By J.R. Miller
Pilate's portrait is hung up in the gallery of the world's great criminals. His is one of the names which never will be forgotten. The incident of the scourging is one of the darkest blots in the story of that terrible Friday. Pilate claimed that he could find no fault in Jesus, and that He should be released--yet, hoping that it would satisfy the Jews, he ordered Him to be scourged. The scourging must be considered as a part of Christ's sufferings as the world's Redeemer. The shame and indignity of being tied like a slave to a whipping post and then beaten until He seemed dead, we never can realize, for, thanks to the softening influence of the religion of Christ, such treatment even of the worst criminals is now unknown in civilized lands. There is, however, a word in Isaiah which gives a fresh meaning to this part of Christ's suffering. "With His stripes we are healed" (Isaiah 53:5), says the prophet. The peace we enjoy is ours, because the rod of chastisement fell upon Him--because He was smitten. Our soul's diseases are healed, their wounds made whole, because the body of Jesus was gashed and lacerated by the horrible scourge!
After the cruel scourging came the crowning with thorns and the mockery of Jesus as a King. "The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head." We ought to look with great love and reverence at the picture--Jesus the Son of God, our Savior, standing there in the midst of heathen soldiers, mocked and insulted by them. We know how truly He is a King, and what a glorious King He is.
When the crusaders had captured the Holy City, Palestine became an independent kingdom. Godfrey, of Bouillon, was made king of Jerusalem, and it was proposed that he be crowned with a golden crown. But Godfrey's noble answer was, "I will not wear a crown of gold in the city where my Savior wore a crown of thorns."
It is a sweet thought, too, that because Jesus wore a crown of thorns in the day of His shame--His redeemed ones shall wear crowns of glory in the life to come.
In one sense this mock coronation of Jesus was very significant. Was He really ever more a King than when He was enduring His cross? All through John's gospel we have seen that Jesus spoke of His going to His cross--as His being glorified. His cross really was His throne. It was on the cross that He fought the great battle and won the great victory of redemption. The cross was the ladder that led up to His throne. His crown of thorns, too, was fitter for Him than a crown of gold would have been, for He was the King of sorrow; He reached His glory--by His sufferings; He saved His people--by dying for them. He is adored and worshiped now as the King who has lifted men up by His own sorrows and blood to eternal life and blessedness.
Pilate showed pitiful weakness at every step in his dealing with Jesus. He knew there was no sin in Him, and yet he brought Him out to the people and surrendered Him to them. "Behold the Man!" Our eyes should be fixed upon Jesus as He stands there in the presence of the multitude. On His head--is the crown of thorns, and around His torn and bleeding body--is a purple robe, mock emblems of royalty. Behold the Man! Behold the Man enduring shame and contempt, set forth as a spectacle of mockery, that He might be presented at last in glory, and honored before angels and the Father. Behold the Man, reviled--yet reviling not again; hated--but still loving on; cruelly wronged--but speaking no resentful word. Behold the Man, the God-Man, wearing humanity, the Son of God humbling Himself and becoming obedient unto shame and death--that He might save our souls! Behold the Man, holy, sinless, undefiled, separate from sinners--yet bearing upon His own head as the Lamb of God, the sin of the world.
The only righteous thing for a just judge to do when he finds his prisoner innocent--is to set him free. Pilate brought Jesus out to the people--but said plainly, "I find no fault in Him." Nobody could. Nobody ever did. The rulers tried zealously enough to find something that they use as a pretext--but they found nothing. They tried false witnesses--but even these could not agree in their witnessing. Now the keen Roman judge inquires into His character, into His life, into His motives--but finds nothing against Him. No other man has lived in whom no fault could be found. The holiest men have sinned. But Jesus was absolutely sinless. Why then did He suffer as a sinner? We know well the answer. They were our sins that they laid upon Him. "Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us" (Gal. 3:13). Christ also has suffered once for sins, "the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God." "Who His own self bore our sins in His own body on the tree."
We never should forget this. In these days perhaps there is a tendency to forget the sacrifice of Christ, in thinking of His salvation. Between us in our curse and our blessing--stands the cross of our Savior. He was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities. Let us praise the grace that took our sins, that we may stand whiter than snow before the throne of judgment!
The silences of Jesus are always as significant as His words. He was silent to Pilate. He understood Pilate's weak insincerity. Pilate had had opportunity enough to do the right thing for Jesus--but he had thrown away His opportunity. Now Jesus would answer no more of His questions. One lesson we must get from this silence--is that if we reject Christ's offer of mercy and grace over and over, the time may come, will come, when Christ will be silent to us. And of all calamities that can possibly ever come to any soul--none could be so great as that Christ should be silent to its prayers. "Then shall they call upon me--but I will not answer; they shall seek me early--but they shall not find me" (Proverbs 1:28).
Another lesson we may learn from Christ's example, is that there come times in all our lives, when silence is better than speech. Often to words of reviling or to insult--silence is the only true Christian answer. To many of the assaults of skeptics on our religion and on our Lord--it is better that we remain silent than that we speak. There is a time to speak boldly and without fear in the presence of Christ's enemies--Christ did speak several times in reply to Pilate--but there are also times when we should keep silence, attempting no answer.
Pilate tried to compel Jesus to answer him. "Don't you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?" The answer of Jesus is very clear. "You would have no power over me--if it were not given to you from above." No man's power belongs to himself, to do with as he pleases; it is given him from God, the Source of all power. This is true of the authority of parents and teachers, and of the power possessed by civil magistrates. Men are eager to obtain positions of power, and they do not always realize the responsibility which is attached to such positions. Power belongs to God, and must be used for God, or its misuse will bring its sore penalty. It is a talent which is given to us to be accounted for, and no treason is worse than malfeasance in the employing of power. This is true all the way from the power of the child on the playground or in the home, up to the power of the president of the nation or of the king on His throne. "You would have no power over me--if it were not given to you from above."
There is another sweet thought suggested by the words "against me" in this sentence. Christ in this world was under the protection of His Father, and no one on earth could lift a finger against Him but by the Father's divine permission. What was true of Him, the Son of God, is true of each one of the sons of God in all their earthly life. Each believer, the humblest, the weakest, is kept in this world as the apple of God's eye. No one can lift a finger to touch one of God's little ones, except by divine permission. This shows how secure we are, amid all the world's dangers and enmities, while we trust ourselves, like little children, in our Father's keeping.
When Pilate ceased His weak efforts to have Jesus released, saying to the rulers, "Behold Your King!" they cried out, "Away with him, crucify him!" Thus they finally rejected their Messiah. We read at the beginning of John's gospel that "He came unto His own--and His own received him not" (1:11 ). The whole story of His life was an illustration of this rejection of Him. Wherever He went they received Him not. Here and there a home opened its doors to Him, and now and then there was a devout heart that made hospitality for Him--but these receptions were so few that they could easily be counted. Crowds of the common people thronged after Him, and many heard Him gladly--but very few became His true disciples. Even on Palm Sunday, five days before He died, there was a vast multitude to cry, "Hosanna!" and wave palm branches; but soon the palms lay withered in the streets, and on Friday only cries of "Crucify him!" were heard in the air. "He came unto His own--and His own received Him not."
It is the saddest event in all history, this coming of the Son of God to this earth, bearing in His hands all divine and heavenly blessings--but finding only shut doors and shut hearts, being compelled to take away His gifts because men would not receive them. We read this old story and wonder how His own people could have treated Him so; yet how is it with us? Do we treat Him any better? We do not cry, "Crucify him!" but we shut the doors of our hearts in His face and keep Him out. We reject and refuse His gifts which He comes all the way from heaven to bring to us. We may not with angry voice exclaim, "Away with him!" but in our hearts many of us do keep Him away.
The struggle had ceased, and "Pilate delivered him therefore unto them to be crucified." He first tried every way to avoid the issue; then he temporized, hoping in some way to evade the responsibility. At least he yielded, and his name goes down through history pilloried forever, as the man who delivered Jesus to be crucified, knowing and confessing that He was free from any crime. He was known in the world by no other act. Surely it is an unenviable notoriety. It had been a thousand times better for him if he had never been horn, or if he had remained forever in quiet obscurity, instead of going to that high place of power in the land, in which he had to meet and deal with this most monentous question of history.
We read in one of the Gospels that Pilate took water in the presence of the people and washed his hands, thus by symbol declaring that he was not responsible for the sentencing of Jesus to die. But the water did not wash away one particle of the stain of the guilt of that terrible sin! Pilate had the misfortune to be the only man in all the province who could send Jesus to the cross. Upon him, therefore, the final responsibility rested, no matter the pressure that was brought to bear upon him by the enemies of Jesus.
Just so, the fact that others urge us to sin--does not take away our guilt for that sin. No being in the universe can compel us to do wrong; if, then, we do wrong--the sin is our own. True, Jesus said there was one other whose guilt was even greater than Pilate's--that was the high priest. His sin was not only that he himself was determined to do wrong--but that he dragged others with him. We remember that the rulers replied to Pilate's act of washing his hands, "His blood be on us and on our children!" (Matthew 27:25). No one who has read the story of the next forty years can doubt that this self-imprecation was fulfilled. Forty years later, thousands of the people were scourged and crucified. The crime of the rulers was successful--but what came of the success in the end? Let us learn that sin brings always terrible woe, and that the worst of all sin--is sin against the Lord Jesus Christ.