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Pilate Caves In

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
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March 19, 2024 4:00 am

Pilate Caves In

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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March 19, 2024 4:00 am

Making a fair judgment can be difficult—but when all evidence indicates innocence, a just decision should be simple and easy. Listen to Truth For Life as Alistair Begg examines the Roman ruler Pontius Pilate’s dilemma when it was his turn to judge Jesus.


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Making the right judgment can be difficult at times, but when all the evidence is pointing in one direction, a just decision ought to be simple and easy. Today on Truth for Life, we'll look at the Roman ruler Pontius Pilate and the dilemma he faced when it was his turn to judge Jesus. Alistair Begg is teaching from Luke chapter 23 verses 13 through 25. Pilate must decide. He can put it off, try and sidestep it, as he's been doing, but frankly, he's been quite unsuccessful. What am I going to do with Jesus of Nazareth?

How did I end up in this position? He must have said to himself. He certainly talked it over with his wife. His wife had various comments to make. As a Roman—and the Romans have given us many of our laws—he would have had a Roman dislike for gross injustice. And since he didn't like injustice, that would kind of point towards letting Jesus go.

So try as best you can to put yourself in his position for a moment. Here he is confronted by this crowd, religious officials. He is presiding over a territory.

He is responsible for its jurisdiction, for the maintaining of order and the quelling of any kind of civil disruption. Justice speaks in his mind and says, Release Jesus. Conscience speaks to him and says, Jesus should not die. His gut, if you like, if we might say so, just says, Release him. And when he presses this group and asks them explicitly, What crime has he committed?, all they're able to do is shout him down. And the reason they shout him down is because they know that Jesus is innocent.

Pilate knows that he's innocent. But he just can't commit himself to do the right thing. The New York Times this week carried a piece on the resurgence of surfing in the world as the ultimate extreme sport. It was an interesting article. It was way beyond my ken.

But I was intrigued by just one quote, which I made note of. It came from one of the top professional female surfers in the world, an American girl, and she said this, To be on the peak, make the drop, and commit, you face all your fears. Now, that's exactly where Pilate was. He's on the peak.

Is he gonna make the drop and commit? What is Pilate going to do? Had he ever been confronted with such an individual, this Jesus of Nazareth?

Surely he probably had never been confronted by such a crowd—a crowd that was driven by blind hatred, a crowd that was baying for the death of an innocent man. You see, he's on the horns of a dilemma. And he's about to lose the battle. In fact, he loses the battle right at the beginning. I don't think he loses the battle down here in verse 23, when Luke finally tells us that he rolled over, that he caved in. I think he lost the battle in the first encounter.

You've got three little sections here, don't you? The first of them is between 13 to 19, where they come making their first cry for the death of Jesus. And he makes a mistake at that point, and I think that's his crucial mistake. He capitulated there, and he was done.

It was only a matter of time before he rolled over. Because he declared in verse 13 and 14 that, "... I have examined this man in your presence and have found no basis for your charges." Secondly, he said, "... as you can see," verse 15, he has done nothing to deserve death. And how they must have waited is he said, "... therefore," and now he's going to pronounce the action that he's going to take, "... no basis for the charge against him, nothing to deserve death. Therefore," they couldn't believe their ears, "... therefore I will punish him and then release him." He should have said, "... therefore I'm about to dismiss him. Therefore I'm about to throw out the charges. Therefore I'm about to clear my courtroom and send Jesus out into the morning sunlight of a Jerusalem skyline."

But no. He lost the battle at this point. Instead of following through, he allows himself to get into a discussion and into a discussion with these bloodthirsty, wily persecutors. And so, verse 18, they cry again, like one gigantic creature shouting out, Away with this man! Why don't you release Barabbas to us? Now, if you know the parallel passages in Matthew, you know that Matthew tells us there that it was customary at the time of the feast for the governor to release a prisoner.

And Pilate probably saw that this was another mechanism that he could use for discharging his responsibility to Jesus. It's feast time, and I can release a prisoner to you. Why don't I just release Jesus of Nazareth to you? They say to him, Listen, if you want to release somebody, if you have it in your mind to release someone, why don't you release Barabbas?

Barabbas! And verse 19 explains, Barabbas was in the jail because he was an insurrectionist, and he was in the jail having been found guilty of murder. So, verses 20 and 21 summarize Pilate's second attempt to have Jesus released. Notice the phrase, wanting to release Jesus. I have a tremendous amount of sympathy along the lines here for Pilate. I haven't really felt very sympathetic towards Pilate, I must confess, until this week.

But the more I've lived with Pilate, the more I've ebbed and flowed with him, the more I've tried to get inside his head and inside his heart. You find that this is not just some scurrilous character, but this is an individual on the horns of a dilemma. He wants to release Jesus. He knows that he should release Jesus. But he wants to placate the crowd, and he doesn't know what to do about his wife, and all of this emotion is surging within him.

And his second attempt doesn't work either. And so, verse 22, for the third time he came back at them, and now he appears just to be weakening. Why, he says, what crime has this man committed?

Of course, there's no answer to that. And then he says, I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty. Well, this is a slight move from there is no basis to your charges to, well, he shouldn't die.

Is he equivocating here? Is he saying, Well, you know, maybe he's guilty of something. Maybe we can find him guilty of something.

I don't want to suggest that judges and prosecutors do this, but there is something about plea bargaining. But how can we all get out of here and get home for our lunch? Surely we can do something here. Can't we say he did something or somebody did something? Let's have somebody admit to something, for goodness' sake, and let's all go home.

Come on, now, let's get something settled here. He's not guilty of the death penalty. Therefore, why don't I just punish him and release him?

Now, you need to understand what Pilate is saying here, or you may misinterpret the impact. He's not saying, Why don't I slap Jesus on the wrist? Why don't I allow him to admit, as it were, to a misdemeanor? It really won't go against him in his file. Why don't we just do something, a mechanism, get him out of here and on our way?

No. What he says is, Why don't I send him away to be flogged, to be scourged, and then to be released? Well, I wonder what he's thinking. Is he thinking that perhaps the scourging will induce sympathy on the part of the gathered crowd and that they may then capitulate, separate from the influence of their leaders, and save this Jesus of Nazareth from this horrible death?

Perhaps, but unlikely. I think probably what he's seeking to do is maintain favor with these troublesome creatures and all this frenzied throng. I know you're looking for something here, so why don't we scourge him and let him go? And still, with loud shouts, they come back at him. And then the saddest phrase of all, in verse 23, their shouts prevailed, their shouts prevailed, Pilate caves in. Seemed to be going pretty well for a wee while, didn't he?

Trying his best. But in the end, the insistent demands of this frenzied throng overwhelmed any last vestiges of courage or of conscience that remain in this Roman character. And verse 25 records his actions. He released the man who'd been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will.

And in that capitulation, he wrote himself into the history books forever. Now, don't dehumanize Pilate. He was a real person.

They're all real people. This is history we're reading here. This is not mythology. This is not stories invented by the early church to titillate the minds of people who don't know what else to do on a Sunday morning on the east side of Cleveland.

This is factual. Read secular history. You will read of this character Pilate. He had a mom and dad. He was born. And his parents would have been proud of him and said, you know, he tries some significant cases.

They hear him. He's on a par with the kings and the rulers of the world. But he's not remembered for any of that in history.

He's immortalized, sadly, in the apostles' creed, as across the world today congregations as ourselves have stood and affirmed our faith and said of Jesus, he suffered under Pontius Pilate. Otherwise, he wouldn't even be a footnote in history. Otherwise, you couldn't even go and find him in a history book.

At least you'd have to search in the small print for a long time. But here he stands, bold on the pages of history. Why? Because he was on the peak, and he couldn't or he wouldn't make the drop and commit to what he knew must be done. Well then, what's the point?

Why do we have this? I've known this passage since I can remember even being able to read. I wonder how many sermons I've heard on Pontius Pilate in the scope of my lifetime.

Quite a lot. And I think all of them finally ended here. Pontius Pilate was a vacillator. You shouldn't vacillate. Pontius Pilate couldn't make up his mind, and when he did, he made it up in the wrong way. Therefore, you'd better hurry up and make up your mind, and make sure you don't make it up the way Pilate made it up. That was kind of the story. There were usually a lot of illustrations, but it seemed to me that that was so pressingly obvious.

I wasn't sure that that was exactly how to come to terms with this narrative. And I thought about it a lot this week. You know, I thought, why did the Holy Spirit put this section in here?

Was it simply to make the most obvious point that Pilate was an equivocator and people shouldn't equivocate and they ought to get on the game? Well, maybe. Maybe it's a legitimate application, isn't it? Some of you have already been making the application in your mind, because that's exactly where you are. You're just unprepared to take the drop. You're unprepared to side with Jesus. You're unprepared to make a commitment to Christ. You have come to a position of belief. You are intellectually convinced. But there is enough of a rising throng around you, whether it's in your office or in your family or amongst your friends or in your athletic club, that you're just not ready on the peak as you find yourself to make the drop to commit.

And so, it's a good application, and I hope you haven't missed it. But I don't think it gets to the heart of the matter. Imagine that what we have in this narrative here is a painting. Imagine that all these words form up as a picture.

And we're standing now and we're looking at the picture, and somebody says, you know, I think actually if we stand a little further back from this, we may be able to put it all in perspective. You stand back from it, just a few chapters back from it, in terms of Luke's Gospel, and you realize that it is really quite straightforward. Jesus had told his disciples—they didn't grasp it—in Luke chapter 9 verse 22, he told his disciples that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. It's that word must that is such a nuisance, isn't it?

Why must? Well, do you know 1 Peter chapter 3 verse 18? For Christ died for sins, once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring us to God.

Okay? So we look at the narrative and we say, What in the world is happening here? And Peter says, I'll tell you what's happening here. Christ is about to die for sins. He must suffer, and he must die.

The righteous for unrighteous people, because unrighteous people are alienated from God, and it's going to take the righteous one to close the gap. So when we stand far enough back from the picture and we look at this, and our sensibilities are absolutely troubled by it, in our ears we can hear the jailer turn the key and say to Barabbas, You can go, Barabbas. If you think that he stood there and he said, Well, why is this taking place?

Can you give me some kind of explanation? No, no! They said, You can go. The door's open. He's gone. Out, gone, free. The guilty has gone free. The innocent is about to die. What's wrong with this picture?

Do you see it? You see how we would get off scot-free by simply moralizing it? You know, pilot equivocated, make sure you don't equivocate.

Good application misses the point. What is happening here is that according to the eternal counsel of God's will, the plan of salvation is unfolding in a moment in time, and God is purposing to save men and women. The righteous is about to die for the unrighteous in order that he might bring us to God. You see that that is something far deeper and far more significant than, You know, I think it's about time I made up my mind. Oh, it is about time you made up your mind. But I want you to make up your mind on the basis of information, not to make up your mind on the basis of some kind of compulsion that has to do more with eating pizza last night and how you're feeling about things than it has to do that you're driven by the conviction of your mind.

This is the explanation. Jesus was not dying for his own crimes but for the crimes of others. He was not dying for his own sin but for the sins of others. He was not dying for himself. He was dying for us.

And just in case we might be tempted to view this as a kind of arm's length theological notion, it unfolds to us in this wonderful flesh-and-blood picture. He released the murderer, and he surrendered the innocent to their will. Now, my question as I finished up my studies this week was, I wonder if Barabbas got this. There were three crosses, right? Jesus, when he is finally crucified, is in the middle, there's a thief on his right, and another one on his left. There's no way of knowing whether there was only gonna be three on this particular occasion, and there's certainly no way of knowing whether the third cross was for the third guy. But certainly a cross was for Barabbas. He knew that his next step was his final step. And as he scuttled off out into the streets and paused, perhaps, to ponder his freedom, don't you think it's at least possible that he got himself back onto the fringes of the Calvary crowd, back in his journey to the hill called a skull?

Do you think it would be possible for him at all to look on that scene without it dawning on him with absolute clarity? That was my cross. That was what I deserved. That man is innocent.

That man has died in my place. Now, loved ones, listen to me clearly as I finish. It is in this dawning awareness that a man or a woman moves from giving simple intellectual assent to truth that we've been able to process in our minds, to the response of our hearts and our wills to the glory of what has happened upon the cross, so that we find ourselves saying with the hymn writer, My Lord, what love is this that pays so dearly that I, the guilty one, may go free? When Paul gets to the heart of this in 1 Corinthians and he's talking about the cross, it's fabulous. He says, you know, Corinthians, the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing. But to those who are being saved, it is the power of God. Do you want to know whether you're converted or not?

Take the test. If you regard this story as some kind of theological arm's-length notion of ultimate folly, you remain unconverted, and you need to bow your knee to Christ. But if in your heart at whatever level the childlike faith, the stirrings, the rumblings, the longings, the awareness in your heart, you say, Yeah, that's exactly right. That is exactly right. The innocent dies that I, the guilty, might live.

That's it. That's my only hope in life and my only hope in death. And if yours is another hope, it is a false hope in the crassest of terms. Why would Jesus ever have died upon the cross if you, sir, were good enough to go to heaven on your own cognizance?

He didn't die there as an example of selflessness. He who was totally innocent became totally guilty in order that we who are totally guilty might be declared completely innocent. There is no other message like this in the whole wide world. Believe it and be saved. Reject it and remain lost. To be on the peak, to make the drop, to commit, face all your fears.

Stare them down and trust Christ. You're listening to Truth for Life. That is Alistair Begg compelling each of us to commit our lives to Christ.

Today's message is titled, Pilot Caves In. As we learned today, the death and resurrection of Jesus are the most pivotal moments in all of history. Everyone needs to hear this story. That's why I was grateful to have the opportunity to write a brief book recently for those who don't know Jesus. It's called 12 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Easter.

The book 12 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Easter is a book for you to read and then pass on to someone else. And it's yours when you give a donation today. You can give a one-time gift at slash donate. Or you can arrange to set up an automatic monthly donation when you visit slash truthpartner. And if it's easier, just give us a call.

Our number is 888-588-7884. By the way, if you are benefiting from our study in the Gospel of Luke, you can listen to Alistair teach through the entire book, all 24 chapters. The series is available to purchase on a USB drive. There are hours of listening on this extensive collection. In fact, there are 143 sermons from Alistair on this one USB.

We're grateful to be able to make it available to you for our cost of just $5. You'll find the Gospel of Luke USB online at slash store. Now was the cross really necessary? Could not salvation have been won through less brutal, less humiliating means? Join us tomorrow to find out why a cross less Christianity is not just futile, it's dangerous. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-03-19 05:03:49 / 2024-03-19 05:12:17 / 8

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