The Questions of Jesus: Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?
Midweek in the Fourth Sunday in Lent
March 14, 2018
Pilate had some questions of his own for Jesus. But it is the question of Jesus to Pilate we want to focus on. We learn from our Lord that His questions draw us to greater awareness of ourselves and greater awareness of Him. We have seen in the events leading up to the Passion of our Lord that the disciples believed in Jesus, and they followed Him, but they continued to stray on their own path. They weren’t fully on board with this whole suffering and dying thing. Once Jesus was arrested and they all fled Jesus was now facing everything alone. He was sent to the high priest, then the Jewish ruling council, and then eventually to Pontius Pilate where He would be condemned.
But not first without great effort on the part of Pilate to free Jesus. And he had perfect authority and power to do just that. In fact, the more he questioned Jesus the more he was convinced that Jesus was not worthy of death. It’s ironic, isn’t it, that though he cared not one bit about Jesus, and His religion, and the Jews who were working hard to condemn Jesus to death, Pilate exerted the same efforts as the disciples did in trying to prevent Jesus from dying. Whatever your motives are, preventing the Gospel of Jesus’ death on the cross is unbelief and rejection of God’s salvation in Christ.
Ironic also, that in caving in to the pressure put upon him, Pilate eventually left Jesus to that very death; just like the disciples. But as we have also seen, none of this is fate. It’s not that people failed to protect Jesus from condemnation and death. Jesus has been, and continues to be, in control. That those around Him failed is just more of the same in the history of God reaching out to the people of this world and they not responding in trust.
So as we will learn this evening, the question of Jesus to Pilate is one that goes to the heart of who He is and shows us that who He is is inseperably connected with His suffering and death. In asking the question of Pilate there is an invitation for us to recognize that what we ourselves say of our Lord ultimately comes down to what we personally believe about Him. You cannot rely on the faith of your parents, or your religious leaders, or any human being in fact. You alone must give an account and make a confession of faith before God. Who do you believe Jesus is? What do you believe He has done for you? No one can answer this for you. No one knows what is in your heart but you and God alone.
What prompted, then, Jesus’ question of Pilate? The Jewish religious leaders were blinded in their hate of Jesus and condemned Him to death. They brought Him to Pilate. Pilate was a Roman governor in Judea. The Roman Empire was vast and they controlled the area of Judea and Jerusalem. But they let the Jews observe their culture and their religion. As long as they kept the peace and paid their taxes they were largely uninhibited by the Romans.
The Jewish religious leaders brought Jesus to Pilate. “What accusation do you bring against this man?”, he asked them. “If He were not doing evil, we wouldn’t have brought Him to you,” they said. Pilate told them to judge Him themselves. But they told him that it was not lawful for them to put anyone to death. This was not true, however, as is attested by several attempts in His ministry to stone Him to death. The penalty for blasphemy, we are shown in the Old Testament, was death. Why then did they say this to Pilate? The apostle John gives the answer: “This was to fulfill the word that Jesus had spoken to show by what kind of death He was going to die.”
Pilate began to question Jesus. “Are You the king of the Jews?” We are not told by John what prompted this question of Pilate. John is setting up the contrast between an earthly king and the King of Kings. However, we are told from Luke what prompted Pilate to ask this question of Jesus. In Luke 23 we are told that the Jewish religious leaders “began to accuse [Jesus], saying, ‘We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that He Himself is Christ, a king.’” Pilate then asks Jesus the logical question, Are You the king of the Jews? Little did Pilate know that He came not to be the king of the Jews but that He was already the Lord of the universe. The man Pilate was asking whether He was a king was in fact God in the flesh.
Pilate had power. But he did not recognize that there is a power greater than he possessed or could be wielded even over the Roman Empire he served. Pilate eventually will challenge Jesus with the fact that he has power to release Him or condemn Him. Jesus tells him that he would have no power if it had not been granted him by God. He said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” This is why He was standing before Pilate accused.
To answer his question Jesus says, “Do you say this of your own accord or did others say it to you about Me?” What does Pilate know about Jesus? Who does Pilate think Jesus is? Is all he knows about Him just what he got from the Jewish religious leaders? Or does he know more than that? Does he think of Jesus only that He is someone the religious leaders want to get rid of? Or does he think Jesus could possibly be a threat to the Roman emperor? Jesus won’t answer Pilate’s question until He knows why Pilate is asking. Pilate’s response shows us that he cares not one bit about Him or the Jewish religious leaders and their issues. He wants to keep order in the province of Judea as he has been ordered to do as governor. If Jesus is not a threat he wants to release Him. If He is a threat he has no problem in putting Him to death.
In the ensuing dialogue Pilate becomes aware that there is more to this person than he at first thought. He actually becomes afraid. Nevertheless, he ends up condemning Him to death. Again, Jesus showing what it truly means for Him to be the king of the Jews He was charged to be. He came to be a king who would die for the sins of the people. Pilate could never conceive of such a king or kingdom. The religious leaders were blind to such a king and kingdom.
Thus, as with all the questions of Jesus, we are left to answer the question. Who do we believe Jesus is? Do we believe it because we take the cue from others, or do we ourselves truly believe who He is? To believe in Jesus is to believe that He is the king who delivers us from sin. That is, to believe in Jesus means to believe that you are sinful and need salvation. This is why no one can believe for another person. In order to be saved you must recognize that you need to be saved. If you reject Jesus and His salvation you are trusting in yourself for your salvation. But if you see in the person who stood before Pilate as the one who was in fact the more powerful but who in fact laid His power aside, then you begin to see that there is only one way to be saved.
Jesus did not seek release. He submitted Himself to earthly powers in order to be condemned in our place. He suffered the cross so that you and I will not suffer eternally. He saved us not through power but through humility. He is the king, the king who laid down His life for us.
So the question for you is what you actually believe about Him. Is He your Lord who saves you by His suffering and death? Do you put your trust solely in Him and what He suffered for you? It’s easy to see in Jesus a God who is in your own mold. Who will be your God according to your own ideas of who God should be. Don’t listen to those who speak of Him in ways that seem right but deny who He is and what He has done. Who He is is the God who became flesh and suffered on the cross for the sin of the world. What He has done is save you by His death and resurrection. No one or nothing else has saved you and you cannot save yourself. Only Jesus has and He shows here how He did it. Pilate marveled at this. The religious leaders never believed it.
There are many who still won’t. You can’t believe for them. But you can tell them what you know. What you know is what John has told you by the inspiration of the Holy Sprit. What you know is what the Holy Spirit has given you the faith to believe, that Jesus is your Lord, that He suffered on the cross for the sin of the world and rose again the third day. This salvation you have received is for others as well. And though you can’t believe in their place, you can point them to Jesus so that they too might believe. Amen.