Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Why Pilate Couldn't See; John 19:1-16a

Audio Link

Why Pilate Couldn’t See

John 19:1-16a, Remsen Bible Fellowship, 06/28/2020


What prevents a person from coming to Jesus? Why would a man or a woman, a boy or a girl, who hears the gospel of Jesus Christ refuse to come and bow the knee before him?

We might answer that question in a number of ways. Perhaps they have intellectual objections; can you square science and scripture? Or what about the problem of pain? Maybe they have common sense objections; look at all the wars of religion! Could Jesus really rise from the dead? Or maybe the objection is more personal. Someone in the church hurt me. Maybe someone with a leadership position leveraged their power in a way that resulted in my pain. Perhaps I’ve been judged unfairly-or fairly but unmercifully.

Of course, on the flip side, if we have our Bibles open to the Psalms or to Romans we will read things like, there is none who does good, not even one, and, everyone has turned aside, together they have become useless. Which is to say, the Bible’s answer for why some refuse to come is because of indwelling sin which makes us hate the light. We might claim an excuse on the outside, problems with the Bible, the church, or Jesus himself. But the problem is actually in the mirror. To quote a verse that we have repeatedly turned to in this gospel, And this is the judgement: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil (John 3:19). 

As we continue on in John’s gospel, looking at another phase of the sham trial of Jesus, we are once again dealing with our friend from last week, Pontius Pilate. And in Pilate we will see a particular sin which can blind us to the truth before our eyes: the fear of man. Pilate feared man, and missed Jesus. Let’s read the text: John 19:1-16a

Point 1: The Fear of Man is a Snare

  • In v1 we see Pilate continuing to preside over this mess. 

    • As Noah pointed out last week, by this point in the narrative we are at Jesus’ second appearance before Pilate

    • And Pilate has already rendered a verdict: 18:38

  • Yet, here we find Jesus being flogged.

    • This is probably the first of two floggings: the Romans had three forms of flogging, with the most severe saved for a pre-crucifixion

    • What this means is not that Jesus lucked out: it means he was most likely flogged twice, here with a “lesser” form, that would nonetheless have left him bloodied, bruised

    • The most severe form, wherein long strips of leather with bits of metal and bone tied in were used by the officers, would have been saved until after v16.

      • We know this second beating left Jesus unable even to carry his own crossbar up the hill. It killed many, laid bare their bones, exposed their entrails. 

  • But why is Pilate having an innocent man flogged? Because he’s terrified of the crowds

    • Luke 23:15-16 informs us that after Pilate got Jesus back from Herod that both he and Herod had found Jesus innocent. His solution: this beating. 

    • Pilate knows he can’t cut Jesus free without severe backlash, but what if I beat him real good? What if he is subject to severe humiliation?

  • That’s what we see in v2-3, the soldiers driving the humiliation home. 

    • They make a date palm crown, with thorns up to 12 inches long

    • A purple robe, in mockery of his royal claim

    • They exclaim, hail, King! and strike him. Other Gospel writers add here that they spit on him and gave him a reed “scepter” with they also took to beat him with, in addition to using their own hands

  • Pilate’s perverse thinking seems to be, he’s innocent, so if I beat him badly enough and let him be mocked thoroughly their rage will be pacified

  • Is this the right rule for a magistrate to follow? Is Pilate doing his job here? Romans 13:3-4, Micah 6:8

    • Pilate’s job in this situation is straightforward: release the innocent man-but he’s too afraid

  • Pilate’s fear would fall squarely into what we would call rational, wouldn’t it? He’s trying to avoid an uprising. He’s balancing his duties as arbiter of Roman justice, and also the chief legal officer over the Jewish people with a measure of responsibility to uphold their laws. 

    • But it’s obvious to him that on no count does Jesus deserve death, v4

    • Pilate comes out to plead with the crowd again, this doesn’t make sense, you’re asking me to convict the innocent

  • In v5, Jesus comes forward. Bloodied, beaten, in mock royal robes, head pouring from his brow from the thorns having been driven into his scalp.

    • Pilate declares, behold the man. You can imagine this is almost a derisive turn of phrase. Behold, the man who claims to be king. Looks royal, doesn’t he? Behold, the man you claim is leading a rebellion and ought to be crucified, looks threatening, doesn’t he? Is anything beyond this really necessary? 

  • This doesn’t get the sympathetic response Pilate seems to be seeking for, though, because in v6 the chief priests and their officers continue to cry out, Crucify Him! 

    • Pilate’s response of, take him yourselves and crucify him, seems tinged with frustrated disgust. He knows they can’t legally execute anyone, but he doesn’t have any desire to order it, either. Why? For I find no guilt in him. 

    • Again, what is the job of the judge when the accused is innocent? Declare him so and treat him so! But Pilate is afraid of these crowds, and it prevents him from doing what he ought to do: release Jesus.

Proverbs 29:25 says, the fear of man lays a snare. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen an animal caught in a trap. It changes from animal to animal, generally by species but sometimes by individual as to how they respond. Some are complacent, some bounce around a little making a half-hearted attempt at escape, and some animals will fight furiously to escape from a trap. Pilate seems to be acting like a caged animal who thinks there must be a way out, but every door he pushes on is locked and he is beginning to resign himself to his fate. But unlike the animal, this trap was of his own making. The only thing standing between Pilate and a clear conscience is his fear of man. He’s caught in a vortex, unable to see his next step, but the only thing keeping him here is fear.

What are your fears preventing you from seeing? What clear obligations has God given you through his word or the Spirit’s work in your conscience that you are afraid to obey because you’re afraid how it will turn out or how other people will view you? There is only one real antidote to the fear of man. And Pilate almost got there.

Point 2: Close, But Not Quite

  • In v7 the leaders bring a specific charge (unlike 18:30): he should die because of blasphemy. 

    • They probably hadn’t brought this forward before because they didn’t think a Roman procurator would care about a religious dispute like this. But now they’re desperate to make something stick.

  • It almost has the opposite effect, though, because in v8 we read that this statement intensified Pilate’s fears, and drove him to ask the question of v9, where are you from?

    • We hear a statement like, “he made himself [or he claimed to be] the Son of God” and we either respond like Christians, because he is! or like modern people, well, that’s just crazy. 

    • Remember, though, that Pilate has a different worldview. He is a man of the Greco/Roman world, wherein the chief legends center on gods who often do come down either personally or through their divine or semi divine offspring. So Jesus’ divinity is, at least to some degree, a live option in his mind.

    • This would disturb him all the more because of what Jesus has already told him in 18:36, my kingdom is not of this world.

    • Pilate is further disturbed when Jesus won’t answer his question. 

      • Is Jesus being difficult? No, Pilate has already refused to act on the information Jesus has given him-why would Jesus give more? 

      • Pilate is not driven at this point by a searching for the truth, he’s panicking and asking frantic questions

  • In v10, Pilate does what all desperate people do, he starts reaching for what authority he does have-or thinks he has. I hold your life in my hands!

    • On the one hand, this betrays Pilate’s very conundrum. Because he is legally responsible in this situation, this fearful man cannot do what he so desperately desires: escape responsibility. It will land on him.

    • On the other, he doesn’t realize how little this makes sense given the fact that he is speaking to Jesus.

  • V11, Jesus makes a response that ought to cut Pilate down to size: you’re authority isn’t really your own

    • This works on two levels. First, Pilate was appointed and ruled at the pleasure of Caesar. 

      • Caesar himself is known as, son of the deified one, having been adopted by Augustus, who after his death was considered a God by the Roman people. So there is a higher earthly authority to whom Pilate answers

      • But Jesus’ bigger point here is what we read earlier from Romans 13, all earthly rulers are set in place by God. None is truly independent. All will answer to God.

  • And here is where we find Pilate almost getting it. The first part of v12 tells us that from then on he sought to release Jesus. Why? Of course a further conviction of his innocence. But more so, I think he comes oh so close to the one cure for the fear of man: the fear of God.

  • Fear is not a bad thing to have when you have legitimate reason to be afraid. But our human perspective on fear is all screwy. 

    • Pilate stands before the Lord of glory, Creator of heaven and earth, and he starts to tremble. But he ultimately decides that the people out there crying crucify are too scary and he better give in to them instead. 

    • Proverbs 29 told us that the fear of man lays a snare, in contrast see 

      • Proverbs 1:7, the fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge

      • Proverbs 9:10, the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the holy one is insight

  • Does it make sense to fear mere humans when to do so means we will run afoul of the eternal God?

    • Luke 12:4-5, fear him

  • Pilate’s fear of Jesus being a god doesn’t end up overriding his controlling fear of man. We must see Jesus for who he truly is. Not a god. The God. The One who can cast body and soul into hell.

    • Pilate’s fears almost got him to where he needed to go. But it wasn’t enough. He didn’t move from superstition to belief. 

  • We see this through the rest of our text. V12 continues with the Jews threatening to tattle to Caesar.

    • Were they really loyal? Hardly. But they know how to push his buttons, and he relents. He would rather be friends with Caesar than with God. He gets Luke 12 backwards. 

  • When Pilate hears this, he brings Jesus out to the Stone Pavement, which would likely have been an elevated place where judgements were rendered. It was elevated so that the official rendering judgement could be seen and heard, as well as be safe in the case of a riotous crowd, which Pilate was obviously dealing with here. 

  • There is a question in v14 of chronology. 

    • As to the day, when it says day of preparation that almost certainly means preparation for the Sabbath, making the day Friday. Even though Passover proper takes place on Thursday evening (when Jesus and the disciples took it), the whole week could be referred to as such, and so Friday makes sense here.

    • As to the time of day, that question is more complicated. John tells us judgement is rendered at the 6th hour, and while Mark 15:25 tells us that Jesus was crucified at the 9th hour. There are a number of ways commentators try to put these two together, but here is the simplest one: John is reckoning by Roman time, thus the 6th hour is 6am. Mark is reckoning by Jewish time, thus the 3rd hour is 9am. So you have judgement at 6 and crucifixion at 9.

  • Pilate’s caving is complete in v14b-16a, as he says, behold your king! But when they shout, away with him, crucify him! he can muster nothing more than a feeble, are you sure, guys?

    • They are sure. Crucify our king? We have no king but Caesar.

    • So Pilate throws in the towel, and hands Jesus over.

The religious leaders hold the greatest guilt before God in this scenario, Jesus says as much in v11. They had the knowledge they needed to see Jesus for who he was, their Messiah, their king. And they rejected him. But Pilate is far from guiltless. He crucified an innocent man, and he did so because he was ultimately blinded by a fear of what doing the right thing might mean. He was afraid of men, rather than God. He was terrified of the crowd to such a degree that he failed to heed his own words: behold the man, behold your king. 

Point 3: Behold, Jesus

What should Pilate have beheld?

  • Behold, the man

    • Note Jesus all through this passage, giving himself over to the scorn of men. In v1-3 he is flogged, mocked, beaten, and crowned with thorns. 

      • Isaiah 50:6

      • 1 Peter 1:22-23

    • When you look at Jesus, what do you see? A weakling or a conquered man? Remember John 10:18. 

    • Jesus stands here willingly, takes the scorn and mistreatment of people, on his way to a bloody cross where he will bear the wrath of God: and he did it for you.

Behold, the man: mocked and abused. Behold, the man: silent before his accusers and entrusting himself to God. Behold, the man: willingly headed to the cross. Behold, the man: the man who died for you.

  • Behold, your king 

    • Remember v11, where Jesus reminds Pilate that his authority is a gift, not his by right.

    • Pilate is terrified, and ultimately swayed by the crowds with the threat that Caesar might be displeased and would then remove Pilate. But Caesar’s Lord, the Lord of all the earth, the true King, King of Kings and Lord of Lords stands before Pilate, and he doesn’t see him. 

    • This kind of king doesn’t make sense to Pilate, and let’s be honest: he doesn’t make sense to us, either. 

      • A king coming to die means two things, both of which we find offensive.

  1. It means we have offended God so deeply it requires blood payment. That thing you did last night, said two days ago, thought this morning: death is the penalty. Do you see your sins that way? The king does.

  2. The other thing it means is that you can’t pay that debt, not short of eternity in hell. Which means someone else has to. You need a substitute to die, and you need an alien righteousness to be gifted to you.

These two truths, as offensive as they are, are precisely what Jesus came to testify to (18:37). That you owe God everything, yet you give him nothing. But in spite of that he has determined to set his love on you and send his Son to be your Passover Lamb, to cover you in his blood, to freely give you his own righteousness. 

It’s all free. But it will cost you. It will cost you your pride and self-sufficiency. It will cost you standing in the eyes of people. Repentance is a painful process on many levels, and living for Jesus will often make you look like a fool to the world. Pilate feared man, and it blinded him to the One who deserved his fear. Don’t let that same fear blind you.

Jesus suffered shame, reproach, torture, and the wrath of God so that those who fear God would no longer have to fear God. That those who bow the knee to Christ might be welcomed to the table as God’s children. That can’t coexist with worshipping our appearance before people. We worship a Messiah who was made a bloodied spectacle before men. Behold, your King. Bow to the King, the King who died for you.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Failing, John 18:15-27


John 18:15-27, Remsen Bible Fellowship, 06-07-2020


Do you ever feel like an utter failure? Maybe you find yourself asking, how could God use a loser like me? I ask myself some form of that question more often than I would like to admit. When I examine my life, my sins, my shortcomings of ability, I often walk away from that exam feeling something near meaningless and useless. 

If you ever share that sense of self-loathing, this text should encourage you. It doesn’t read as encouragement at first, and in point of fact it’s meant to warn us as well. But there is comfort to be gained here for failures like you and me.

Read the text


What we experience in the text before us is obviously not a single plotline, but a cutting from one plot to another, and back again. Going back to the last couple verses from last week, we read of Jesus being carried off to Annas; then we read about Peter; then back to Jesus; then back to Peter. 

Have you ever read a book or watched a movie that does this? A good example might be Lord of the Rings. You’re following Frodo and Sam, then cutting to Aragorn, then over to Gandalf. It’s all tied together in the end, but the narrative moves you from one plotline to another. 

Authors can have all kinds of reasons for using this literary device, but I think the primary thing we see John using it for, aside from simply conveying the facts, is to draw our attention to some key distinctions. We are going to find Peter faithless while Christ remains faithful.

Scene #1: Paved with Good Intentions

  • We find in v15, Peter and another disciple following Jesus after his arrest. 

  • The other disciple isn’t named, but we have good reason to believe that it is the apostle John himself (cf 20:2, etc)

  • How John could have been connected to the High Priest has left many scratching their heads, but that’s largely due to our western concepts of the division between manuals labor class and the knowledge class (for example, Rabbis were expected to have a trade; Jesus the carpenter, Paul the leatherworker). So it’s very conceivable that John relatives who perhaps had married into the priestly family

  • Regardless of the nature of the connection, he’s obviously known well enough that he is able to simply come and go as he pleases

  • Peter isn’t in quite the same spot. V16, he pulls up at the gate/door of the courtyard

  • But the other disciple is able to use his pull to get the gatekeeper to let him in

  • This all seems mundane enough at first, Peter and John follow Jesus. 

    • They didn’t need to do this, Jesus had protected them as he told the guards to let them go and they fled (v8, cf Mark 14:50; v9)

    • But it’s natural: why wouldn’t they want to see what’s going on?

  • But it takes an enormous left turn when the servant girl asks a question: “You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?”

  • Ponder for a moment who asks this question: a servant girl, a slave. Someone with absolutely zero social standing. Peter had literally nothing to fear in this circumstance. Perhaps she asks it with a sneer, like, really? But he has nothing to gain from lying to her.

    • Does Peter reason this all out and act logically? No, he blurts out the easy, safe response “nope”. 

    • Have you ever been there? Someone gives you a perfect opportunity to confess Christ, to give reason for the hope that is within you, and you totally punt it? You fail, you drop the opportunity? That’s what Peter has just done. He has an opportunity to give a reason for the hope within (1 Peter 3:15), but he isn’t ready. 

  • The tragedy of this is that this is the same Peter who just hours earlier, in the upper room (13:37) proclaims a love unto death, I will lay down my life for you

    • He confesses a never failing, to the death love, but now he won’t even admit to the little girl that he is connected to Jesus at all

  • Peter was so proud of his own boldness and ability to follow Christ-but where has this led him to? Denial

    • Do you realize that any attempt to lean on your own power in following Jesus will yield in the same result?

    • Calvin, Such is the demonstration of the power of man...Do we not continually tremble at the rustling of a falling leaf?...our courage is of such a nature, that, of its own accord, it gives way when there is no enemy...A man, filled not with fortitude but with wind, promises that he will obtain an easy victory over the whole world; and yet, no sooner does he see the shadow of a thistle, than he immediately trembles. Let us therefore learn not to be brave in any other than the Lord.

  • One of the mistakes we can make in reading this story is just to dogpile on Peter. 

  • What should we actually be doing? Seeing ourselves in his denial. We are all given to the very same cowardice. 

    • We need to learn to distrust ourselves and our human ability to remain faithful to Christ apart from the enabling work of the Holy Spirit

  • But while we ought not throw Peter too far under the bus, we should see clearly that the example here is a negative one, not v18

    • We are told it was cold, which at night in Palestine in the Spring is perfectly logical, and so the officers have built a charcoal fire to keep warm

    • Note what John says about Peter in the verse: Peter was with them, standing. Does that remind you of anything from last week?

    • 18:5; Judas took his stand boldly with the enemy; Peter slinks in and tries to blend in. Judas betrays, Peter denies. These are not moral equivalents, they are different acts, but the common thread is that they have both left Jesus. They’re standing in the wrong place. 

    • But Jesus isn’t surprised. Remember what he says to Peter in 13:38?

Jesus knows everything that is going to happen. As we learned last week, he is in total control. But even while being in total control, he is betrayed, denied, and abandoned by those closest to him.

Scene #2: Standing Alone

  • We need to note a few things about these verses: first, who is the High Priest?

    • If you remember v13, it says that Caiaphas was HP that year, but in v24 it says Annas sent Jesus bound to Caiaphas...after the events of these verses. So it seems that Annas is the one being spoken of. 

  • Second, we need to understand how illegal this whole proceeding was. 

    • v18 shows that it is obviously still night. Night trials were illegal

    • Annas questions Jesus in v19. Questioning someone to use their testimony against them was illegal, charges had to be established on the evidence of witnesses

    • Trials were to be open, public proceedings. This was taking place at night.

    • In v22, an officer strikes Jesus. This also would have been illegal treatment of a prisoner.

  • This is an absolute monkey trial with no basis. These men aren’t seeking justice: they’re plotting murder. 

  • The nature of Annas questioning in v19 seems to be such that he’s trying to trip Jesus up both in a way that would incriminate his disciples (he’s probably not thrilled that they all got away), and that he would say something to incriminate himself theologically

  • Jesus is having none of it, though. He isn’t refusing cooperate with lawful authority, he is demanding that the authority present live up to its own standards

    • V20, Jesus is making two points

      • 1) you really have no need to question me. I’m not leading any kind of sedition or secret movement. It’s all out in the open. 

      • Isaiah 48:16

      • 2) he is drawing a contrast to the current moment. I don’t have anything to hide. Unlike some people

    • V21, he continues the same line of thought

      • 1) why ask me what I’ve taught when there are all sorts of people who’ve heard me (he probably could have just waved his finger around the room)

      • 2) if this is a trial, you are legally bound to produce some witnesses. So go ask them what I’ve said

  • Jesus is frankly speaking the truth. He is not showing any disrespect, he is simply calling these men to account for the way they are handling this mock trial. He tells them what they are doing is baseless, and that is proved by the way they are doing it. You don’t have to hold secret trials in the dead of night with armed guards if you think what you’re doing is on the up and up. 

  • V22, shows us how they respond to this sort of truth-speaking. An officer strikes Jesus on the cheek. Sinful men, desiring to murder the only perfect man, strike him on the face. And in doing so, heap condemnation on their own heads. 

  • Jesus, again, is calm. And again, he gives a layered response.

    • V23, if I’ve said anything wrong, feel free to correct it (obviously they have nothing). 

    • But if I haven’t said anything wrong, what footing do you have to strike me? 

    • What we see here in Annas’s house, as well as in the trials before Caiaphas and Herord (skipped by John), and in his trails before Pilate which we will look at in coming weeks, is that there was no human basis for the crucifixion of Christ except for the utter rebellion of the Jewish leadership against their rightful Messiah. He came as their King, and they crucified him. Psalm 69:4a

  • But again, we must not see Jesus as a helpless victim thrust on the wheel of fate. This was the Father’s sovereign plan to redeem, not only those children of God from the people of Israel, but to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad (John 11:51-52)

  • And in this task, Jesus had to stand alone. No one else could stand as the mediator between God and man. As the only true human being to maintain absolute perfection in his earthly life, Jesus is the only sacrifice acceptable for human sin. As true God in the flesh, Jesus is the only sacrifice sufficient to cover the sins of all who would believe. No one else could do it. He is the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but through him.

Peter failed, and we’re about to see him fail again. But Christ stood firm. Peter denied everything. Jesus denied nothing. He stood alone, and he stood there for you and me.

Scene #3: The Cascading Effects of Sin

  • Cut back to Peter: where is he, still? V25

  • The same question as came in v17 is repeated; Peter has practised denial once, it’s a little easier this time

  • How often in your life does this play itself out? 

    • Peter is under an immense stress, and under the influence of that stress, gives himself over to sin

    • What sins are you given to under pressure? Losing control of your temper, irresponsible spending, substance abuse, laziness?

    • It’s very easy, when once tempted and having fallen, to give ourselves over to a sense of defeat or self-justification, either one of which leaves us with guilt and shame

    • Those feelings of guilt and shame then often lead us to take refuge in the same sins which got us there in the first place

      • for example, pornography use is shown to make people feel more lonely, yet where do many lonely men turn? To that same broken cistern that can hold no water (Jeremiah 2:13)

  • Peter is caught in this cascade, having now denied Christ twice, we read in v26 that he is questioned again

    • This time he knows that the other guy knows-didn’t I see you with him in the garden? 

    • Given that this man is a relative of Malchus, and they are both servants of the High Priest, it is entirely possible that he was standing close enough to see that Peter was in fact the sword-swinging crazy guy

    • But does Peter take this opportunity to realize his wrong, to confess, and to turn in repentance? No, v27 says that he denies Christ yet a third time

  • Now, we need to be careful in how we think about this-is Peter letting Jesus down? 

    • No, because Jesus is not counting on Peter or Peter’s strength to hold him up

    • When you sin you are failing in the sense of failing to live up to the standards God has in his law, and the freedom you have in Christ

    • But you are not letting down a Savior who holds the whole world in his hand; cf Acts 17:25

  • The cock crows immediately upon this final denial of Peter’s, which should bring Peter’s mind back to the words of Christ in 13:38

    • But is Jesus mad at Peter? Look at Luke 22:61 for a moment: it seems Jesus hears these denials and has compassion 

    • Imagine the weight of what Peter feels in this moment. He who so boldly proclaimed his love, and who was ready to die in the garden, has been exposed at every level. And he knows it. 

  • Where should we turn when we stumble and fall, as we all will this very day?

    • We’re all going to walk out of here this morning and face multiple situations within the next few hours where we do, think, or say something sinful-how ought we to respond in that moment?

    • Recognize what you’ve done, and the reality of your need - Peter doesn’t seem to recognize the depth of his situation until the rooster crows, and by then he has denied Jesus not once, but three times

    • We should be quick to listen for rebuke, aware of our own tendencies, and swift to recognize when we have sinned

    • Confess our sins to the Savior (1 John 1:9). He is glad to forgive you, and because of what Christ was being led away to do, he is just to do so.

    • You are never hiding your sin from God, so come into the light, walk in the light, be exposed by the light of God’s Spirit and his Word

    • Cling to Jesus. In him you are not condemned. If your hope is in him, God sees in you the righteousness of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21). 


Take heed of Peter’s failure. We are all vulnerable to sin, especially this particular sin, that of hiding our connection to Jesus. But if you feel cast down because you have experienced that same failure, take heart. Jesus wasn’t done with Peter, as we’ll see in coming chapters. Peter’s failure was real, but it wasn’t final. This is possible because Peter wasn’t righteous on his own merits. And you can’t be righteous on yours. We can only be right with God, loved by God, and used by God in this life because of one man: the man Christ Jesus. He stood alone. He went to the cross alone. And he did it for you.

1 Samuel 8, The King Thing

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