Pilate - Parts 1 & 2

Scripture: Mark 15:9, John 3:16
The most pathetic story in the Bible may be the life of Pontius Pilate. He hated Jews and was loyal to Rome. He was determined to make the Jews follow his commands. But one day an innocent Man stood before him.
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Today I want to point you to the most pathetic story in all the Bible. It's the story of a man who was born a slave, but yet rose to the peak of success and finally became the most abject failure of any man in human history.

He was born in the Roman empire as the very lowest of slaves. Now, it was customary for slaves in those days to be mustered automatically into the armed services of Rome. Of course, since their service was forced, we can imagine that there was no particular loyalty among this group of soldiers. But, the man of whom I speak was a very ambitious person and also very brave. He went as high as he could go in the legions of Rome and his courageous exploits were even brought to the attention of Caesar himself. He was one of the bravest soldiers in the ranks of the Roman service. Caesar, in recognition of his achievements, authorized a change of status for this man. He was granted his freedom in order that he might even go higher in the ranks of leadership.

He became one of the most loyal servants of the emperor. If Caesar told him to go over and capture Sicily, he would bravely lead the army to victory and come back to lay the prize at the feet of his master. Finally, he retired from the services as a great hero of his people. He returned to Rome amidst the applause of an appreciative nation. He was taken into Caesar's own household to live out his years of retirement. There he met a very beautiful woman, a relative of Caesar, by the name of Claudia Popula. He wooed her and won her heart in marriage. Then this man began looking around for something to do. The quiet sedentary life of retirement was not too agreeable to him because he was a man of action. His life had been lived amid the clash of arms. He was now restless for something to do. At that time there was just one great trouble spot in the Roman Empire and that was Palestine. It was a sizzling, seething boiling pot of unrest and sedition. So this man went to the Emperor and asked to be appointed the governor of that province. After due consideration, his request was granted. He took his wife and family and moved to Palestine. In the Bible this man is called Pontius Pilate. He became very fierce and dogmatic in his administration. He was a corrupt man anyway, and would do anything for money. He hated the Jews with a purple passion, and they reciprocated by hating him in return. Sometimes, just for fun, he would dress his soldiers up like Hebrew worshipers. They would go right into the sacred assemblies of the Jews. When everyone was gathered, they would pull out their weapons and beat the poor Jews unmercifully. Things continued to deteriorate, and finally it all came to a head over the incident of the aqueduct. Pilate had asked the Jews to help pay for this public project out of their temple treasure. They refused to do so, so Pilate gathered a group of soldiers and marched down to the temple to forcibly extract the money. When he arrived there he found the Jews massed in front of the temple. They had heard about his scheme, and Pilate was prevented from carrying out his plans. Later, he found out that sixteen Jews had actually been responsible for foiling his plans. A bit later a servant came running to tell him that all sixteen of those Jews were offering their sacrifices in the temple area. Hastily gathering a contingency of soldiers, he rushed down and slaughtered all sixteen of those men as they worshiped God. Their blood was mingled with that of their sacrifices upon the altar of the temple. You will find the story recorded in Luke 13.

Well, the tension continued to mount. One protest committee after another was sent to Pilate to try to alleviate the situation, but he would listen to none of them. The man who had never been defeated would give no concessions whatsoever. He said, "You Jews will do as I tell you or else there will be plenty of trouble for you. There will be no foolishness from you." This was the situation when Pilate came face to face with Jesus of Nazareth. You see, the Jews had taken Christ in the early hours of that morning, realizing that they could do nothing except by Roman approval. Their idea was to get Christ condemned and actually put to death before the sun arose. He had too many friends; they wanted to get it done illegally before the dawning of the day. This was why they now hurried into the judgment hall of Pilate. A messenger was sent to arouse the governor from his bed. Now he was hurrying along to take his place on the bench of the judgment hall.

Friends, I've tried to imagine what disposition Pilate might have been in on that particular morning. He hated these Jews anyway. Now they had disturbed his sleep and he was being summoned by the very men for whom he had the utmost contempt. He must have been purple with rage as he strode along into the hall. He was determined to make short work of this business and get back to his bed.

Now, friends, we have every reason to believe that Pilate knew instantly that Jesus was not guilty. In fact, the Holy Spirit was striving with his heart, convincing him that he should have absolutely nothing to do with the blood of this innocent person. In Mark 15:9, we read that he understood Jesus had been delivered to him out of envy. Now Pilate was not a just judge. Many times he had delivered innocent men to their deaths without a qualm or a consideration. But now there was something strange and different about the entire situation. Pilate was being moved upon by the Holy Spirit in such a way as he had never known it before. Strange new feelings were stirring within his heart. A deep and mysterious conviction was urging him to let this man alone, have nothing to do with his condemnation.

Well, friends, we're going to consider today some of the steps Pilate took in his downward course of self-condemnation and destruction. I want you to ask yourselves whether you would have taken any of these steps or not, in your own personal experience.

First of all, Pilate dodged the decision. At least he tried to have nothing at all to do with the man. He wanted to be released from the responsibility. He would take care of any other problem in his kingdom, but not this. He would like to just ignore it, let it alone, have nothing to do with it in the least.

Friends, as Christ stands and knocks at the doors of your hearts, will you also send Him away? If you do, you will never forget that moment, as long as you live. The fact is, that you cannot ignore the claims of Jesus of Nazareth. Finally, you must crown Him or crucify Him in your own life. Pilate suddenly remembered a way by which he might avoid the awful predicament. It came to him that Jesus was from Galilee and therefore under the jurisdiction of Herod. With great relief he called soldiers and ordered them to take the prisoner to Herod for trial. As they led Jesus away, no doubt Pilate congratulated himself on his wisdom and foresight. But soon the shouts of the crowd alerted him to the fact that the prisoner was being returned. Soon, Jesus was standing once more before him to be tried. At last he realized that there was no way of avoiding the decision. He knew now that he had to do something.

Then Pilate took the second step in his downward course. He decided to conform just a little bit to the pressure of the multitude. He would make a slight compromise in order to release himself from the terrible responsibility. Friends, have you ever thought of doing the same thing in your relationship with the world. Have you ever considered lowering the standards just a little bit in order to make things easier for you in some particular situation? Pilate said, "I will scourge him and then let him go." In his heart of course, Pilate thought that the people would be willing to release Jesus after they witnessed the awful sight of a Roman scourging. Do you realize friends, what was involved in this type of punishment? Usually one of the strongest most rugged soldiers of the legions was selected to administer the beating. The prisoner was stripped to the waist, and then the long Roman whip was placed in the hands of the soldier. It was made of lengths of leather with bits of sharpened steel laced into the leathery thongs. The soldier would stand at a distance and bring down the lash with all his strength until it curled around the naked body cutting the flesh and lacerating the body. If you are ever tempted to give in just a little bit and lower the standards of truth in your own life, just remember what it did to Jesus when Pilate tried the same thing. Every time you conform a little bit to the pressures of sin in the world about you, you are wounding the Savior just as Pilate's conformity did so long ago.

Pilate himself, was almost moved to tears by the patient suffering of the prisoner. He felt, surely now they will release him and let him go. But when he tried to do it at the end of the punishment, the crowd screamed back at him in defiance. They were not willing in the least that Jesus should be turned loose. This was an unexpected turn of events, and Pilate stood pale and sweating, wondering just what to do next. He knew of course what should be done. By now he was convinced that this was not just an ordinary man. He was even moved to make the statement, "I find no fault in Him." But now the people began to threaten an official complaint to Caesar because of what he had done. He had already gone too far now, and they demanded that he have the prisoner executed.

As Pilate trembled under the mortal fear of his convictions, it suddenly came into his mind concerning the custom of the Jews. At this particular time it was customary to release any prisoner that the people might desire. He quickly called a soldier to his side and sent him hurrying back through the maximum security doors of the Roman dungeon to bring Barabbas. Barabbas was one of the most wicked and depraved of all the prisoners contained in the dungeon. His black record of social violence and crime were longer than any other accused of the Imperial Roman Empire. Soon, this man was standing beside Jesus before the multitude in the judgment hall. I tried to picture the impact the scene must have made on those who watched. Jesus with the bleeding brow, yet calm, kind and serene. Barabbas on the other hand, was a hard looking individual with cruel, cynical beady eyes, those of a professional criminal. It seems that Pilate believed that the people would choose for Jesus to be released as the two men stood in startling contrast before them. And so while all eyes were fastened upon Christ, Pilate in his commanding voice said, "Whom will ye that I release unto you?" For just a moment it seemed that his gamble had paid off and that maybe the battle had been won. But friends, evil spirits were present that day, looking out through the eyes of human beings. And suddenly a great swelling cry rose up from that multitude, "Crucify Him, crucify Him, release unto us Barabbas." Then Pilate, with frustration and disbelief registered upon his face, said, ‘What then will ye do with Jesus, which is called, the Christ?" And the crowd screamed back, "Crucify Him, crucify Him." You see friends, Pilate made the mistake of thinking he could remain neutral in the circumstances. He felt if he could only let the issue alone himself personally, that he would be guiltless. He discovered, of course, that no one can leave alone the Son of God. Decisions have to be made, issues have to be settled. The Bible says, "He that is not with me is against me.'' Where do you stand, friends, in this thing? Somebody says, "Well, I'm not against Jesus, I would certainly never crucify Him or put Him to death." But, friends, are you for Him completely? Do your neighbors know that? Does everybody know it? Your grocery man, does everybody know where you stand concerning Jesus of Nazareth? Beware, beware. That was Pilates fourth step downward.

Now, of course, he did not know what to do at all. The Holy Spirit was still striving mightily with him. He was trembling from head to foot, sweat gathered upon his brow and every joint of his body was trembling under the mysterious power of conviction. Without doubt, Pilate must have realized that his very kingdom was at stake, his future was involved in the decision that must be made very quickly. This is why he was so emotionally agitated. Suddenly a messenger pushed his way through the crowd and shoved a letter into Pilates trembling hands. He opened it quickly and stood reading the message from his wife Claudia. She said, "Have thou nothing to do with this man, I suffered many things in a dream this night concerning Him." Have you ever wondered what that dream was like? What did God reveal to this woman during that night which moved her to write such a letter to Pilate? I'm convinced, friends, those "many things" included the great plan of salvation for the world. Perhaps God showed her the beautiful garden of Eden, the entrance of sin, the fall of mankind, the ministry of the prophets through the long centuries of the past. Perhaps she even saw the star over Bethlehem and witnessed the baptism of Jesus, the great miracles He wrought, the garden scene of agony. Then perhaps she saw Him standing before her own husband to be condemned and crucified. Then perhaps the scene faded and she saw Calvary and three crosses, felt the earth shake and then witnessed the glorious resurrection from the dead. Maybe she saw the ascension into the clouds and then looked on down past our own day and beheld the returning Saviour as He comes with all the holy angels with Him. And then perhaps as she beheld the transcendent glory of that scene in her dream, someone spoke and said, "And we believe in Him who died by Pontius Pilate crucified." Then she awoke in a frenzy of agony and distress. She grabbed a pen and quickly wrote a letter. "Dear Pilate, have thou nothing to do with this man, for I have suffered many things because of him tonight in a dream." "Claudia." Then she called a trusted servant, and said, "Take this and put it into his hands and make sure it is not diverted and be sure that he reads it while you are still waiting there." And so now Pilate is standing trying to read the letter in his shaking hands.

Friends, if ever a man's conscience burned within him, Pilate's did on this occasion. But he wavered still. Did conviction ever come to you, and you wavered in the same way? Have you known exactly what was right and yet hesitated to do it? This was the exact position of Pilate on this occasion. Up until now he had been able to deport himself like a true soldier that he was. But now his voice becomes hoarse and he almost loses control of himself, emotionally. At last he says, "Bring water, I'm finished with this case." And he washed his hands before the multitude.

Friends, listen, water will never wash away the blood guilt of sin. It will take more than soap and water to get rid of the condemnation and guilt which passes upon the transgressor. Could it be that you've been troubled as Pilate and tried this same way of escape of your guilt and conviction? Let me tell you something, until John 3:16 breaks right in through the middle of your life, there will be no answer to the dilemma. The only answer is the blood of Jesus Christ. It can set you free. It can relieve you and cleanse you, but there is no other way of escape. Well, they took my Jesus and led Him down the winding path of Calvary where He was nailed upon the tree. He was lifted up between Heaven and earth and died an ignominious death between two thieves for the sins of the world.

Pilate went on about his work trying to forget about the episode and thinking it was undoubtedly ended. But he kept hearing rumors and little bits of story concerning the resurrection of Jesus. He tried to banish the thoughts from his mind and tried to forget about it because he realized that it couldn't be true. But the things persisted, and finally, he could bear it no longer. He called the centurion in charge of the soldiers guarding the tomb of Christ. He said, "Listen, I want to ask you something. I've been hearing a story and it's about to drive me crazy, this man Jesus who was crucified, I've been hearing stories that He is raised from the dead. It's not true is it? What do you know about it?" The Centurion stammered for a moment, dropped his head, paled. Suddenly Pilate knew that there was much more to the story when he understood. He said, "Listen, your head is worth nothing to me, you can tell the whole truth now." "Alright," the Centurion said, "We went to the tomb that night, and we were there early and wide awake, but suddenly while we were guarding the place, a bright light shown around us, in fact, it was brighter than the noonday sun, and then a great beautiful shinning creature walked over to that stone and rolled it back with one hand and sat on it. He said ‘Son of God come forth.' And then we saw Jesus, the one who was dead, come forth from the tomb. We were terrified, we couldn't move, we fell down as dead men, and at last when we regained our consciousness, we staggered on our way to make a report. The priests met us on the way and took us to the high priest. He offered to pay us money if we would only report that He had been stolen away." Then suddenly Pilate knew that he had betrayed and crucified the Son of God. He was seized with an uncontrollable trembling from head to foot. Shortly after this he was called to Rome to answer some of the charges brought against him by the Jews. On his way there, Caesar died and a new emperor took his place. The new emperor did not recognize Pilate and he was displaced from his governorship. Pilate wandered around the Roman streets as a drunken wretch, until finally he died a miserable death by his own hand. He thought he could save something by giving in, but finally, he lost everything.

My friends, you and I are standing exactly where Pilate stood that day. Only two ways are open before us. We can either crown Christ as the King of our lives, or we can crucify Him by holding on to our sins. I pray that the Holy Spirit will make this picture very crystal clear before your eyes today. You are now seated on the judgment bench, and Christ is standing before you. The question is asked, "What will ye do with Jesus, which is called the Christ?" But, one day very, very soon now, the picture will be reversed. He will be sitting upon the judgment seat and you will be standing before Him. The great question at that time will be, "What will Jesus do with you?"

My friends, what He does with you then will depend altogether upon what you do with Him today. Will you accept Him as the King of your life and crown Him as King? If you refuse to accept Him as your Saviour, you must put Him in an open death and crucify Him afresh by continuing in transgression. May God help you to make the right decision now.

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