Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Righteousness Condemned from the Bench (John 19:12-16)

“From then on Pilate sought to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.” So when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Stone Pavement, and in Aramaic Gabbatha. Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, “Behold your King!” They cried out, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” So he delivered him over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus,” (John 19:12–16, ESV)

“If you don’t … you are….” Recognizing that Pilate was given by God to send Jesus to the cross, we also see that the means used was his own weakness to stand for what he knew within was right because of the pressure from without. We read that Pilate sought from his last conversation forward to release Jesus, but the pressure from the Jews continued. And the Jews even heightened the pressure by making a false or misplaced association. While Jesus did not come then to set up an earthly kingdom and He even told Pilate such, the Jews used the thought of Jesus making himself king as direct opposition to Caesar. They accused Pilate of being an enemy of Caesar because he was not an enemy of Jesus, and should he release Jesus he would prove just how much he was not a friend or full follower and servant of Caesar. They accused him of betraying Caesar by saving Jesus.

Pilate had a choice to make. If he obeyed his conscience he would infuriate some very influential people and possibly even jeopardize his position before Caesar. And if he listened to his conscience he would prove himself weak and have to live with the certain knowledge that he sentenced an innocent man to death to save his own political neck. From extra-biblical sources we know that Pilate served as the prefect of Judea for another three years until he poorly handled a Samaritan uprising (according to the historian Josephus). He was then called back to Rome and later died in 39 a.d. by mysterious means, with some sources suggesting that he committed suicide.

So we read that Pilate brought Jesus outside, “and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Stone Pavement, and in Aramaic Gabbatha.” Pilate, sitting as judge, took his seat at what we might call today, “the bench” and was prepared to pass sentence. The crowd had gathered around the stone pavement which was the established place of rule, and they awaited his response. Was he going to set the innocent righteous One free and infuriate the crowd or was he going to appease the crowd and sentence the righteous One to death? At that moment righteousness was placed in his hands. But he still had not made a decision.

We read that the morning had passed away and noon was at hand (the sixth hour) on the day before Passover. For the Jews time was running out for Jesus to be crucified before they must stop all work in favor of their Passover observances. They were down to the wire, and I imagine they were growing more and more intense by the moment. Pilate then spoke to the people and said, “Behold your King!” Of course, Pilate knew how they would respond, but by that point I wonder if he resigned himself to conceding to their will. And sure enough the Jews responded crying out, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!”

Again Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” And the chief priests yelled out, “We have no king but Caesar.” The next words John records for us are, “So he delivered him over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus,”

I have to say that I am very glad that God the Father gave His Son to Pilate to go to the cross for our sins. God used a man who would not stand for what He knew was right in order to appease enemies of God so that through his decision we might be saved. But I also feel for Pilate as one who knew what was right in his own heart and yet he chose to do that which he knew was wrong because to him it was the most expedient thing to do. God knew the intimidation Pilate would face and He knew how Pilate would respond, and Pilate was the right man for this purpose.

Right now the United States is again reeling because of the decision of a handful of appointed men who ruled for themselves against what God instituted as right for man and woman such that they took it upon themselves to redefine for the entire country marriage to include that which God never intended and even condemned. Prior to their ruling pressure had intensified, States had legalized, and moves had been made to normalize to the point that one of the justices was swayed by the potential consequence of affecting the children of these unions should they not be accepted by all. It was a long slippery slope that this country has been on leading to this ruling. It did not happen out of a vacuum, but out of man doing what was right in his own eyes and then demanding that the government endorse it. And now that the bench has ruled it has had an immediate impact on county clerks and judges whose faith will not allow them to participate in these unions. These events are so new that the outcomes are yet to be seen, but it does not look favorable for these servants of God. It does not look favorable for people who operate businesses or schools or hospitals according to their faith. It does not look well for Christianity in America because man ruled according to his own desires from the bench and not according to the Word of God.

Things are surely going to get much worse, and the question remains as to how people of faith will respond to their conscience being pricked. 1 Corinthians is a letter written to a church that not only had not grown in their faith, but had openly accepted various forms of sin to continue in their midst. Paul wrote a very strong letter to them chastising them and calling them to repentance and growth.  In chapter 15, which is an entire chapter on the power of the resurrection, he wrote, “Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame.”” (1 Corinthians 15:33–34, ESV) It is an amazing thing to read that some in their church had no knowledge of God. His Word had not permeated their lives nor had it directed their steps.

Peter gives us our sober response. I know this is a longer passage, but take the time to read and think on his words as they pertain to where we are even today. "(1) Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, (2) so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. (3) For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. (4) With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; (5) but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. (6) For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does. (7) The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. (8) Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. (9) Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. (10) As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: (11) whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

(12) Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. (13) But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. (14) If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. (15) But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. (16) Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. (17) For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:1–17, ESV) 

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