“The worst decision in history?” (John MacDiarmid)

Sermon preached at Poole High School for Poole Christian Fellowship on 24 April 2016

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Of all the many decisions we make daily, some will certainly be the wrong choices. They may vary from the mildly embarrassing moments when we know we have got it wrong, to the humiliating “I could have kicked myself” moment.

But the worst decisions are those which we make knowing them at the time to be the wrong ones. That is the decision we have before us today as we look at the trial of Jesus before Pilate. Plate and Herod, who examines Jesus know that he is innocent – yet they still condemn him.

What can we learn from this?

Luke 23 verse 1-25

 Then the whole assembly rose and led him off to Pilate. And they began to accuse him, saying, “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Messiah, a king.”

So Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

“You have said so,” Jesus replied.

Then Pilate announced to the chief priests and the crowd, “I find no basis for a charge against this man.”

But they insisted, “He stirs up the people all over Judea by his teaching. He started in Galilee and has come all the way here.”

On hearing this, Pilate asked if the man was a Galilean. When he learned that Jesus was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod,who was also in Jerusalem at that time.

When Herod saw Jesus, he was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had been wanting to see him. From what he had heard about him, he hoped to see him perform a sign of some sort. He plied him with many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer. 10 The chief priests and the teachers of the law were standing there, vehemently accusing him. 11 Then Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked him. Dressing him in an elegant robe, they sent him back to Pilate. 12 That day Herod and Pilate became friends—before this they had been enemies.

13 Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers and the people,14 and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. 15 Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death. 16 Therefore, I will punish him and then release him.” [17] [a]

18 But the whole crowd shouted, “Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!” 19 (Barabbas had been thrown into prison for an insurrection in the city, and for murder.)

20 Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. 21 But they kept shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

22 For the third time he spoke to them: “Why? What crime has this man committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty. Therefore I will have him punished and then release him.”

23 But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed. 24 So Pilate decided to grant their demand.25 He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will.


A Ruthless Governor

Pontius Pilate was an ambitious career Roman politician. Being governor of Judea  was a big promotion for him, an opportunity to show the emperor what he could do. What Rome wanted was a peaceful, compliant tax paying province, that they would defend and would give a degree of religious freedom. Pilate’s job was to make sure that happened. He needed the cooperation of the Jewish leaders, the Sannhedrin, so he went along with their weird religious customs, provided they played ball. History shows that, though he needed their cooperation he despised them and often provoked them. He was in Jerusalem for the Passover to maintain order. The eyes of Rome wwere on him. He couldn’t afford any scenes.

An Unwelcome Job

And then, on the morning of Passover, this obscure Galilean preacher is brought before him. This must have been the last thing he wanted to see. And Pilate has to endure the indignity of going out to meet these Jewish leaders as it’s the Passover, and they won’t go inside his palace. Probably Pilate is not in the best frame of mind was he meets the delegation.

A Proper Trial

Pilate is a proper Roman, and a part of his job is to carry out Roman justice, which, though brutal, was fair reasonable and equitable.

So, he carried out a fair trial. Jesus accusers have a chance to speak (they lie through their teeth!), Jesus is given the opportunity to speak, which he largely declines, and that is not taken as an admission of guilt. Pilate questions him and comes to a conclusion. “Not Guilty”. Well done Pilate – that should be the end of the matter.

However, the Jewish leaders are determined.

A Way Out?

In pressing their case, the Jewish leaders mention that Jesus is a Galilean. This appears to give Pilate a way out. We now start to see Pilate’s weakness. Instead of going with the  right decision, Pilate passes the buck. He has the chance to pass it onto Herod, who is Jerusalem for the Passover.

This Herod, the one who had recently killed John the Baptist, again comes to the conclusion that Jesus is innocent, but is unwilling to do the right thing also – and passes him back to Pilate.

What weakness, from two men who are supposed to be leaders of their people!

An Attempted Compromise

In a way, Pilate sticks to his guns, and maintains Jesus innocence, but offers a violent compromise, by which Jesus would be flogged and then released.

A Desperate last attempt

When that fails, the option of a merciful relase is raised – but the crwd want’s Barrabas.

A Spineless Surrender

Then, finally, even after Pilate has had a dream from his wife speaking of Jesus innocence, Pilate buys his own interested, with the life of Jesus.

It is a pattern repeated all around the world, as people choose to put their own interests in front of their knowledge of who Jesus is.

The washing of hands, which occurs in other gospels can not get rid of  guilt, as no religious ceremony can get rid of guilt.

Pilate and Herod have their moment in history – and now we have ours. What will we do with the Jesus before us.

A Last-Minute substitution

When a football manager makes a last-minute substitution and it turns out well, he looks like a genius. But here is the substitution that is greater than them all.

Barabbas deserved to die and to take his place on the cross. But he receives a last minute reprieve. Why? Because Jesus dies on his place. What a picture of what Jesus has done for us. Let us never forget that we deserved death and out place was taken by another.



John MacDiarmid

April 2016

Posted Under: Talks

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