Summary: Pilate was quite the people-pleaser, yet God allowed this man to be in power to further God's plan to bring us hope and reconciliation through Jesus. What can we learn and how can we celebrate Jesus' Sacrifice?
Given at Glorious King Jesus (Christian Church)
January 9, 2011
Man's Responsibility and God's Sovereignty: A Portrait of Pilate
Scripture Reading: John 19
I. Man's Responsibility - Portrait of Pilate
Pilate was governor or 'prefect' of Judea during the time of Jesus' ministry. Prefect is Roman terminology for 'Governor,' with an emphasis on military governance. Many scholars believed that Pilate was a fictional character used as literary license to tell the story of the Crucifixion, but in 1961, there was an inscription on part of an excavated Roman Amphitheater that cites his rulership as well as Tiberius Caesar. (Interestingly, the secular historian Tacitus also reports Pontius Pilate) The inscription reads:
[DIS AUGUSTI]S TIBERIEUM
Translated, if my Latin is okay enough, this is roughly, "Given to Tiberius Augustus [Caesar], Pontius Pilate, Prefect of Judea, this dedication is given." This stone was excavated in Caesarea Maritima, which was the capital of the region during Pilate's stead. Interestingly, much of Roman history is either buried under ashes or burned to ashes, so a great deal of Roman history and its direct accounts have been lost.
Pilate likely means, 'Skilled with the Javelin,' which could mean that he was either from a line of skilled warriors or even athletes. It's more likely that he was a warrior -- he was a prefect, and they were typically in charge of military matters first, though politics were definitely a large factor. Pilate was not a warrior, however, when it came to standing firm under the pressure of other people.
Pilate was, to a very real extent, a people-pleaser. In living life, and especially partaking in the Christian Walk, you can't get caught up in trying to make everybody happy. If you do, you end up compromising what is certain, and softening what is firm. Many today wink at sin, tolerate injustice, and compromise truth, and what a detriment it is to those who need to hear about Jesus!
Is Jesus the only way to God? Yes. Do we need to repent from sin and live in holiness? Yes. Yet many compromise today in order to make others feel better about their current situation. Can we put a band-aid on a bleeding artery, or do we need a more permanent situation? We have the root cause of our problems -- sin. The penalty of sin is death and eternal separation from God in a place of torment. We see the curse here. Things degrade, people suffer, we mourn and exist through pain. Yet we can have hope through Jesus, who as we discussed last week, makes all things new!
When Pilate had the chance to release Jesus by his own authority, he wanted to make the crowd happy and folded against his own conscience. He sensed some weight of what he was getting involved in --
Matthew 27:24 - When Pilate saw that he could not prevail at all, but rather that a tumult was rising, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, "I am innocent of the blood of this just Person. You see to it."
...But is 'Washing your hands' enough? We can see that Pilate's was dealing with a guilty conscience, and his act of washing his own hands was, in his own mind, a way of proclaiming that he was not guilty. Pilate saw the zeal of the religious leaders and was intimidated away from pursuing any other action in releasing Jesus, even though his wife warned him not to have any part in His Death (cf. Matthew 27:19). He had the, 'Do whatever you want' type of mentality. Even when the Pharisees asked him to seal the tomb extremely tight, Pilate let them do as they wished --
Matthew 27:65 - Pilate said to them, "You have a guard; go your way, make it as secure as you know how."
In the end, Pilate did not release Jesus due to the will of the people, and due to his desire to keep them happy --
12 Pilate answered and said to them again, "What then do you want me to do with Him whom you call the King of the Jews?"
13 So they cried out again, "Crucify Him!"
14 Then Pilate said to them, "Why, what evil has He done?" But they cried out all the more, "Crucify Him!"
15 So Pilate, wanting to gratify the crowd, released Barabbas to them; and he delivered Jesus, after he had scourged Him, to be crucified.
Pilate's actions were not justified by the fact that God brought about infinite good through the situation. In fact, as we will explore later, this event shows both the wickedness of those involved in Jesus' death as well as the ultimate Sovereignty of God in allowing these people to reign at the time planned for the sacrifice of Jesus.