Who’s Doing the Misleading?
The Jewish Council had made up its mind – Jesus was a blasphemer and had to die. They had a problem though. The country was under the control of Rome and Rome did not allow those under their control to decide matters of life or death. If Jesus was to be effectively condemned to death then the Roman authorities would be the ones to pass the sentence and carry out the execution.
At that time Roman authority in Palestine was represented by one Pontius Pilate. His administrative base was not located Jerusalem but away on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea in the city of Caesarea. But Pilate was not in Caesarea at the moment for he had come to Jerusalem in order to suppress any rebellious activities that might break out during the religious festivities that were then taking place.
The Jewish Council took advantage of Pilate’s presence in Jerusalem and marched Jesus off to him. They needed his approval if they were to succeed with their plans to do away with Jesus.
There was no love lost between Pilate and the Jews. The Jews considered Pilate to be a cruel and greedy man and it is true that he was not a man of great principles, in reality he was really only interested in one thing – his own personal promotion. In return Pilate didn’t much care for the Jews either as he saw them as a threat to his own ambition. He preferred irritating the Jews to pandering to their whims and wasn’t predisposed to doing what they wanted him to. Years later his lack of sensitivity towards a deeply religious people would lead to his downfall as he introduced some of the pagan military symbols of Rome into Jerusalem and took Temple funds to finance the construction of an aqueduct.
Knowing their man the Jewish leadership realised that they could expect no favours. They must convince Pilate that Jesus is a threat to Rome and hence to Pilate’s own interests. They know Pilate well enough to know how to bring the necessary pressure to bear upon him so that he will do just what they want him to.
Jesus Before Pilate
The Accusations are made
The Jewish leaders want Jesus gone and their reason is that they believe him guilty of blasphemy. They realise, however, that blasphemy will hardly be a charge that will move Rome so they come up with another set of charges. We are left wondering as to whether these accusations were anything other than trumped-up.
It is interesting to reflect on why men and women continue to reject Jesus Christ today. Are their stated reasons anything more than pretexts designed to lend at least some degree of credibility to an already made-up mind?
Let’s look for a moment at the charges that were brought against Jesus. In form there are three charges though in practice these may actually include two:
He misleads the people
He forbids the paying of taxes/tribute to Caesar
He declares himself to be a king
The first accusation is so general that it may indeed be meant to serve as an introduction to the two main charges which follow. After all, to simply say that Jesus misleads the people surely must lead to the question "How does he mislead them?" The following charges can then be seen as the answer to that question:
He misleads the people by forbidding...
He misleads the people by declaring himself a king...
When we investigate these accusations a little more closely we quickly realise that the Jewish authorities are not too concerned with the truth. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised after all why worry about the truth when the mind has already been made up? Many today are not prepared to allow the truth to lead them for they too have already made up their minds.
Jesus had not forbidden the paying of taxes/tribute to Rome even though the religious leaders had hoped to catch him out a few days earlier with a question about such taxes. Jesus had confounded them then with his answer.
Lk.20:24-25 "Show me a denarius. Whose likeness and inscription does it have?" They said, "Caesar’s." He said to them, "Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s."
Indeed in the gospel narratives the only time that Jesus spoke is recorded as having said anything about tribute being offered to Rome was when his enemies in the Jewish leadership raised the subject. It simply wasn’t something that preoccupied him as he preached and taught. The accusation was a downright lie.
The second charge was disingenuous too. The Jewish leaders are trying to make out that Rome ought to see Jesus as a serious political rival, another unauthorised king who was intent on causing trouble. But the evidence was all against this too. When a crowd had wanted to take Jesus and force him to accept this kind of political kingship Jesus had quite simply refused:
Jn.6:15 "Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself."
Yes, he was a king. The wise men from the east had come to pay homage to the new king whose star they had seen in the skies and they had knelt before Jesus with their gifts and their worship.
When Jesus had entered Jerusalem at the beginning of that very week he had ridden into the city humbly upon a donkey to fulfil what the prophet Zechariah had declared about the coming of Zion’s king. As some of his followers had welcomed him with exuberant shouts of praise Jesus had refused to rebuke them but his coming was not the coming of a rival king riding to military conquest.
Even now in his appearing before Pilate Jesus spoke of having a kingdom but it wasn’t the type of kingdom his accusers would have Pilate worry about:
Jn.18:36-37 "Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world." Then Pilate said to him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.""
So the accusations had been made how would Pilate respond?
Pilate may well not have been a particularly nice person but he did have a certain amount of political savvy. He had been around long enough to recognise corruption and deception and he saw through the charges that the Jewish leadership were bringing against Jesus. He knew that most of them had no affection for Rome. He knew most of them would be only too glad to see Rome kicked out of their country. They weren’t bringing this man, Jesus, to him because he was a genuine threat to Rome they were pursuing another agenda. Pilate knew what it was that drove these men – it wasn’t a concern for Rome and it wasn’t a concern for justice either. No, their motives were driven by something else, something much less noble, something much more common – they were driven by envy (Mt.27:18).
When Pilate heard the charge of kingship he immediately turned scornfully to ask Jesus if this was true. This man? Pilate was a man of the world, he knew the intrigues and manoeuvrings of the political classes, and he knew that the charges just didn’t fit with the man standing before him. He knew that Rome had no reason to fear such a one and he maintained that conviction even when Jesus confirmed himself a king. Pilate knew he wasn’t the type of king to worry the political might of Rome.
It didn’t take Pilate long to see through the charges and it didn’t take him long to arrive at his verdict. Pilate spoke out to the members of the Jewish Council and to crowds who were beginning to gather:
"I find no guilt in this man."
It wasn’t the answer that the Jewish authorities wanted to hear and it wasn’t the answer that they were prepared to accept either but it was Pilate’s opinion. Pilate was convinced of Jesus’ innocence and he would go on to repeat it:
vv.14-15 "after examining him before you, behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him. Neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us. Look, nothing deserving death has been done by him."
v.22 "I have found in him no guilt deserving death."
It is important for us to underline this. Jesus was innocent and repeatedly declared to be so. He wouldn’t be condemned because he was a guilty man; he would be condemned because a weak man, who knew his innocence, was more concerned to maintain the public calm he thought to best serve his own interests than he was to follow the dictates of justice.
We won’t take "No" for an answer
The Jewish authorities not only don’t like Pilate’s verdict they also refuse to accept it:
"But they were urgent, saying, "He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee even to this place."
They kept on and on agitating and trying to get Pilate to change his mind. They really have nothing new to say so simply recast the same idea that Jesus is a dangerous revolutionary who is a threat to the system. He’s stirring up the people is how they put it now. That is, he is encouraging sedition and rebellion and you know what Pilate that means trouble for Rome and trouble for you!
It only needed a little delving into the facts to discover that this was all utter nonsense – but then those who want to keep Jesus out of their lives will often resort to utter nonsense to do so!
But the charge was there: he stirs up the people. Was there any evidence to back up such a charge?
There was plenty of evidence available concerning what Jesus had been doing during the three years of his active public ministry. Everyone knew what he had been doing:
He had been preaching and teaching and yes that did stir people up but not in the way the Council had in mind. After his first sermon back in his home town of Nazareth the people gathered were so stirred up that they actually wanted to kill Jesus!
But mostly the reaction was not like that – why should it be when he exposed religious hypocrisy showing it to be what it really was while at the same time preaching good news to the poor?
He healed those who were sick, he cleanses the lepers and he set others free from the curse of demonic oppression.
He called sinners to repentance and offered them the forgiveness of their sins; he transformed so many lives and urged men and women to abandon the sinful ways of their past.
He stirred people up, yes, to love and good works. Her didn’t tell them to take up arms and engage in any violent overthrow of their oppressors but called upon men and women to love their enemies.
Would that men and women would be stirred afresh in these ways in our own day! There is nothing hurtful or dangerous here, nothing to be afraid of here. Why are men and women so afraid of thinking seriously about Jesus?
Pilate heard what they were saying but wasn’t convinced one little bit. But he thought he’d found a way out – lawyers are not the only ones who love to find and exploit loopholes!
What had they just said? Jesus had begun in Galilee. That was Herod’s domain.
And Pilate knew that Herod was not actually in the north of the country in Galilee but he too was then present in Jerusalem, just a short walk away.
Pilate thought he might be able to get someone else to solve the "Jesus problem" for him. Let’s send Jesus off to Herod!
Pilate knew what he should have done but he was a cowardly man an unprincipled man – he was prepared to stand up for just one thing – his own perceived interests and Jesus didn’t fit in.
Pilate tried to pass the buck instead of doing what he knew to be right – in the event it didn’t work out for him. Herod would send Jesus back to Pilate and Pilate would be obliged to act. Perhaps you are trying to do something similar. Perhaps you want someone else to decide what should be done with Jesus – and maybe you’re looking at how so many reject him that you’re thinking they must be right, so many people surely couldn’t be wrong. But you must face the evidence for yourself and you must decide what to make of Jesus.
If he is the Saviour of the World, the only One who can deal with your sin and put you right with God then you would be so foolish not to put your trust in him.
There is a cost involved in siding with Jesus and I would not want you to be ignorant of it. May of his followers down through the years have been treated unfairly and unjustly just like the Master they follow and I can’t promise you that you will be immune from that sort of treatment.
In England not far from here in the 1550s a number of men were put to death for their faith in Jesus Christ – we know them as the Canterbury martyrs. In The 17 th century John Bunyan was put in prison for 12 years because he wouldn’t stop preaching about Jesus – it was while he was there that he wrote Pilgrim’s Progress.
Still today in many parts of the world it is a most dangerous thing to be a Christian. In Pakistan a muslim can easily accuse a Christian of speaking against Mohammed or Allah and it won’t be long before detention and threat of execution follows. Troubles continue in Pakistan today following the Supreme Court there overturning the death sentence that had been passed upon a member of the Christian community for "insulting islam". Asia Bibi has spent 8 years in solitary confinement on death row and is still unreleased because of new death threats against her. Her family too have had to go into hiding. There is a price that has to be paid in following Christ.
I don’t wish such suffering upon any of you. There are however worse sufferings awaiting those who refuse to repent of their sins and trust in Christ.
Not many years later Pilate lost his job and was recalled to Rome. Before he arrived there the Emperor died and Pilate, who had pursued only his own interests in life finally the fruit of all his endeavours - he was forced to commit suicide.
Pilate knew the truth but he mocked it "What is truth?" he jested and he didn’t act upon it. He lost all. Jesus Christ is the truth and you have heard about him again today. You must not mock but you must repent of your sin and call upon the name of Jesus for the salvation you, like all the rest of us, need.
To God be the Glory.