Tag Archives: Pilate

Opposite Instinct

At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.”

He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!
Luke 13:31-33 (NIV)

This past Sunday I gave the message among our local gathering of Jesus’ followers. I made the simple observation that in almost every story, television show, or movie the protagonist is trying to avoid, escape, or solve death while attempting to cling to, extend, and/or enhance life. Life is such a basic human desire we hardly even give it much thought.

I found it fascinating that in today’s chapter Luke continues to foreshadow Jesus’ death. Both Pilate (an official of the occupying Roman Empire ruling over the region, who would eventually sentence Jesus to die by execution) and Herod (a regional monarch who killed John the Baptist and before whom Jesus would stand trial). Both of these rulers were known for their violence and cruelty.

Herod’s family, in particular, had a long history of holding onto power by killing anyone they saw as a threat. It was Herod’s father, Herod the Great, who upon hearing from the three wise men that a prophetic sign told them “the King of the Jews” had been born in Bethlehem, proceeded to have every baby in Bethlehem under the age of two slaughtered in an effort to prevent Jesus from growing up and threatening his reign. His son, Herod Antipas, who is referenced in today’s chapter, carried on his father’s bloody, corrupt legacy.

At the end of today’s chapter, Jesus is warned that Herod is attempting to have Him killed. In yesterday’s chapter is said that Jesus has been attracting stadium worthy crowds so large that people were trampling one another to get near Him. This would have rattled Herod. Any person with that kind of popularity was a threat to his position and power, and Herod learned from his father that clinging to power required killing anyone who was a threat to take it from you, (even if that threat is just a baby).

What I found interesting is that Jesus expresses neither fear or concern. Rather, Jesus doubles-down and tells the messengers to return to Herod and tell “that fox” that He would press on:

[Jesus] replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!

Beyond the attitude of courage and perseverance in Jesus’ reply, there is also an important subtext that is lost on many readers. Jesus references three days to reach His goal, foreshadowing the three days in the grave before His resurrection. He then offers a puzzling statement about no prophet can die outside of Jerusalem.

Back in chapter 9, Luke stated that Jesus was “resolutely” fixed on going to Jerusalem. Jesus has consistently been criticizing the religious leaders and their ancestors for killing the prophets sent to them. He has also been making consistent, metaphorical references foreshadowing His own death. Jesus is on a mission and He can see how it is all going to play out. He isn’t the victim, but the instigator of events that He knows will lead to His death.

I couldn’t help but think of Jesus’ words to His followers in previous chapters:

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?

Luke 9:23-25 (NIV)

I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more.

Luke 12:4 (NIV)

Everything Jesus is doing runs contrary to our most basic human instincts. Humans want to avoid and escape death at all costs. Humans want to cling to this life as long as we can along with everything we can possibly acquire within the finite amount of time we’re given. Luke offers his readers Pilate and Herod as exhibits A and B in today’s chapter. Two men at the top of the heap who will kill anyone who threatens their position, wealth, and power. Jesus, however, is the antithesis. He’s moving in the opposite direction and telling His followers that they must follow if they want to experience the Kingdom of God.

In the quiet this morning I find myself reminded of a passage I referenced in last Sunday’s message. Jesus’ friend Lazarus is dead. Lazarus’ sister, Martha, tells Jesus that if He’d have arrived sooner then her brother would not be dead. Jesus replies:

“I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.”

He then asks her a question:

“Do you believe this?”

Do I believe it?

And, if I say that I do believe it (and I have been saying it for almost 40 years), am I willing to follow Jesus in the opposite direction of the basic human instincts of this world?

Have you missed the previous chapter-a-day posts from this journey through the Gospel of Luke? Click on this image and it will take you to a quick index of the other posts!

Flip, Flop, Fib, and Fake

From then on Pilate tried to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor.”
John 19:12 (NRSV)

Last night Wendy and I watched the end of the Presidential debate as we prepared for bed. It gave both of us a good laugh to watch seemingly intelligent people flip, flop, fib, and forestall. Amazing how so many people can evade so many direct questions. It does not matter what side of the political spectrum you lean. The truth is that both sides of the political spectrum will argue whatever is expedient to their momentary political need, even if it is 180 degrees from where they stood months or years ago when the political situation was reversed.

This is all fresh in my mind this morning as I read the chapter of Jesus’ trial before Pilate. Make no mistake. The entire series of kangaroo court trials that Jesus went through were political in nature. Jesus threatened the power of the Jewish religious leaders and their economic cash cow in the Jerusalem temple. The trials started at the home of Annas who was the father-in-law of the current High Priest, Caiaphas. There were two reasons for this private questioning. First, Annas was the power behind the throne. He was the Godfather, and Caiaphas was his puppet. Second, Caiaphas was quickly and dutifully trying to assemble a quorum of their tribunal body, the Sanhedrin, to render verdict on Jesus. Of course, this was all done in the middle of the night which was against their laws, but in Watergate like fashion they found it politically expedient to fudge those laws because they wanted this to be done quickly and out of the public eye. Caiaphas was, no doubt, stacking the quorum with those who leaned against Jesus politically.

The leaders had another problem. They wanted Jesus put to death, but they had no authority to do it under Roman rule. The Roman Empire was the occupying force in Palestine. They were the ultimate authority and Pilate, as the Roman Governor, was the only man who could legally give the order to execute Jesus. So, the Jewish leaders had two choices. One was to have Jesus assassinated, which risked huge social and political backlash given Jesus’ popularity. The other was to convince Pilate to crucify Jesus under Roman law. The problem with that was there was nothing Jesus had done that really mattered to the Romans.

Now the Jews hated the Romans the way any people hate any occupying force. The French and Dutch hated the Nazis when they were the occupying force in World War II. The Ukrainians hate the Russians right now. So, what is fascinating in today’s chapter is to watch the political machination the Jewish leaders make to the Roman Governor.

First, make the appeal and hopefully Pilate’s in a good mood and will do what we ask. “If he weren’t a criminal, we wouldn’t have brought him to you.” You can trust us, Pilate. Jesus is a bad guy. Just give the order.

But, after questioning, Pilate finds no reason to execute Jesus.

Next tactic, apply social pressure. Whip up the mob to convince Pilate that executing Jesus is the expedient thing to do. It was still early, remember, and the leaders had already been working for hours to assemble a sympathetic crowd of Jesus’ enemies. Make a big public demonstration. Make it loud. Chant. Threaten social unrest. The crowd begins to chant and shout for Jesus’ execution.

Pilate is scratching his head. This makes no sense, but the pressure  is enough to prompt further questioning. He questions Jesus and still finds no reason to have him crucified. Pilate tries to give Jesus back to the Jewish leaders and give them permission to crucify the Nazarene themselves.

The Jewish leaders, however, know that it would be political suicide to kill Jesus themselves. Their poll numbers would plummet. The ignorant masses would turn against them. They had to have their enemy, Pilate, give the order. Pilate questions Jesus again. The Roman Governor recognizes that he is caught in a political trap. Jesus does not deserve death, but the leaders of the opposition could make his life hell if he doesn’t do what they want. Once again he pleads for Jesus release.

The Jewish leaders sense Pilate’s hesitation and fear things are going against them, so they make the argument “Jesus claimed to be King, so that is treason to the Roman Emperor.” This is ridiculous. The Jewish leaders didn’t care what Caesar thought or about treason against Rome. They’ve suddenly become Roman patriots? This is pure political expediency and it’s cunning. By making this accusation they are telling Pilate that they could appeal to Caesar and tell the Emperor that Pilate ignored a threat to Rome. When Pilate still seems unconvinced, the Jewish leaders go all in and pledge loyalty to their enemy: “We have no king but the emperor.

Pilate was politically trapped and he knew it. He needed to keep the peace in Palestine at all costs and, reluctantly, he is compelled to make Jesus the sacrificial lamb to keep that peace.

Today I’m thinking about politics and elections and appointments and history. Jesus told Pilate that His kingdom was not of this world, and as a follower of Jesus I find myself constantly struggling with tension between two kingdoms. God both tells me to be mindful of, and obedient in, my citizenship in His kingdom and also my citizenship to the rulers and authorities I find myself under in this world. I look at the Presidential candidates across the entire ideological spectrum and perceive the entire lot are flippers, floppers, fibbers, and ego driven fakers.

God, give me wisdom, and please…have mercy on us.

 

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Angry-Crowd

But with loud shouts [the crowd] insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed. Luke 23:23 (NIV)

When I read this verse this morning, two other verses instantly popped into my head. The first was from just a few chapters ago, and from just a few days earlier in Jesus’ own life journey:

As [Jesus] went along, people spread their cloaks on the road. When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”

What a difference a week makes. At the beginning of the week crowds were hailing Jesus as the new king coming to Jerusalem. By the end of the week crowds were shouting for his death so insistently that Pilate was forced to go against his better judgement and have Jesus crucified.

Crowds are fickle. Ask any celebrity or politician (is there a difference?) who surfs the waves of popularity. One day the public adores you, but in a moment they will turn. And, it doesn’t even take being guilty of something. It only takes gossip, rumor, and innuendo to quickly turn the tide of public sentiment against you.

Which brings me to another observation John makes in his biography of Jesus:

During the time [Jesus] was in Jerusalem, those days of the Passover Feast, many people noticed the signs he was displaying and, seeing they pointed straight to God, entrusted their lives to him. But Jesus didn’t entrust his life to them. He knew them inside and out, knew how untrustworthy they were. He didn’t need any help in seeing right through them.

Jesus knew not to trust in His trending popularity. He knew that He was ultimately be rejected. He knew the prophecies. He realized from the beginning that the crowds would ultimately turn against Him. More often than not He was trying to escape the crowds get away by Himself or with His inner circle.

I find it fascinating that in all of His teaching Jesus never made any public plea for followers. There were no membership drives. No information cards in the back of the synagogue to fill out, and no mailing lists. The truth is that there is as much, in not more, evidence of Jesus discouraging those who asked to follow Him than the opposite.

What I’ve come to realize in my own experience is that being a follower of Jesus is not about fame, it’s about faith. It’s not about celebrity, it’s about service. It’s never about recognition, but about repentance. It’s never about being lauded, but about loving sacrificially as we’ve been sacrificially loved.

Chapter-a-Day Matthew 27

Antonio Ciseri's depiction of Pontius Pilate p...
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But when the accusations rained down hot and heavy from the high priests and religious leaders, he said nothing. Pilate asked him, “Do you hear that long list of accusations? Aren’t you going to say something?” Jesus kept silence—not a word from his mouth. The governor was impressed, really impressed. Matthew 27:14 (MSG)

Along stretches of the journey, I’ve been accused of different things. From silly to mildly slanderous, I’ve been charged in the court of public opinion with things of which I was innocent. To be honest, some times the charges were fabrications made because of things I actually had done. I’ve made my share of mistakes. Still, it’s never easy to sense whispers behind your back when you know that what is being said is completely untrue.

There is a small toy turtle that sits on a shelf in our house. It was acquired during one particular rough stretch and it became an enduring word picture for pressing on in such times. The quiet turtle never makes a fuss. He guards his heart inside a tough shell and keeps making his way in small incremental movements forward. Like the turtle in the old fable, I am reminded by the little turtle on the shelf that  “slow and steady wins the race.”

I was reminded by Jesus’ response to His accusers in today’s chapter. Of anyone ever accused in all of history, Jesus had more reason to cry “foul” than anyone else. Despite the mocking, jeering, and insults he quietly endured. Turning the other cheek is not an act of passivity, but a conscious act of the will which requires strength of character.

Jesus trials and death sentence is the ultimate example of how fickle the court of public opinion can be. It blows hither and thither with any number of prevailing winds which have little to do with truth or fairness. Sometimes, the best way to respond is by silently moving forward step-by-step and day-by-day and allowing time to reveal what is ultimately true.

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