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Pilate’s Dilemma (Part 2 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
The Truth Network Radio
March 18, 2023 4:00 am

Pilate’s Dilemma (Part 2 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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March 18, 2023 4:00 am

Pilate, the Roman governor, had authority to judge Jesus—but he couldn’t find any basis for a criminal charge. So why didn’t he do the right thing and set Him free? Hear the answer on Truth For Life as Alistair Begg takes a closer look at Pilate’s dilemma.


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In first century Palestine, the Roman governor Pilate had the authority to rule that Jesus was guilty of insurrection, wanting to overthrow Rome.

But he couldn't find any basis for a criminal charge. So why didn't he do the right thing and set him free? On Truth for Life weekend, we're concluding a message titled Pilate's Dilemma. Alistair Begg is teaching from chapter 19 of John's Gospel. And as soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him look at the, look at the nature of these people, they shouted, crucify, crucify.

It's amazing, isn't it? And there's not a modicum of sympathy or empathy in any one of these hard-hearted religionists, so secure behind their robes, so settled in their convictions, so convinced that they are right and so dreadfully wrong. And instead of the spectacle inducing in them a lump in their throats and a sense of absolute shame, whereby they fell before them and said, Was ever sorrow like this?

They simply rehearsed their cry again. Okay, that's good so far, Pilate, but let's not grow weary here. Let's not stop. Let's go the whole way, and let's get him crucified. And again, you will notice, Pilate replies, I think in a spirit of frustration here, you take him and crucify him. You want a crucifixion? You do the crucifixion. Because after all, and here he goes again, I find no basis for a charge against him. Well, let him go, Pilate. Have the courage of your convictions, men. Stand up to the crowd.

Is that your problem tonight as a young person? Oh, in your heart of hearts, you know, in your heart of hearts, you know exactly why Jesus came. You know exactly what it means that you would follow him and love him and serve him, but somehow or another, the pressure of all the circumstances around you makes you vacillate one day you're here and another day you're there. I understand that perfectly.

I lived my life like that for a while. I find no basis of a charge against him. You go ahead. And their fury produces his frustration, and the monotonous refrain, the ominous chant, Crucify! Crucify! Crucify! Crucify!

rings in his ears. Incidentally, and in passing in all of this, the plan and purpose of God from all of eternity was being fulfilled. Was Pilate an automaton? Was Pilate exercising his prerogative as a Roman governor? Yes. Was Pilate making wrong decisions all on his own? Yes. Was Pilate pre-programmed to make these decisions? No. Was Pilate, by his perversity, fulfilling the plan whereby it was the will of God, as Isaiah 53 says, to bruise him? That according later on, as Peter preaches on the day of Pentecost, it was according to the foreknowledge of God that cruel men delivered him up?

Yes. And so the Jews come back forcefully. Verse 7, we've got a law, and according to that law, Jesus has to die. They're not careful to play their ace just yet.

It's coming. But he wanted to do enough just to keep Pilate on track. And so what they're saying is, Pilate, you know as well as us that we have freedom within Roman jurisdiction to regulate our own affairs.

But we want you to remember that it is your duty to respect our laws in matters such as this. And by our law, this man should die, verse 7b, because he claimed to be the Son of God. And so they manipulate him.

Now look at verse 8. That's why I say there was no more tortured individual who met Christ than Pilate. When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid. The fearfulness which had been rising in him has almost reached epidemic proportions. After all, the Romans knew about gods.

They had all kinds of gods, as did the Greeks. They were aware of the fact that in their minds, at least, the gods came down and did things to people. And here he is confronted by one who is apparently a son of God, if not God himself, and he cannot get out of his predicament. And so his fear is overwhelming. His wife had actually told him earlier in the day, don't have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him. So his wife had been tossing and turning the previous evening. And when he gets his breakfast in the morning and he goes out to the day, she says, Pilate, before you go in there today, let me give you one word of caution. Whatever happens, have nothing to do with that innocent man. I've been awake half the night and troubled most of this morning as a result of him. So you see how it all moves around in his mind. Here he has him.

I find no charge. Flog him. Now he has the guilt on his heart as a result of having been the one who introduced him to such brutal treatment. Then he thinks that perhaps he can justify that by using the sorry spectacle as a means of inducing sympathy on the part of the rulers. And instead of creating sympathy, it creates fury. Their fury creates his frustration. His frustration says, do it yourself. Their forcefulness says, we can't, but you can. And their forcefulness leads to his fearfulness.

And he's jammed. I say to you again, there was never a more tortured individual that met Christ than Pilate. In fact, it is interesting if you just look at the verbs in and out, you find that he was in and out constantly. In verse 29 of chapter 18, Pilate came out to them and asked, what charges are you bringing? In verse 33, Pilate then went back in and summoned Jesus.

In verse 38, what is truth? Pilate asked, and with this he went out. In verse 1 of chapter 19, then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. And he goes back in. In verse 4, once again, he comes out. And in verse 9, once again, he goes back in.

This is the proverbial cat on the hot tin roof. He doesn't know whether he should be in or out or just where he should be, because he has Christ like the hound of heaven on his back. He has his face fixed in his mind's eye. He cannot evade the challenge of the man. He cannot get to the bottom of it.

He doesn't understand why he doesn't do something, why he wouldn't say something at least. And so you will notice that in verses 9 and 10, there are three questions that come staccato. Question number one, he goes back inside the palace, and he said to Jesus, Where do you come from?

Where do you come from? But Jesus gave him no answer. Presumably, it wouldn't have made any difference. Presumably, he wouldn't even have been able to get his head around the fact when Jesus said, Well, actually, I come from heaven. He really didn't have any interest in that at all.

It was just a superstition that was so riddling him. He said, Well, I better try and find out something about him. Where do you come from? And Jesus gave him no answer. Then comes his second question. Do you refuse to speak to me? Actually, in the Greek, it goes, To me, you do not speak?

Question mark? To me? And he said, Jesus, do you know who you're talking to here?

Do you get the irony? Pilate, do you know what you're doing? To me, you do not speak? Pilate pulls rank. He rests on his dignity. I'm the Roman governor.

Don't you think you should speak? Makes me think of Naaman, doesn't it? When confronted by his leprosy, the servant girl says to him, You know, if you go to the man of God, he may be able to do something for you. And he goes down and he pulls up in front of the house of Elisha.

And all of the wonderful accoutrements of his powerful position in Syria are there for everybody and anybody to see. If only the man of God will come out and see how powerful Naaman is, then presumably that will result in the man of God right there on the spot doing something pretty miraculous, and then Naaman will be able to go home again, healed and fine. And then, of course, the man of God doesn't even come out. He sends a servant to him, and the word of the servant that comes from the man of God to Naaman is, Why don't you go and dip yourself in the Jordan seven times?

And then you get the same response. Naaman says to his guys, Okay, we're out of here, he says to his retinue, we're moving on. He clearly doesn't know who I am. I'm Naaman. I'm a Syrian. I'm powerful.

I'm successful. He doesn't even come out and speak to me directly. He sends a servant to me. It would be one thing if he sent a servant to me to give me some kind of potion or some miraculous deal, but he sends a servant out and he says, You go and dip yourself in the Jordan filthy river. Not like the beautiful rivers, the Abana river that flows down into the beautiful regions of Lebanon there, into those beautiful groves.

He could have at least gone in one of my own rivers, done it my own way. Do you know there are some people here tonight and that's the reason you're not a Christian? Because you don't think that Jesus knows who you are. You somehow or another are stuck on the fact that Jesus is not impressed with you. Because the way to get to you is to be impressed with you. For you have lived your whole life to become impressive to people.

And the way that people access you is on the basis of being impressed. And now you come to Christ. And like Pilate, you say, To me, you do not speak. To me, you don't come and do a special miracle. To me, you do not do this. Or to me, you do not reveal that. Listen, my dear friend, who in the world do you think you are? The wonder is that Christ would ever come to any of us. Any of us! That's why when a person is truly redeemed, it doesn't make them proud, you know. It makes them humble.

Where do you come from? Jesus gave no answer. You refuse to speak to me?

And he follows it up with his third punch. Don't you realize that I have power either to free you or to crucify you? You see, that reveals the depth of his dilemma. Because on the human plane, although he's trying hard, he cannot shift the responsibility of the decision no matter how many enterprising sidesteps he tries to do. See, he wants to be able to say, This isn't my problem.

But when he looks the thing straight in the face, he says, Don't you realize that this is my problem? Because I possess the power to free you or to crucify you. Now you're telling the truth, Pilate. But let me tell you something, says Jesus. Realize this, Jesus says, that you wouldn't have any power whatsoever if it were not given to you from above. In other words, earthly rulers may act only as God permits.

Pilate has no inherent authority over Jesus. Jesus has already said, No one takes my life from me. I have the power to lay it down, and I have the power to pick it up again. The greater our knowledge, the greater our culpability. That's the second half of verse 11. The one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin. And knowledge brings with it responsibility. And these people who were standing with their ominous chanting, combined with the work of Judas, were culpable. And they could not evade the responsibility. Well, as a result of this little interchange, verse 12 says, that Pilate tried to set Jesus free. But as a result of his endeavors to set him free, the Jews kept shouting, and here they played a race. If you let this man go, you're no friend of Caesar.

Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar. What a tortuous situation to know the right thing to do and to be so fearful of what other people say and think that you cannot find it in yourself to do the right thing. That's the reason some of you have never come to faith in Christ. Because if you trust in Christ, you're going to have to admit that you never knew Christ before. Oh, you knew about him. And since you've managed to live a kind of external Christian life, enough to create a disguise that can bypass the stairs of friends and neighbors, who have already assumed that since you're a fine fellow or a lovely girl, and you have done most of the things that you're supposed to do through your life, that you're a solid upstanding citizen of the community and a good Christian.

But if you actually come to bow before Jesus, then you're going to have to go back to those people, and you're going to have to say, you know, I never knew Christ at all. I was relying on myself. I was relying on my endeavors. I was relying on my religion. I was relying on a ton of stuff.

Is that you tonight? So close to being a Christian, but you're not a Christian, because you've never trusted in Christ. You've never admitted that his death upon the cross was on account of your sin. Not just sin-sin, but your sin. And that since as many as received him, to them he gave power to become the sons of God. Since you have never come and trusted in Christ in a personal, life-transforming way, you remain outside.

And again, it's because you're afraid of what other people will say. Well, look again at this Christ holding this reed, bearing this crown, wearing this rig out. And see him beckoning you. And then see the people that live in your neighborhood. And tell me who you would rather offend. Does it really scare you more to admit to your friends that you have never been a Christian than to stand before the bar of God's judgment and to tell Christ that the reason you never trusted him was because of the people with whom you played bridge every second Thursday?

Amazing! I find no reason to bring any charge against him, but I can't let him go. I find every reason to trust him, but I can't bring myself to do it. The problem in Pilate was really in his morality, a moral deficiency in him, an inability to do the right thing no matter what it cost him. I wonder how his father attempted to forge his character when he was a boy. Maybe he never tried. Maybe his father acceded to his every request, bowed to his tantrums, covered his faults, laughed at his double standards, and produced this most tortured of individuals.

And so we conclude the final blow. You're no friend of Caesar. Oh, how he must have been annoyed, enraged at their hypocrisy. They didn't give a rap for loyalty. They couldn't have cared less about Caesar.

They simply were using this. We'll tell Caesar that you condoned a rebellion. We'll tell Caesar that you're the one, Pilate, that released the king of Israel.

They knew there was no rebellion on the part of Christ. And if every man has his price, then here is Pilate. And finally, he accedes, ignoring his superstitions, ignoring the promptings that had been left to him at breakfast by his wife, ignoring everything in the core of his being that said, you know, if I had any intestinal fortitude at all, I would stand up and tell these Pharisees to go take a hike, and I would send Jesus out on the road to freedom. But instead, he sits down in the judge's seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement. Some of you have been in the area, and you have stood there and wondered.

And with his conscience drowned by the loud voices of rationalization, Pilate compromised, because Pilate was a coward. And notice how the Gospel writer even pinpoints the time, the way they do on the news, even to this day. And so they will say, for example, and at 10.02, at such-and-such a New York hospital, John Lennon tonight was pronounced dead, the time etched indelibly in the minds of everyone who cared.

And that's what John is doing. It was the day of preparation of the Passover week, and it was right around the sixth hour. And Pilate stood up and said, "'Here is your king.'"

And their fiendish chants reverberate their reaction. "'Take him away and crucify him.' "'Shall I crucify your king?' Pilate asked. "'Now here's an answer for a good Jew. We have no king but Caesar.'"

That's right. The only king they had as a possibility was standing right in front of them. To reject Christ as king left them with only one other possibility in that political framework, and that was their submission to Caesar. They refused to give homage to God, and so to whom else would they pay homage?

And so they reject the one who was born to be king. And the gospel writer Matthew tells us that Pilate at this point had his hands washed, a symbol of his attempt at evasion. "'I'm innocent,' he says.

"'It's your responsibility.'" Matthew tells us that the response of the people was, "'Let his blood be upon us and on our children.'" And verse 16, finally, Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified. And the people murmured, "'Let his blood be upon us and on our children.'"

If Jesus came to Cleveland tonight, don't think for one nanosecond that he would draw a crowd at Beechwood Mall and that the people would fall down in front of him and worship him. They would not, for the same reasons—pride, rebellion, stubbornness, the very things that keeps a man or a woman from bowing beneath his kingship and his rule. Through in another part of the building this evening, there's a whole host of children. The teachers are there, and they're introducing him to the king. And they're encouraging them to become the king's kids. Some of you even put your children in there, because you know enough to understand that there is no more important decision they could ever make, and there is no hope for them in all of life except to bow beneath his kingly rule. And yet you yourself, Dad, in all of your well-meaning actions, refuse to bow your knee before the king and become one of his kids.

Do your colleagues in the office really concern you that much? That you would give up Christ and give up forgiveness and give up peace and give up heaven and go to hell as a tortured soul with Pilate. It takes courage to profess genuine faith in Jesus. You're listening to Truth for Life weekend.

That is Alistair Begg urging each one of us to bow before Christ as king. If you'd like to find out more about Jesus or the Bible, we have messages, audio, and video. You can access it all for free on our website at

You can search for sermons by topic, by scripture, or by series. You can also read articles that are drawn from Alistair's teaching. We post new articles each week. They cover a variety of topics.

They're free for you to read or to share with others. You can find the most recent articles at Now on Truth for Life, we like to recommend books that will help you and your family grow in faith. And today I want to tell you about a new book called With a Mighty Triumph, Christ's Resurrection and Ours. This book discusses two of the wonders of Christianity. The first is that Jesus was raised from the dead and that the same spirit who raised Jesus from the dead will one day also raise all who believe. It's a great book to read as you look ahead in preparation for Easter. You'll find out why the resurrection is the reason you're able to have eternal hope, not only for yourself, but also for your friends and family who trust in Christ. And that is something to celebrate. Learn more about the book With a Mighty Triumph when you visit our website at

I'm Bob Lapine. Thanks for including us in your weekend. Next weekend, we'll examine Jesus' final moments on the cross and the onlookers that surrounded him. Will you spot your own face in that crowd? The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-03-18 05:30:53 / 2023-03-18 05:39:38 / 9

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