Sunday Morning Coffee: Last Day of February!

February is on its last legs. Twenty-four hours or less, depending upon when you read this, and it will be March.

I won’t be sad to wave goodbye to February. Lots of snow, and it’s possible we’ll have more in March. These two months tend to be the snow months here. I’m hoping March will come in like a lamb and go out like a lamb. Easter is early this year, April 4, and I just don’t like it if it’s cold and snowy on Easter Sunday! Well, my wanting balmy weather isn’t going to bring it :).

I teach a history class for a homeschool co-op that our church sponsors. Sometimes it’s an English class. I have the freedom to go wherever I’d like :). Right now, we’re talking about the Puritans and their Great Migration during the first half of the 17th century. Their goal was to establish a “city set on a hill”. that would be a refuge for believers who were being persecuted in England and other parts of Europe.

Matthew 5:14 quotes Jesus telling the people that a city set on a hill cannot be hidden. The Puritans truly yearned to establish that God-ruled colony in the New World that would shine the light of the gospel for all to see. Their hearts and hopes were high, and it did indeed seem as if they were doing what God had ordained.

It started well. Sadly, several factors influenced a gradual falling away from the hope of the gospel and turned the people’s interest to more earthly pursuits. It’s a sad story, but not a new one. When we forsake the first zeal, the first joy, the first fire of gratitude at God’s great gift of salvation, we tend to turn to other efforts, such as making a lot of rules for everyone else to follow. And later in their effort for the church to maintain political and civil control over the Massachusetts Bay Colony, they made a compromise that actually weakened the church. It’s called the Halfway Covenant. If you’re interested, you can find it easily online.

Of course, as one who loves our country and the history of it, I can’t help but make comparisons to America then (and it wasn’t America yet!) and America now, and the turning away we are seeing from the truth of the gospel; from the holiness of God, to the secular humanistic belief that man can transcend himself and actual become godlike. This philosophy deifies man and humanizes God.

This philosophy is taking us nowhere good. What America needs, and what we all need to pray for, is a Holy Spirit revival to sweep our land and clear away the cobwebs that have destroyed our understanding of the holiness of God. We need to beg Him to cleanse us and make us whiter than snow.

The Judgment

John 19:15-16.

But they cried out, Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him. Pilate saith unto them, Shall I crucify your King? The chief priests answered, We have no king but Caesar.

Then delivered he Him therefore unto them to be crucified. And they took Jesus, and led Him away.

Pilate had offered the people one more chance. “Look at Him! He has suffered enough!”

But the people kept up a continuous cry: “Take Him away! Crucify! Crucify!”

They even went so far as to claim they had no King but Caesar, renouncing their treasured Messianic hope and repudiating their sacred allegiance to their nation. That’s how a mob acts. They are not reasonable, rational, or willing to hear anything but their own voices.

Pilate was defeated. He was sitting on the judgment seat, but really the judgment was his own admission of his own fears. He knew Jesus was not guilty of anything, yet he caved in to the threats of the people.

In my imagination, at this point he angrily waved his hand, gesturing to the soldiers to take Jesus away and crucify Him. Matthew 27:24 tells us: “When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just Person: see ye to it.” It could have been at this point that Pilate symbolically washed his hands, thereby releasing himself from the burden of the death of a wrongly condemned Man.

It is from this act of Pilate’s that we get our saying, “I’m washing my hands of this whole situation. I want nothing to do with it.”

So they, the soldiers, took Jesus away. His final hours had begun.

Caesar’s Friend

John 19:12-14.

And from thenceforth Pilate sought to release Him: but the Jews cried out, saying, If thou let this Man go, thou art not Caesar’s friend: whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar.

When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he brought Jesus forth, and sat down in the judgment seat in a place that is called the Pavement, but in the Hebrew, Gabbatha.

And it was the preparation of the passover, and about the sixth hour: and he saith unto the Jews, Behold your King!

To Pilate’s credit, he didn’t give in immediately. As he had said, he did not find any fault at all in Jesus. The Jews, however, were determined. They played on Pilate’s greatest fear: Being called out by Rome for supporting an insurrection. “If you let Him go, you are not Caesar’s friend! Anyone who calls himself King is against Caesar!”

Not that the Jewish leaders care a whit about Caesar. They hated him, and the authority Rome used against them in the name of Caesar. They used the threat of Caesar’s disapproval, though, to their own advantage. The only Roman response to insurrection was death, by scourging and crucifixion. They demanded the most horrific death possible for Jesus.

They didn’t realize that it had been planned before the creation of the worlds.

Remember, Pilate was married to Caesar’s granddaughter. His marriage was the only reason he’d been given the not-so-great posting in Judea. Still, he was terrified of losing his position, and the last thing he needed was to be considered to support the claims of kingship by a Jewish insurrectionist.

Still, he tried again. Ready to make his final judgment, he climbed the steps to the judgment seat, called gabbatha, meaning high, raised up. Perhaps it was the steps that led to the judgement seat that were referred to as the pavement.

There is some controversy, for which I could find no definitive answers, about the time Pilate pronounced final judgment. All we are certain of is that it was sometime in the morning, before noon or not later than noon. Jesus had been up all night, transferred back and forth, held by soldier,s mocked, slapped, punched, His beard ripped out, scourged, spat upon, crowned with thorns, beaten beyond recognition. The fact that He was still standing is a testament to His physical strength and His character.

Pilate presented this tortured Man once more, telling them to Behold their King! Many believe this was said in sarcasm, and was indicative that Pilate had made up his mind. He would give in to the Jews to avoid being held as treasonous against Caesar.

Power is from Above

John 19: 8-11.

When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he was the more afraid;

And went again into the judgment hall, and saith unto Jesus, Whence art Thou? But Jesus gave him no answer.

Then saith Pilate unto Him, Speakest Thou not unto me? Knowest Thou not that I have power to crucify Thee, and have power to release Thee?

Jesus answered, Thou couldest have no power at all against Me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin.

Poor Pilate. Such a quandary he was in. He knew Jesus was no criminal. He also knew that if he didn’t give the Jews what they wanted, he would have insurrection on his hands, and Rome would blame him for losing control of the people. He was afraid because he found himself between a rock and a hard place. Matthew 29:17 tells us that Pilate’s wife had warned him against having anything to do with “that just Man.” He was beset by fear because no matter what he did, he would be in trouble.

He tried once again to talk with Jesus. “Where are You from?” When Jesus remained silent, Pilate blew up at Him. “How dare You refuse to answer me! Don’t You know that I have the power to crucify You or to release You? What are You thinking?”

Pilate was not accustomed to having accused people brought before him who remained calm, even after the horrors of scourging, and refused to be intimidated by his power. I believe, also, that Pilate was desperate to find a way to release Jesus that would not leave him in poor standing with Rome.

Jesus’ answer was calm, respectful, but to the point. “You would have no power over Me at all unless it is given to you by the. Father. Those who delivered me to you have the greater sin, because they have the truth but choose to ignore it!” (My own words)

Crucify! Crucify!

John 19:6-7.

When the chief priests therefore and officers saw Him, they cried out, saying, Crucify Him, crucify Him. Pilate saith unto them, Take ye Him, and crucify Him: for I find no fault in Him.

The Jews answered him, We have a law, and by our law He ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God.

The religious leaders of the Jews had whipped the people into a bloodthirsty frenzy. How could it be that the same people who had welcomed Him with palm branches and joy now screamed for His death?

The answer to that is clear, if you know the history. They thought He had come as Messiah, to overthrow Rome and free them from the merciless authority of Roman law. When they realized that wasn’t going to happen, they demanded (with encouragement from the priests and Pharisees) that He be executed in the most gruesome possible way.

In my Bible, words that have been added by the translators for clarity are printed in italics. They were not in the original manuscripts. Therefore, the people were yelling, “Crucify! Crucify!” perhaps like a chant as protesting mobs like to do.

Pilate had hoped, it would seem, that by presenting Jesus humiliated, bloodied and beaten beyond recognition, He would gain the sympathy of the crowd. It was enough, and they would be satisfied. He knew that the San Hedrin, ruling body of the Jews, did not have the authority for crucifixion. That particular horror was reserved to Roman authority. So when the people screamed, “Crucify!” Pilate rather sarcastically told them to take Jesus, then, and see to it. He, himself, found no fault in Jesus.

So the priests and Pharisees played their trump card: “By our Law, He deserves to die! He has made Himself out to be God!”

Behold the Man!

John 19:4-5.

Pilate therefore went forth again, and saith unto them, Behold, I bring Him forth to you, that ye may know that I find no fault in Him.

Then came Jesus forth, wearing the crown of thorns, and the purple robe. And Pilate saith unto them, Behold the Man!

Pilate had caved to the will of the people. He’d had Jesus scourged, a horrible and often fatal punishment. The soldiers jammed a crown of thorns into His head; they threw a purple robe over Him, punched and slapped Him, and mockingly bowed to Him saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!”

Hoping it would be enough to satisfy the crowd, Pilate had Jesus brought once again before the people. Jesus was clearly suffering. How He even was able to stand there is a testament to His strength. Jesus was not a weak, pathetic sissy, trembling before His persecutors. He was a manly Man!

For the second time, Pilate declared that he found no fault in Jesus. His hope was that the people would relent, and count it enough that He had been quite literally beaten to a pulp. Isaiah 52:14 tells us that He was not even recognizable: “His visage was so marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men.”

We often see paintings of Jesus after the scourging or on the cross, but I’ve never seen one in which He was so mutilated that He was not recognizable–not that I want to! My point is that we can hardly imagine what they did to Him before He was nailed to the cross.

We need to consider His suffering, because He took it in our behalf. He knew that He was the only acceptable substitute offering Whose shed blood would not only cover, but cleanse our sin. He was wholly God, and wholly man. There never had been, never would be, anyone else Who could do what He did. Christianity is the only faith that offers us a Savior, leaving our own efforts out of the equation of salvation.

Crown of Thorns

John 19;1-3.

Then Pilate therefore took Jesus, and scourged Him.

And the soldiers platted a crown of thorns, and put it on His head, and they put on Him a purple robe,

And said, Hail, King of the Jews! and they smote Him with their hands.

The introductory verses to this chapter are a very abbreviated description of the scourging, the crown of thorns, and the mistreatment by the Roman soldiers. Rome had mastered the fine art of inflicting indescribable pain, and seemed to enjoy mocking their victims beyond all things.

Scourging was used to weaken the victim, so that his death on the cross would be quicker; it was sometimes used as an interrogation technique; sometimes it was used as a punishment for unruly prisoners. It wasn’t unusual for the victim to die under the lash. Most fainted, which one might consider a blessing, except for the fact that the beating was halted until the prisoner revived. They wanted him to suffer every stroke.

The prisoner was fastened to a post or block in a partially stooped position, thus stretching the skin of his back. The weapon was many lashes tied together, with bits of metal, glass, stone, or bone tied onto the lashes. The process tore the back into pieces, exposing internal organs, and encircling the entire body. The pain as the lash was pulled away was horrific.

The thorn bushes of the area had long, hard, sharp thorns that tortured the head, forehead, cheeks, and neck of Jesus. Some have suggested that He probably suffered the terrible pain of the trigeminal nerve as the thorns penetrated into His face. The crown of thorns, of course, was a mockery of Jesus’ claim to be the King of the Jews. They laughed, and hit Him with their fists and open hands as they threw a purple robe over His shoulders, mocking Him again as a king. Purple was a very expensive dye, reserved for royalty or the very wealthy. I’ve often wondered where they got that robe.

Continuing their mockery, they bowed the knee, hailing Him as King of the Jews, and even putting a broken reed into His hands as His royal “sceptre.”

When this part of the process was complete, the soldiers took the broken, bloody Christ back to Pilate.

Not Jesus, but Barabbas!

John 18:39-40.

But ye have a custom, that I should release unto you one at the passover: will ye therefore that I release unto you the King of the Jews?

Then cried they all again, saying, Not this Man, but Barabbas. Now Barabbas was a robber.

Pilate, seeking for some way to pacify the Jews, reminds them of their custom of releasing a prisoner at the Passover–sort of like an outgoing President in America commutes the sentences of some who are imprisoned. Historically, there is very little to support this idea, so I’m not going to belabor it. Suffice it to say that it happened.

In fact, Pilate even suggested that he release Jesus, because he had found nothing of which Jesus was guilty. One might think, at this point, that the crowd, some of whom had very likely seen and perhaps benefitted from some of Jesus’ miracles and heard His teaching, would have relented. Barabbas, after all, was guilty of theft, insurrection, and murder ((John 18:40), Mark 15:7). Who would want such a man released back into circulation? Some have postulated that he had become something of a folk hero, like Robin Hood, and was popular with the common people. He had committed murder as an insurrectionist, which was a crime to Rome, but an act of bravery and heroism to some of the Jews.

However, Matthew 27:20 and Mark 15:11 tell us that the priests and Pharisees had spent some time urging the crowd to demand the release of Barabbas, who was being held for execution. They had stirred the people to such fury that they were no longer thinking; they were reacting. That’s always dangerous. The crowd becomes more and more agitated, stirring each other to heights of fury, anger and hatred that have no basis in reality.

I would not want to be left to the tender mercies of such a crowd.

“Not Jesus!” they yelled. “Not Jesus! Release Barabbas!”

What is Truth?

John 18:38. “Pilate saith unto Him, What is truth? And when he had said this, he went out again unto the Jews, and saith unto them, I find in Him no fault at all.”

I find this verse to be most expressive of Pilate’s frustration and state of mind over this whole situation.

First, Jesus had told Pilate that He had come not to overthrow Rome, but simply to speak truth. I imagine Pilate looking at Jesus at that moment, gauging Him, wanting to hear more but also not wanting to spend any more time than he had to facing this Man.

His reply is indicative, I believe, of the hearts of all mankind. “What is truth!”

Everyone has a different perspective from everyone else in many areas. Using a silly example, my truth is that chocolate should be a food group unto itself :). Others may find chocolate to be not to their liking—that’s their truth. We hear a lot of nonsense these days about “Your truth,” “You be you” (one of the most inane sayings, in my opinion. Of course I am me. Can’t be anyone else. Don’t want to be anyone else). Political parties often have diametrically opposing “truths” and, in fact, neither one may have the absolute truth. I have a friend who loves snow, the more the better. I grew up with lots of snow in the winter, and it’s lost its charm for me. Which is the truth? In that case, what is true for her is not true for me.

But those things are not matters of absolutes. They are not moral issues. There are some absolute truths, derived or clearly stated in God’s Word, with which I do not argue or have the arrogance to disagree. Example? Psalm 139 tells me that God knew me in my mother’s womb, down to my innermost parts. I was a person, a soul, a living human being the moment I was conceived. That’s an absolute truth, although many have chosen to reinterpret and argue about when the baby actually becomes human, until it has come to the point that it isn’t really a baby until the mother decides to keep it. I need to point out here that if God says it is so, then it IS so. Man saying it is NOT so does not change God’s truth.

Jesus had come to speak the truth of God. He was the Son of God. He had come to be the perfect sacrifice for the sin of all mankind–He had come to die, and defeat death, in our behalf. He was the fulfillment of all prophecy about the Messiah, the King of the Jews. That was not just His truth–it was, and is, absolute truth.

Pilate, I think, was a man searching for truth, and frustrated with all the myriads of gods and pagan worship that surrounded him. Yet when he faced absolute Truth, he shrugged, and said, “What is truth?” I believe that question bothered him for the rest of his life.

Pilate then turned from Jesus and went back out to face the Jews. To his credit, at that moment he told the absolute truth: “I find no fault in this Man!”