Summary: Message about how Pilate handled his opportunity with Jesus.

What We Can Learn from Pilate

Matthew 27:11-26

October 4, 2009

Me: One of my favorite phrases in life is, “Been there, done that.” My favorite variation of that is, “Been there, done that, got the t-shirt.”

I’m not entirely sure what the last part means, but that’s okay – it sounds cool.

One of the things I have found myself doing more and more as I move through life is listening to people who have experience what I’m about to do in a given situation.

I try to look for people who can say, “Been there, done that.” Then I can say, “So how’d that go with you? What can you tell me about it?”

Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s not so good.

In either case, I can learn from that and maybe avoid some trouble.

Some of us WISH others would come to us first with things like, "I’m thinking of doing drugs - whaddya think?" Been there, done that. Don’t be stupid, dude.

We: Most of us would like to have a heads-up about potential trouble, right?

We’d like to avoid potholes when possible, because no one wants more hassle than they already have.

And most of us shake our heads at those who refuse to listen to our warnings borne from our experiences.

So I think most of us can learn something from that good ol’ boy, Pontius Pilate.


In our passage today, we find Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, being faced with a dilemma in the form of the Jewish leaders bringing them a man they believe should be put to death.

And how he handles the situation can give us some things that, if we’ll put them into our own lives, will save us a looooot of hurt and hassles.

The setting is that after a secret trial through the night, Jesus has been sentenced to death by the Sanhedrin, which is the Jewish ruling council.

The problem is that they didn’t have the authority to put someone to death, especially over religious matters that the Romans didn’t really care about.

So they came up with a plan to have Jesus accused of treason against Caesar, so the Romans could put Him to death.

Matthew 27:11-26 (p. 705) –

11 Meanwhile Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, "Are you the king of the Jews?"

"Yes, it is as you say," Jesus replied.

12 When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer. 13 Then Pilate asked him, "Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?" 14 But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge--to the great amazement of the governor.

15 Now it was the governor’s custom at the Feast to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. 16 At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Barabbas. 17 So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, "Which one do you want me to release to you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?" 18 For he knew it was out of envy that they had handed Jesus over to him.

19 While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him 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."

20 But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.

21 "Which of the two do you want me to release to you?" asked the governor.

"Barabbas," they answered.

22 "What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called Christ?" Pilate asked.

They all answered, "Crucify him!"

23 "Why? What crime has he committed?" asked Pilate.

But they shouted all the louder, "Crucify him!"

24 When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. "I am innocent of this man’s blood," he said. "It is your responsibility!"

25 All the people answered, "Let his blood be on us and on our children!"

26 Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.

1. Desperate people make desperate choices.

Pilate was desperate to keep the peace, and the religious leaders were desperate to get rid of Jesus.

The gospel of John gets into a lot of detail of what went on during Jesus’ trial before Pilate.

And there we find that Pilate went from frustration to fear pretty quickly, and that became the basis for his decision-making.

And that’s usually not the best way to be making critical decisions.

This might have been behind the thinking that brought Barabbas to be offered.

Barabbas, according to this passage was a “notorious criminal.” The other gospels say he was involved in a murder during some sort of insurrection.

In any case, he wasn’t a model citizen.

Maybe Pilate got to thinking that if given the choice, the people would much rather have the nice healing teacher instead of the murdering convict.

Pilate thought the offer would drive the people to say, “No way – we’ll take Jesus over that bum!”

But there was no way the religious leaders were going to let that happen. Remember, they were desperate, too.

And so Pilate, out of his own desperation, gave Jesus over to death.

Folks, in life, when we’re in desperate situations, we need to get some help from someone and somewhere outside of ourselves.

The Bible says that it’s wise to have many counselors, and I think that one of the reasons for that is because when we’re up against the wall, we can’t always think rationally.

We’re in panic mode.

So we need others to help us think through some things. They can look at things more objectively than we can, and can help us see things more clearly.

Take a lesson from Pilate and hold back when pressured into any kind of decision, especially financial ones or those dealing with a job.

It’s my rule that if someone keeps pushing for a decision that involves my money or job, the answer is automatically “no.”

I don’t care how good the deal looks, the answer is no. I just simply refuse to do business that way. And let me tell you, it has saved me a LOT of hassle and heartache.

The problem is that one of the ways I had to learn that was to do the exact opposite – making decisions under the gun and then having it literally cost me a ton of money.

Pilate could have said, “Hey look, guys. Let’s grab a latte and chill until after lunch, and then get back to this. Oh and by the way, come back without the crowd.”

But he didn’t, and Jesus is handed over.

The next lesson isn’t so much about Pilate as it is about the religious leaders, and that is that…

2. Envy is a powerful motivator for sin.

Pilate wasn’t a dummy, even though he didn’t always make the smartest decisions.

He had been talking to Jesus during this whole time, and figured out that this was a political move, not a move brought out by a sincere concern that a crime had been committed.

The gospels tell us time and time again that what motivated the religious leaders to hate Jesus and act against Him was that He was winning the hearts of the people away from them and to Himself.

They were envious of His influence over the people.

They had had the influence until Jesus came around, and now they wanted it back.

When people are filled with envy, they become blind to everything else, especially the long-term effects of their obsessions.

Here’s what the Bible says about envy:

Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. (1 Peter 2:1)

Here’s another:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.

(1 Corinthians 13:4)

I think it’s safe to say that envy isn’t a good thing.

Pilate learned that envy could drive some people to kill an innocent man.

Here’s a third lesson we can learn from Pilate, and it’s one every married man should grab onto:

3. Listen to your wife!

Pilate’s wife comes up to him and says, “Let this guy go. He’s innocent, and even my dreams troubled me as I was sleeping.”

But Pilate say, “Yeah, whatever. Leave me alone – I’ve got a job to do here…”

Guys, if you’re married you need to realize that one of the greatest gifts you’ll ever receive in your life is your wife.

God seems to have gifted women with a great ability to sense things that go right over a guy’s head.

Not that they all have dreams like Pilate’s wife did. In fact, I think it’s rare that God speaks during dreams.

That’s just my opinion, mind you, but I can’t find anything in Scripture that supports the idea that God speaks through dreams as a regular thing.

Anyway, back to this issue of women just being able to sense some things.

I don’t get it. It’s not listed as a spiritual gift in Scripture, but sometimes, they just seem to have insight in some situations that guys don’t have.

I think part of it is just the idea that women are here to complete men. We need women to help us fill in where we’re lacking.

It goes the other way, too, of course, but today I’m talking about how we men need you ladies.

I gotta tell you guys, my wife has saved me from a lot of headaches in our 21 years.

And I can guarantee you that I would have avoided a lot more headaches if I would have listened when Debra had a caution about something.

I probably would have kept more of my hair, too…

But I also have to say that Debra never comes up to me and says, “I told so.” She’s real good that way, and I appreciate it.

Even single guys can learn a few things by listening to – you guessed it – your mother, even if you’re grown-up and out of the house.

It took me a while to be able to admit that myself, but I’ve learned that Mom actually is right, even it’s only once in a while.

Here’s the fourth lesson:

4. Don’t let the crowd do your thinking for you.

To me, this is the main lesson from this passage, and the one that we need to pay the most attention to as Christians today.

Pilate knew Jesus was innocent of any crime deserving death. He knew that this was purely a political scheme.

But He let the crowd determine what his decision would be.

Following the crowd is almost never a good thing.

The crowd is wrong a lot of the time. I’d say most of the time.

In our society the crowd says that Jesus is only one way to heaven, in spite of the fact that Jesus said He was the only way, and He’s not a liar.

In our society the crowd says you should live together to “try it out” before getting married, in spite of the fact that couples who live together have a 50% greater chance of divorce. The crowd is wrong about that.

We could go on, but I won’t.

My point here is that if you let the crowd do your thinking for you, like Pilate did, then you’re gonna end up making decisions that will hurt you and others.

Don’t let it happen. Pilate did, and he let the crowd decide that Jesus should be killed.

In the men’s study we just finished called, “The Quest for Authentic Manhood,” we explored what it means to be a real man, and we looked at the definition of a real man.

Part of that definition is that a real man rejects passivity and accepts responsibility, leading courageously.

Pilate blew it here in all three of these areas.

He wanted peace at any price, so he passively accepted what the crowd wanted instead of leading courageously.

And he refused to accept responsibility, which leads to this last lesson for today:

5. Passing the buck doesn’t excuse the sin.

By the way, as I was going through the message, I realized that I had used an American slang phrase.

“Passing the buck” means passing the blame or responsibility for your actions onto someone else.

Pilate did that in a couple ways: first by declaring he innocent, and then by washing his hands.

He was saying, “You’re killing Him, not me.”

But guess what: Pilate had the authority to set Jesus free, and he had the muscle to back it up.

But he was a coward, and since he didn’t want to take responsibility for rolling over, he tried to blame the Jews.

And the weird thing is that the Jews took it willingly.

But that doesn’t mean Pilate was innocent. The fact is, he was just as guilty as the Jewish leadership in sending Jesus to His death.

Folks, no matter how you try to pass the buck, no matter how you try to whitewash your part in it, no matter how you try to make others look responsible, the simple bottom-line fact of the matter is that you are the one who is responsible, and God will call you to account for it.

Your boss might be fooled, your family might be fooled, your friends might be fooled, but God never is.

Adam and Eve learned this in the Garden of Eden.

When they ate the fruit, God confronted them and what did Adam say?

“This gal you put here with me made me eat.”

I can just imagine God going, “Yeah – she tied you down and forced it down your throat, right?”

Then Eve, taking her cue from her husband, said, “It was the serpent. I knew he was too slimy to trust…”

God didn’t buy it from her, either.

Folks, the Bible is very clear that when you sin, you’re the one to blame.

Pilate isn’t standing before God and getting away with, “Well, God, you know how those guys were – the peer pressure was just too much! They made me do it!”

Pilate didn’t get away with it, and neither will you and I.

So those are the five lessons:

1. Desperate people make desperate choices.

2. Envy is a powerful motivator for sin.

3. Listen to your wife.

4. Don’t let the crowd do your thinking for you.

5. Passing the buck doesn’t excuse the sin.

We: It’s been said that good judgment comes from experience. And experience often comes from bad judgment.

It’s also true that we can learn from the mistakes from others so we don’t have to make the same mistakes ourselves.

Wise people learn from others and keep from the suffering they would otherwise bring on themselves by just going on.

One of the purposes of Scripture was so we could learn – the good, the bad, and the ugly about how others before us lived.

Throwing that aside isn’t manly or macho, or smart. It’s flat-out stupid.

So let me just encourage you to learn what you can from the triumphs and the successes of the people mentioned throughout Scripture.

You’ll benefit from it, and you’ll end up blessing not only yourself, but your loved ones as well.

Let’s pray.