Midweek Lenten Worship March 22, 2023
“Pilate Speaks” John 18:33 – 19:6
Rev. John R. Larson Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
So many people had their hands involved in the death of Jesus. The Pharisees and the Sanhedrin had been plotting for years on how to get rid of him. Even the high priest, Caiaphas, said to that group, “You know nothing at all. Do you not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than for the whole nation to perish?” (John 11:49-50)
Judas was willing to give him up for just a small amount of change. Peter? Well, he denied that he even knew Jesus and said he had no connection to the other disciples of Jesus.
But, just like clockwork, all across the world, my name gets drug through the mud. All of you Christians have been taught to say, “Suffered under Pontius Pilate.” “Crucified under Pontius Pilate.” Is that fair? There were a lot of folks responsible for the death of that man and yet I’m the one who gets the blame.
Let me tell you my story. I guess I can’t change history but maybe after hearing me you’ll think differently the next time you use my name. It was in the middle of the night when I was told that an extremely important matter needed to be addressed. A bunch of Jewish leaders were bringing to me a man named Jesus and they said that this matter concerning him needed to be taken care of once and for all. They said, “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes the payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Christ, a king.” (Luke 23:2)
So I spent time with him. Immediately I could tell he was no threat. I have seen many folks who I knew were no good. But this man was different. But I didn’t understand why he didn’t speak up, why he didn’t defend himself. I told him that I had the power to either set him free or to crucify him. Maybe such strong words would get him to talk.
I asked him about this being a king thing. He didn’t look like a king, but that is what they charged him with. He answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” (John 18:36)
I said, “You are a king, then!” Then he said, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this very reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” (John 18:37)
I heard him. He intrigued me. But that day I committed a sin, not of commission, but as you call it, the sin of omission. It wasn’t what I did that got me into trouble, it was what I didn’t do. Three times I brought Jesus out to the crowd on that Friday morning. Three times I said, “I find no basis for a charge against this man.” I didn’t flinch. Thinking that if I gave them a little of what they wanted, a little of his flesh, they would be satisfied. I said, “I will punish him and then I’ll release him.” But they wanted more.
The sin of indecision is what I am known for. As a judge you’re supposed to give a thumbs up or a thumbs down. Mine was somewhere in the middle. I knew he was innocent. They demanded his blood. But I didn’t have the guts to go against them. In sheer weakness I told my servants to go get a basin of water and bring it to me and then in front of that crowd I put on my best act, washing my hands for all to see. I then spoke louder than I had ever spoken. I shouted, “I am innocent of this man’s blood. It is your responsibility.” (Matthew 27:24)
And yet you’ve never let me off the hook. “Crucified under Pontius Pilate.” You say it every week. I had clean hands that day, but not innocent ones. Jesus had a brother, James I believe, that must have been thinking of me when he wrote, “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.” (James 4:17)
I didn’t have much backbone that day. I was indecisive. I shirked my responsibilities. To my shame what you say is true, “Crucified under Pontius Pilate.”
But that day I saw some amazing things. I witnessed determination, strength, resolve, singlemindedness in him – in Jesus. He was speaking even when he was silent. When he said he indeed had a kingdom that was greater than any earthly kingdom or when he said that everyone on the side of truth listens to him, I knew he was speaking truthfully and honestly. What I lacked in integrity he had.
Just before all the proceedings against Jesus began, my wife, Procula, sent a note to me with this message, “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.” (Matthew 27:19) I should have listened. But as I think back on it, I’m glad that I met him. I’m glad I witnessed the very strength of his purpose.
They say that history has a way of repeating itself. I’m here to warn you that such a way with you, or anybody, is miserable. You can’t be indecisive about Jesus. You can’t commit the awful sin of omission in regards to who he is and what he has done. I had heard about Peter and what he did when he denied knowing Jesus. If I heard it right, three times he said he wasn’t a follower of Jesus. But in his best moments he was different. He was bold. Nothing could move him. The disciples of Jesus were asked by Jesus what people were saying about him. The responses they gave were varied, “Some say you’re John the Baptist, others say you’re like Elijah or Jeremiah or any of the other prophets.” But when Peter was asked by Jesus who he thought Jesus was he didn’t say he was just another human being, even as great as John or Elijah or Jeremiah were. He said, “You’re the Christ. You’re the Son of the Living God.” (See Matthew 16:13-20)
My sin of omission can’t be repeated. I knew that I should do right but I did wrong. I simply passed the buck to someone else. That is a serious mistake. I’m told that Jesus, when he comes as judge will say to those on his left, those who are going to hell, “I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.” And they all answered – “When did we see you like that?” And Jesus then said, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” (See Matthew 25:41-45) They omitted being people of faith.
The sin of omission. My sin. Don’t let it be yours. The sin of being indecisive. My sin. Don’t let it be yours. Know that for your sake Jesus came with a bold, enduring action to claim you as his. Amen!!