Then they took Jesus from Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters. It was early morning. They did not enter the headquarters themselves; otherwise they would be defiled and unable to eat the Passover.
Then Pilate came out to them and said, “What charge do you bring against this man?”
They answered him, “If this man weren’t a criminal, we wouldn’t have handed Him over to you.”
So Pilate told them, “Take Him yourselves and judge Him according to your law.”
“It’s not legal for us to put anyone to death,” the Jews declared. 32 They said this so that Jesus’ words might be fulfilled signifying what kind of death He was going to die.
Then Pilate went back into the headquarters, summoned Jesus, and said to Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?”
Jesus answered, “Are you asking this on your own, or have others told you about Me?”
“I’m not a Jew, am I?” Pilate replied. “Your own nation and the chief priests handed You over to me. What have You done?”
“My kingdom is not of this world,” said Jesus. “If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I wouldn’t be handed over to the Jews. As it is, My kingdom does not have its origin here.”
“You are a king then?” Pilate asked.
“You say that I’m a king,” Jesus replied. “I was born for this, and I have come into the world for this: to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to My voice.”
“What is truth?” said Pilate (John 18:28-38)
You can almost see the beads of sweat on Pilate’s neck as he stood before the crowd. It was quickly turning into a mob, and from the account, you can tell that the governor wanted nothing more than to get out of the situation. But being the politician that he was, Pilate wanted to diffuse the situation in a way that accomplished his own goals.
The religious leaders had overstepped their authority in bringing this man Jesus to him, and Pilate wanted to put them back in their place. At the same time, he didn’t want to do anything that would offend the crowd that was in front of him. When it came to the issue of Jesus, Pilate wanted to assume a posture of neutrality. But that is the one position that Jesus will not allow.
There is no neutrality when it comes to Jesus.
And in the discourse Pilate had with Jesus, the conversation that continued the progression to the crucifixion, we see shadows of our own attempts at neutrality. We, like Pilate, find ourselves at points in our lives wanting to take the posture of a spiritual Switzerland, not committing either one way or another, but instead trying to find a way to straddle the spiritual fence.
Like Pilate, we might try to ignore Jesus.
In verse 31, Pilate more or less says that this is not my problem: “Take Him yourselves and judge Him according to your law.” This wouldn’t work for the Jews, though, because they had death on their minds, and they could not, under Roman law, put anyone to death. Sure, sometimes they took matters into their own hands, as they would later with the death of Stephen. But not this time. They wanted this execution to be nice and legal like.
Pilate’s first line of defense was to simply ignore Jesus. He’s not my problem. He’s not my issue. It’s fine if you guys want to deal with Him, but that’s not for me. Now we might think that if we are Christians, we have put this to bed. We have believed in Jesus as the Son of God, sacrificed for our sins, and risen again from the dead. And yet even in us, as Christians, there is the temptation to ignore Jesus.
When we first became Christians, we recognized that Jesus would not be ignored. He refused any neutrality on our part. We were aware of our sin, His conviction, and His grace all the while. But the years start ticking by, don’t they? And the schedule gets busy, and the work continues, and little by little we become accustomed to a Jesus that is just there. We find it very easy to ignore this Jesus, and when we are ignoring Him, we can be neutral in regard to Him.
Like Pilate, we might try to compromise with Jesus.
This is another attempt at neutrality. As you read through John 18, it seems like the general intention of Pilate is to find a way out of this – that he does not really want to sentence this man to death. So in his conversation with Jesus, he is looking for a way out. Any way out. And all he needs is for Jesus to bend just the slightest bit. If he would just compromise, then we could all just walk out of here freely and without harm. But Jesus is no pliable Savior.
Now today, we see all kinds of ways in which we, too, are seeking to compromise with Jesus. We look at the vogue issues of today, whatever they may be, and see that Jesus has a stance on these things. But we try to get him to bend with this policy or that line of thinking, and yet He will not.
We make all kinds of clever arguments about why He should – some of them are about biblical interpretation, some of them are about changing cultural norms, some of them are an attempt to say that the ends would justify the means. That if Jesus would just bend a little bit on this particular issue that such great good would come from it. But Jesus is stubborn in His holiness.
Like Pilate, we might try to intellectualize with Jesus.
You see in this encounter that Pilate is trying to parse every word, to pick out every nuance of what’s going on here, all in an attempt to stay neutral, and that rings very true with our world. Many people, Christians and non-Christians alike, love the debate of faith. They love asking the big questions about life and existence and meaning. They love poetically talking about these mysterious issues, especially when they surround Jesus and God and the Bible.
And yet in all our intellectualizing I wonder if we are not simply putting up a wall to keep us from dealing with the very personal aspect of faith and Christianity. I’ve found more times than not, both in my life and in the lives of others, that our deep theological mysteries of the universe kind of questions are really an attempt to not deal with the personal implications of following Jesus. That’s because it is easier to pose a theoretical intellectual question than to address the real issue we have going on. We often intellectualize Jesus in an attempt to be neutral because we don’t want to deal with the implications of calling Jesus Lord. And that’s really at the heart of any of Pilate’s, or our, attempts at neutrality.
See in all these three ways, we seek to keep Jesus at an arm’s length. We want to examine him, argue with Him, ignore Him, all because there is something inside of us that knows that the moment we drop this posture of neutrality and begin to embrace who Jesus truly is, that it will cost us something.
Such as it was then, so it is now.