Meanwhile Jesus stood before the governor, who questioned Him: "Are You the King of the Jews?" "You have said so," Jesus answered.
I. THE PRISONER AT THE BAR.
1. "Now Jesus stood before the governor.
(1) But who is this Jesus? Immanuel! The Creator and Upholder of all things, mysteriously enshrined in human nature.
(2) Then what a miracle of condescension is here! The stoop was wonderful from the throne of glory to the manger of Bethlehem. But what a marvel that he should submit to be arraigned before a mortal!
(3) The condescension will be set in its strongest light by a grand reversal of this scene. He wilt yet appear as Judge of all. Pilate will then have to answer at his bar. The accusers also will then have to give account of their accusations.
(4) We shall all do welt to keep that solemnity evermore in mind (see Psalm 50:3, 22).
2. Listen to his confession.
(1) To implicate him with the Romans, he is accused of claiming to be the King of the Jews (see Luke 23:2). He shrinks not from the avowal without explanation or qualification. He is King over Jews and Romans, over angels and devils, over heaven, earth, and hell.
(2) But he explains the spiritual nature of the kingdom he came there to establish (see John 18:33-37). While asserting his royalty without qualification, he takes care that Pilate should not proceed it, ignorance upon the malicious suggestions of the priests.
(3) Caesar, then, evidently, had nothing to fear from Jesus. In the face of this good confession" (1 Timothy 6:13) the accusation was utterly broken down.
3. Mark his silence.
(1) When accused of the chief priests he answered nothing. There was nothing to refute. Lo, here the dignity of innocence!
(2) This might well astonish Pilate, that One whose life was sought by charges so manifestly false should not utter a word to repel them. It was a new thing in the experience of the governor. Such conduct plainly showed that Jesus was no common person.
(3) To Pilate still he answers nothing. The written Word, like the Lord, does not accept the challenge of the unbeliever. It leaves every man to work out his own conviction, as it leaves him to work out his own salvation.
(4) Innocence is its own vindication. It can afford to wait for justice. Hence we must not render railing for railing (see 1 Peter 2:23).
II. THE WITNESSES IN COURT.
1. The leaders were the rulers of the Jews.
(1) They were those hypocrites whose enormities Jesus had so unsparingly rebuked in his preaching. Of this hypocrisy they never repented, but nursed their resentment against him.
(2) They had vindicated the truth of the account he gave of them, by the manner in which they proceeded against him.
(a) In their plot to destroy him.
(b) Their bribery of Judas.
(c) The indecent haste in which they gathered the council in the night.
(d) Their false accusation against him of blasphemy.
(3) They vindicated it still in their proceeding. In accusing him before Pilate they proceed under a new accusation. They artfully concluded that the charge of sedition would be that by which the Roman governor might be moved. Rank, whether civil or ecclesiastical, is no security against rascality.
2. The multitude were under their inspiration.
(1) They are moved by them to clamour for Barabbas.
(a) At the Paschal Feast, which commemorated the release of the Hebrews from the bondage of Egypt, it became a custom, probably of Roman origin, to release some criminal (see Matthew 26:5). At our gospel Paschal Feast sinners are liberated from the bondage of sin
(b) In accordance with this custom, Pilate gave them the option of releasing Barabbas, a notable offender, guilty at once of treason, murder, and felony (see Luke 23:19; John 18:40), or Jesus. Note: Barabbas was really guilty of the particular crime of which they falsely accused Jesus (see Mark 15:7). Here, then, is the choice between good and evil, between which every man has to decide.
(c) They preferred Barabbas. "Not this man, but Barabbas!" is still the cry of every one who hates good and loves evil. Herein the Jews violated their Law, which inflicts death "without mercy" upon criminals (see Hebrews 10:28).
(d) How their injustice here proclaims the innocency of Jesus! The guilty Barabbas thus released that Jesus might die, was a fitting representation of that countless multitude of pardoned sinners to whom his death brings everlasting life.
(2) The multitude, moved by the rulers, demand the crucifixion of Jesus. They did this against reason. They did it against the expostulation of Pilate. What an opportunity they had of defeating the purposes of the rulers! They fatally preferred the evil to the good.
(3) They are moved to take the guilt of his blood upon them.
(a) This was intended to indemnify Pilate, who wavered between justice and expediency. It is a bold undertaking to be bound for a sinner to the Almighty. None but Christ can effectually bear another's sin.
(b) But they shared Pilate's guilt by sharing his sin.
(c) They cruelly involve their children also; and without limiting the terrible entail. By this act they renounced that ancient charter, "I will be a God to thee and to thy seed." Wicked men are the natural enemies of their own children.
(4) How dreadfully this imprecation was verified! Within forty years they suffered with singular resemblance to the manner in which they caused Jesus to suffer. Josephus says, "When they [the Romans] had scourged them [the Jews], and tormented them before death all manner of ways, they crucified them over against the wall of the city." He proceeds to describe the horrors that he witnessed, and says they were crucified by Titus, five hundred in a day, till "room was wanting for crosses, and crosses for bodies."
III. THE GOVERNOR IN THE JUDGMENT SEAT.
1. He was convinced of the innocency of Jesus.
(1) His good sense showed him that nothing was proved against him. The best men often have been accused of the worst crimes. He saw that "envy" had instigated the rulers. This is worse than hatred; for it is hatred without a cause. Hatred presumes the imputation of a fault, but envy acknowledges an excellence. The eye of the ruler was evil because Jesus was good.
(2) In this judgment he was confirmed by his wife's dream. It was clearly a Divine testimony to the innocence of Jesus. It was probably of such a nature as to fill her with apprehensions of the consequences of her husband's consenting to the death of Jesus (cf. Genesis 20:3). The "suffering" of Pilate's wife on this account was creditable to her conscience. Tradition calls her Claudia Procula, and she is canonized in the Grecian Church. Note: This reference to Pilate's wife marks the time of the event, and proves the veracity of the narrative, for we learn from Tacitus that in the reign of Tiberius the wives of governors had permission to attend them in the provinces.
(3) He therefore sought to release Jesus. He declared that he "found no fault in him." In naming such a wretch as Barabbas as the alternative to Jesus, in the release at the feast, he hoped to secure that of Jesus. He pleaded with the multitude against their clamour for the blood of Jesus.
2. Yet he sacrificed justice to expediency.
(1) He knew that Tiberius was jealous and sanguinary, and he feared the malignity of the Jews. Philo describes Pilate as "naturally inflexible, rigid, and self-willed." But he had already had to contend with two insurrections of the Jews, viz. when he attempted to bring the Roman standard into Jerusalem, and when he applied the wealth of the sacred treasury to secular uses.
(2) He ought never to have appealed to the people; but he loved power rather than justice. He was prepared to do unscrupulous things rather than risk his procuratorship, if not his liberty or life. There are occasions in every life to test character.
(3) He would fain relieve himself of his responsibility. He tried to devolve it upon Herod (see Luke 23:5, etc.). He then tried to devolve it upon the people (ver. 24). No ceremony of washing the hands can free them from the stains of blood guiltiness. To protest innocence, while practising crime, is to sin against conscience. "Sin is a brat nobody is willing to own" (Henry). The priests threw it upon Judas; Pilate now throws it upon them. "See ye to it."
(4) Still God finds it at the sinner's door (see Acts 4:27). Not long after this, Pilate was deprived of his office through the accusations of that very people, and, being banished to Gaul, ended his life by suicide.
IV. THE SOLDIERS IN THE PRAETORIUM.
1. They were in the pay of Caesar. They were by their profession jealous of the honour of their master. But there is a King of kings, to whom subjects of earthly sovereigns owe the first allegiance. In mistaken zeal:
2. They mock the royalty of Jesus.
(1) They invest him with a scarlet robe, in derision, as though he wore the crimson or purple of kings (cf. Mark 15:17; John 19:2). They crown him with plaited thorns. The frail reed is made to serve as his sceptre (cf. Matthew 11:7; Psalm 45:6).
(2) In this character they pay him insolent homage. They spat upon him, as he had been before abused in the high priest's hall (see Matthew 26:27). They smote him with the reed, making his ensign of mock royalty an instrument of cruelty.
(3) The soldiers seem to have taken their cue from Herod (see Luke 23:11). It was ordained that the contempt of men should in all this signally confess the truth of God.
(4) The evangelists record no word of Christ's during these tortures. He sustained them with unresisting submission (see Isaiah 53:7). How completely is he left alone! The Jews persecute him, Judas betrays him, Peter denies him, the rest forsake him; and now the Roman is with his enemies. No plot could have been better contrived to show the moral grandeur of a hero, not braving but enduring the accumulated wrongs of an evil world with the dignity of meekness. - J.A.M.
And Jesus stood before the governor.
I. In speaking of the CHARACTER AND CONDUCT OF PILATE, we desire to bring him before you, as far as possible, as a man. He has won a terrible pre-eminence among the sons of Adam. Every child is taught to say that its Lord was crucified "under Pontius Pilate." It is a mistake to suppose that these instruments of our Lord's sufferings were men of astounding depravity. Pilate was not of this class. He was a reluctant agent in these events. He was induced simply by expediency. Indifference to religion can issue in deeds as unpardonable as utter violation of its spirit. Again and again, on a narrower stage, has been acted over that scene of criminal irresolution, resisted impulses, and weak concession to the fear of man.
I. Consider THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD TOWARDS PILATE. We are sometimes tempted to think that they were in very hard case, who, like Pilate, were involved in events so peculiar as were all things connected with Christ's life on earth, that it must have been a great trial of faith to recognize a present God in Jesus as He stood before Pilate. The answer is twofold: First, Pilate's guilt did not lie in this, that he condemned the Son of God, but that without evidence, against his own convictions, he condemned an innocent man, — that to gratify the mob, he prostituted his high office. The fact that the prisoner was God in the flesh, only enters into the question of his guilt, so far as he might, if he would, have known Him. But, secondly, it is evident that Pilate was in a remarkable degree held back from his sin. It has been observed, that the Saviour appears to have exercised the most marked grace towards all who were concerned in His final agony. In Pilate's instance, every possible way consistent with his free-will seems to have been tried, in order to save him from consummating his guilt. Such was the long silence of Christ at the beginning. It is clear from the Gospels, that there was in the whole of our Lord's demeanour an almost supernatural dignity. No words dropped from His lips; He declined, i.e., to plead before an authority inferior to His own, insomuch, it is said, that "Pilate marvelled." And when, after Pilate had uttered the fatal words, "Take ye Him and crucify Him," yet another appeal was made to his conscience. The Jews triumphantly responded, "We have a law, and by our law He ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God." This open and undisguised claim to superhuman rank, did for a moment startle the wavering judge: "When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he was the more afraid." Again, it may be, there recurred to his mind the feelings of involuntary awe inspired from the beginning by his mysterious prisoner; thoughts glanced across him, that there might be more than he surmised in the events in which he bore a part; "that Just Man," against whom no charge could be substantiated, and of whose miraculous power tidings so strange had reached his ears, might be (as old records told there had been in former times), at least a messenger of Deity. Hence his earnest question to our Lord, "Whence art Thou?" Throughout that dread scene of judgment there seems not to have been a moment when Pilate might not have been saved for ever. Again and again he was all but delivered from blood-guiltiness.
(J. R. Woodford, M. A.)I. THE CIVIL MAGISTRATE UNDER WHOSE ADMINISTRATION HE SUFFERED. Pilate's name intimately interwoven with the history of Christ's sufferings; mentioned more than twenty times. The elements which composed his character were contradictory. He had good qualities, but associated with bad principles.
1. He was influenced by the fear of man.
2. He had a sordid regard to place and power.
3. He discovers a servile love of human applause.
4. The sequel of his history is affecting and instructive; the thing he dreaded came, he lost the favour of the emperor.
II. THE PECULIAR NATURE AND CHARACTER OF THOSE SUFFERINGS WHICH HE ENDURED. Look at the sufferings of Christ.
1. In their visible form.
2. Their moral design.
III. THE LESSONS THEY TEACH.
1. The infinite evil of sin.
2. The unbounded love of Jesus.
3. The full compatibility between the irreversible decrees of God and the freedom of man's agency, and the culpability of man's transgression.
4. The true ground of hope for the self-accusing sinner.
5. What a provision of comfort for the suffering Christian.
6. The fear of man bringeth a snare.
1. Was this singular silence the index of His perfect self-sacrifice? Did it show that He would not utter a word to stay the slaughter of His sacred person, which He had dedicated as an offering for us?
2. Was this silence a type of the defencelessness of sin? Nothing can be said in palliation or excuse of human guilt; and therefore He who bore its whole weight stood speechless before His judge.
3. Is not patient silence the best reply to a gainsaying world? Calm endurance answers some questions infinitely more conclusively than the loftiest eloquence. The best apologists for Christianity in the early days were its martyrs. The anvil breaks a host of hammers by quietly bearing the blows.
4. Did not the silent Lamb of God furnish us with a grand example of wisdom? Where every word was occasion for new blasphemy, it was the line of duty to afford no fuel for the flame of sire The ambiguous and the false, the unworthy and mean, will, ere long, overthrow and confute themselves, anal therefore the true can afford to be quiet, and finds silence to be its wisdom.
5. Our Lord, by His silence, furnished a remarkable fulfilment of prophecy (Isaiah 53:7). By His quiet He conclusively proved Himself to be the true Lamb of God.
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
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