The Jewish authorities had arrested Jesus and now wanted the Roman authorities to condemn him to death. Pilate however didn’t like the Jews. He considered them to be an obstacle making the pursuit of his own personal interests more complicated. Consequently he didn’t feel inclined to grant them any favours. When Pilate heard that Jesus had begun his ministry in Galilee he thought he had found a way of avoiding having to take a potentially difficult decision. He wouldn’t have to judge Jesus he could send him off to Herod and let him decide the matter. After all Herod exercised jurisdiction over Galilee and that’s where had come from.
Herod was happy to go along with Pilate’s plan because for a long time now he had wanted to see Jesus. Herod appreciated what Pilate did and from now on these two men became friends whereas previously they had not got on. In the long run however, both these men, who were complicit in failing to deal properly with God’s holy servant, Jesus, would lose out. They would both lose their positions of power and influence and their lives would end in disgrace.
Who was Herod?
There are several different people in the NT who are called Herod and they all came from the same, exceedingly corrupt family. The Herod to whom Pilate sent Jesus was Herod Antipas. He was a son of Herod the Great and he was a nasty piece of work. He was half-Idumean and half-Samaritan and did not have a drop of Jewish blood in his veins. He was a erratic, sensuous and superstitious individual who was also cunning and cruel.
This was the man whom John the Baptist publicly took to task over his marriage to his brother’s wife. And so this was the man who was responsible for having had John arrested, imprisoned and subsequently murdered even though he had been personally impressed and intrigued by him.
Herod’s life set a poor example and Jesus had already specifically warned his followers concerning the negative effects of this man’s influence.
It was to this unprincipled and self-serving worldling that Pilate sent Jesus for judgment. And as Jesus went we are reminded that Herod was keen on meeting Jesus. I say reminded because Herod had indeed been hoping for a long time now to actually see Jesus. You see Herod had heard about Jesus and in particular he had heard that he had power to perform miracles and Herod thought it would be cool if he was able to see some for himself.
Although Herod had heard a number of reports about Jesus he really didn’t know what to make of him. And as he thought about this extraordinary man Herod’s own conscience pricked him. The reason Herod was perplexed was that not only were reports circulating about what Jesus was doing rumours were circulating too as to his true identity. Some were even saying that Jesus was John the Baptist raised from the dead. And that reminded Herod of what he had done. He knew only too well that he had been the one who had had John murdered. Up till now his hopes of seeing Jesus had come to nothing but now all that changed.
Herod is Glad
At last Herod had the opportunity to meet Jesus and he was so glad about it.
But what are we to make of this desire to see Jesus?
We are tempted in our own day to consider any interest in Jesus Christ to be a good thing, a positive indication that a person is perhaps moving in the right direction. The example of Herod should cause us to reflect more soberly: he was interested by Jesus but his interest was unhealthy and he gave no indication that he was open to the truth.
Herod wanted to see Jesus do something spectacular, something out of the ordinary. After all he’d heard about what Jesus had been doing and wanted to see some of it for himself. Yes, he’d like to see a miracle. A little excitement, a little distraction and then he’d be ready to move on to the next thing.
You see Herod had not just heard that Jesus was doing miracles he also heard reports that Jesus taught the people and that he sent his disciples to proclaim the Kingdom of God and to preach the gospel. But we don’t find that Herod had interest in any of that. We don’t find Herod asking questions about repentance, about forgiveness of sin, about how he might enter the Kingdom of God or anything spiritual at all. All we find is a man who wants the excitement, the novelty, of seeing Jesus perform some wonderfully unusual deed. In short Herod’s interest in Jesus is the interest of a spectator in the performance of a magician!
But Jesus won’t perform!
Herod plied him questions. He’d got plenty.
Who are you? Can you heal the sick? Will you show me? Are you John the Baptist raised from the dead? Can you really cast out evil spirits? Will you do something now? Can you turn water into wine? How did you do that? Can you show me now?
Of course we don’t know exactly what questions he asked but we do know he was hoping to see something extraordinary and his questions would have been designed to try to get Jesus to play ball.
But Jesus refused. He wouldn’t even bother to answer Herod – why was that? After all Jesus would usually seize the most unlikely of occasions to preach the gospel so what was so different this time?
Well Herod showed an interest in Jesus but in entirely the wrong way. He wasn’t interested in spiritual truth and he wasn’t interested in right living. His sin didn’t so trouble his conscience that he set himself to seek peace and forgiveness. No, nothing like that, he was simply looking for a new experience in life – he’d never seen a miracle before and wouldn’t it be interesting...
Herod had shown himself to be an unspiritual man. Yes, he had been intrigued by John the Baptist and liked to listen to him but he was unwilling to take on board what that prophet of God had said to him. He had been prepared to murder John simply so that he didn’t lose face for having made an irresponsible promise. He would rather keep a bad promise than that he should never have made than do the right thing.
Herod was petulant; he was like a spoilt child that can’t for once get its own way and how quickly his emotions changed!
Herod had been glad to meet with Jesus because he thought that he could make Jesus conform to his wishes and Jesus just would not do it. And so Herod’s gladness soon evaporated only to be replaced by bitterness and hostility.
I wonder if that is the problem that someone here this morning might have. Perhaps you have something of an interest in Jesus but perhaps you too want Jesus to fit into the mould that you have prepared for him. Perhaps you have your own expectations of Jesus. Perhaps he didn’t perform as you wanted him to. Maybe you too wanted to see a miracle, a loved one healed from a debilitating illness, spared an early death... but it didn’t happen and so your interest in Jesus too waned just as fast as did Herod’s.
Or maybe like so many others you are willing to think of Jesus as a prophet but you won’t allow him to be greater than that. Or perhaps "a great teacher" and that’s that. Or simply a miracle-worker. If you come to him trying to force him into the mould you have made for him, insisting that he follow the agenda that you have established, how will you react when Jesus won’t perform in the way you expect him too? Will you also become bitter and hostile? Perhaps you have already!
Herod couldn’t get Jesus to do what he wanted him to and at the same time his ears were being filled with the vehement criticism of the Jewish authorities. The pleasure Herod had experienced in finally seeing Jesus was soon replaced by a very different sentiment. Herod and his soldiers treated Jesus with contempt and mockery – though, interestingly enough as we soon discover, they had not found anything that they could hold against this man! Somehow it all seemed acceptable to them to mistreat an innocent man in this way!
Back in Pilate’s Court
Well the rough horseplay and demeaning mockery finally came to an end and Herod had had enough. So he sent Jesus back to Pilate. Pilate was back to square one. He had tried to shift the burden of responsibility off his own shoulders onto another’s but he had failed. Pilate would have to front up.
One thing however has changed for Pilate – he has a new friend in Herod.
As you think about it this is a rather an odd sort of friendship.
Pilate had tried to "use" Herod and it his efforts had come to nothing. Herod had, if anything, made his task more difficult because here was another voice testifying to the innocence of the man the Jewish authorities so desperately wanted formally condemned to death.
Herod on the other hand had had a day to forget. He’d begun the day with high hopes of something special happening but as the day wore on it became obvious to him that he was not going to get the satisfaction he was looking for. His hopes were dashed and his emotions were all over the place. And who had prompted such a day? It was Pilate who had sent Jesus to him for questioning!
But it is often like this. The opponents of Jesus make for strange bedfellows – different from each other in so many respects yet united in one thing their opposition to the Lord Jesus Christ!
Pilate had tried to get rid of his problem of what to do with Jesus and he had failed – he can’t sidestep the issue and neither ultimately will any of us. Sooner or later we will all have to face up to Jesus because God has determined that it is by him that every human being that has ever lived will be judged. Preaching In Athens Paul made this very clear:
Acts 17:30-31 "The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead."
God the Father has also determined that every human being will be brought to recognise and confess the worthiness of this man who is his unique Son:
Phil.2:9-11 "Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."
This means we have basically two options:
We can willingly recognise Jesus now as our Lord and Saviour
We can refuse now and be obliged later when it will be too late to be of any benefit to us personally.
With Jesus back in his charge Pilate called together the Jewish authorities and spoke to them about Jesus. He reminded them of the various charges that they had brought against Jesus and then went on to explain how after examination he had not found any reason whatsoever for condemning this man to death. He knew that Jesus was innocent of the charges laid against him. And this wasn’t just his assessment either – he had sought a second opinion from Herod and Herod’s judgment had confirmed his own.
Have you got it clear in your own mind yet? Jesus was innocent!
Pilate then suggested the course of action that he proposed to follow. We should not miss the irrationality of his plans – but then men and women are not always rational when it comes to dealing with the Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus was innocent but, with a view to placating those who didn’t like him, Pilate offered what he thought might prove an acceptable sweetener. I’ll have him punished before I set him at liberty! Some justice that: punishment for being found "not guilty".
Pilate knew this truth about Jesus but it wasn’t enough. Pilate would not act upon what he knew to be the truth and what he was even prepared to acknowledge before others to be the truth. He should have set Jesus free but he didn’t.
It was a selfish and short-sighted view of just where his own self-interest lay that caused Pilate to capitulate and do what he knew to be wrong.
Will something similar keep you from following the truth as it is revealed in and by Jesus Christ?
What will your excuse for not trusting Jesus be when you are called before the judgment bar of God? Do you think it will hold up? Pilate was pressured by his fears of what others would think and how they might interpret his behaviour and he condemned an innocent man to die. Worse than that he condemned the very Son of God to die, the One who was anointed and openly approved of by God!
What a tragedy it was for Pilate! How he tried and tried to wash his hands of the whole affair! But he failed. Even his wife warned him reminding Pilate of what he already knew about Jesus that he was a righteous man – but Pilate wasn’t man enough to do the right thing. How tragic to know the truth and then to openly and defiantly refuse to follow it!
In less than a decade Pilate who tried so hard to feather his own nest had lost everything. He was the type of person Jesus had in mind when he issued this warning to his followers:
Mt.16:26 "For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life?
Jesus could have saved him – he could save people in extremis as would be illustrated a few hours later when a crucified criminal asked to be remembered when Jesus came into his kingdom – but Pilate didn’t look to him for help, for strength or for forgiveness. And Pilate lost all.
I don’t want to conclude with thoughts of a corrupt failure like Pilate for I have someone far more worthy to speak about and to commend to you this morning.
He accepted quietly and calmly the hostility, jealousy and vindictive spitefulness of men because he knew that he had come to save sinners and this was the only way in which i could be done. Herod and Pilate were both responsible for their wicked choices as were the Jewish authorities but behind their responsibility God was at work. They meant their actions for evil but God meant them for good for it was only by suffering as an innocent victim could the Lamb of God take away the sin of the world.
My friend, Jesus’ sacrifice is sufficient to cover all your sin and his righteousness is sufficient to place you in a right relationship with God. You must put your trust in him. If you haven’t already done so then do so today. You know enough of the truth to come. What a wonderful Lord and Saviour is Jesus Christ!