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At Pilate's Hall

Jesus stood before the governor

Meanwhile Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked Him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

“You have said so,” Jesus replied.

When He was accused by the chief priests and the elders, He gave no answer. Then Pilate asked Him, “Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?” But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge—to the great amazement of the governor. (Matthew 27:11-14 NIV)

Pontius Pilate was the Roman governor over the region that included Israel. While the Jews had some level of self-government regarding their religion and everyday life through the ruling council - the Sanhedrin - criminal trials that led to executions were in the governor's jurisdiction.

Having found Jesus guilty of blasphemy, which carried a death sentence, the Sanhedrin took Jesus to Pilate with trumped up charges of sedition because they knew he would never execute Jesus for their religious reasons. Their angle was that Jesus claimed to be the King of the Jews, making Himself a rival to Caesar. And so Pilate asks Jesus straight up: “Are you the king of the Jews?”

Jesus' reply is simple, yet cagey: “You have said so,” He doesn't say He is a king, but He doesn't say He isn't, either. Once again, Jesus does not respond to the accusations of the prosecutors from the Sanhedrin. Pilate is amazed that Jesus refuses to defend Himself. But Pilate doesn't know that Jesus is going to the cross willingly to lay down His life for the sins of the world - including Pilate's.

The Jews were a particularly independent and stubborn nation in their occupation, and they were difficult to govern. To placate them, Pilate had a custom to release a prisoner during their highest religious celebration, the Passover. He offered them a choice between a well-known criminal named Jesus Barabbas and Jesus of Nazareth.

So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” For he knew it was out of self-interest that they had handed Jesus over to him. (Matthew 27:17-18 NIV)

Pilate could see that Jesus was harmless and Barabbas was a real criminal. Surely they would request the release of Jesus, and not Barabbas. Or so the governor thought.

But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.

“Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” asked the governor.

“Barabbas,” they answered.

“What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Pilate asked.

They all answered, “Crucify him!”

“Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate.

But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!” (Matthew 27:20-23 NIV)

And so Pilate was caught between a rock and a hard place. He found Jesus to be innocent of any crime. But the crowd was angling toward a riot, and it seemed the only way to placate them was to have Jesus executed.

When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!”

All the people answered, “His blood is on us and on our children!” (Matthew 27:24-25 NIV)

And so Pilate symbolically washed his hands of the whole mess. Or did he? On the basis of Roman justice, Pilate should have declared Jesus not guilty and released Him. It was the crowd who was responsible for His crucifixion, right? Or the religious leaders who were inciting the crowd were responsible, right? That may seem right from the human point of view. But the thing that drove Jesus to the cross that day was not the governor's political pragmatism nor the religious leaders' manipulations nor even the crowd's shouts of "Crucify Him!"

What drove Jesus to the cross was His love for us and the need to make the perfect sacrifice for our sins. Jesus went to the cross because of the sins of all of us. The sin of the governor in yielding to the pressure of the moment. Pilate wasn't innocent of Jesus' blood just because he washed his hands of it. Pilate's sin, the religious rulers' sin, the sin of the crowd, the sins of the world - yours and mine - were the cause of the crucifixion of the Son of God. The sacrifice was needed because of our sins. And it was made because the God who made us loves us too much to leave us in bondage to sin and death.

There is an old gospel song that has this chorus:

I should have been crucified

I should have suffered and died

I should have hung on that cross in disgrace

But Jesus, God's Son, took my place

Pilate and the religious rulers and the crowd were playing their parts in a bigger drama - the redemption of the world. And so the most unjust thing that has ever happened took place. The Son of God, who came to save the world, was condemned to die for sins He did not commit.

Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed Him over to be crucified. (Matthew 27:26 NIV)

Jesus, out of love, laid down His life for us sinners. We had no other possibility for redemption than His action on our behalf. And He did it all out of deep, unconditional, gracious love for us. The one response He desires is the only response that makes any sense: We love Him back. We follow Him wherever He leads. We live our lives to honor the One who made the ultimate sacrifice for us. I'm seeking to live my life for Jesus Christ. How about you?


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