PILATE TAKES THE EASY WAY
Pontius Pilate was not known to be a nice man – not that many high Roman bureaucrats should ever be referred to as nice. He is mentioned in all four Gospels as well as in the writings of Philo and Josephus, two early Jewish historians. He also shows up in other apocryphal writings such as the Gospel of Peter, the Acts of Pilate, the Gospel of Nicodemus and the Gospel of Marcion as well as other minor sources. All of these sources, biblical or otherwise, indicate that Pilate was the governor of the Roman province of Judea from 26 AD to 36 AD. Some sources refer to him as the Procurator and others as the Prefect but it all comes down to the same thing; he was the governor.
All sources also agree that Pilate was a self-centred man, rather vicious if threatened and that he had little or no respect for Jewish traditions and customs which left him very unpopular to his Jewish subjects. He was known to do things just to annoy them to the point of insurrection and then, when they showed their displeasure, would set his soldiers upon them to round up and possibly kill the Jewish leaders. It’s almost like he saw it as fun, like a bit of amusement to keep him occupied while away from the pleasures of Rome.
And yet he was also an intelligent and curious man. He leapt at the chance to meet Jesus. Like everyone else in Jerusalem, he must have been aware of who Jesus was and what had gone on since the triumphal entry on the previous Sunday. And so the Jewish leaders, called the Sanhedrin, who themselves detested Pilate, sent Jesus to him for questioning.
Pilate, having no time for small talk, got right to it. “Are you the king of the Jews?” he asked Jesus. And Jesus replied, “Yes, it is as you say.” Do you remember how last Sunday we talked about how Jesus entered Jerusalem on the back of donkey, like a king riding into the city bringing peace? And do you recall that the people also welcomed him as such, placing their cloaks and palm branches in the road before him? Pilate had heard all about it and so he simply sought confirmation. “So Jesus, are you really the king of the Jews like people are saying?” And Jesus said, “Yes, I am.”
Pilate, of course, didn’t care if Jesus thought he was the King of the Jews or the Easter Bunny. It made no difference to Pilate but he was having his fun. He must have taken great delight in watching the chief priests blow their gaskets over this. How dare Jesus say that he was the King of the Jews and how dare Pilate for letting him get away with it and not having him killed right then and there for this blasphemy!
And so Pilate, still irritating the chief priests who were present, asked Jesus, “Aren’t you going to answer? See how many things they are accusing you of?” But Jesus refused to answer the question. Why? Because Pilate may have delighted in teasing the chief priests but that was not Jesus’ goal or intention. He didn’t have to repeat himself and further inflame them. Jesus had said his peace and nothing was going to change it. And so, Jesus had nothing else to say and nothing to add.
Here’s the odd thing. All indications are that Pilate knew that Jesus was not guilty of anything requiring death. He might have angered the chief priests by claiming to be the King of the Jews. He might even have been a bit delusional but that wasn’t a crime. Pilate may have been a cruel vindictive man but he was also a pretty bright guy. He knew what was going on and it says so in Mark 15:9 (NIV) where Pilate again teased the chief priests by asking them, “Do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?” Pilate knew what he was doing because in Mark 15:10 we get his motive for saying this. It was because the chief priests were envious of Jesus. They wanted all the attention. They didn’t want the people following Jesus. That’s why they had him arrested in the first place.
The chief priests in response to Pilate’s proddings demanded that Jesus be crucified. And once again, Pilate showed that he knew what way was up because in Mark 15:14 he said, “Why? What crime has he committed?”But still they demanded that Jesus be crucified. Pilate, having had his fun, and knowing full well that Jesus wasn’t guilty of anything, handed him over to be crucified.
Why did he do that? Why did Pilate send Jesus to his death even though he knew full well that he was an innocent man? The answer is quite simple really. It’s because it was easier. Pilate knew what he was doing. He also knew what he should have done. He should have let Jesus go but he didn’t because it was easier to hand him over to his death. That is so reflective of Pilate’s character. Even though he knew the right thing to do, he did the wrong thing because it was easier. In Matthew’s gospel, he just washed his hands of the whole mess and went back inside the palace where he probably finished his breakfast without giving the matter so much as a second thought.
a horrible way to make decisions. Just do what’s easier. That’s all. It doesn’t
matter what’s right. It doesn’t matter what’s wrong. Just go with the flow.
Take the easy road and avoid any unnecessary complications. It’s not my fault.
It’s not my problem. Take him away.
JESUS TAKES THE RIGHT WAY
Pilate knew that the right thing to do was to set Jesus free but he didn’t do it. It was just easier to wash his hands of the whole mess and let Jesus, an innocent man, die a painful death on the cross. Jesus on the other hand also knew the right thing to do. He knew that a perfect sinless sacrifice had to be made in order to pay the price of the sinfulness of humanity and he knew that he was the only one who could do that. He also knew that it would cost him dearly. And so he carried his cross through the streets of Jerusalem that just five days earlier had been the scene of his triumphal entry. On the way in, the people had shouted Hosanna! His followers had been filled with elation but as he stumbled out of the city, beaten, bruised and cursed, with a crown of thorns on his bloodied head, the few followers he had left were in utter despair.
And yet Jesus did what he had to do. He laid down upon the cross and allowed the soldiers to drive the iron spikes through his wrists. And then they drove a single spike through his heels before lifting the cross upright and dropping it with a lurching thud in a ready made hole that had been used a thousand times for the exact same purpose.
Why did Jesus do this? He did it because he knew it was the right thing to do. There was no easy way out. If humanity was to be saved it would be through his blood, sweat and tears. Let’s be clear. Jesus did this willingly. He didn’t have to die on the cross. We are told in Matthew 26:53 that he could have called 10,000 angels to rescue him but he didn’t. In Luke 4:30 when Jesus was similarly threatened by the crowd, he just walked through them and was on his way. He could have done that but he didn’t. Do you know what else he could have done? He could have made Pilate and Herod and everyone one else pay for what they were trying to do to him. A single word and Jesus could have cursed them with leprosy or a crippled leg or just swept them off the face of the earth like swatting away an annoying fly. He could have done any of those things but he didn’t. Why not? Because it was the wrong thing to do.
If Jesus had done any of those things, we would still be separated from God and we would still be lost in our sin. We would not be able to experience the joy of salvation in this life or have the hope of resurrection for the next. Everything would be so different if Jesus had decided to forego the cross and leave us to wallow in our sin.
But he didn’t do that. Rather than taking the easy way out, he subjected himself to the very worse of human deprivation, not because he wanted to and not for any personal reward or benefit. There was nothing for him to gain on the cross, only agony and death. And yet he did it for you and for me. As it says in Romans 5:8 (NIV), “But God demonstrated his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ did for us.” It was just the right thing to do and he did it.
There’s a challenge here for us and you know what it is. We are often faced with a choice. There is the right thing to do and there is the wrong thing. And the challenge for us is that the easiest thing is often the wrong thing. It’s not easy to live by a higher standard. It’s not easy to stand up for the marginalized and dispossessed people of the world. It’s not easy to give up your free time to volunteer in your community. It’s not easy to get up on Sunday morning to go to worship. It’s not easy to set aside a devotional time with God every day. It not easy to make time for your family. It’s not easy to live within your means when everyone else around you tries to live way beyond theirs. I could easily list a couple dozen more but I’ll let you think of your own list, maybe things that you need to work on. It’s not easy to do any of those things but it’s important to do them because they’re the right things to do. That’s part of what it means to be a Christian and to follow Jesus no matter what the consequences might be, even if it leads to a cross.
At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he is calling Elijah.”
One man ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a stick and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Leave him alone now. Let’s see if Elijah comesk to take him down,” he said.
a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
We come, O God, on this black and bleak morning. It is a morning that changed the world. It is a morning that forever transformed your relationship with us. Jesus, your righteous and innocent Son was nailed to a cross and stripped of his dignity and humanity in order that the lustful and greedy desires of evil men and angels would be fulfilled.
We stare at his broken body as he hangs limp in our minds and we are struck by the injustice of it all. We admit that it makes no sense to us. Our minds are too feeble and our hearts to hard to truly comprehend what you did for us in Jesus. Why anyone would die for the sins of the entire world is too much for us to fathom.
And yet, we forget that it was not only your Son who went to the cross, it was you who died there in agony. It was you who chose to experience life as we do as mortal beings. You did not shirk your responsibilities as we often do. What you began in Bethlehem you finished on Calvary. You gave yourself for us when we could do nothing to save ourselves.
How can we thank you enough? We can’t.
reflect upon the meaning of this day, in the corner of our memories, help us to
remember that the story is not done. Easter is two days away and we will see a
different side of the cross. But for now, we mourn and we remember. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
April 14, 2017 / Good Friday
CALL TO WORSHIP
One: We come today with our guilt and shame;
All: Our sins are many.
One: We come today knowing just how much we fall short;.
All: Our sins are great.
One: We come today seeking new life;
All: Our sins bring death.
One: Jesus died on the cross of Calvary;
All: bearing our sins.
OPENING PRAYER & PRAYER OF CONFESSION
We come to you this morning, O God, conscience of the significance of this day. It is not a day of good news. It is not a day of rejoicing. It is, rather, a day of sorrow, a day of suffering, a day of needless and cruel death. The events of Good Friday are indescribable, filled with unmitigated horror. We don’t want to remember because when we do we are filled with the guilt of knowing that Jesus died for each of us individually. He died for our sins. He died for my sins. I cannot comprehend what that means and so I come this day in awe at how much you wanted us to be right with you again.
Jesus died for our sins. He died for my sins. And yet, I am still burdened down by the weight of my sinfulness. Perhaps, O God, if I confess them again, Jesus will take them to the cross for me one more time. And so I come to you in silence with the confessions of my heart…
ASSURANCE OF BLAME
There is no assurance or forgiveness of Good Friday. There is only innocent death.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
We have nothing to offer that is of any value. We are worthless.
There is no commissioning.