Summary: The quest for truth--What will we do when we find it? Expository sermon explores Pilates response to truth when interrogating Jesus.

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A Pursuit of Truth Aborted

Fortifying the Foundations # 40

John 18: 28-40[1]


Are you on a quest for truth? In a sense every life is a pursuit of truth. When a baby reaches out to touch the object in front of him he is discovering the reality of what he sees. We spend billions of dollars to go into outer space trying to find out the truth about what is out there. We want to know what is and what is not. We are in various ways seeking out truth.

But sometimes when people encounter truth, truth encounters them. Truth confronts us with pure reality. That’s what happens in our story this morning.

The text revolves around a legal inquiry into the truth about Jesus of Nazareth. It occurs at the palace of Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor of Judea. Jesus has already been brought before the Jewish authorities at the house of Annas and then Caiaphas. They have already decided to have him executed. In fact, all the way back into John 11:50 the high priest, Caiaphas had determined that Jesus must die.[2] But these Jews have a problem. They do not have the authority to execute anyone without Roman approval. Their purpose in bringing Jesus to Pilate is to get him to authorize the execution of Jesus.

We will focus on three questions asked by Pilate during this trial:

Pilate asks the Jews,

I. “What charges are you bringing against this man?”

That was a perfectly natural thing for Pilate to ask. Just as our legal system requires an indictment of formal charges specifying exactly what laws have been broken, the Roman system also required formal charges.[3] Pilate is following proper legal procedure in asking his question.

But the Jewish leaders do not want to deal in specifics because they know they have nothing that would stand up in a court of law. Rather than give Pilate any specifics they answer in generalities. John 18:30 “If he were not a criminal,” they replied, “we would not have handed him over to you.” In other words, “Pilate, don’t concern yourself with details, take our word for it this guy is a criminal.” The way they express criminal in this text indicates ongoing evil doing. They may have even been calling Jesus a “habitual criminal.”[4] They are saying to Pilate, “You know us, we wouldn’t say he’s a criminal if he weren’t, take our word for it and pass sentence upon him.”

But Pilate sees these guys for the bums they are[5] and tells them to handle the matter themselves. He is saying sarcastically. “If you have already tried the matter and are not willing to give me the specifics of your accusations, then just handle it without me.”

That forced them to admit the real reason they were there. They wanted Jesus executed and didn’t have the authority to do it themselves so they wanted Pilate to do it for them.

In verse 32, John points out that the death sentence had to come from Rome in order for Jesus’ prophecy concerning the way he would die to be fulfilled. Remember how Jesus talked three years earlier in John 3:14 about being lifted up. He was talking about death by crucifixion. The Jews executed people by stoning[6] not by crucifixion. Psalm 22 had also described his death in terms of crucifixion rather than stoning.

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