By J.R. Miller
It was early in the morning. There was special hurry that day, for the rulers wanted to get their business out of the way, because of the approaching feast. The trials before the high priest and religious council, preceded that before the governor. The rulers, when they could find absolutely nothing against Jesus, had sought to make out their case by bringing in hired false witnesses. But even this testimony fell to the ground--no two of the witnesses agreeing. The only hope was to compel Jesus to convict Himself by some word He might speak. He stood silent, however, before them, until the high priest adjured Him to answer whether He were the Christ or not. Then He could be silent no longer. On this admission, the sentence of condemnation was passed by the Sanhedrin. This was as far as the council could go. They must wait now for the approval of their sentence by the Roman governor.
Pilate was the one man in all the world who could give the final word with regard to the sentencing of Jesus. This put upon him a fearful responsibility. While Jesus was standing before Pilate, apparently to be tried by him, Pilate himself was really on trial before Jesus, and in the light of His holy face--the character of the Roman governor was plainly revealed.
Pilate was deeply impressed by his prisoner. He was convinced of His innocence. He wanted to set Him free. But he had not the courage to oppose the religious rulers, and so he let them have their way and sent Jesus to His cross, even against his own conscience, and in spite of the pathetic pleadings of his wife!
"To avoid ceremonial uncleanness, the Jews did not enter the palace." John 18:28. The religious rulers carried their pious scruples even to the palace of Pilate. Amazingly, they had no scruples about their wicked treatment of an innocent man--but they were scrupulously conscientious about matters of mere ceremonial requirement! They would not set their feet on the Gentile's floor--for that would have defiled them! Yet meanwhile their hearts were full of evil and murderous thoughts and resolves!
There will always be people who are most punctilious in their religious rituals--but who in practical life, are little better than heathen! We should learn well, that God is grieved more by our bitter feeling, our lack of love, our hate and envy--than He is with little omissions in religious ceremonies and formalities.
When the rulers had presented Jesus to Pilate, he wanted to know what the charges against their prisoner were. He asked them, "What accusation do you bring against this man?" Jesus could not be put to death without Pilate's sentence. It was only fair, therefore, that he should ask His accusers what their charge against Him was. No man ever should be condemned without a trial. We have a right to ask the same question now, of those who reject Christ. What wrong has He done? What faults have you found in His character? Whom has He injured?
The rulers attempted no answer to Pilate's question; indeed, no answer was possible, for no accusation could be brought against Him. It would have been easy to bring a thousand witnesses to testify to the good things Jesus had done--the works of mercy, the deeds of kindness, the miracles of compassion; but in all the country--not one person could have been found to testify to the smallest wrong thing that He had ever done to any being! His life had been a perpetual blessing wherever He had gone. His lips had ever been speaking words of comfort and love. He was hurried to death--by men's hate, without reason or charge of any kind.
The rulers assumed an air of dignity, in answer to Pilate's demand to know what charge they brought against Jesus, saying that if He were not an evildoer, they would not have brought Him before Pilate. Their bearing was haughty, and Pilate was offended by it. "Take Him--and judge Him according to your law." As Pagan as Pilate was, and heartless--the presence of Jesus before him as prisoner, filled his heart with dread. There was something about this prisoner which awed him. Ordinarily he cared nothing for justice--but now he sought to evade the responsibility of sentencing this man. Instead of refusing to have anything to do with the sentencing of an innocent man, Pilate sought all that morning by evasion, simply to get clear of the case. Each time, however, Jesus came back and stood before him, waiting for His decision.
So the scene closed, and Jesus was sent to His cross. In a little while Pilate fell into disgrace and committed suicide in his exile. When he went into the eternal world and found himself before the throne of the judge--into whose eyes did the guilty Roman governor look? What a reversal there was! Once Pilate was judge--and Jesus stood at his bar; now Jesus is judge--and Pilate is before Him! In like manner, Jesus waits before every sinner, meek and lowly, with love and mercy, asking to be received. The scene will soon change, however, and those who reject Him here--will stand before Him as their omnipotent Judge!
If Jesus had been put to death under the Jewish law, it would have been by stoning. But again and again He had foretold that He would be lifted up, implying that He would die on a cross. Thus, unconsciously, the rulers were fulfilling our Lord's own prophecy regarding Himself. God keeps His hand on all events. In all the surging waves of the sea--not one drop of water ever rushes beyond the leash of His control. In all the turmoil of human events--no one ever gets beyond God's control. The whole fearful chapter of wickedness enacted around Christ's cross, even the most minute particular, was the fulfillment of prophecies made long before. We need never fear that the affairs of this world--shall get beyond God's control. We never can drift beyond His love and care.
A little bird built its nest under the iron track of a railroad. Day and night the heavy trains thundered along, with their terrific noise--but the little bird was not disturbed, and sat there in quiet peace, rearing her little ones in safety. Just so, amid this world's danger and rushing noise, a believer in God may rest in quiet confidence, undisturbed, undismayed.
There certainly seemed nothing kingly about Jesus at that time--at least in an earthly sense. He stood there, bound and suffering, with no followers, no friends, with neither throne nor scepter nor crown, with not even a place to lay His head. Little wonder is there that Pilate's question was put in tones of such surprise, "Are You a king?" Yet Jesus was (and still is) King! He is King of all angels and of all men. Kingliness does not consist in purple robes, crowns of gold, and the pageantry of earthly honor. We have but to follow the account of this trial through to the end--to see in this lowly, despised Man--the highest type of kingliness. Study His bearing--His calm dignity, His gentle patience, His quiet self-control, His majestic silence under wrong and insult. While we look with love at Jesus so kingly amid all the scenes of His humiliation, let us take a lesson for ourselves. Let us learn to be patient under wrong and injury, to be gentle and uncomplaining in the rudest and most unjust treatment!
Pilate sought again to be rid of the responsibility of sentencing Jesus to the cross, by getting the people to choose Him as the one man to be set free at that feast. But in this, too, Pilate failed. "No, not Him! Give us Barabbas!" they shouted.
They had their choice between Jesus the holy, the pure, the sinless Son of God--and Barabbas, the bandit, robber, murderer. And they chose Barabbas for liberty and life--and sent Jesus to death on the cross! We all agree in our condemnation of the rulers. But let us not forget that to every one of us a like choice comes. There are but two masters in the world--Christ and Satan. Both ask our allegiance, our obedience. We must make a choice--we cannot be neutral, for no man can serve two masters. In choosing Barabbas the Jews sent Jesus to a cross! He who rejects Christ now--crucifies Him afresh and counts His blood an unholy thing!