As they had requested, he released the one imprisoned for insurrection and murder, and surrendered Jesus to their will.
I. THAT HE WAS POSSESSED OF ENERGY AND ENTERPRISE. He would hardly have reached the station he occupied, or held it as long as he did, if he had not had these two qualities in his character.
II. THAT HE WAS NOT DEVOID OF SPIRITUAL DISCERNMENT. It is clear that he was much impressed by all that he saw of Jesus. The calmness, patience, and nobility of our Lord called forth from Pilate a sincere respect. There was genuine admiration in his heart as he led forth the Divine Sufferer and exclaimed, "Behold the Man!" He was affected, and even awed, by the moral greatness he was witnessing, he may also have been moved to pity.
III. THAT HIS WORLDLINESS HAD WORN OUT HIS FAITH. He had probably had his visions, in earlier days, of the sacredness and supremacy of truth; he had indulged his idea of what was morally good and sound, more to be desired than riches, more to be pursued than honor or authority. But a life of worldliness bad done for him what it will do for any of its votaries - it had eaten away his early faith; it had caused his fairest views and noblest purposes to melt and to disappear; it had left his spirit "naked to his enemies," without any assured belief in any one or in anything. "To bear witness to the truth." "What's truth?" asks the poor sceptic, whose soul was empty of all sustaining trust, of all ennobling hope.
IV. THAT HE HAD COME TO SUBORDINATE RIGHTEOUSNESS TO POLICY. That Prisoner on his hands was innocent: of that he was well assured. He would not condemn him to a cruel death unless he was obliged to do so. But he must not push his preference for righteousness too far. He must not seriously endanger his own position; he must not put a handle into the power of his enemies. No; rather than that, this pure and holy One must be scourged, must even die the death. As the trial proceeds, it appears that he is exciting a very strong hostility to himself. Let the poor Man go, then, to his doom; one more act of injustice, however regrettable in itself, will not make much difference. "And Pilate gave sentence that it should be as they required."
1. Outward circumstances prove very little. It is the judge whom we pity now; it is the bound and buffeted, the maltreated and maligned Prisoner whom we now honor and emulate.
2. Real strength is in righteousness and in love. Unrighteousness and selfishness, in the person of Pilate, resorted to shifts and expedients, and vacillated again and again between obligation and self-interest. Flawless integrity and abounding love for man, in the person of Jesus Christ, wavered not for an instant, but pursued its holy and gracious purpose through pain and shame. Policy prevails for a very little while; it goes back to its palace, but its end is exile and suicide. Poverty and love go through the deep darkness of earth to the unshadowed glory of the skies. - C.
He delivered Jesus to their willI. THE TRIAL OF CHRIST FOR HIS LIFE WAS MANAGED MOST MALICIOUSLY AND ILLEGALLY AGAINST HIM, BY HIS UNRIGHTEOUS JUDGES.
1. Was Christ thus used when He stood before the great Council, the Scribes and Elders of Israel? Then surely great men are not always wise, neither do the aged understand judgment. (Job 32:9.)
2. Hence also we learn, that though we are not obliged to answer every captious, idle, or ensnaring question, yet we are bound faithfully to own and confess the truth, when we are solemnly called thereunto.
3. Once more, hence it follows, that to bear the revilings, contradictions, and abuses of men, with a meek, composed, and even spirit, is excellent and Christ-like.
II. ALTHOUGH NOTHING COULD BE PROVED AGAINST OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST WORTHY OF DEATH OR OF BONDS; YET WAS HE CONDEMNED TO BE NAILED TO THE CROSS, AND THERE TO HANG TILL HE DIED.
1. A most unjust and unrighteous sentence: the greatest perversion of judgment and equity that was ever known to the civilized world, since seats of judicature were first set up. Pilate should rather have come down from his seat of judgment, and adored Him, than sat there to judge Him. Oh! it was the highest piece of injustice that ever our ears heard of.
2. As it was an unrighteous, so it was a cruel sentence, delivering up Christ to their wills. This was that misery which David so earnestly deprecated — "O deliver me not over to the will of mine enemies" (Psalm 27:12). But Pilate delivers Christ over to the will of His enemies; men full of enmity, rage, and malice.
3. It was also a rash and hasty sentence. Trial of many a mean man hath taken up ten times more debates and time than was spent about Christ. They that look but slightly into the cause, easily pronounce and give sentence.
4. As it was a rash and hasty, so it was an extorted, forced sentence. They squeeze it out of Pilate by mere clamour, importunity, and suggestions of danger. In courts of judicature, such arguments should signify but little; not importunity, but proof, should carry it. But timorous Pilate bends like a willow at this breath of the people; he had neither such a sense of justice, nor spirit of courage, as to withstand it.
5. As it was an extorted, so it was a hypocritical sentence, masking horrid murder under a pretence and formality of law.
6. As it was a hypocritical, so it was an unrevoked sentence. It admitted not of a reprieve, no, not for a day; nor doth Christ appeal to any other judicature, or once desire the least delay; but away He is hurried in haste to the execution. Blush, O ye heavens! and tremble, O earth! at such a sentence as this. In what manner did Christ receive this cruel and unrighteous sentence? He received it like Himself, with admirable meekness and patience.He doth as it were wrap Himself up in His own innocency, and obedience to His Father's will, and stands at the bar with invincible patience and meek submission.
1. Do you see what was here done against Christ, under pretence of law? What cause have we to pray for good laws, and righteous executioners of them?
2. Was Christ condemned in a court of judicature? How evident then is it, that there is a judgment to come after this life? When you see Jesus condemned, and Barabbas released, conclude that a time will come when innocency shall be vindicated, and wickedness shamed.
3. Here you see how conscience may be overborne and run down by a fleshly interest.
4. Did Christ stand arraigned and condemned at Pilate's bar? Then the believer shall never be arraigned and condemned at God's bar. Christ stood at this time before a higher Judge than Pilate; He stood at God's bar as well as his. Pilate did but that which God's own hand and counsel had before determined to be done.
(J. Flavel.)I. IT WAS ONLY THE ACT OF A MOMENT THIS DELIVERING OF JESUS TO THE JEWS, BUT IT SEALED THE DOOM OF PILATE. Of many important acts it may be said that they are done both suddenly and slowly. In one way or another the decision must be made in a moment: and yet these momentary acts are not so isolated from all the life as they seem. Our life is truly one; all parts and all events of it are closely joined together. Each event is at once a cause and an effect — a link which grows out of a former link, and out of which in turn a new link is formed. Thus it happens that we could account for any strange-seeming word a man speaks, or act he does, if we could only go back far enough into his history, and see deeply enough into his character. His life has been slowly moving round towards the point it now has reached. Into the house which bad been slowly preparing to receive him, the guest has suddenly stepped. There has been a removal of obstacles which would have hindered, or a heaping up of obstacles which make it impossible to proceed. In a word, character and habit decide a man's action at any moment of test and trial; and character and habit are not things of a moment. It is not always unfair, therefore, to judge a man by the act of a moment, or by his attitude under sore and sudden temptation. These things reveal the secrets of his character and life, perhaps to himself, certainly to other men; well if only he is willing to learn at the first lesson where his weakness is, and so make up the breach before the next assault. Peter was walking carelessly for hours, or days, before that terrible stumbling and fall in which his very heart was broken, and all his fancied righteousness and courage fell in a moment into ruins about him. In one of the western towns of the United States, a young man stood one day in the midst of a group of gay companions. A public house was open on the one side of the street, and the building of the Y.M.C.A. on the other. He was being pressed to go into the tavern, but suddenly he turned from all his companions, and amid their jests and laughter, entered the Y.M.C.A. rooms. From that moment his path in life was plain; he had committed himself on the right side. But was there no preparation for the sudden act? I am sure there was. If we knew all the story, we would find there was a godly home behind him. Many a warning conscience had given him. In a moment Pilate yielded to the request of the chief priest, and did this fatal act; but a whole life of selfishness and self-indulgence and cruelty had prepared him for that moment, and made it certain that when the time of trial came, he would do the wrong thing. Young men may be sure of it that there will come a time when they will be suddenly put to the test.
II. PILATE TRIED TO RID HIMSELF OF THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THIS ACT, BUT HE COULD NOT DO IT. There are some things of which we can easily divest ourselves. We can tear them off and throw them away in a few moments. I can change my dress and make myself, in outward appearance, another man. There are some things that cleave to us always and everywhere. I cannot destroy my personality; through all changes! remain myself, conscious of my own personal identity. One of the commonest excuses men make in such circumstances is, I did it under pressure. Some men are sensitive to the pressure of duty, of honour, of obligation, of truth, of love, of pity. This pressure is irresistible. When these influences are behind them, they must go on, no matter what lies in front. It was in this way that Christ was pressed to the cross, and many of Christ's servants to the scaffold and the fire. "I cannot do otherwise, God help me," were Luther's words when this pressure was strong upon him. There are many, however, who scarcely feel such pressure at all, but who are keenly alive to every touch of popular applause, of the blame of men, of the sharp edge of ridicule, of the fear of loss and pain. By the force of popular opinion, they could be pressed anywhere, into anything. It is putting the same thing in other words to say, that men try to get rid of their responsibility for wrong-doing by throwing the blame upon others, and upon God. "It is the way I was brought up." "You see I was led into it." "A man in my position must do such things." "Every one does it, and you may as well be out of the world as out of the fashion." "It is a weakness incidental to my constitution." "Circumstances shut me in, so that I could do nothing else"; as if a man should not rather die than do the wrong! Pilate washed his hands. He tried, in the most public and solemn way, to cast off his responsibility; but though he had a better excuse than thousands have who sin against conscience and a sense of duty, we see, as we look back upon his case, that it was impossible for him to put the blame on any one else. When he delivered Jesus to the Jews, it was his own deliberate act, done against his conscience, not to speak of any supernatural warning; and he must take the consequences. And Pilate's future history was very sad and hopeless. Responsibility is a thing I cannot get rid of. The gospel of Christ does not remove it. "Every man shall bear his own burden." "Every one of us shall give account of himself unto God." If I have done wrong, let me bravely confess it, and seek the grace of God to avoid the temptation again. Thus out of weakness I shall rise to strength, and my very errors and mistakes may be stairs leading me up to God.
III. PILATE'S GUILT WAS GREAT, BUT NOT SO GREAT AS THAT OF THE JEWS, WHO CHOSE BARABBAS AND REJECTED JESUS. That there are degrees of guilt is clearly taught by our Lord Jesus. Some shall be beaten with many stripes, and some with few. Christ does not exculpate Pilate, but He tells him, "He that delivered Me unto thee hath the greater sin." Such choices — not sudden decisions like Pilate's on partial knowledge and under pressure, but calm, quiet, almost unconscious acts of choice — we are making day by day.
(W. Park, M. A.)I. WHAT WAS THIS WILL? What was the moving spring of their fierce resolution that Jesus of Nazareth should die?
1. It was their will that this stern censor of their manners and morals should die.
2. They willed that the witness to the truth should die. The Lord belonged to another world, which they did not care to enter; a world which troubled their selfish, sensual lives. It distracted them with visions, it oppressed them with dread.
3. They willed that this teacher of the people, this friend of publicans and sinners, should die. They were a ruling class, almost a caste. And such rulers hate none so bitterly as those who speak loving, quickening, emancipating words to the poor. As society was then constituted in Judaea, that meant that He or the rulers must fall.
4. There was something deeper and more malignant than this. It was their will that their Saviour should die. One cannot shake off the impression, reading the gospel narrative, that the rulers knew Him. This was the will of the Jews. But —
II. WHAT, MEANWHILE, WAS THE WILL OF GOD? St. Peter explains it (Acts 2:23). To understand this, we must consider —
1. That it was not possible that the God-man should be holden of death. The flesh, the outer man, they killed. But what is the outer man, and what is death? They willed that He should die, but what He was, what they hated, could not die. God delivered it into their hands that they might see that they were powerless, that what they hated and had arrayed themselves against was eternal. His death made His life immortal, His witness to the truth eternal.
2. Through death the power of Christ, His witness to the truth, His witness against sin, His redemptive work for mankind, became living, nay, all-pervading and almighty realities in the world. Hidden for a moment by His death, the power reappeared, and reappeared to reign. Jesus delivered to their will was slain; but the world was soon filled with men who were charged with the spirit of Jesus, and who made His death the gospel of salvation to mankind.
(J. B. Brown, B. A.)
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