The 25th Day of Lent
Today’s reading again takes us to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, the only one that had the authority to order Jesus to be crucified. We heard last week that the Jews had brought Jesus to Pilate and when Pilate asked them [Jn 18.28 ff.], “What charge do you bring against this man? And then remember their evasive answer: If this man were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you.” Pilate told them, “Take him yourselves and judge him according to your law.” The Jews said, “It’s not legal for us to put anyone to death.” So what did they then do? They began to accuse Jesus, saying, “We have found this fellow misleading our nation, forbidding the payment of taxes to Caesar, and saying that he, himself is Christ, a king.” Notice here, the first charge the Jews make against Jesus is treason--forbidding paying taxes to Caesar, which was a lie; and the second charge is that Jesus had said He is the Christ--and that is true! But they present it in treasonous terms--a king. And then after Pilate investigates this privately with Jesus, he went out and told the Jews: I find no basis for a charge against him. And then he passes Jesus to Herod, who after ridiculing and treating Jesus shamefully, sent him back to Pilate
That’s where today’s Passion account comes in. In it, we see attempt after attempt of Pilate to release Jesus. Pilate, to placate the Jews offers to have Jesus first whipped and then released--even though he said: I have found in this man no basis for the charges you are bringing against him. Herod did not either… Pilate, figuring the crowds would choose Jesus and not the notorious rebel and murderer, gave them the choice of either Jesus or Barabbas. As the crowds yelled for Jesus to be crucified, Pilate was asking Why? What has he done wrong? Even after having Jesus whipped and mocked and ridiculed by the soldiers who also put on Jesus a crown of thorns and a purple robe and Pilate presented the mocked, beaten and whipped Jesus to the crowds, perhaps to work some sympathy from them, with the words: Look, I am bringing Him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against Him. But that was like throwing meat to wild dogs. All the more did they demand crucifixion. And finally, there is that chilling exchange: Pilate said to them, “Should I crucify your king?” “We have no king but Caesar!” the chief priests answered. There! There is the rejection of Jesus in particular and any notion of the Savior: We have no king but Caesar! Because, remember, what the Jews had said before: Jesus went about saying that he, himself is Christ, a king--the Christ, the Messiah, the long awaited Savior, the Son of David, is a king. And now they reject the Christ, the Messiah, the king God had long ago promised: We have no king but Caesar! Pilate fearing a riot, took water, washed his hands in front of the crowd, and said, “I am innocent of this righteous man’s blood. It is your responsibility.” And all the people answered, “Let his blood be on us and on our children!” What more chilling statement can there be?
As we look a bit more closely at our text from St. John’s Gospel, it is an exchange between the chief priests with their underlings and Pilate; and then an exchange between Jesus and Pilate. As we meditate on it a few moments today, we will see the findings of Jesus’ trial: Jesus is the sinless Son of God.
When the chief priests and officers saw [Jesus wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe], they cried out, saying, “Crucify Him, crucify Him!” With this bloodied, battered and mocked Jesus there is no voice of compassion, only the refrain of death. “Crucify Him, crucify Him!” And it seems that the chief priests and their underlings started shouting for Jesus’ crucifixion as soon as Jesus was brought out to the crowds before there could be any voices raised for compassion. By this swift and loud chorus of “Crucify Him, crucify Him!” these religious leaders were trying to force Pilate to give in to them by getting the crowds on their side. Crucifixion was a shameful death; it was a punishment with a curse. What better way to discredit Jesus and His work and what He had taught--especially against them?
In our world today, this sort of thing has not stopped. The devil and his allies are always trying to discredit Jesus before people. Look at how Jesus and His teaching --Christianity--are so often portrayed: backwards, for the unenlightened, hindering and stifling human growth and expression, judgmental, the cause for wars and the reason for oppression of peoples etc. Or, even when Jesus and the holy Christian faith are presented in a more neutral way Jesus is at best presented as a founder of just another religion like the Budda or Mohammed. He is nothing special. A person is free to pick and choose, or not, as the case may be. Jesus and the faith are discredited by the “blandness” of His supposed message.
But we have Pilate’s findings/ verdict sounding in the background: You take Him and crucify Him, for I find no fault in Him. This is the third time in just a handful of verses that Pilate declares he finds no fault in Jesus. To be sure, Pilate is referring to the fact that Jesus had done nothing to warrant death by crucifixion. But Pilate’s verdict, I find no fault in Him, extends deeper and points us to a truth about who and what Jesus is. It points us to Jesus’ sinlessness. Not only did Jesus do nothing worthy of death but He did not even commit any sin. This the purpose of Jesus’ coming--not only did Jesus come to die on the cross for the sins of the world, not only did He come as the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world-- but He came as the One who would obey perfectly in every slightest detail the Law of God, that Law that we daily and often break by our sins of thought, word and deed, by things we do that we shouldn’t do and by not doing things we should do. The only reason we can have forgiveness of sin is because not only did Jesus die for the sins of the world but also because He obeyed God’s holy Law fully and completely. The holy Law of God had to be kept perfectly--and since we don’t/ can’t Jesus did it for us.
I find no fault in Him. And the very fact that Jesus committed no sin is the very reason why He could be and is that perfect once for all sacrifice for sin. Had Jesus committed sin, just one sin, His sacrifice would have been insufficient; He could not have been the Savior of the world and His death on the cross would have been the just punishment for His sin. So, when we hear Pilate’s verdict, I find no fault in Him, let’s not just hear the voice of the Roman governor who had his own issues and problems, but let us listen closely and hear again the voice of God the Father at Jesus’ baptism and transfiguration: This is My Son, the Beloved. In Him I am well pleased. Here is our great comfort and certainty when we feel our sin and guilt: Jesus kept God’s law for me where I failed; and where I failed He paid the price for me. Jesus and His work is perfect, holy, and accepted by God.
Our text continues: Pilate went in again to the Praetorium, and said to Jesus, “Where are You from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. Then Pilate said to Him, “Are You not speaking to Me?” This silence of Jesus is a silence in fulfillment of the prophecy of St. Isaiah as he prophecies of the silence of the Suffering Servant of God, Jesus the Messiah: He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth. So why would Jesus, the Suffering Servant be silent? Because He is innocent. The same sinlessness that Pilate unknowingly proclaims, I find no fault in Him, is the same sinlessness that Jesus proclaims with His silence. Precisely this silence is a great comfort to us because not only does Jesus show us by it that He is innocent/ sinless but it shows His compassion and willingness to take on and suffer for the sins of others--your sins and mine. As Jesus stands silently before Pilate, He does not stand there in His own sin but willingly takes on ours to be the Savior of the world. And the few times Jesus does speak, He speaks the truth to teach Pilate; He speaks not for His own benefit but for Pilate’s, for his spiritual good.
And what do Jesus’ last words to Pilate teach him and us? You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given to you from above. Therefore the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin. No matter how it may look, Jesus was carrying out His divinely appointed task. God’s purposes were being carried out in the trial. What was happening was not human whims, hatred, jealousies, or even Pilate himself, the representative of the mightiest world empire ruling the day, but God and His will. Even though Jesus was on trial, under Pilate’s jurisdiction and whim, even though the crowds were screaming for more blood it was Jesus--the silent, holy Son of God Himself that was really in control.
And this brings us to the other finding of Jesus’ trial--He really is the Son of God. Before Pilate, the Jews let the truth slip out. Jesus wasn’t there on trial for sedition. He’s there because He is God. In response to Pilate finding Jesus innocent, the Jews reply, “We have a law, and according to our law He ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God.” Here the real charge sneaks out--blasphemy. To be sure the Jews would have been right if Jesus were not God but only a fake. But what do we have? Not only do we have Jesus’ teachings and claims but we have the miracles that show who He is: He casts out demons; He has power over nature; He heals; He raises from the dead. So here, in reality what happens is that Jesus is put to death on the true fact: He is the Son of God. The Jews knew Jesus’ claims but they did not believe them; they rejected them.
So Jesus was put to death--as the Jews said in their charges--because He is the Son of God. That’s the finding of the trial: We have a law, and according to our law He ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God. But when it comes right down to it, that is our greatest comfort, dear Christian! After all, think about it: Jesus’ work for our salvation has real and lasting worth precisely because the One who died on the cross is the very God Himself. If Jesus were an ordinary person, would His death--even sinless--have paid the price for the sins of all people of all time? Hardly! But because Jesus’ death is the death of God, that’s why it has infinite value for the sins of all people. Here, too, we reflect on the seriousness of our sin. Especially in Lent it is good once again to be reminded how serious each and every one of our sins are as here we see that it took the death of God Himself to deal with them and reconcile us sinners to Him. That’s our comfort when we are bothered--and rightly so over our sins: Jesus, God Himself, died for them; we sinners are reconciled to God; heaven stands open to us.
But how can we be sure that the charge is true: We have a law, and according to our law He ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God, that Jesus really is the Son of God? Not only are there Jesus’ great miracles, but there’s Easter. Easter shows beyond doubt that Jesus is who He said He: the sinless Son of God and the Savior of the world. St. Paul writes [Rm. 1.4]: Jesus Christ our Lord...was...declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead. What a glorious comfort we have!
Therefore, when Pilate heard that saying [that Jesus made Himself the Son of God], he was the more afraid. Awe and terror filled him. Yes, it was a superstitious heathen awe and terror, but he was more ready to believe there was something divine about Jesus than His own people. We do well today to remember, take to heart and reflect on the fact of what Jesus’ trial brought out: He is the sinless Son of God. INJ