WHAT PILATE SHOULD HAVE DONE
Matthew 27:1-2, 11-31
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
JUNE 12, 2016
1 When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death. 2 And they bound him and led him away and delivered him over to Pilate the governor.
11 Now Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You have said so.” 12 But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he gave no answer. 13 Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many things they testify against you?” 14 But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.
15 Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the crowd any one prisoner whom they wanted. 16 And they had then a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. 17 So when they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you:Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” 18 For he knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him up. 19 Besides, while he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much because of him today in a dream.” 20 Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. 21 The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” 22 Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Let him be crucified!” 23 And he said, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!”
24 So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man's blood; see to it yourselves.” 25 And all the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” 26 Then he released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified.
27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor's headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before him. 28 And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29 and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 30 And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. 31 And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him.
— Matthew 27:1-2, 11-31, ESV
His name is mentioned here for the first of fifty-six times in the New Testament. His name is repeated every Sunday when a church recites the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed. His name is one of the most famous, or infamous, in history, ironically due to the rise and spread of Christianity.
Pontius Pilate came to the Holy Land in AD 26 as the Roman governor of Judea. He remained until AD 36. About half way through his tenure, He met Jesus Christ. Because of what he did, and did not do, this is the time when things began to go decidedly downhill for Pilate.
The historian Eusebius tells us Pontius Pilate was removed from office due to his own failures, after which he sadly committed suicide. He must have been haunted by a host of errors. Chief among them, no doubt, was the way he mishandled the trial and execution of the Jewish Messiah. Before he took his last breath, he no doubt replayed those events over and over in his mind, thinking mostly about the things he should have done.
He should have honored the King (ref. Matthew 27:11).
Pilate truly wanted to please the king, with a little “k,” Tiberius Caesar, emperor of Rome. His chief duties were to keep the peace within and send tax money without. With a hard heart and an iron fist, Pilate sought to deliver on his promises. After a few years into this work, he met the real King, with a capital “K,” the Lord Jesus Christ. Pilate obviously did not honor Him a such, since he was worried more about worldly things.
Like Pilate, most people do not realize it when Jesus walks into their lives. They think Him a mere man, perhaps even a myth, but not the ultimate King. Like Pilate, people worry too much about themselves, their approval ratings, their ways and means of making money and experiencing pleasure. What Pilate should have done is bow and honor Jesus as King of kings and Lord of lords no matter what the cost. He did not, of course, and in the end was judged harshly by both kings.
He should have believed the Truth (ref. Matthew 27:12-14).
The other Gospels concur with Matthew that Jesus did not have much to say to Pilate, but they also broaden the dialogue between the prisoner and the governor. Jesus explained that He was a different kind of King, a spiritual and eternal King over a spiritual and eternal kingdom. He further intimated that He is the Way into this kingdom, the Truth pointing people inward and onward, and the reward of Life that never ends.
John’s Gospel reveals that Pilate, like so many modern Americans, did not believe in absolute truth. All religions were nonsensical to the cynical Pilate, especially old Judaism and fledgling Christianity. Pilate lived and governed by the selfish and shallow philosophy of pragmatism, more concerned with “what works for me,” rather that what is right and true. Extreme pragmatism poisoned Pilate and helped kill Jesus. But in the end, how did pursuing pragmatism at the expense of truth work out for Pilate?
He should have listened to his wife (ref. Matthew 27:15-23).
Here’s a point every husband should take closely to heart. Always listen to your wife! Pilate’s better half, Claudia, was the granddaughter of the grand emperor Augustus Caesar. She was intelligent and articulate, and legend even has it that she became a Christian. On the night before Jesus’ arrest and trials, the Sanhedrin had visited Pilate and arranged for this early morning tribunal. Claudia no doubt overheard the conversation, which is why she could not sleep. In her restlessness God gave her a dream, the truth of which she shared with Pilate, who like too many men only listened with one ear and half his heart.
The feeble effort Pilate made to release Jesus backfired and freed a murderer named Barabbas instead. Pilate could have refused to hear the case, like the prerogative enjoyed by our own Supreme Court, leaving to stand the decision of the lower court, the Sanhedrin. In this case, Jesus might have been punished, but not capitally. Jesus would have lived another day and perhaps Pilate would have had another conversation with Him. But at the end of this day, Jesus died, and though he did not know it at the time, so did Pilate.
He should have cleansed his heart (ref. Matthew 27:24-26).
Though the buck stopped with him, Pilate tried to pass it on to the Jewish people. He acquiesced to their bad judgment, irrational hatred, and desire to crucify Jesus. When his feeble attempt to free Jesus failed, Pilate caved in to popular opinion and partisan politics and punted to the mob. Then he tried to say he had nothing to do with it by ceremonially washing his hands.
He should have washed his heart. But you can’t do that with a basin of water or by blaming other people. No secular hand washing nor religious ritual can cleanse the heart and make a man right with God. This only comes by grace, though faith, in the person Pilate was about to crucify. Pilate did not stand on grace, had no faith, and tried to claim neutrality when it comes to Jesus. When their rolls were reversed in the afterlife, Pilate learned too late that neutrality is no place to stand when it comes to Jesus Christ.
He should have called off his dogs (ref. Matthew 27:27-31).
One last thing Pilate should have done, looking through Matthew’s window, is call off his henchmen. The verdict was cast, crucifixion was coming. Pilate should not have added terrible insult to terminal injury by letting his soldiers take Jesus and beat him to within an inch of His life, even if it was the Roman custom.
The Gospels together record three mocking and beatings of Jesus. The first at the hands of the Jewish militia, who were lightweights. The next came from Herod’s small band of guards, the middleweights. This last beating was distributed by two hundred heavyweights, the toughest soldiers in the Roman legion. It was cruel and unusual punishment as a prelude to the most cruel and most unusual punishment in the history of the world, and Pilate let it happen.
He should have carried the cross.
Thanks to the Apostles’ and Nicene creeds, Pilate and Jesus are intertwined in historic, biblical Christianity. Thanks to this account in Matthew’s Gospel, we can see what Pilate did and what Pilate should have done in regard to our Lord Jesus Christ. Though it is too late for him, I want to close this sermon by offering an idea that would have redeemed Pilate and made him a more affirming member of our faith.
Do you remember what John the Baptist did at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry? He baptized Him. But do you remember how?
John the Baptist understood Jesus was being baptized so that Jesus could eventually be crucified, in his own words, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (ref. John 1:29). Yet when it came time to baptize Jesus, John said, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me? But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness. Then he consented’” (ref. Matthew 3:14-15). John was not worthy, even though he was perhaps the best mere man who ever lived. Jesus did not need baptism, save to identify with those for whom He came to die. But Jesus told John to go ahead, for it was part of God’s plan.
This is what Pontius Pilate should have done. Like one of his centurions, Pilate should have looked at the evidence and declared that Jesus was both an innocent man and the Messiah. Like John the Baptist, Pilate should have humbly bowed before Jesus and confessed his unworthiness to judge Him and send Him to the cross. Jesus would have said to Pilate the same thing He said to John the Baptist: I know, but go ahead, it is part of God’s plan.
Then Pilate should have walked with Jesus to the cross, even carrying it along the way, like Simon of Cyrene. Then Pilate should have knelt near the foot of the cross, like mother Mary and the Apostle John, and wept and prayed. Then Pilate should have taken the body down, along with Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, and placed Jesus in the borrowed tomb. Then Pilate should have gone to the tomb, on the first day of the week, along with Mary and Mary and Salome and Joanna and Peter and John, and witnessed the resurrection.
Pilate should have repented and believed the gospel, the gospel that included him, and every one of us, in the script. He would have been hated by the hypocrites, which he was anyway. He would have been fired from his job by the Gentiles, which he was anyway. He would have died anyway, although almost certainly not by suicide. If Pilate had done what he should have done, it would have changed his story, his life, and his eternal destiny.
Today you’ve come face to face with Pilate and, once again, with the gospel of Jesus Christ. What you do, or fail to do, will matter now and forever. Walk with Jesus to the cross. Go to His empty tomb. See Him rise again. Know He is coming back. Call upon the name of the Lord.
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