“Trial and Error”
Preached by Dr. Robert F. Browning
Calvary Baptist Church
April 7, 2019
This morning our attention is drawn to one of the most disturbing stories in the Bible. It describes the unfair and cruel way Jesus was treated by the secular and religious leaders who were at odds over what his fate should be.
You might think the religious leaders were the ones who came to Jesus’ defense as he stood before Pilate, the Roman procurator who had to decide if Jesus would live or die. After all, Jesus was seen by many as a holy man on a divine mission.
To the contrary, the religious leaders were the ones who brought Jesus to Pilate demanding he sentence Jesus to death. Why were they so upset with Jesus?
As I have mentioned in previous Lenten sermons, Jesus assumed the role of a prophet throughout his public ministry by speaking truth to power. He boldly exposed the insincerity, hypocrisy and self-indulgence of many of Jerusalem’s most powerful religious figures.
Jesus repeatedly criticized them for their misplaced priorities. From his perspective, they valued ritual purity over relationships and righteousness and made religion a burden for those already beaten and battered by the harshness of life.
Jesus called upon these wayward leaders to repent. He pleaded with them to build God’s kingdom on earth instead of theirs and to give voice to God’s dreams for a just and peaceful world for all people. He appealed to them to be servant leaders who revealed the mercy and grace of God through their own selfless deeds of compassion.
Jesus words, however, fell on deaf ears. Instead of heeding Jesus’ advice, the religious leaders made the decision to silence Jesus’ prophetic voice by having him crucified.
While Jesus and the disciples were in Jerusalem to observe Passover, these leaders devised a plan to have Jesus captured and killed before the week ended. It began on Thursday evening by having him arrested while he and the disciples were praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. This set in motion a carefully crafted plan to discredit Jesus and have him crucified in less than twenty-four hours.
After Jesus was arrested in the garden, he was immediately taken to Annas ben Seth, the former High Priest who was the power behind the throne. After being interrogated by Annas, Jesus was shuffled off to the headquarters of the current High Priest, Caiaphas, where the Sanhedrin assembled and charged Jesus with blasphemy and treason.
Their plan hit a stumbling block, however, when they took Jesus to the Roman governor, Pilate. Even though the Romans allowed the Jews a good deal of self-government, they were forbidden to carry out the death penalty. The right of the sword belonged only to the Romans, making it necessary for the religious authorities to convince Pilate that Jesus needed to die.
Persuading Pilate to bend to their demands turned out to be tougher than they thought it would be. I believe this was true for two reasons.
Pilate examined the motives of the scribes and Pharisees and found them to be dishonorable. It was obvious to him this demand to have Jesus crucified was driven by hatred for a man who challenged their authority and condemned them for being corrupt. Pilate did not want to get embroiled in a religious tussle. He had nothing to gain by getting involved and taking sides.
Secondly, Pilate despised the Jews and saw this as an opportunity to humiliate them. By not granting their death wish and having Jesus crucified, Pilate would make it possible for Jesus to continue to be a thorn in their side. Pilate would enjoy watching the religious leaders squirm.
Pilate’s internal struggle can be seen throughout this entire ordeal. At some point, though, I have to wonder if Pilate began to feel sorry for Jesus and genuinely tried to spare his life.
I don’t know and suppose no one does. Whatever Pilate’s motive was, he tried several times to secure the release of Jesus. It was only after the religious authorities threatened to undermine Pilate’s relationship with Caesar, which was always fragile, that Pilate finally succumbed to their demands and had Jesus crucified.
Pilate’s first attempt to set Jesus free occurred immediately after Jesus was presented to the governor in his palace. It was early in the morning, and Pilate probably did not want to be disturbed.
Quickly, he told the religious authorities to deal with this dispute on their own. When they refused to do this and insisted that Pilate order Jesus’ crucifixion, he went back inside and interrogated Jesus.
Since that conversation focused on religious and theological issues, which Pilate had no interest in, he returned to the religious leaders to declare he found no basis for having Jesus crucified. Again, this decision met with persistent resistance.
At this point, Pilate thought he could put the religious leaders on the spot by agreeing to release a prisoner during Passover. When he gave them the opportunity to choose between Barabbas, a notorious criminal and murderer, and Jesus, to Pilate’s surprise they chose Barabbas. When he asked them what should be done with Jesus, they shouted in unison, “Crucify him!”
Before signing the order for Jesus to be crucified, Pilate instructed his guards to unmercifully beat Jesus as a final attempt to spare his life. When Jesus reappeared battered and bloodied wearing a crown a thorns and purple robe, Pilate appealed to the religious authorities for mercy. Surely, he thought, enough had been done to this man to placate their anger and to appease them.
Pilate was wrong. The rhetoric outside Pilate’s palace intensified and the stakes increased. The religious authorities threatened to sabotage the relationship between Pilate and Caesar if Pilate did not have Jesus crucified. Reluctantly, Pilate gave them what they wanted to save his job.
Listen to the final portion of this discourse.
“Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews.
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.
Finally, Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.
Historians tell us that Pilate was relieved of his duties soon after Jesus was crucified, and he was never heard of again. You have to wonder how this traumatic event and fateful decision changed his life.
What can we take away from this tragic story that can change the course of our lives? I pondered this for a considerable amount of time last week. Let me share some ideas for you to consider.
There is no shortage of people who will put pressure on you to do what is wrong. Don’t get swept up in a crowd and let fear overrule sound judgment as Pilate did.
Most people who want you to do something wrong will not give up easily. Evidently, you stand between them and something they want, and they are not going to go quietly.
They will work tirelessly to wear down your defenses and to nudge you along a path that leads straight to a dead end. Don’t get caught in their web of deceit and destruction. Ask questions, seek the counsel of others and compare what they are asking of you with what you have been taught by those who truly have your best interest at heart.
Be the voice of reason in a crowd and offer a different perspective. Stiffen your spine and say no when necessary.
I know this is not easy, but rarely is it easy to do what is right in a world that values being served over serving, self-indulgence over sacrifice, deception over truth, greed over generosity, pleasure over principles, revenge over forgiveness, hate over love and arrogance over humility.
Doing right always comes with a price but so does doing wrong. The former leads to peace of mind, self-esteem and healthy communities. The latter leads to remorse, guilt and chaos. Ask Pilate and the ones who shouted, “We have no king but Caesar!” if you need proof.
Who is wearing down your defenses? Who is just about to persuade you to make unwise decisions that will hurt you and those around you? Who is doing to you what the religious leaders did to Pilate?
Let me encourage you to pause, take a deep breath and seek God’s heart. Too much is at stake for you to crumble as Pilate did.
The worst in others should bring out the best in us, especially when those around us need us to be good role models. I am convinced one reason Jesus remained faithful to God and took the high road during his trial and crucifixion was because he kept his eyes focused upon those who looked to him for guidance. Simply put, he could not disillusion his followers by teaching one thing and doing another.
After the resurrection of Jesus, what do you think the disciples talked about when they were sitting around a campfire? I believe they reminisced about Jesus’ commitment and courage during his final hours.
His example inspired them. His response to evil showed them how to bring light into a dark world. His courage compelled them to overcome their fears. His commitment to be a faithful servant at all times in all places helped them to understand there are times when this is what love looks like.
Who needs you to be a good role model? Who looks to you to teach them how to handle adversity and life’s stiffest challenges? Who is relying upon you to make hope visible and lift their spirit? Who is it you do not want to disillusion?
The worst in others should bring out the best in you and me. Is it?
The deepest level of love always involves sacrifice. Based upon today’s text, there will be times when love demands more from us than we think we have to give.
Perhaps this was the very reason Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane praying the night he was arrested. He was pleading for God to take this cup of agony away from him or grant him more strength than he had ever needed.
Knowing how difficult the next few hours were going to be, why would Jesus even consider going through all he did that night and the next day at the hands of such corrupt and self-serving people? The only answer I can give you is that Jesus did this out of love, love for God and love for us.
Jesus was sent to this world to reveal the true nature of God, to confront injustice, to expose corruption, to right all wrongs, to offer an alternative vision for arranging values and priorities, to make hope visible to those who were struggling to survive and to forgive those who were living with guilt and in shame. If this mission put him in harm’s way and cost him his life, he was willing to pay the price. He would rather be crucified at the hands of his enemies than to be unfaithful to the God who had so much confidence in him.
What Jesus endured that night on our behalf reveals that love is willing to do the difficult. It is tough and resilient. It is brave and courageous. It is faithful and true.
It will not cut and run when the road becomes treacherous or the incline grows steep. It never takes the easy way out or looks for a reason to give up. It refuses to be swallowed up by selfishness, fear, hatred, bitterness or revenge.
Love stays focused, grounded and faithful even in the midst of adversity. As Paul wrote to the early believers in Corinth, “love never fails.” (I Corinthians 13:8a)
There are times in all of our lives when we are called to love like this, and this may be one of those times for you. I truly believe the only way you can love people at their worst is with God’s help.
This challenge is bigger than you are. It is bigger than any of us. It is not, however, bigger than God, and God is eager to help us make the sacrifices we must endure to make a bad situation better.
“One of the most difficult things I ever did was to go to Al-Anon,” my friend said. At the time, my friend had been the pastor of his church for eleven years and was well known and respected in his community. Going public with his teenage daughter’s addictions and eating disorders was extremely painful but necessary.
He needed a support group and the skills to help her. Doing so, however, meant he had to set aside his pride and risk losing everything.
When he and his wife married years earlier, they made a decision to set aside $1,000 a year for the next twenty years for a special project. This money was going to be used to fund a trip they would take to celebrate their twentieth anniversary. This was a lot of money in those child-rearing years and was going to be a big challenge, but they were committed to it.
The fund had grown to $18,000, and they were already making plans for their special trip. They never made this trip.
Instead, that $18,000, and plenty more in addition to it, was used to pay for their daughter’s medical and rehabilitation expenses. The only trip they took was to several rehab facilities over a five year period of recovery and renewal.
Why did they do this? The deepest level of love always requires sacrifice.
Who needs you to love them this much this week?