kingdom, My kingdom, My kingdom." Yes, Jesus is the king of the Jews. Yes, Jesus is king. But not in any way that Pilate would recognize. His kingdom is not of this world. His kingdom is from another place. His kingdom is spiritual and not physical.
"My kingdom is not of this world." Here we see the real problem the Jews have with Jesus. He attacked the temple instead of the Romans. His soldiers are angels and not men armed with swords and spears; that's why Jesus stopped Peter from fighting at the time of the betrayal and arrest; and, that's why He didn't rally the Palm Sunday crowds to His defense. His subjects are not those who made Him king; rather, His subjects are those He chooses and regenerates. "My kingdom is not of this world." This is what offended the Jews. They wanted an earthly king with an earthly kingdom.
D Fourth, Pilate asked, "What is truth?" (Jn 18:38). Pilate asks this question after Jesus introduces the topic of truth:
John 18:37 (NIV84) — 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.”Jesus was born and Jesus came to testify to the truth. The truth of His kingdom. The truth of sin. The truth of salvation. The truth about life and death and eternity. Jesus represents truth. Jesus is truth.
Now for a politician like Pilate truth is whatever you want it to be. Truth is relative. Truth is slippery. Truth is ever-changing. We saw this a lot during the 2020 election campaign, didn't we?! This is post-modernism which goes so far as to say there is no truth, no absolute truth.
"What is truth?" Pilate recognizes that Jesus' truth is different than the truth of the Jews.
"What is truth?" Jesus is truth. "Everyone on the side of truth listens to me" (Jn 19:37). Obviously, the Jews and the crowds aren't on the side of truth. Nor is Pilate and Herod and the soldiers.
Today, very few ethnic Jews are on the side of truth. Hindus and Muslims and atheists aren't on the side of truth. Liberals aren't on the side of truth. Most of higher education and public education in our country aren't on the side of truth. The ACLU and Planned Parenthood aren't on the side of truth. Only those who listen to Jesus are on the side of truth.
Jesus has been led to Pilate's court. Jesus has been accused in Pilate's court. Jesus has been examined in Pilate's court.
So, what is the verdict? What is the final decision? "I find no basis for a charge against him" (Jn 18:38). Not guilty. Innocent. And yet, as we all know, He was crucified. Why?
I love how the Catechism explains this to us. It asks, "Why did Jesus suffer under Pontius Pilate as judge?"
So that he,Did you hear that? The Innocent One was crucified as though He was guilty. So that we the guilty ones would be treated as though we were innocent. That's the gospel. That's why Pilate is necessary for our salvation.
might be condemned by a civil judge,
and so free us from the severe judgment of God
that was to fall on us.
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