The Fifty-Eighth in a Series of Sermons on the Gospel of John
Who would have ever thought that one of the most significant events in human history would play out in a Roman military headquarters in Jerusalem, in a trial presided over by a man (the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate) who is at first curious about Jesus’ presence before him, then convinced of Jesus’ innocence, then angered by Jesus’ accusers (the Jews) who refuse to take “yes” for an answer, and then as the drama unfolds, becomes increasingly worried that he is being drawn into something much greater than he first thought, and who then does everything in his power to put an end to the spectacle this trial has become, before finally giving in to the Jews, ordering the death of Jesus by crucifixion. It has been said that the Lord works in mysterious ways. Surely, Jesus’ trial before Pilate is one of the most mysterious!
There is no question that Jesus’ appearance before Pontius Pilate is one of the most dramatic scenes in the whole of the New Testament. Pilate wants nothing more than to get through another Passover without incident. He knows nothing and cares less about Jewish theology. He is aware of the constant infighting between the various Jewish factions–the ongoing feud between the Pharisees (the theological conservatives) and the Sadducees (the theological liberals). Pilate knows the Jews do not trust him, nor like him, and that they long for the day when they are free from Roman occupation. He also knows that when the Jews bring Jesus before him on the morning of the Passover (the Jews most sacred holy day) something much more than meets the eye is going on behind the scenes. What could this man Jesus have possibly done to upset the Jews so greatly?
As we make our way through the Gospel of John, we have come to the Passion Narrative (chapters 18-21 in John’s Gospel). So far in these chapters, John has recounted Jesus’ betrayal by Judas (one of his own disciples), Jesus’ arrest in Gethsemane (where Jesus had gone to pray with his disciples after celebrating the Passover together), Jesus’ interrogation by Annas (the high-priest emeritus, who ignored the rules of Jewish legal procedure to personally question Jesus about his disciples and his teaching), before Jesus was turned over to Caiaphas for trial (Annas’ son-in-law, and the current high priest). John also tells us that three times, Peter denied knowing Jesus, and that after the third time he denied his Lord, a rooster crowed, exactly as Jesus had foretold in the upper room earlier that same evening.
Although the synoptic gospels go into great detail about Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin–informing us that Jesus was unanimously convicted without any evidence against him, and that the Sanhedrin formally ratified the verdict from Jesus’ trial before Caiaphas early on Friday morning–John skips over these events. John simply tells us that Annas bound Jesus over to Caiaphas, who, in turn, handed Jesus over to Pilate, which sets up the dramatic scene we covered last time in John 18:28-40, with Jesus (who is Israel’s Messiah and the true heir to David’s throne) standing before the same Gentile pagan who had offended much of Israel by insisted upon posting Roman legion banners throughout Jerusalem which identified Caesar Tiberias as a god. Only the mysterious providence of God could have brought Pilate and Jesus together, with Pilate seemingly holding Jesus’ fate in his own hands.
To read the rest of this sermon, Click Here