by Ralph Bouma
Then saith Pilate unto him, Speakest thou not unto me? knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee? Jesus answered, Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin (John 19:10-11).
Pilate's treatment of our Lord and Saviour is Scripture's most striking demonstration of the sovereignty of God. Pilate had no power to crucify or release Him, because the Lord had called on Him to give Himself as a sin offering. Pilate's conscience told him of Jesus' innocence, acknowledging no less than seven times "I find no fault in Him." Therefore he desired to release Him. Yet we see how powerless he was to release Jesus in Luke 23:20-22: "Pilate therefore, willing to release Jesus, spake again to them. But they cried, saying, Crucify him, crucify him. And he said unto them the third time, Why, what evil hath he done? I have found no cause of death in him: I will therefore chastise him, and let him go." Pilate succumbed to the power of public opinion.
Pilate's conscience was sorely affected by the words of our Saviour, which drove him to a desperate attempt to let Jesus go as we see in verse 12: "And from thenceforth Pilate sought to release him: but the Jews cried out, saying, If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar's friend: whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar."
Pilate's sin was great, but the sin of the Jewish mob was greater.
This determination of Pilate to let Jesus go also comes through in Acts 3:13: "The God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God of our fathers, hath glorified his Son Jesus; whom ye delivered up, and denied him in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let him go."
Public opinion swayed justice then as it does in our day.
This urge to let Jesus go was also intensified by a warning from Pilate's own wife. Matthew 27:17-19 says: "Therefore when they were gathered together, Pilate said unto them, Whom will ye that I release unto you? Barabbas, or Jesus which is called Christ? For he knew that for envy they had delivered him. When he was set down on the judgment seat, his wife sent unto him, saying, Have thou nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him."
In a last ditch effort to appease his conscience and escape the pressure of public opinion, Pilate tried to surrender jurisdiction of the matter as we see in John 18:31-32: "Then said Pilate unto them, Take ye him, and judge him according to your law. The Jews therefore said unto him, It is not lawful for us to put any man to death: That the saying of Jesus might be fulfilled, which he spake, signifying what death he should die." The Jews lost their legal right to put criminals to death when they came under Roman rule. Jesus had to die on the cross, and the Jews did not have the authority to give that sentence.
When this failed, Pilate attempted to give jurisdiction over to King Herod as we see in Luke 23:6-7: "When Pilate heard of Galilee, he asked whether the man were a Galilaean. And as soon as he knew that he belonged unto Herod's jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who himself also was at Jerusalem at that time."
When public opinion continued to prevail, Pilate caved in and gave sentence against One he knew was innocent. John 19:14-16 says: "And it was the preparation of the passover, and about the sixth hour: and he saith unto the Jews, Behold your King! But they cried out, Away with him, away with him, crucify him. Pilate saith unto them, Shall I crucify your King? The chief priests answered, We have no king but Caesar. Then delivered he him therefore unto them to be crucified. And they took Jesus, and led him away."
Oh what a display of the sovereignty of God! Where do we see any power in the will of man except it be given from above? Pilate willed to do what was right but he had no power to do it. We can have all the desire to do the will of God, but then we find as the Apostle Paul said: That which I would, I do not, and that which I would not, that I do. We need to see the overruling power of sin until by grace the Spirit overrules that power. We cannot overrule it by ourselves. We can be determined to break a habit but we find ourselves doing it again and again. The power to do the will of God is in the will of God. "Except it be given from above" is what our text says. What power over sin do you or I have except it be given from above?
Philippians 2:12-13 says: "Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure." In the matter of salvation it is not our free will. That power is given from above.
If we see that we delight in the law of God after the inner man, we have to recognize that that is not by nature. That is the work of Christ. That is grace giving us to will. Then we have to come daily to the Lord so He will give us to do of His good pleasure. That gets into gospel repentance. See the difference between this and trying to obey God in our own strength.
Here we see Pilate, the Roman governor, determined to let Jesus go, but the will of God according to His eternal good pleasure prevailed in what Pilate actually did. We can have all the resolutions in the world, saying that we are going to do what we know is right, but we still need the gift of God to do as well as to will. Pilate was willing but he did not have the power to do it. Acts 2:23 says: "Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain." He was not delivered by Pilate to be crucified. This though did not clear Pilate nor the Jews from their guilt. They were responsible for what they did.
It was God who gathered Herod with Pilate, and the Gentiles, and the people together to what He had foreordained. Acts 4:27-28 says: "For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done."
Oh what wonders are revealed in Holy Writ of the sovereignty of God's good pleasure of whom it is that we will and do.
Why was it God's good pleasure that Christ must be sentenced of Pilate to be crucified in just such a manner? Christ was dying for sinners from every kindred and tongue and people and nation. Therefore, it was in His infinite wisdom that it had to involve both Jews and Gentiles.
Now human reason would boldly affirm that therefore Pilate was only a mere instrument in God's hand to bring about His decree, therefore he was innocent. However, we see how wrong this reasoning is in Romans 9:14-18: "What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid. For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy. For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth. Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth."
The Lord raised Pilate up to be the judge so that the Lord's power and sovereignty might be revealed in him.
Does human reason agree with such teaching? Romans 9:19-24 says: "Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will? Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? What if God, willing to is wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory, Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?"
An honest mind is forced to conclude that the Gospels clearly teach that Pilate was responsible for his sin. See how Jesus addressed the conscience of Pilate; therefore he was inexcusable. John 18:37- 38 says: "Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice. Pilate saith unto him, What is truth? And when he had said this, he went out again unto the Jews, and saith unto them, I find in him no fault at all."
The Holy Spirit spoke loud and clear in the conscience of Pilate, which came through unmistakably clear from his own mouth, and that of his own wife.
Even though our Lord and Saviour announced that Peter would deny Him, He also cautioned Peter of his responsibility for so doing. Our inability does not render us inexcusable. Our inability is neither an excuse nor license to sin. We will be charged, and we will account for what we do. Matthew 26:40-41 says: "And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak."
Our Lord warned Pilate in our text that even though the Jews who delivered Him unto Pilate had the greater sin, yet his sin was also very great in not letting Him go. The grievous nature of Pilate's sin comes through so powerfully if we watch the context of John 19:1-5: "Then Pilate therefore took Jesus, and scourged him. And the soldiers platted a crown of thorns, and put it on his head, and they put on him a purple robe, And said, Hail, King of the Jews! and they smote him with their hands. Pilate therefore went forth again, and saith unto them, Behold, I bring him forth to you, that ye may know that I find no fault in him. Then came Jesus forth, wearing the crown of thorns, and the purple robe. And Pilate saith unto them, Behold the man!"
Pilate did this to satisfy the bloodthirsty mob after He had said in John 18:35 that he found in Him no fault at all. Scourging meant that Jesus was put in a stretcher and whipped and beaten. Many died of scourging.
See how Pilate was pitted against his own conscience in such a desperate decision against His own better judgment.
The Gospel of Luke seems to bear out the fact that when Pilate had scourged Jesus he thought the Jews' thirst for His blood would be satisfied, and they would be willing to let Him go as we see in Luke 23:13-16: "And Pilate, when he had called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people, Said unto them, Ye have brought this man unto me, as one that perverteth the people: and, behold, I, having examined him before you, have found no fault in this man touching those things whereof ye accuse him: No, nor yet Herod: for I sent you to him; and, lo, nothing worthy of death is done unto him. I will therefore chastise him, and release him."
Pilate clearly thought he had accomplished this goal when he saw Jesus wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe as "they smote him with their hands."
Even as they beheld the innocent Emanuel, thus marred by their envy, we find the truth of what Solomon said in Proverbs 27:4: "Wrath is cruel, and anger is outrageous; but who is able to stand before envy?"
When I felt called to preach the gospel, I had to lay before the Lord that my name had been so marred by a frivolous lawsuit, how could I preach the gospel? Then Isaiah 52:14 came to me: "His visage was so marred." Then the Lord opened my understanding to see that He had been called a blasphemer, how that envy had thirsted for His life, how that envy had thirsted for His eternal destruction, but His ministry was not harmed. The Lord gave me such courage from that. You do not understand the power of envy until you become the victim of it.
Even as these enemies were permitted to seize upon the Just and Holy One with such malice and rage, the desire for His life's blood was not assuaged. John 19:6 says: "When the chief priests therefore and officers saw him, they cried out, saying, Crucify him, crucify him. Pilate saith unto them, Take ye him, and crucify him: for I find no fault in him."
It is beyond words to see the power of sin, to see the power of a hardened heart. It is most dreadful to see someone given over to a hardened heart, that nothing anymore will sound in their conscience, a conscience seared with a hot iron.
Whereas the Roman courts were so famous for justice, how was it possible for such a travesty to occur in their court? Christ was actually sentenced before the courts of heaven to appease the Father's wrath upon our sins, suffering what we rightly deserved. 2 Corinthians 5:19-21 says: "To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God. For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him."
How can we rebel against God when He has overruled His love for His own Son to give Him over as a malefactor to be crucified for us? If it was not for the free and sovereign pleasure of God, Jesus would not have been crucified, and there would not have been salvation for His Church. Who can fathom the unspeakable love of God in giving His only begotten Son? John 3:14-15 says: "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life."
And we read in Galatians 3:13-14: "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith."
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