Monday 28 June 2010

Jesus and Pilate - Who's in Charge by Brian Coatney

The following article is compiled and edited from The Global Internet Sunday School Class located at
Top picture Other pictures Zefirelli Jesus of Nazareth film on Youtube.
In our study of John’s Gospel, we're up to Pilate, and he is in a stressful place, but isn't that what life is, the stress of choices? Everyone who encounters Jesus decides something about him, so here is Pilate's first opportunity, and it turns out not to be a happy one for him, though it could have been.

I asked for impressions of Pilate from previous times of reading the gospel story about him, and my friend Phyllis said, “He fell into the trap of people-pleasing to keep his job.”

Pilate wants to know the accusation, and we see from the accusers’ response that they pick up the skepticism in Pilate's question. Pilate obviously thinks not highly of them, so they are quite sarcastic with him too. Pilate wants no part of this, and isn't that the sticky thing about a lot of situations, i.e. that we get confronted with something we want no part of, and the stress is how to dodge it. Pilate would like the whole thing to go off to a Jewish court and leave him alone as things were, but things will not be as they were, for with Jesus, they never are.

The Accusers Hunker Down for Death

The accusers want Pilate to just swallow their bias, and we see that the sticking point is capital punishment: the accusers want Jesus dead, and they cannot do that according to occupation law of the Romans. Wanting Jesus dead, that is fierce. Why do they want him dead? My friend Karen said, “because of who He said He was,” and Phyllis said, “He didn't pet their egos.” Whoo, good points!

Jesus just drives them crazy, to a murderous rage. The word law keeps floating to mind here. Karen said, “They are trying to live under the law,” and Phyllis observed, “It takes humility and honesty to admit that not only are we wrong on a certain point, but we ourselves are wrong.”

What is a Wrong Self?

So what does it mean that we ourselves are wrong? This reminds me of Dan Stone's old talks on Romans, how that the first part of Romans is about sins, and the middle part (Chap 5-7) about sin, so maybe the point is about sins and sin, and the difference. Karen said, “Sins are the fruit of sin.”

Also, in Romans chapter 7, Paul says, "no longer I but sin dwelling in me." So that was a revelation to him that the human isn't the problem, but sin in the human, and in that sense we ourselves have been wrong, but not for the reason we first thought. We start by thinking, "I am a wrong self." When we see what Paul says in Romans chapter 7, we see that it's an operator problem—an indweller problem; but when we are still deceived about that, we think "good self" or "bad self”; and this is how the accusers saw Jesus, and thus the rage, for Jesus claims to be deity, but also human vessel who is operated by his indwelling Father, so that drove the accusers crazy.

Pilate Starts to Really Sweat!

So we have in John 18 a culmination of three years of buildup about who Jesus is, and it has all come to a head in the Father's time here, for Jesus was untouchable until his time. Pilate has picked up that this controversy centers on whether Jesus is king of the Jews, so he asks Jesus about this, but Pilate doesn't seem bothered about whether Jesus is king of the Jews, for he evidently feels secure about Roman control whether the Jews have a king or not. In fact, an open king might be easier to deal with than a guerilla king.

Pilate, though, puts the question directly to Jesus.
After all, life is not about what others think ultimately, but what we think, so Jesus wants to know if Pilate is a real person. How much does he really want to know the truth. Before we know who we are, we are imitators and try to fit in here or there and find out who is boss and what the chain of authority is—the pecking order as the cliché puts it. Jesus threatens every human pecking order and gets at our guts, our insides.

Pilate is very sarcastic, saying, "Am I a Jew?" Yet the deepest questions of life are not about being a Jew. Pilate doesn't catch that this whole conversation is about what it means to be a human, what happens to us when we die, how we live now, what suffering is, and how we connect with God?—all the baseline questions we're meant to ask about life. Pilate isn't asking these questions; it's easier for him to just pawn Jesus off as a cultural difference, as a novelty, a conquered nation’s trivial arguments over law.

Jesus Loves Pilate

Jesus loves him and gives him an opportunity. So what does one do with a king from another world? Pilate starts to smell the coffee here, for he says, "So you are a king?" Now he sees that Jesus is real; he may not think Jesus is correct, but he knows Jesus is real. Real is what is scary to Pilate. and if Jesus is a king, then how does the kingship of Jesus match up with the Romans? Does Jesus really have any authority?

We ordinarily judge by external power, and it appears that Pilate has the power. It often appears that others have the power, and not we. There’s an odd twist here, for Jesus says, "You say that I am a king." Why would he say that to Pilate? It’s an awakening moment of consciousness, for if Pilate really thought that Jesus was a silly joke, a puppet, or a political clown, or a madman—then why would Pilate be so unsettled? Something is hitting center with Pilate, and he doesn't like this moment of awakening to a difficult choice.

I think it's good too, to see this not just as Pilate, though Pilate is a real person who makes a real choice; but we also can see this as a universal script, common to man—what it means to first realize that someone is challenging us that our whole world has been uninformed and that we have lived entirely on false premises.

Will Somebody Tell Me What this is All About?

Here we meet, too, the mystery of freedom, for I never have known why I seek and others don't. Everyone has sickness, pain, death, broken families, etc; and some come to God, and others trudge on and don't ask eternal questions. Why one seeks, and one does not is a mystery to me—the mystery of freedom.

Pilate has the opportunity to see himself as simply a member of the human family, the lost human family, and to be just a regular person who needs a drink of water as it were—not some special person who is above other people. Can Pilate come down to just being a vessel? When I finally broke, in 1993, I was ready to just be a vessel, not some special this or that, just fundamentally a person. So we need the truth about what that means.

Jesus now is bold to say that he, Jesus, came into the world (implying from another world) to specifically tell us the truth—about what it means to be a person. So Jesus tells Pilate that he, Jesus, is the chosen one to speak this truth. Pilate must have wanted to fall over at this one: what do you do when an ordinary human being stands before you and says that he is a king and came into the world to proclaim the truth about what it means to be a person? Not only that, Jesus says that everyone who seeks truth listens to him.

Yet he is a nobody, this Jesus—an obscure uneducated Nazarene, born of a virgin if one can take that. This is not what Pilate wanted after his morning coffee, to have to deal with angry Jews wanting someone dead, and then that person being a king who tells us the truth, and was sent from heaven to do that.

Truth and Dodge Ball

Pilate asks a flip question, "What is truth?" but he really wants to dodge the whole thing,

and he is scared to explore what Jesus is really about, so he tries another strategy. Surely the accusers wouldn't choose to have Barabbas on the streets again, but lo they would! Pilate is desperately trying to extricate himself, wanting to get this resolved without killing Jesus, but will he be able to negotiate that? This is a good look at how the flesh desperately tries to work itself out of a jam.

Flesh on both sides wants something: the Jewish leaders on the one hand, Pilate on the other—flesh against flesh, and no way out on this one. It's a good example of how flesh cannot solve flesh, and underneath it's not flesh in the skin and bones sense, but devilish wills at war, a house divided—Satan against Satan, and there Jesus stands above all of that, from another world, the world of truth, not different from the nations today.

Pilate tries scourging and humiliation. I hadn't thought of this, but the crown of thorns and the purple robe are a mock by the Romans, as if to say, "So what if he were your king; what difference would it make to us? Rome is in control." That's a ploy to put things back on the Jews, to mock them really that it doesn't matter if they have a king or not, except to themselves, and it's not a capital concern of the empire. It is a Roman message, "I have defeated your king."

When One Tries to Negotiate with Satan

Pilate hoped these measures would deflate the Jewish leaders. However, it incited them more. The ploy backfired, and the sharks smelled the blood. This is a good lesson too on what happens when trying to pacify a terrorist. It never works. Talking down a terrorist can't work; only a new creation can work, a replacement of natures, a new Spirit inside: and we are all terrorists until that, capable of anything. I terrorized my three siblings growing up, terrorized classmates in school, did power plays on any that would take it. The script here is universal in scope and applies to all ages everywhere.

There’s no way to talk down or temper the nature of Satan in a person; only a new birth will do. No wonder Jesus didn't negotiate for himself; he knew what it would take to save us.

We know the cry: "Crucify him!" Pilate says for them to do it, knowing it’s illegal; is he serious? What would he have done if they had? I imagine he would have executed the perpetrators—relieved that killing Jesus was not his doing and yet glad that the foment was over.

But the Lord isn't thru with His witness to Pilate, for the Jews say Jesus should die because he "made himself the son of God." There it is again—the whole crux. Pilate knows there’s something to this, or else he would have laughed it off. But he can't; he's spooked. He feels great fear.

There’s Only One Power in the Universe

It is good to feel this kind of fear, not as permanent, but to seek, and seek Pilate does, though briefly. What a question he asks Jesus: "Where are you from?" I can hear the echoes of that all the way to the bottom: Pilate senses another world, one he's accountable to way bigger than Rome. This is about the One who made us, to whom we all give account, the high and holy King of all. And there he stands in human form.

Note that Jesus does not answer, only silence, and that can be quite a reproof. The silence at times of my old mentor Norman Grubb was deafening when I asked the wrong question. Issues are often in the tone of the question: it's not like Pilate asked where Jesus was from because he wanted to embrace such a place, but because he was afraid of Jesus and didn't want to know about some new and open door to truth. Pilate held onto himself and was offended at this silence from Jesus.

"How can you not answer me?" he thinks. That's our offense when we've been flesh people: "How can you do such and such to me?" Pilate’s acting out of self-for-self and a supposed independent I, which is really Satan underneath. Jesus’ answer is two pronged: first, Pilate's power is given to him. Whooo! What a load that statement is: evil perpetrators have no power of their own.

This used to offend me to hear, that there is one power. I wanted to gnash against evil. Jesus tells Pilate that Pilate has only the power given him, which is to say it doesn't come from Rome but from above. What a statement for Pilate to hear.

Jesus also says that the Jewish leaders have the greater sin. Obviously from the text, we can tell that this pierced Pilate badly, like a javelin to the gut; he is reeling, as he should be. This is God's great good toward Pilate: God gives him a wonderful opportunity, and that's the strange thing about opportunities—they look like afflictions and trials, but they are opportunities. Temptations are also opportunities. Everything is opportunity. Yikes, we don't want to hear that at first.

What the Devil Means for Evil, God Means for Good

Even when we think a thing is the devil trying to get us to do something wrong, the greater picture is the opportunity for faith, to see God in control. However, Pilate chooses only to see the threat to himself, rather than choose by faith the opportunity to see a whole new world.

Here’s the familiar script: Christ or Caesar, pick one—man or God, and we know what choosing man has at its root, Satan. And think of the risk for Pilate if he lets Jesus go free—all kinds of complications when the Jews complain to Caesar, all kinds of explaining for Pilate to do, maybe lose his job, get accused of not being willing to kill an obscure Jew in order to keep the peace, especially a Jew who says he is a king. All this is a day's political work in the world, but how desperately terrible are the consequences of that thinking.

Yet, this is the plan that from God's end saves those who believe.

Pilate tries one more time: "Here is your king." "Shall I crucify your king?" The accusers utter the unthinkable to a Jew. Really, it is the unthinkable, but they hate Jesus badly enough to blaspheme by saying, “We have no king but Caesar.”

Who are the Real Founding Fathers of Freedom?

We’re going to visit our family in Boone, NC soon via Sylvia Pearce’s, and then visit

Monticello in Virginia, Thomas Jefferson's home, close also to the university he helped found, UVA. Jefferson was a humanist, but he had quite a home place—great architecture and history to visit; but Jefferson is not the real father of liberty. Sadly, it's possible to love American freedoms and totally miss Christ, thus making liberty not real liberty.

The real Declaration of Independence will always be Romans 1-8. That's the real constitution and declaration. Paul is the real founding father; the apostles are the real founding fathers. That's why their names are on the twelve gates of pearl in the city of God, the New Jerusalem, the heavenly city.

So, who’s in charge? You tell me.

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