JESUS WAS GUILTY
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
June 9, 2019
1 Then the whole company of them arose and brought him before Pilate. 2 And they began to accuse him, 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.” 3 And Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And he answered him, “You have said so.” 4 Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no guilt in this man.” 5 But they were urgent, saying, “He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee even to this place.”
6 When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. 7 And when he learned that he belonged to Herod's jurisdiction, he sent him over to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time. 8 When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had long desired to see him, because he had heard about him, and he was hoping to see some sign done by him. 9 So he questioned him at some length, but he made no answer. 10 The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. 11 And Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him. Then, arraying him in splendid clothing, he sent him back to Pilate. 12 And Herod and Pilate became friends with each other that very day, for before this they had been at enmity with each other.
13 Pilate then called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people, 14 and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was misleading the people. And after examining him before you, behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him. 15 Neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us. Look, nothing deserving death has been done by him. 16 I will therefore punish and release him.”
18 But they all cried out together, “Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas”— 19 a man who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection started in the city and for murder. 20 Pilate addressed them once more, desiring to release Jesus, 21 but they kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!” 22 A third time he said to them, “Why? What evil has he done? I have found in him no guilt deserving death. I will therefore punish and release him.” 23 But they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that he should be crucified. And their voices prevailed. 24 So Pilate decided that their demand should be granted. 25 He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, for whom they asked, but he delivered Jesus over to their will.
— Luke 23:1-25, ESV
Cultures who have carried out capital punishment have done so consistently for these crimes: murder (in certain, premeditated cases), homicide in the commission of another serious crime (like robbery or kidnapping), and treason. In the early days of the Roman Empire, which coincided with the life of Jesus Christ, convictions in these three cases resulted in the death penalty. Their means of carrying out the death sentence was, of course, crucifixion.
The political and religious leaders of Israel tracked Jesus for three years as if they were collecting evidence to catch and condemn a serial killer. But Jesus was no murderer; He raised people from the dead. Jesus never killed anyone in the commission of another crime, as did the two thieves in between whom He would be crucified.
It was the third category of crime that convicted Jesus and garnered Him a death sentence. Jesus was accused, arrested, and convicted of treason. Jesus was guilty.
Treason Against Tiberius
The key charge against Jesus was that He claimed to be King. The evidence was collected, or concocted, by the Jewish Sanhedrin and turned over to the Roman Governor. “And Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And he answered him, “You have said so” (vs. 3).
Jesus was born under Caesar Augustus, but He was tried and died under Caesar Tiberius. His claim to be any kind of king would have been an act of treason, at least technically, against Tiberius. The aloof Caesar Tiberius did not know about Jesus. The cowardly Governor Pilate did care about Jesus. But the jealous Jews were up in arms over Him. “They were urgent, saying,“He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee even to this place.”
What Jesus was truly guilty of was preaching the gospel and teaching the word of God. Furthermore, He had done so in a way that contradicted the prideful, hypocritical Pharisees and the nominal, progressive Sadducees. If Jesus was right, if Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life (ref. John 14:6), then the legalists and the liberals were all wrong. If Jesus was acknowledged to be right, they would have to change their lives and surrender their power.
The Jews did not want to change, their Sanhedrin did not want to relinquish power, so Jesus had to be considered guilty of treason against Tiberius.
Treason Against Pilate and Herod
Pilate was the governor of Judea and Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great (who sought to kill Jesus as an infant), was tetrarch over Galilee. Under Roman authority they ruled their territory like kings. Kings were sovereign in those days. When they spoke, you listened. When they questioned, you answered.
Both Pilate and Herod judged Jesus during His fateful capitol case. Pilate was somewhat disinterested, for he had absolutely no regard for absolute truth. Herod, on the other hand, was curious. His conscience surely had been bothering him ever since he ordered the execution of John the Baptist. He no doubt had heard John the Baptist preach about Jesus the Christ. John was unjustly beheaded as Jesus was just beginning, so for three years Antipas had sought an audience with Jesus.
Jesus was mostly silent to Pilate and breathed not a word to Herod, nor would the Lord perform any tricks for the king. Remember, their kingships were validated by the Roman government. Jesus did not answer Pilate and Herod to their satisfaction. I am not sure either one of them would have convicted Jesus, but they obviously held Him in contempt, for the text tells us “Herod and his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him (vs. 11).”
If Jesus was right, if Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, then the government was wrong. If Jesus was acknowledged to be right, those in authority would have to change their lives and surrender their power. Governments seldom drift towards obedience to God.
Treason Against the Public
At this point Pilate, in whom power in Jerusalem was centralized, was perplexed. Jesus could be considered technically guilty of treason against Tiberius and Rome. Jesus was a little snarky to Pontius Pilate and mostly silent to Herod Antipas. At the end of the day, however, what harm had Jesus really done?
So, Pilate appealed to the public. How democratic of him! Pilate had always given the people of Palestine a Passover perk. Any one prisoner of their choosing would be pardoned. Pilate must have somehow positioned Jesus next to Barabbas and his two accomplices. Surely the people would vote for a preacher to be set free instead of a dangerous rebel, thief, and murderer.
We the people, stirred up by religious rulers, voted for Barabbas. Worldly culture always chooses the criminal over the Christ. This left Jesus to hang on the trumped up treason charges. How could people, particularly a religious people, Jewish religious people at that, turn their backs on the Messiah?
If Jesus was right, if Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, then the people were wrong. If Jesus was acknowledged to be right, the people would have to change their lives and surrender their power. I do not think Jesus could be voted into office in any country in the world today. I’m not sure He is Lord of many modern churches, either.
Jesus was convicted in the Jewish court, Jesus was convicted in the Galilean court, Jesus was convicted in the Roman court, and Jesus was convicted in the court of public opinion. Jesus was guilty before mankind. But what about God? Surely God the Son could not be considered guilty by God the Father, or could He?
Treason Against God
“He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, for whom they asked, but he delivered Jesus over to their will” (vs. 25). Look closely at the last two words of that verse, “their will.” Whose will was it to try, convict, and crucify the Lord Jesus Christ for the sin of treason, the sin of rebellion, the sin of sin?
It was Pilate’s will. It was Herod’s will. It was the people’s will. And, it was God Almighty’s will: “Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him” (ref. Isaiah 53:10).
Jesus could have outsmarted Pilate, outwitted Herod, and outrun all of the Jewish people. But the one person Jesus could not outmaneuver was Himself. He was, is, and always will be God, and God the Father decreed that God the Son should die so that God the Spirit could enable God’s people to change their lives and surrender to God.
Jesus was guilty. Jesus was guilty of our sin. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (ref. 2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus was guilty of our sin so that we may be saved. But in order to be saved, you have to willingly repent and believe. In other words, you must do what no one else in this story seemed willing to do. You must change your life and surrender your all to the Lord Jesus Christ.
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Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org