Summary: Expository sermon dealing with Pilate’s decision. Movie clip from the "Patriot" illustrates the importance of making courageous decisions.

Pilate’s Moral Struggle

Fortifying the Foundations # 41

John 19:1-16[1]


In our text this morning we encounter a tremendous moral struggle. The man experiencing this struggle is the governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate. His struggle begins when providence brings him face to face with the Lord Jesus Christ. His encounter with Christ is an encounter with truth and truth always demands a response. We have already talked in previous messages about how all of this came about. But this morning we want to examine the elements of his struggle and by doing that learn how to successfully deal with our own struggles.

I. The Verdict of Pilate’s own Conscience is loud and clear. Over and over we hear him say concerning Jesus, “I find no fault in this man.”[2] Pilate knows that Jesus is innocent of the charges that have been brought against him. He even knows why these religious leaders have trumped up these charges against Jesus. Matt 27:18 “For he knew it was out of envy that they had handed Jesus over to him.” Pilate cannot claim ignorance concerning Jesus guilt. He personally interrogated him several times.[3] Each interrogation further confirmed Jesus’ innocence.

Pilate’s conscience is also telling him that there is something very unusual about Jesus. He has sat in judgment over hundreds of men. He knows how people respond when facing with a death sentence. He expects to see either a trembling soul pleading for mercy and begging for his life or a hardened criminal trying to lie or bribe his way out of trouble. At one point he is so flabbergasted by Jesus demeanor that he says to him (John 19:10) “Do you refuse to speak to me?” The emphasis in his question is on the Greek word “Emoi” (to ME). “Jesus, you might keep silent before anyone else in this trial. But I am the one who can either let you go or have you crucified.”[4]

Every answer Jesus gave Pilate brought more and more truth to bear on his conscience. Jesus answered those questions by talking about the real source of authority, which is God not Caesar. Jesus had talked to Pilate about the nature of His kingdom—a kingdom not from this world but from heaven above. He had talked with him about two kinds of people—those on the side of truth and those in opposition to truth. Pilate progressively realizes that there is something highly unusual about Jesus.

In John 19:7 the Jews finally tell Pilate the real reason they want Jesus put to death. Up to that time they had tried to frame their accusations in a way that would win Pilate’s agreement with them against Jesus. But in the heat of the moment the truth spills out. “We have a law[5], and according to our law he must die” now here comes the zinger “because he claimed to be the Son of God.” With everything Pilate has observed about Jesus and everything his conscience was screaming to him those words were terrorizing.

Pilate was not a Jew. In fact, he despised the Jews. He did not embrace their religious beliefs. But as Roman he has religious beliefs of his own. And it was very common for Romans to believe in demigods like Hercules and other mythology. Maybe this Jesus really is a supernatural being.[6] His demeanor certainly indicates something very unusual. John tells us in verse 8 of our text “When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid...”

In addition to all of this God gave Pilate’s wife a dream. We do not know exactly what she saw in the dream. But we do know that God sent it as a supernatural warning to Pilate and his wife. Matt 27:19 “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." There is Pilate struggling with his own conscience. Everything within him is saying that Jesus is innocent. There is obviously something unusual about Jesus that may very well be supernatural. Then comes this message from his wife, “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man...”

Do you see the grace of God in all this? A man’s conscience is telling him the right thing to do. Then God mercifully sends a supernatural dream to warn him even further. Pilate knows what is right. He has the authority by his own confession (19:10) to do the right thing. But here is his problem.

II. The Voice of the Crowd is in conflict with his conscience and he wants to please the crowd.

Pilate has a lot to lose here. He is in a position of power and advantage. He is respected. His wife enjoys their palace. He makes good money and has a great future. The problem is if he follows his conscience he may lose all of that. He has already been reprimanded by Rome for mishandling previous events.[7] He does not need to have more complaints sent in from the local authorities. Yes, he is in charge. But Caesar’s approach to government is to pacify the locals as much as possible and keep collecting their taxes.[8] If he can’t handle that they will find someone who can. Think about our situation in Iraq especially before sovereignty was handed over to the new Iraqi government. We have the military might and the authority to control the region. But if we are insensitive to the religious customs of the people we could find ourselves facing an impossible situation. We want leaders there who take charge but do not needlessly alienate people. And that was also what Rome wanted.

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