Guilty or Innocent?
I sat in a NYS Supreme Court Room as a juror, hearing a case concerning an illegal alien and the alleged crimes he had committed. The case was over and summation arguments had begun. The prosecutors claimed they had proven his guilt while the defense argued the opposite. It was a hard choice and we, the jury, argued the case for 3 days until we decided to rule innocent. It wasn’t easy. There were complications and the man’s innocence or guilt was difficult to determine.
On that dreadful day so long ago, as Jesus stood before Pilate, Roman Governor over Judea, Pilate had to decide Jesus’ guilt or innocence. Pilate’s choice was a lot clearer. The Jewish religious leaders wanted Jesus dead but couldn’t execute Him since they were now under Roman rule. The Romans had conquered Israel and wouldn’t allow executions unless they gave permission. Pilate, a third rate politician appointed to a unwanted Governor post with no future, had to determine the culpability of the one dragged before him. That was Pilate’s job and he was to do it efficiently, causing no trouble for the empire. Getting rid of this case quickly and quietly was the best he could hope for.
Pilate had a short but pointed conversation with Jesus, the religious radical causing all the anger and controversy in the Jewish faith community. Their talk, though brief, covered 4 topics. In each topic, Pilate asks a key question that gets to the heart of each matter. In previous articles, we have dealt with 2 of the topics. In the 1st article, we deal with Pilate’s question, “What is truth?”. In the 2nd article, we examine Pilate’s querie, “Are you the king of the Jews?”. Now we come to the 3rd as Pilate confronts Jesus to discover what, if anything, He has done wrong. Their conversation is private, just between the 2 of them.
Pilate asks first, “Aren’t you going to answer? See how many things they are accusing you of?” (Mk.15:4-5). Jesus made no reply and Pilate marveled at His silence. There are other fascinating details that various gospels contain. Math.27:19 records that Pilate’s wife sends him a message which he receives at that moment. The message warns Pilate to avoid this case. She has had a dream about Christ‘s innocence, and fears for her husbands involvement in this man’s life. Then, in John 18:35, Pilate reasons with Jesus saying that His own people had brought Him requesting His death. Pilate asks, “What is it you have done?”
Here is the startling thing about all these questions of Pilate. He arrives at the right answer every time but ends up making the wrong choice. It is a common human trait. We so often know the right answer but we do not go that way. We make another choice, a bad choice, destructive to ourselves, loved ones, even strangers around us. Pilate is no different. He comes to the right conclusion but the wrong action.
We can read about it in all the Gospels. Over and over again, Pilate proclaims, “I find no fault in this man.” Pilate asks when the crowd cries for His death, “Why, what evil has He done?” John tells us that Pilate was afraid (Jn.19:8). In fact, the verse said he was even more afraid. His wife’s warning plus the warning of his own conscience was alarming to him. In Math.27:18 & Mk.15:10, reveal that Pilate actually understood what was really going on. The Jewish religious leaders were envious of Jesus and for reasons of their own self-interest, they wanted Christ destroyed. Three times Pilate tried to get Jesus off and we will discuss that effort in our last article when we cover Pilate’s effort for amnesty for Christ. But the crowds and the arguments of the Jews won out in the end and he caved to their demands.
Pilate utters this defense of himself in Math.27:24, “I wash my hands of this matter as he demonstrates his disdain for their murderous intentions by taking a basin of water and washing his hands before them. “See to it yourselves.” Pilate says in one version. As if that would absolve him of his own guilt. Make no mistake. Pilate knew he sent a innocent man to death that day.
Pilate could’ve done the right thing, not the self-serving thing. But before we become sickened and overly disgusted with Pilate, hear a few verses from the Bible. Pay careful attention to these references. They will establish not only Jesus’ innocence but that God planned that He would be betrayed, and suffer, and die in innocence so that He might pay for us, for me. Hear them please.
Isa.53:10a, “Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush Him and cause Him to suffer…”. (Isaiah prophesied that Christ’s sufferings were in God’s plan).
Acts 2:23, “This man (Jesus) was handed over to you (Jews) by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put Him to death by nailing to the cross.” (God planned it all. So, Peter preached to a great crowd of Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost).
Acts 4:27-28, “Indeed Herod and Pontus Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed. They did what Your power and will decided beforehand should happen. (So Pete prayed publicly with many in the fledgling church acknowledging the predetermined counsel and plan of God in the killing of innocent Jesus).
2Cor.5:21, “God made Him (Jesus) who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” (Paul writes this good news to a local church).
Heb.4:15, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet He did not sin.” (Jesus’ sinless innocence is required and needed for our sakes).
Why is His sinless innocence so important. First, Jesus, in dying for our sins, could not have paid for us unless He were sinless Himself. Otherwise, His death would have only paid for Himself. But, as it is, His death pays for everyone. It is like a judge in a court case that rules the man on trial guilty. Then comes down from the bench to serve the man’s sentence; to pay his fine.
There is a second reason. The man who is innocent, sinless, has no ulterior motive, no selfish agenda. Jesus can be trusted like no other. He really has yours and my welfare in His heart. The spotless One has overcome the very judgment of God on our behalf. Pilate knew he was innocent but still made the wrong choice. God knew of Pilate’s bad choice and planned it to go that way so that Jesus might pay for all the stupid and evil things l have ever done – ever will do. Not only that, Jesus has paid for all the good l ought to have done but refused to do. I always felt that was the larger sin.
Pilate asks, “What have you done?” The answer: Jesus, the One who was completely innocent, did all that was necessary that anyone who would come to Him and appeal for mercy and grace would receive the full measure of God’s love. Jesus’ sinless innocence was completely necessary. You can trust His motives! He is for us and not against us. “He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all – how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things.” (Rom.8:32).