Were you there—when they crucified my Lord?
1. Pilate Politicking
13 Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers and the people, 14 and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. 15 Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death. 16 Therefore, I will punish him and then release him.” 17 (Now he was obliged to release one man to them at the feast).
18 With one voice they cried out, “Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!”
19 (Barabbas had been thrown into prison for an insurrection in the city, and for murder.) 20 Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. 21 But they kept shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” 22 For the third time he spoke to them: “Why? What crime has this man committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty. Therefore I will have him punished and then release him.” 23 But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed.
24 So Pilate decided to grant their demand. 25 He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will.
Easter and Christmas
Long before I became a Christian, Easter was to me one of my favourite times of the year. School and public holidays plus Easter eggs had a lot to do with that. But it also seemed significant to me that Spring and new life came about Easter time. I came to Christ just before Easter, and then it meant so much more—new life coming out of the death and resurrection of Jesus had become personal to me. Just as I now think in one way that Christmas is a continual event to remember, so I now think that about Easter. At Christmas we remember that God became Man in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, miraculously conceived and naturally born of a virgin. God came to live on earth as a human being! Easter tells me that Christ’s death on the cross works 24/7/and 12/365 or 366. I constantly need His forgiveness and cleansing from my sins, and the message of the cross reminds me that I can have that because Jesus’ blood was shed for me. The resurrection also reminds me continually that my living Saviour, through the Holy Spirit, will never leave me nor forsake me. He is my Friend.
Whether Easter is ahead of you or behind you as you read this, you either do know, or can come to know, Jesus as your Lord and Saviour, by putting your trust in Him and yielding your heart to Him. Jesus’ death and rising again are not just for Easter for you either, but for eternity and also for each day on earth. So, let’s consider Jesus’ cross and empty tomb in more detail. We will seek to be eyewitnesses now as we concentrate on the cross, by examining the varied attitudes of folk who stand watching or are involved in that cruel death of ‘the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me’ (Galatians 2:20). After all, He did all that to forgive my sins and draw me to God—and to honour and please Him by my life.
Just as then, people now have different attitudes to Jesus. Some are good attitudes, and some bad—just as it is around that cross, where Jesus sheds His blood and took the punishment for our sin. We will look briefly, in each chapter of this book, at different people. We can learn a lot from them all. But we need to remember that there are three crosses at Calvary, and three victims. One is guilty and, as far as we know, carries on to his death in his sin. One is guilty but turns in repentance to Jesus not long before he dies. Jesus assures him of an immediate home in Heaven. Those two are cronies of Barabbas and are convicted criminals, loved by Jesus, nevertheless. The One on the central cross is the Lord Jesus Christ, God the Son, bearing our sins, judgment and punishment. He will miraculously rise from the dead three days later. (We will look at that in Part 2 of this book.)
Presenting Pontius Pilate
But now we look at our first character involved in the execution of Jesus by crucifixion. He is the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate. He is known as a hard and cruel man. He must please Caesar, his boss and Emperor in Rome, which is the occupying power in Israel. He has displeased Caesar before and is very aware that he must not do that again or this Emperor may respond, also, in a hard and cruel way. Pilate needs to control his occupied territory, Israel, and manage his relationship with the Jews, especially the ruling Council of religious leaders, or Sanhedrin, made up of the Pharisees and Sadducees, and controlled by the High Priest. To cause trouble may be career-limiting and life-limiting for Pilate. But to let the Jews off too lightly may also incur Caesar’s displeasure.
So, politics plays a big part in how Pilate now reacts. That means controlling the Jews without causing unnecessary upset or complaints reaching Rome. If Pilate follows what he knows, sees, hears, and logically and legally works out, he must never allow Jesus’s crucifixion. But politics whispers, or even shouts, ‘Put Pilate, Rome and Caesar first.’ Before being too hard on this Roman Governor, we too need to be absolutely open and honest when we consider our relationship with Jesus: the word ‘repent’ means to admit we are wrong, tell God we are sorry, take a clear step from the wrong in our life to perform a 180 degree turn, by asking God to help us live a new life in Christ. He will indwell our hearts by the Holy Spirit, if we are real about it, and then enable and empower us to live differently. There is no room for promoting personal politics where truth and forgiveness are involved. Pilate failed. Christians must put Christ first.
So, what is it that causes Pilate to remain on the wrong side of fairness and God’s forgiveness, and also the wrong side of God’s eternal wrath on sin? Check Luke 23:13-25 as you read this.
- Pilate starts honestly and fairly. He seems to intend to resist the religious leaders’ dishonest claim that Jesus deserves to die for inciting the people to rebel. He states that both he and King Herod have found Jesus innocent. How can he negotiate that now?
- From that seemingly fair start he strangely announces his plan to punish Jesus, the innocent one, before releasing Him. Why punish an innocent man? Maybe to give the Jews a ‘result’, however small compared with their demand for Jesus’ blood? Pilate compromises in a relatively small way to start with. Compromises often start small—and then grow. They can give birth to a monster. Beware!
- Pilate has maintained the accepted but unjust practice of releasing someone at this time of the year, guilty or not. That is an ongoing unjust compromise. Ongoing compromises are hard to get rid of. Real repentance and faith in Christ are needed—and it still can be hard to be transparently fair and honest. We need God’s help.
- The crowd shout for Jesus’ blood and ask for Barabbas, a murderer, rogue, gang leader, and troublemaker to be freed instead of Jesus. Barabbas’ place on the cross will now be for Jesus. Pilate now fails to insist on what he knows he should justly do. Instead, he appeals to those he should be directing. He weakly promises, again wrongly, that Jesus will be punished before His release.
- Crowd pressure builds on Pilate, with repeated cries of ‘Crucify Him!’ Pilate has already declared Jesus faultless. But fear of the crowd makes him act wrongly again. Their loud shouts prevail. Pilate surrenders to evil. He releases the guilty one, Barabbas, and sends the holy and sinless Son of God to die. We all should determine to go God’s way and to ask God for strength to follow Jesus closely in this evil world which often hates His standards and always prefers its sins. Are we not like Pilate sometimes? Those who trust and follow Christ, especially in today’s world, need to stay close to Him and resist peer pressure in His strength. That is why Christians read the Bible every day and spend time praying personally to God and ask for the Holy Spirit to fill and help them.
- Do you realise that, even as men’s sin and compromise abound here (from political Pilate, to crooked religious leaders, to the cruel crowd who are so easily manipulated by those wicked leaders), God is accomplishing His perfect will at the same time? He is Sovereign. God the Father hates and condemns sin of every and any kind. Yet He formed a gracious Master plan, along with Jesus. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit always work in perfect unison. Together they form the Triune God of Three in One and One in Three, known as the Trinity. Jesus is not only fully God from eternity to eternity: He is also the only sinless and perfect Man the world has ever seen. In loving compassion, He came from Heaven to earth where, on the cross, He paid for the sins of all sinners who will turn their back on their sins to ask Jesus to save and forgive them. So even in man’s sinfulness, God lovingly and graciously plans to forgive and save each sinner who repents and believes in Jesus. Cruel and wicked men put Christ on the cross, and in so doing fulfil God the Father’s eternal plan of providing a Sin-bearer and Saviour for lost men and women.
How about you?
Have you trusted the Lord Jesus Christ as your Saviour? If not, are you willing to turn your back on all your wrongdoing, resist peer pressure, and put your full confidence and trust in Jesus personally? Will you receive and believe in Him? Are you willing to follow Him as Lord of your life?
‘Yet to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.’ (John 1:12).
‘For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.’ (John 3:16).