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The Unavoidable Decision

Many of us were saddened this past week to hear of the passing of Alex Trebek, the host of Jeopardy since 1984.

I heard the news last Sunday afternoon from our daughter Hope, who is a big fan of the show.

You probably know that in Jeopardy they give you the answer and you have to give them the question. 

I couldn’t help myself and texted to her, Now Alex knows the answer to the greatest question – “How does a person get to Heaven?”

Alex, The Final Jeopardy answer is “Through faith in Jesus.”

The question is, “How does a person receive eternal life?”

Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, no one comes to the Father in Heaven but through Me.” 

Hopefully Alex knew the right answer experientially through faith in Jesus Christ.

In the 1970’s a popular slogan was “Jesus is the Answer.” But the reality is that Jesus is also the unavoidable question!

In today’s passage we will see the tragic story of Pontius Pilate, the Roman ruler who sent Jesus to the cross despite knowing that Jesus was innocent.

Pilate did everything he could to avoid his “Jesus Dilemma.” But deciding what to do with Jesus is life’s unavoidable decision.

Read Luke 23:1-25             The Unavoidable Decision                       Let’s Pray!

Last time we looked at the 3 Jewish trials of Jesus; this time we will look at the 3 Roman trials. Luke has the most balanced presentation of the two sets of trials.

Matthew’s attention was 65% on the Jewish trials (38 of 59 verses); Mark’s 62% on the Jewish trials (31 of 50 verses); John 54% on the Roman trials (29 of 54 verses); Luke almost exactly 50% (26 of 51 verses on the Roman trials).

In these 3 Roman trials of Jesus we will see Jesus twice appear before Pilate with an appearance before Herod Antipas in between.

The first Roman trial of Jesus before Pilate                                                  V. 1-4

Verse 1 lets us know that the Sanhedrin brought Jesus to appear before Pilate.

Pontius Pilate was the Roman Governor of Judea from AD 26 to 36.

The Jews hated him for defiling the Jewish Temple by putting up pagan Roman banners, and for slaughtering some Galilean Jews (See Luke 13:1-3). 

Pilate lived up the road in Caesarea at the magnificent palace that Herod the Great had built there.

Herod the Great was the Ruler who had tried to kill Jesus as an infant by slaughtering all the infants in Bethlehem.  After Herod the Great’s death his Roman territory was divided into 4 parts. Now Pilate ruled the Judean part.

Pilate’s practice was to come to Jerusalem to keep the peace at Festival times because of the much larger crowds that were there. Tensions were always higher at these times due to the resentments of the occupied Jewish people.

Pilate didn’t need any extra things to deal with, but here came the Jewish leaders to the Praetorium (John 18:26) first thing in the morning demanding that he deal with a man they had obviously already roughed up pretty good.

Look at verse 2 –

You will remember that they had convicted Jesus of blasphemy, which the Law of Moses said was punishable with death by stoning.

They knew a violation of their Law like blasphemy wouldn’t impress a Roman court, so they adjusted their charge against Jesus as treason against Rome.

They made 3 accusations of treason against Jesus.

They said that Jesus was perverting the nation –

The word they used was diastrepho (G1294), which can be translated pervert, turn away, turn aside, distort. Jesus is stirring up rebellion in the people.

Pilate saw through that one – he knew it was motivated by their envy of Jesus for His hold on the crowds, exciting common people in a way they had never done!

They said that Jesus was telling people not to pay taxes

Pilate could quickly learn that the opposite was true (Luke 20:20-26).

Jesus had told them to give to Caesar what was Caesar’s!

They said that Jesus was claiming to be the Christ, the King of the Jews. The implication was that Jesus wants to overthrow the government.

That is probably the charge Pilate took the most seriously.

Whether he knew how seriously Herod the Great had taken that threat back in Matthew chapter 2, we just don’t know.

Verse 3 simply tells us that Pilate brought Jesus in and asked Him if Jesus was the King of the Jews, and Jesus’ response was, “You said it!”

John’s gospel goes into much greater detail of the exchange between Pilate and Jesus. It left Pilate shaken to his core!

When Pilate asked Jesus what He had done…

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this (present) world. If My kingdom were of this (present) world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but NOW My kingdom is not from here.”    -John 18:36

At that Pilate said, “Are you a king, then?”

Jesus answered, “You say rightly that I am a King. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”  -John 18:37

At that Pilate sneered, “What is truth?”

Pilate was a moral relativist. For Pilate, truth was a political construct: The acceptable “truth” is changing based on what those in power say it is. Pilate would have agreed with the statement, “Might makes right.”

Pilate decided at that moment that Jesus was not a threat to the current Roman government. To Pilate, Jesus was just an irrelevant religious issue. He could not have been more mistaken.

Back in Luke 23:4, Pilate tells the crowd, “I find no fault in this Man.”

He thought that would end it, but it did not!

The second Roman Trial before Herod Antipas                               V. 5-12

In verse 5 the religious leaders insist that Jesus has caused trouble throughout Judea, starting in Galilee. At that Pilate perked up!

Oh, what we have here is a jurisdictional problem! If Jesus is from Galilee, He is under the jurisdiction of Galilee’s governor Herod.

And Herod happens to also be in town for the Passover to watch over you Galilean Jews.

“Tell you what boys, I’m gonna send Jesus over to Herod.”

Another reason for Pilate to defer to Herod was written about in Luke 13. Pilate’s soldiers had killed a bunch of Galilean Jews at the Temple not long before this. That had led to problems between Pilate and Herod. Not this time! Off to Herod!

This Herod was Herod Antipas.

Herod Antipas was the son of Herod the Great of Matthew chapter 2. He had been the governor of the Galilee (Southern Syria) region since his dad’s death.

He is the one who beheaded John the Baptist for questioning his stealing his brother Philip’s wife. Herod was described as idle, vicious, and extravagant.

We read in verse 8 that he had heard a lot about Jesus and wanted to hear Him teach and work miracles.

Perhaps one of the people who had told him about Jesus was his steward Chuza, whose wife Joanna was a faithful follower of Christ (Luke 8:1-3).

He questioned Jesus with many words, but Jesus was not interested in putting on a show for Herod.

Jesus had no interest in satisfying the curiosity of this man who had no interest in repentance, and the same is true for you!

You may have said, “Jesus, if you will prove yourself to me, than I will accept you.”

Jesus says, “Go on to Hell then, because I have already done everything I needed to do to get your attention, but you won’t repent.”

Enraged at Jesus, Herod has his goons beat Jesus up some more.

I think the robe may have been one of Herod’s old robes and a dig to what Herod knew about Jesus’ history with his dad, Herod the Great (Matthew chapter 2).

This Herod is saying that Jesus is nothing to him. He only recognized the physical realm, and did not know the spiritual power before him.

At any moment Jesus could have had the atoms inside Herod’s body collapse in on themselves, but that dissolution will come at His second coming, not His first.

But as with all sinners, Herod’s day would come. Herod’s ex-father in law defeated him in AD 36, and he was summoned to Rome and banished in AD 39.

Herod sent Jesus back to Pilate after beating Him up. We read in verse 12 that Pilate and Herod bonded that day.  It’s amazing how rejection of Jesus brings people together in a way that other things don’t.

It has been startling for years to see secular humanists find common cause with militant Islam over hatred of Christians and Jews

To Pilate in the first Roman trial, Jesus was just an irrelevant religious issue; To Herod in the second Roman trial, Jesus was just a joke.

They thought they got to judge Jesus, but at the Great White Throne Judgment the roles will be reversed!

The third Roman trial, the second before Pilate                             V. 13-25

Pilate calls the religious leaders back in and says neither he nor Herod found any legal reason to put Jesus to death – we find no fault in Him.

But Pilate was also very sensitive to his low job approval ratings from the Jews, and that they could make him look bad before the Emperor.

Having “friend of Caesar” status was everything for a Roman politician. One remained a “friend of Caesar” by having nothing bad reported to Rome about riots and the like. One of Pilate’s close friends had recently lost that status, and Pilate didn’t want to lose his.

So Pilate suggests that even though he can’t convict Jesus, he will do them a solid by beating Jesus within an inch of His life through the infamous Roman scourging.

In verse 18 we learn that wasn’t good enough for them.

Pilate even tried to use the tradition of releasing one prisoner to them at the festival. Surely in a choice between Jesus and Barabbas, they wouldn’t let Barabbas go, who truly was guilty of the things they accused Jesus of.

To Pilate’s shock, they demand for the release of Barabbas and the execution of Jesus through crucifixion.

Pilate is trying every political maneuver he can, and nothing is working.

From Matthew’s gospel we learn that his wife sent him a message while he was on the judgment seat…

“Have nothing to do with that just Man, for I have suffered many things today in a dream because of Him.”    -Matthew 27:19

Here again we learn more details in John’s gospel.

John’s gospel records a total of seven different times Pilate went out to meet with the people and back in to talk to Jesus – he wanted out of this decision. 

The final time he went in he said to Jesus, Are you not speaking to me? Do you not know that I have the power to crucify You, and the power to release You?”

Jesus answered, “You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above. Therefore the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.”                   -John 19:11

Luke 23 lets us know that one more time Pilate tried to calm the crowd and release Jesus, but they became all the more insistent that he crucify Jesus.

John 19:12 records their saying, “If you let this Man go, you are no friend of Caesar.”

And so out of political cowardice, despite saying for the third time that Jesus was innocent, Pilate sentenced Jesus to be crucified.

The most outrageous decision in history – found innocent, but executed.

The records of history show times that people have been wrongly convicted and executed, only for the record to be set right later. But here the record of Jesus’  innocence was established clearly, but He was still executed as if He was guilty.

Pilate tried to avoid making a decision about Jesus but could not; Pilate misunderstood that Jesus wasn’t the one who really was on trial – he was! Jesus was not trying to escape this moment at all – Pilate was!

Matthew’s gospel records Pilate washing his hands to relieve himself of responsibility. Like Lady Macbeth in the Shakespeare play. “I am innocent of the blood of this just Person,” Pilate said. If only it was that easy. 

The crowd replied to Pilate that day, “His blood be on us and our children.” That is so ironic, because when Israel received the Mosaic Covenant, they spoke those words as the blood of a sacrifice was sprinkled on them with a hyssop branch.

Isaiah 52-53 actually prophesied that the forgiveness the Messiah would bring would also be received by the sprinkling of His blood.

So shall He sprinkle many nations. Kings shut their mouths at Him (Isa. 52:15); All we like sheep have gone astray; everyone to His own way; And the Lord has laid upon Him the iniquity of us all (Isa. 53:6). 

Who is responsible for the execution of innocent Jesus?

That generation of Jewish leaders, yes; Pilate and Herod, yes; but the blood of Jesus is on all of us guilty sinners. He died for you and for me. As Jesus said in John 10, He was giving His life, it was not being taken from Him.

Yes, it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When you make His soul an offering for sin.            -Isaiah 53:10

Or as John 3:16 says it, God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Pilate did everything he could to get out of deciding about Jesus. But Jesus has not left us that option - It’s either receive Him and meet Him one day as your King, or reject Him and meet Him one day as your Judge. 

Pilate was removed from office less than 5 years after handing Christ over to be crucified, and one historian says he committed suicide less than a decade later.

He came to His own, but His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God. -John 1:11-12

Won’t you receive Jesus today?                        Sinner’s Prayer