A Reprioritizing Judge

For anyone who missed it. This is the sermon that I preached earlier today.

Jay Leno in his autobiography tells a story about how in his early years he went on a late night show to do a routine. He was asked what the queue would be for when he was done. He did so and walked out on stage. The crowd greeted him with a standing ovation to which he replied “thank you, thank you very much.” To Leno’s confusion, the band started playing and the show went to commercial, forcing him offstage. Leno had accidentally said the cue he had given for when he would be done. As shocking as this true story might be, it would have been better if it actually happened to Leno. It was discovered that Leno had paid someone to use their experience in his autobiography; leaving many wondering where his priorities lie in the book. Telling about his actual experiences, or telling a good story.

Every day we are faced with decisions that we must prioritize in order of relevance to us at the time. Breakfast, school assignments, what we will get done during the day. All of these must be sorted and examined and at times communicated to others, I can’t tell you how many times I wake up in the morning to find Mom has left a list of things she wants me to do. Things on her priority list that she can’t get done because she is at work that she wants me to consider on my priority list for the day. How we sort, examine and communicate these priorities says a lot about who we are and what we believe to others. Even our actions can play a factor in communicating our priorities to others.

If you would turn to John 18 starting in verse 28, I want to look at how these conversations shape the priorities of those involved.

28 Then the Jewish leaders took Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness they did not enter the palace, because they wanted to be able to eat the Passover. 29 So Pilate came out to them and asked, “What charges are you bringing against this man?”

30 “If he were not a criminal,” they replied, “we would not have handed him over to you.”

31 Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.”

“But we have no right to execute anyone,” they objected. 32 This took place to fulfill what Jesus had said about the kind of death he was going to die.

33 Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

34 “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”

35 “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”

36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

37 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

38 “What is truth?” retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him. 39 But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?”

40 They shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” Now Barabbas had taken part in an uprising.

19:1 Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. 2 The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe 3 and went up to him again and again, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they slapped him in the face.

4 Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews gathered there, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him.” 5 When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!”

6 As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him, they shouted, “Crucify! Crucify!”

But Pilate answered, “You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.”

7 The Jewish leaders insisted, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.”

8 When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, 9 and he went back inside the palace. “Where do you come from?” he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. 10 “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?”

11 Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above.Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”

12 From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jewish leaders kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.”

13 When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge’s seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha). 14 It was the day of Preparation of the Passover; it was about noon.

“Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews.

15 But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!”

“Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked.

“We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered.

16 Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified. So the soldiers took charge of Jesus.

This chapter falls in a series of events that is known as Holy Week, celebrated each year the week before Easter. For Jesus and his disciples it was a roller-coaster of emotions and events. It starts with the Triumphant Entry, Jesus riding on the back of donkey into the city of Jerusalem. Crowds cheering and waving palm branches. The next few days Jesus is teaching in the Temple, meanwhile the leading priests are seeking an opportunity to kill Jesus. They find this opportunity in Judas Iscariot. Now John gives a slightly different timeline of events than the other gospels. John give an account of Jesus and his disciples celebrating the Passover meal a day early in secret, giving way to Jesus knowing that he will be dead by the time that the Passover meal is given the following evening. At this meal Jesus gives the new covenant with the bread and wine symbolizing his body and blood. After this, Jesus takes his disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane. Where he tells them to wait there while he goes off to pray, he returns to them sleeping, he wake them up and goes back to prayer only to return and find them asleep again. By this time Judas is approaching to betray Jesus. He does so, Peter chops off someone’s ear, Jesus heals it, Jesus is arrested and taken not to the Temple for a trial before the Sanhedrin, but to Annas the father of the High Priest Caiaphas, who sends him to Caiaphas himself. Now John gives no account of either of these trials, but we know from Matthew that the leaders find false evidence and take Jesus to Pilate’s headquarters.

Now these leaders won’t enter Pilate’s headquarters due to an unstated defilement for doing so. This is forcing Pilate to work on two different playing fields. Pilate had to come out to them.

“What is your charge against this man?”

“We wouldn’t have handed him over to you if he weren’t a criminal!” they retorted.

Notice there is no real accusation here. This is no more than a “We don’t like him please get rid of him for us”

 “Then take him away and judge him by your own law,” Pilate told them.

“Only the Romans are permitted to execute someone,”

This tells Pilate exactly what the Jewish leaders want.

Pilate goes in for his first encounter with Jesus.  “Are you the king of the Jews?”  This question is the same in all the gospels. However, at this point, in Matthew, Mark and Luke Jesus goes silent, but here Jesus asks a question.

 “Is this your own question, or did others tell you about me?”

Jesus is testing the waters. There are two scenarios that could have happen the first is that the leaders could have gotten to Pilate beforehand.  The second is that Pilate could truly be asking for the first time.

“Am I a Jew?” Pilate retorted. “Your own people and their leading priests brought you to me for trial. Why? What have you done?”

Basically, I am not them and they really don’t like you. What have you done?

 “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.”

“So you are a king?”

“You say I am a king. Actually, I was born and came into the world to testify to the truth. All who love the truth recognize that what I say is true.”

“What is truth?” Pilate asked.

With that Pilate cuts off the conversation and heads back out to the leaders

“I find nothing wrong with him. But you have a custom of asking me to release one prisoner each year at Passover. If you want I can release him back to you.”

“No! Not this man. We want Barabbas!”

Now just a side note here. Barabbas depending on the translation that you use is says that Barabbas was a robber, a revolutionary, criminal, a terrorist. The Romans had him locked up for good reason. Yet the people had decided that since Jesus would not free them politically from Rome then surely Barabbas would. However we never find out from John if Pilate ever released Barabbas.

Pilate heads back inside. And gives orders to Have Jesus Flogged

Now I’m sure we have all been hit by a stick, belt, or wet towel, but this was no belt. Five pieces of leather tied together embedded with lead shards that ripped into the person. Now the max, according to Jewish law, that could be used on Jesus was 40. However, for Roman citizens there was no limit to the amount of strikes one could endure. Yet not only did the soldiers flog him but mocked him by putting a crown of thorns on his head and a purple robe and lead him back to Pilate who is back outside.

“I am going to bring him out to you now, but understand clearly that I find him not guilty.” “Look, here is the man!”

“Crucify him! Crucify him!”

“Take him yourselves and crucify him. I find him not guilty.”

“By our law he ought to die because he called himself the Son of God.”

And out it comes, the real reason that the Jewish leaders are here and the first accusation. A religious one. With this Pilate heads back inside taking Jesus with him.

 “Where are you from?”

Here Jesus becomes silent as he does in the other gospels. He doesn’t need to answer because he answered the question earlier.

“Why don’t you talk to me? Don’t you realize that I have the authority to release you or crucify you?”

Wrong move Pilate, What you don’t realize is that only a few chapters earlier in chapter 10 that Jesus states that he has the authority over life and the authority to regain it. There’s potential for a battle of authority to erupt, but Jesus goes another route.

“You would have no authority over me at all unless it was given to you from above.”

Now here is one of those times where scripture meaning splits. For Jesus and us the meaning is that God gave Pilate the authority and thus the “from above” would be from heaven. Pilate would not get this but would see “from above” as from higher ranks than he, in this case Caesar and Rome.

These words fresh on his mind he goes back out to address the crowd and tries to give Jesus to them to deal with.

“ I still find him not Guilty“

“If you release this man, you are no ‘friend of Caesar.’ Anyone who declares himself a king is a rebel against Caesar.”

Notice that the accusation has changed from religious to political. If Pilate does not give them what they want they will go to Caesar. If this happens, Pilate gets called back to Rome and most likely will never return. Pilate brings Jesus back out.

 “Look, here is your king!”

“Away with him! Crucify him!”

“What? Crucify your king?” Pilate asked.

Pilate for the first time has brought two words together here for the first time, King and crucifixion.

“We have no king but Caesar,” the leading priests shouted back.

The leading Priests have pulled the last straw and by doing so have denied their very existence. They have just rejected and reprioritized their God that they worship and pledged it to Caesar as Pilate hands Jesus over to them to be crucified.

Some have gone as far as to say that this was Pilate’s defining moment. He was forced to make a definite decision. Even though he found nothing wrong with Jesus and repeated this several times to the Jewish leaders. In the end, it was not enough. Pilate chose to rearrange his priorities to please the people instead of keeping his priorities to Roman justice on top.

Likewise each of us will face many defining moments in our lives. Every decision that we make defines who we are, what we believe and where our priorities lie. How we align our priorities says a lot about where we stand especially when it comes to Jesus Christ. Eventually, like Pilate, every single one of us will have to face this decision of where Christ stands with us. Is he on the top of our priority list, guiding our every move? Is he in the middle, someone we go to when we absolutely need Him? Or worse is he on the bottom having almost nothing to do with our daily lives?

What Pilate didn’t know on that day was that this was far from over. Three days after Pilate made this decision he would have to investigate the disappearance of Jesus’ body. Sending a trusted centurion to discover what had happened. No doubt this centurion would confront many of the same people that we read about in the New Testament. One author’s depiction of how such a conversation between a Roman centurion and Joseph of Arimathea goes like this.

“Tell me Centurion. What will you do if you find the rabbi’s body—“

“When I find him—“

The Pharisee’s smile was otherworldly. “If you find him, what if the finding causes your entire world to be shaken to its very core? What if you find the answers you seek, and everything you held as important, everything that shaped your world all comes crashing down?”

“I don’t understand your –“

What if you do discover the truth and the truth shatters you life? Joseph leaned closer until all the centurion could see was the fire at the center of the Judean’s dark eyes, “And what if it forces you to leave behind all your ambitions and your desires? What then centurion? What will you do then?”

All of us have or will face the question about how Christ will fit into our lives. For some maybe this is the first time, others it may be a daily struggle, yet others have made the decision a long time ago and have allowed Christ to be the top of the priority list. When you are faced with this decision of where Christ will set in your list, will you allow Christ to rearrange your priorities so he can be at the top or will you keep him where he is and continue on with your life.

I leave you with one question. When you discover the truth about Jesus and it forces you to reevaluate your priorities and it forces you to leave behind everything, your ambitions, desires, everything, What then? What will you do then?

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