|Preacher||Rev. Robert Josey, Resolis|
|Sermon Title||Behold The Man|
|Text||John ch.19 v.5 |
Links to Bible chapters open in a new window.
"Then came Jesus forth, wearing the crown of thorns, and the purple robe. And Pilate saith unto them, Behold the man!" (John 19, 5).
"Behold the man!" (text). What purpose moved the Roman Procurator to voice that command? I shall tell you later. My purpose in singling out Pilate's words is to use them by way of access to the whole subject of Christ's trial and condemnation unto crucifixion. As this huge subject is covered in outline fashion only, by one sermon, I will try to keep matters duly straightforward and simple. As you know there is more coverage given in the Gospels to the last week of Christ's life on earth - Passion Week followed by the resurrection etc - than to any other time in His life. Selectivity throughout the Gospels as a whole, but considerable detail and, that so obviously rightly with respect to what led up to the crucifixion and what followed thereafter.
As we look into this huge subject in the sketchy way that is only possible for us in a short space of time, I desire that we try to keep three matters in mind.
Firstly: the wickedness of the human heart. How right are those dark words uttered by Jeremiah centuries ago, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" (Jeremiah 17, 9). The longer the careful, thoughtful, investigative, experienced Christian lives, the more he gets to know himself and the more he casts his eye abroad in due observation, the more he comes to understand the profundity and pertinence of this utterance and how terrible the truth therein presented. So far as the events which fall to our notice are concerned, sermon after sermon could be preached upon Sadducees, Pharisees, the populace of Jewry at large and also the disciples themselves, who with the exception of Judas, of course, were loyal souls - men of God.
Secondly, we are to remember how through and by all the injustice of the Sanhedrin, the decision of the Roman Governor and the horrid maltreatment of Jesus of Nazareth, a higher justice was at work: redemption was being accomplished and salvation was being secured. Paul remarks early in the Epistle to the Romans how the just God would justly justify sinners: the attainment of salvation in full accord with heavenly justice. How could the just God justify the unjust? Impossible, one would say, if thinking rightly, but through Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God incarnate, heavenly justice has triumphed and been satisfied and human sin has been dealt with; forgiveness is full and free, salvation is ours. May each and every one of us possess it, as we only can, through faith in Christ Jesus.
Thirdly, we are to keep in mind the love of the Son of God for sinners: that in free-willingness He should give Himself unto such extremity of anguish as their Substitute unto salvation. We measure love when it comes to love among ourselves by the greatness of the sacrifice. There are times when great sacrifice is called for and where love is, it is ready and in free-willingness it gives - however taxing. However, this love divine, this love excelling - its purity, power, infinitude and singular excellency as the love of God - all this is manifested through the humbling on the part of the second Person of the Trinity as He took our nature to Himself and suffered, as He only could, therein and thereby. It is especially as we look to Jesus and to all that He undertook and accomplished, that we know better the fearful nature and inveterate wickedness of sin, the glory and greatness of goodness, the preciousness of salvation and how manifestly right in every way it is for us to be right with God and to serve Him truly.
1. THE JEWISH TRIAL
2. THE PROCEEDINGS OF PILATE
The trial and condemnation of Christ may be viewed as consisting of six parts or stages. This is my approach; other approaches can be quite legitimately taken. However, in the interests of simplicity, I work it out in a way that is not original to myself.
There were three stages to the Jewish trial and three in the proceedings of Pilate. The religious and political leaders of Jewry had three huge obstacles to surmount in bringing about the death of the Galilean, and that, by some plausible show of justice. The Sanhedrin, the supreme council of the Jews, had to bring the death of the Galilean about with some plausible show of justice. If not so, then the ineptitude and the wickedness of that particular court would be open to all, would it not? from which so much was to be expected. These leaders were concerned with keeping themselves in with the generality of the people and have the means whereby they could engage in propaganda to keep the loyalty and support of the people, and so they managed in the end, as we shall see. They had three huge obstacles to overcome and the fact that they succeeded shows just how committed to evil and guile they were in the pursuit of iniquity, rather than reduces the actual hugeness of the obstacles themselves.
The first of these was to get the proceedings of apprehension, trial and condemnation well under way and virtually completed before the people were aware of what had been accomplished. Although the bulk of the people did not believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Messiah, the Son of God and the one and only Saviour - yet, on account of His bearing, excellent and authoritative words and miracles of healing - they had a certain respect and affection for Him. Although His support by the populace waned more and more, had the authorities seized Christ at noon or in the early afternoon in broad daylight, there would have been open protest. There might very well have been intervention to prevent arrest. What was done had to be done under cover of darkness in more ways than one. This first obstacle was overcome by the willing services of that traitorous apostle, Judas Iscariot. Christ was arrested around midnight in the Garden of Gethsemane. Judas had entered into unholy liaison with the authorities in order that Christ's arrest would be brought about in this place at that time - adroitly at midnight. Judas knew of Christ's movements, therefore, he was in a position to lead the apprehending parties to the Redeemer.
The first obstacle was overcome through the services of Judas Iscariot - how awful his betrayal and vicious his actions! What service he rendered to the forces of darkness! The fact that Judas' betrayal of Christ was unto the accomplishment of redemption doesn't change in any way whatsoever that the wickedness engaged in and practiced was wickedness indeed.
Addressing the second obstacle, ask - how could a court of justice succeed in condemning to death, not merely an innocent man but a sinless man, the Son of God incarnate? A court, which regularly operated by the legal principles of the Old Testament in their general dealings and usual procedures, the Sanhedrin worked upon legitimate practices and had a faultless form of legal procedure - managed according to what God laid down for the Israelites through Moses. How could they, operating properly, condemn - and that to death, for that is what they wanted, a sinless man, the Son of God incarnate? If they were proceeding properly, it would have been impossible but, of course, they got round the difficulty, as we shall see.
Thirdly, since even the Sanhedrin itself lacked the power to sentence to death, how could Pontius Pilate be prevailed upon to oblige the Sanhedrin in their nefarious intent? They had to get the permission and authority of the Roman Procurator to condemn this difficult man - the difficulty was to them in their unbelief and false religiosity - to death, especially, when this Roman in particular disliked the Jews. The relationship between the leading Jews and Pontius Pilate was nothing short of one of hatred and contempt. They had no time for one another at all; they must perforce bear with one another.
We saw how the first major difficulty was overcome, and as we take up with the three stages of the Jewish trial, we discover how the second huge difficulty was defeated.
The first stage was the arresting of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane and then leading Him to the house of John Annas who was the most influential man in Jerusalem at that time among the Jews. Who was he? He was a wealthy Sadducee - the Sadducees being the wealthiest of all the Jews - and father-in-law to the high priest, Caiaphas. John Annas himself had been high priest but was deposed from office by a Roman Procurator before Pontius Pilate by the name of Valerius Gratus. That was fifteen to sixteen years before the present AD 30, when the trial of Christ was under way. For all that John Annas was out of office and his son-in-law was in it, he was, as it were, the presiding genius; he was the man of influence; he was the man who operated the strings that pulled the puppets. At the house of John Annas a preliminary hearing was held but it was more a council of craft. It was the getting of the brave together in order to work out how they might accomplish their evil purpose. They didn't stay there long. The prisoner was taken further, even to the palatial residence of Caiaphas himself, where the trial got under way. This was the second stage of the Jewish trial when it really got under way.
The Sanhedrin consisted of seventy influential and capable personages from among Jewry - some Sadducees but the majority Pharisees. They were all learned and capable men; we have many learned and capable men and women who are in character bad indeed. This court was the ruling Jewish tribunal with respect to matters religious in Palestine and throughout the Roman Empire. The Jews who were throughout the Roman Empire - in towns like Corinth, Rome and Ephesus - had respect to the directives issued from Jerusalem by the Sanhedrin. When it came to serious cases for trial, they were passed up to this Jewish tribunal of seventy, the Presiding Officer being the high priest of the time - in this case, Caiaphas. They were allowed considerable powers by the Romans but they couldn't issue the death sentence. One of the reasons why the Roman Empire ruled so well for so long was because it allowed a considerable amount of liberty to its various peoples, and in that way, they didn't feel too restricted. The liberty they were allowed and the general peace that prevailed throughout the Roman Empire assisted greatly in keeping things in due order.
Bring to mind the punctiliousness of the Pharisee and how scrupulous they were in the observance of ceremonial and rabbinical law. Much of that we know was false but they had no less than six hundred and seventy traditions which were not according to the Scriptures. They multiplied all sorts of rules and were scrupulous in their observance. I bring this to notice in order to show up the hideousness of their sin in the way they condemned Christ so utterly unjustly. How could He be justly condemned - the very sinless One, the Holy One Himself in human nature? This court was always careful to adhere to the time honoured and Old Testament based, judicial procedures. To condemn the Christ of God, so absolutely, even unto death, required a severe change of policy did it not? It did, and thus proceedings commenced and were sustained along wholly illegal lines. Look how these men knowingly and most deliberately, broke and trampled upon one important rule after another. They were driven by hatred and malice; they had this inveterate malice, fixed opposition and awful dislike - I cannot put it too strongly - for the Son of God. It is frightening just how driven they were to bringing about His downfall. This is amply demonstrated by what they did contrary to their normal, beloved and zealous practice. That from which they would never normally have turned, here, they were only too quick to turn against and overthrow, for they had but one end in view and that they must bring about.
Firstly, witnesses were suborned - that is, bribed or bullied into committing perjury. Matthew refers to this: "Now the chief priests, and elders, and all the council, sought false witness against Jesus, to put him to death; But found none: yea, though many false witnesses came, yet found they none. At the last came two false witnesses, And said, This fellow said, I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days" (Matthew 26, 59-61). After massive effort and assiduous attempts, they completely failed in this. The case was hopeless, and the only ones they got were misrepresenting, as we well know, a manifestly spiritual utterance from the Lord of glory concerning how He would rise from the dead upon the third day. The edifice of the temple of His body would rise again and be rebuilt within three days. They were at a loss but ready to suborn silly witnesses, so engaged in false and wrong pursuit were they.
Then, worse still, in a way, their council or tribunal could not be legally convened earlier than six o'clock in the morning which would be too late. What did they do? In the depths of the night, they illegally convened the tribunal and got about this mockery of a trial. The accused was not allowed to speak a word in court. One way or the other He was to be left in complete silence and His guilt or innocence was to be decided upon the testimony of others. What happened? Satan battled, halted, thwarted - again and again. Caiaphas settled the matter with a flash of demonic genius. He adjured Christ to speak. He laid it upon Christ to break from the required practice and to speak in His own defence. He got Christ to admit that He was none other than the Son of God. Notice, that it was on the ground of this assertion by Christ - that He was none other than God manifest in the flesh - that His condemnation was brought about on the grounds of blasphemy.
On the grounds of blasphemy, in some of its awful expressions in the Old Testament, the sentence was death. Here, to this assembled court, this was blasphemy of the highest order. Here was this man asserting - as forced to do so by the high priest, the president of the court - that He was none other than the Son of God. Christ was, therefore, condemned to death on profession of His deity. In the end, it was as simple as that. There was expression of malicious joy - the end was accomplished. "What need we further of any more witnesses. This settles the matter." The spacious residence of this stately home owned by Caiaphas was filled with noise and disorder - "Then did they spit in his face, and buffeted him; and others smote him with the palms of their hands, Saying, Prophesy unto us, thou Christ, Who is he that smote thee?" (Matthew 26, 67-68). There was this most irreverent disorder, this maltreatment of the Christ of God. This was contrary to court proceedings. There should be civility and carefulness in a court, and no one should lay a hand upon another, however, this was encouraged for a while. What contempt was shown for the 'Son of Man' which He so often called Himself - shameful proceedings, indeed! Does it not show up the utter ugliness of man as a sinner? Does it not tell us to what wickedness these men of learning and standing were given, the Pharisees among them particularly - professing to be servants of God and the preservers of the Old Testament religion. They were men who had perverted the true religion.
Those who are supporters of false religions can often be very bad, but when you analyse the matter properly, the very worst are those who have turned the true religion into falsity - abused, perverted and misrepresented it. You will find therein the most savage persecutors, as far as they are able, of the true evangelical.
The third and last stage of the Jewish trial was how matters were now left alone as there couldn't have been much time left between now and when six a.m. arrived. When this critical hour arrived, the meeting was legally convened and the sentence was confirmed, upheld, fixed and settled. That was it. Now it was a matter of going to Pontius Pilate and his three stages of handling the matter.
First, let me say that the day in our calendar was Friday the 7th April, AD 30. Pilate, of course, was in Jerusalem at this time because the Procurator always came up from what was his normal place of residence, Caesarea on the seaside, to be in Jerusalem during the Passover time. Multitudes of people were in Jerusalem at Passover time from various parts of Palestine, down from the Galilee region and up from Judaea and Idumaea and they converged from various parts of the Roman Empire. Tents were set up, houses were filled and the whole city was most fully populated. It was a time when trouble could easily break out, so the Roman Procurator was always careful to be there with extra soldiers to keep order and to bring peace as quickly as possible should disorder occur, therefore, he was easily accessible.
The Jews knew very well that their reason for condemnation of their prisoner would meet with no acceptance from Pilate: because he was Roman - blasphemy to him would mean nothing. As the Jews presented the case and tentatively told it all in its fullness, they would have Pilate thinking of the Galilean as a visionary, as somebody who was not quite right. They were well aware of Pilate's contempt for them and how easily he would dismiss their case if they came to him with the case on which they had brought about Jesus' condemnation. What did they do? Oh, how hypocritical they were; it's a wonder their tongues didn't swell up in their mouths. This was hypocrisy of the lowest order. They were impatient under the rule of the Roman; they would have revelled had there been a successful breaking of the yoke of Rome, but here they colour it all as if the Galilean was a rival to Caesar. They presented His claim of kingship as being King of the Jews wanting to gather Jewry under His banner and go in military conflict against Rome. Here alone lay the chance of success with them and, therefore, quickly and adroitly they misrepresented the case to prevail upon Pilate. They were, however, afraid that this would not be enough, especially when Pilate would interview the prisoner himself as, of course, he duly did, therefore, they had to engage in a form of blackmail.
Pilate had been guilty of some rash and cruel acts against Jews. He was a man with blood on his hands. He had grossly misbehaved on occasion as Procurator over Judaea and Samaria. They began to threaten, as he well knew, that they would bring about his downfall and have him put out of Office if he didn't comply. Quickly Pilate recognised how implacable these Jews were in pursuit of their evil purpose and he succumbed. He should not have succumbed and he did recognise that, in Jesus, he had before him a singular person: there was something very special about this Person and he quickly sensed it. He didn't investigate the matter as he should have done; he didn't ask relevant questions of Christ - had he done so they would have been answered. He was in a position to be informed concerning the Person of Christ and the Gospel but he, of course, turned from that because he wasn't of that mind, although, he had a sense of the certain specialness of the man.
I read in some historical work that another factor, which helped the Jews prevail upon Pilate, was that his standing in Rome was not what it had been. This was in the time of the Emperor Tiberius and Tiberius had become aware of a number of plots against him which continually fomented and he became overly suspicious - he retired, in fact, to the Isle of Capri at a certain stage. Tiberius became eminently suspicious and distrustful; he became so of those he should have continued to trust. But the one whom we call Pilate's patron at Rome, fell under the disfavour of Tiberius, so, Pilate was more exposed than he had hitherto been, should ill report be taken to Rome concerning him. That played also upon Pilate. Conscience makes cowards of us all - how relevant that statement in this case. Pilate had the power of Rome behind him and he should have refused the Jews, no question at all about it - I am simply bringing to your attention how it was with him and how these Jews got the better of him.
What were the three stages in Pilate's handling of the case? Well, he was, as you know, very reluctant to yield to the Jewish presentation of matters. Quickly he discerned that Christ was from Galilee and as soon as he discerned that, he began to hold out a hope because at this time Herod Antipas - who was the ruler of Galilee and Perez - was in Rome. Herod, 'that fox' as Christ called him - the one responsible for the beheading of John the Baptist, perhaps second to his wife but he was primarily responsible in that he gave the order and he need not have done so - he, was in Jerusalem. Pilate at once had Christ taken over to Herod, as much as to say, "This is a case for you." That didn't work, that shift failed because after having Christ enrobed in a gorgeous garment and mocked, he had Christ taken back to Pilate. So here was Pilate, as before - he had to settle the matter one way or another.
Then Pilate got another idea: he tried another shift. "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?" (John 18, 39). This offer was declined, rather, they wanted Barabbas released. Notice that Barabbas was a murderer and insurgent, which means he was guilty of insurrection - he led a revolt against the Romans. Here was one who made an attempt against the power of Rome, who was guilty of what the Sanhedrin were saying Christ was guilty of, but they wanted Barabbas - who was really guilty in that regard - spared, set free, on account of the grant of this custom. However, the One Who was spotlessly innocent, ah, He was held up and presented as the criminal in this regard. You see the hypocrisy, malice and dishonesty - it's fearful; explore it, and more and more you will be horrified by it all.
Pilate was baffled again. The chief priests cried out, "Crucify him, crucify him" (verse 6). Pilate's was a wild forlorn hope. I don't quite know why it was they cried that out. I tend to think that it was already known that the crucifixion of the two murderous thieves was going to take place and, with that in mind, they cried out that Christ might be dealt with in exactly the same manner.
There are reasons why the death of Christ, the death of the Saviour, in satisfaction of divine justice, had to be by crucifixion. That was the only mode of death that would satisfy the requirements. That is a good theological point to leave with you. Chief priests stirred up the people to cry out, "Crucify him, crucify, him" (verse 6): for Barabbas - release, for the Christ of God - crucifixion.
Pilate tried one more shift in his desperation. This was the third stage of matters so far as he was concerned. He ordered that Jesus be scourged. Scourging by the Romans was fearful, savage and cruel. The whips did not just have leather thongs; the lashes had bits of bone and bits of metal tied up in them. Therefore, when the lashes came down across the bare back, the skin was opened up. There wasn't just a red welt left by each lash in turn, but wounds were opened and the blood flowed freely. Why did Pilate order Christ to be so scourged? It was his last try, his last shift, in having Christ freed. How? Well, this was the purpose behind the words with which we started, "Behold the man!"
I don't know whether Christ was on Pilate's right or left - probably on his left. "Behold the man!" There he was on some platform or elevated place looking down at the people and their leaders; and there was Christ, escorted by Roman soldiers and such a pitiful figure after being scourged and having the crown of thorns placed on His head - "Behold the man!" Pilate was drawing attention to the Galilean. "Look," he was saying, "what chance has this pathetic figure against Rome? We have scourged Him; He is helpless. There can be nothing in what you are saying and if there was, it is surely finished now. He has fought His battle and He is a poor victim. Look how sorely we have dealt with Him." He was appealing to Jewish compassion. He was imploring them to have pity upon Christ and let Him go that He might recover from the severe scourging. So heartless were these leaders and the populace that was there that it was again a resounding cry, "Crucify him, crucify him!" It was not enough that He be so sorely dealt with, He must die in that excruciating, prolonged manner. Isn't it frightening? Pilate as we know, so wrongly, so cowardly, gave way and gave the order for Christ to be crucified. Gleefully satisfied the Sanhedrin were; an evil joy filled their bosoms and they went back home - "We have done it. We have managed it. Peace at last. We can continue as before. No more intervention, no more authoritative, disturbing words. We are back to how it was before this Galilean began His ministry among us."
"Behold the man!" Isn't human wickedness fearful? We haven't gone that far, of course, but as we learn to read our hearts, as we are shown ourselves by the Spirit and instructed in righteousness, we see more and more of the dark and dire goings on there of that which is called original sin. In the dark recesses of our hearts, we resist, we deplore, but we can see the moves and we realise that in certain circumstances, under certain pressures and with certain inducements, we would follow on after those who have gone far in folly and done wickedly. This is a subject which must be dealt with and receive attention in the preaching of the Word.
So much that passes for preaching in these days is false comfort. The idea is to encourage people and, of course, we all need encouragement. However, to encourage people by plying them with false comfort and telling them that they are not so bad and that God is merciful, which is sentimentally and continuously done, is wearisome and empty. What does it do? It fails completely in its purpose. The sooner we know what we are and what our real needs, the sooner we will take ourselves to the God Whom we have offended and get right with Him as we only can through His Christ. Then we have much on our hands but we have the direction, spiritual power and every inducement to grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. We must witness as best we can in this world of woe as we seek for a blessed hereafter.
Remember too, what I said about the love of Christ for fallen members of the human race. As you carefully read the concluding parts of each of the four Gospels and go carefully and studiously through it all, entering in as far as you can into the sufferings of the Redeemer, you cannot but see what love constrained Him and you cannot but feel ashamed of yourself.
So much to melt the heart: so much to motivate the life. "How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?" (Hebrews 2, 3).
This sermon has been downloaded from http://www.bible-sermons.org.uk