It is the last day of our Lord’s earthly life. He has just spent a night of anguish. In distress over leaving his disciples, anguish of soul over what he must face. Betrayed, denied, and abandoned by his disciples. Arrest, maltreatment, and mockery from the Jewish authorities.
A night to send most anyone into a tailspin. Turn them into a quivering, cowering coward. But not Jesus.
In the early morning they led him before Pontius Pilate, rapidly firing accusations of treason. But Jesus, in full control, answered them not a word. He stood there with regal self-control. So much so that Pilate marvelled.
Perhaps it was this that made him decide to release him. “Why, what evil has he done?” he asked the Jews.
As prefect or governor of Judea, he had supreme power in the land, and he alone could order execution or spare the prisoner’s life. But he also knew that the Jewish people were easily excited and swayed. And under his cruel and oppressive reign, quick to rebel.
So needing to keep the crowd under control, he let them choose the prisoner he should release. “Whom do you want me to release to you?” he asked, as was his custom every Passover. Barabbas, or Jesus, who is called Christ?” And urged by their envious Jewish leaders, they shouted for Barabbas, a common criminal.
And that’s when Pilate uttered his famous words, forever engraved in history.
What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ?
Surely Pilate did not realize it, but he voiced the question that every person who has ever lived or will live will one day have to face.
And in the following moments, he would be presented with many facts about Jesus’ life. The facts that we must each come to understand and believe before we can ever answer this question correctly.
The facts that Pilate needed, and we still need, to believe about Jesus.
1. Christ’s majesty.
Pilate had already been given a glimpse of Christ’s majesty through witnessing his amazing self-control in such extenuating circumstances. But he was also given proof of it by the Lord’s answer to the question: Are you the King of the Jews? “For this reason I have been born, and for this reason I have come into the world…” Christ told him.
What the Bible says: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:16 WEB)
2. Christ’s innocence and righteousness.
“I am innocent of the blood of this righteous person.” Pilate stated, as he washed his hands of the affair. And he continued to repeat, “What evil has he done?”
What the Bible says: “For him who knew no sin he made to be sin on our behalf; so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21 WEB)
3. Christ’s deity.
“We have a law, and by our law, he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God,” the Jewish leaders declared. When Pilate heard that, John tell us, he was even more afraid. He knew it meant that Jesus was claiming to be the Messiah, the Savior of the world.
What the Bible says: “The Word became flesh, and lived among us. We saw his glory, such glory as of the one and only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14 WEB)
4. His (and our) own personal guilt.
After declaring Christ righteous, Pilate also said, ‘You see to it.’ “You see to his crucifixion. I don’t want any part in it.” And yet he did play a part. As the judicial power in the land, only he could condemn a man to execution.
It’s interesting to note that those were the same words the chief priests and elders spoke to Judas after his betrayal of Christ. “You see to it,” they told him when he mourned that he had betrayed an innocent man. In other words, you did it, it’s not our problem. Yet they were all parties to Christ’s crucifixion and death. They all played their part, and carried their own blame.
What the Bible says: “For all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23 WEB)
5. A dead Christ who had shed his blood on the cross.
Mark tells us that when Joseph of Arimethea went to ask Pilate for the Lord’s body, he was so amazed at how quickly he had died, that he sent for a soldier to confirm his death.
What the Bible says: “But God commends his own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Roman 5:8 WEB)
6. The Resurrected Christ.
Matthew recounts that the Jewish priests asked Pilate to place a guard at Christ’s tomb. They knew of his claim to rise from the dead after three days. And when it happened, they assured those same guards, “If this comes to the governor’s ears, we will persuade him to let you off.”
What the Bible says: “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures… was buried… was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures and… then appeared to all the apostles. (1 Corinthians 15:3-7 WEB)
Pilate had been presented with all the essential facts about the Lord.
Perhaps they hadn’t been presented in a clear ABC fashion. But the facts were there as Christ’s story was played out in front of him.
I think it reasonably safe to say that had Pilate been searching for truth, he would have found it. Luke tells us that the centurion at the foot of the cross glorified God saying, “Certainly this was a righteous man.” And he had been presented with fewer facts than Pilate.
But Pilate was cynical that truth even existed. “Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice,” Jesus told him. To which Pilate derisively responded, “What is truth?”
As far as we know, Pilate remained in his guilt. Like Judas, who tried to alleviate his by returning the bribe money he had received, Pilate tried to wash his hands of it all. But neither their guilt nor ours can ever be so simply erased.
It’s not enough to know the important facts about Jesus and his life. We must each individually answer that great question.
What then will you do with Jesus?
That is the essential question we must each answer.
It takes deciding to believe in who he is, what he came to accomplish, and accepting the price he paid for our own sin.