By J.R. Miller
We speak of Christ's trial before Pilate. But really, it is Pilate's trial before Christ that is described in our Scripture. The narrative holds up the Roman governor in such a blaze of light, that all the world can see him. The story of this trial begins in the early morning, when Jesus was led to Pilate. During the night, the religious rulers had informally condemned Him to death--but they could not carry out their own sentence without bringing their prisoner to the Roman governor. This was one of the humiliating conditions of their subjection to the Romans. Meanwhile Jesus had been kept under guard during the morning hours, and had been cruelly mocked by the soldiers.
It was during this time--that Peter's denial occurred, and the pain of the disciples' words as they fell upon Christ's ears was more severe than all the mockeries of the heathen soldiers.
As the first streaks of dawn appeared in the east, the members of the Sanhedrin were together again to hasten the formalities, so as to get Jesus on the cross at the earliest possible moment.
When Jesus was taken to Pilate, He was bound. The rulers supposed that their cords would hold Him. Knowing as we do who this Prisoner was, we are sure that no chains of earth could have held him, if He had put forth His power, and therefore, that their bonds were useless. We understand also that this quiet submitting to be seized and led away was entirely voluntary. He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, not resisting, exerting no power in His own defense, though omnipotence was His--because he was laying down His life for us.
But what a strange picture this is--the Son of God bound, manacled as a common prisoner, and led away under arrest! What humiliation! But did they shackle the arms of His power with their chains? Did they stain the radiance of His glory with the shame they put upon His name that day? We know that while He Himself wore chains, submitting to them--He is able to break our bonds and set us free.
The rulers had told Pilate, that Jesus claimed to be a king. They thus sought to secure Pilate's consent to His execution, as one who was disloyal to Rome. "Are You the King of the Jews?" asked the governor, referring to what His accusers had charged. Jesus did not look much like a king as He stood there, His hands tied and a cord about His neck. Pilate's question sounds like ridicule. Yet Jesus answered calmly, "Yes, it is as you say." Where was His kingly power? Where was His throne? Where did His kingdom lie? These questions are not hard to answer today. Millions now bow to Him and worship Him as King of their souls. In heaven He is honored and adored as King of kings. On earth, too, His sway is felt even where He is not acknowledged. His influence has permeated all lands. Righteousness, truth, love, and grace--are the characteristics of his reign, and these qualities are entering more and more into the life of all the world.
When the chief priest accused Jesus before Pilate, Jesus made no reply. Pilate could not understand His silence, and so endeavored to induce Him to speak. "Behold how many things they witness against You." But still He was silent. "Jesus made no reply," the record says. We cannot too often remind ourselves of the wisdom of silence under false accusation.
It is told of one in the olden times, that when most grievously and falsely accused by enemies, he refused to give even one word of denial or to offer any proof whatever of innocence, saying that God knew all about it, and that if it was God's will that he should live under the shame, he would do it in silence, like his Master on his trial. This is what a Christian should usually do when falsely accused, perhaps not even offering explanation.
Jesus at least answered nothing--but "committed Himself to Him that judges righteously" (1 Peter 2:23). That is, He left His name, His life, and the whole matter of His vindication to His Heavenly Father. There is no spot now on His name, though He died as a malefactor. So we may trust ourselves in God's hands when we are wrongly accused, answering nothing--but committing the whole matter to Him who judge us righteously.
Pilate was aware from the beginning, that the rulers really had no case against Jesus. If he had been courageous and just, he would have delivered Him out of the hands of His enemies. But he could not forget his own personal interests, and tried in various ways to circumvent the question of decision. He saw clearly the motive of the rulers. "For he knew that the chief priest had delivered him out of ENVY." The rulers were envious of the influence of Jesus with the people. Envy has led many to a crime. It was envy that led Cain to slay his brother Abel. It was envy that caused Joseph's brothers to hate him and to sell him as a slave, to get him out of their way. In many a school a bright scholar is disliked and even persecuted in many ways, because of the envy of his schoolmates. In business the successful man is followed by the envy and the enmity of rivals. In society a popular young person is often assailed by those who are outshone. Many a good name is blackened by envy. We should be on our guard continually against this sinful tendency in our hearts.
One of the expedients to which Pilate resorted in his effort to release Jesus indirectly, without exerting his own authority, was to get the people to choose Him as the one prisoner to be set free at that Passover. But the rulers, determined on the death of Jesus, insisted upon the release of Barabbas, a noted criminal. "Jesus--or Barabbas?" was now the question. Barabbas was a robber and murderer. He had been engaged in an insurrection against the Romans, probably was chief in the band. His condemnation was just. Jesus never had done anything, but bless men and do them good. No enemy could say a word against Him. No witness had testified that ever He had done the least unkindness to any human being. Yet the people did not hesitate in their choice. They chose the guilty, blood-stained criminal for friendly recognition and freedom--and sent the pure, holy, and gentle Jesus to dishonor and death! Every one of us has to make a similar choice between Jesus, the holy, blessed, living glorious One--and sin. Which are we choosing?
This determined choice of Barabbas for freedom, still left Jesus on Pilate's hands. He was disappointed. He had hoped to get clear of deciding in His case. He was compelled now to do something, either to assert his power and set Him free--or yield to the people's clamor and send Him to the cross. "What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?" Pilate's question is a question which every one of us must answer--we must do something with Jesus. We take Him to our hearts, to the highest place of love and honor--or we must reject Him. What shall we do with Him? Before every one of us--He stands waiting at our door, and we must ask and answer this very question, "What shall I do with Jesus?" He comes to us in every gentle and gracious way--to be our Savior, our Friend, our Lord, our Guide--and we must either accept Him or reject Him. We may postpone our answer--but delay does not rid us of the question--it only pushes it forward, and when we go on a little--we shall meet it again. The question must be answered either by our acceptance, or by our rejection of Christ. Not accepting, is really rejecting; and, therefore, while we think we have not answered the question, we really have answered it. We should think seriously what the rejection of Christ involves. We know what it involved for Pilate. What will it involve for us? Would we crucify Him afresh?
At length Pilate yielded to the pressure of the rulers and gave sentence that Jesus should be crucified. He did it, we are told, wishing to calm the multitude. That was Pilate's opportunity. He was the one man in all the world, who could send Jesus to the cross. No other one could do it. It was a fatal and terrible distinction that was his, among men. Whether Jesus should have justice and be set free--or should die innocently, he had to settle. The Jews could not touch Jesus without Pilate's consent.
We know what he did with his opportunity. He had not the courage to be true, to be just to protect the innocent, to maintain right. He knew well that Jesus had done nothing worthy of punishment. He struggled feebly for a time with his conscience, and then gave way, sentencing to death as a malefactor, a man he knew to be without sin or fault! Thus he lost his opportunity to do justice and to win for himself an immortality of honor. He went through the farce of washing his hands before the rulers, saying that he was not responsible. But the stain upon his soul--no water could wash off; the brand of dishonor marks his name with an immortality of shame. The lesson is for us. We have our opportunity to stand for truth and right. What shall we do with Jesus, who is called the Christ?