10 As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; 11 there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. 12 All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. 13 Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips. 14 Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. 15 Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 ruin and misery mark their ways, 17 and the way of peace they do not know. 18 There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.
1 Very early in the morning, the chief priests, with the elders, the teachers of the law and the whole Sanhedrin, reached a decision. They bound Jesus, led Him away and handed Him over to Pilate.
2 “Are you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate. “Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied.
3 The chief priests accused Him of many things. 4 So again Pilate asked Him, “Aren't you going to answer? See how many things they are accusing you of.”
5 But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed. 6 Now it was the custom at the Feast to release a prisoner whom the people requested. 7 A man called Barabbas was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising. 8 The crowd came up and asked Pilate to do for them what he usually did.
9 "Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate, 10 knowing it was out of envy that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead.
12 "What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?” Pilate asked them.
13 “Crucify Him!” they shouted.
14 “Why? What crime has He committed?” asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify Him!”
15 Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed Him over to be crucified.
Today we continue our Holy Week series. Last week we were in the Garden of Gethsemane, and as we pick up the story today, Jesus has been arrested and is brought before Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor. Prior to this, Jesus has been tried by the religious authorities and condemned. His condemnation was based on the testimony of the lies of false witnesses. The Jews have sentenced Jesus to death for blasphemy, and now they take Him to Pilate to have His death sentence ratified.
I wrote in the bulletin that Holy Week is a reflection of the human heart at its very worst. We need to face that reality as we prepare for our journey to Golgotha on Friday, but I also made the point that during this dark week, we also see God’s grace at its very best. We must always remember that, and the firm hope of the resurrection, and what that means to us. Holy Week is a sombre time in the lives of Bible-believing Christians, but it is a mistake for us to remain in that place. We are an Easter people. Jesus conquered sin and death by rising from the grave. We’re not stuck in Good Friday, because we know the victory which came on Sunday. But for now, we need to consider the awful truth of the depravity of human sin, and the necessity of the cross. Good Friday is a picture of God’s wrath and judgment, but at the same time we see the hand of God’s amazing grace. It is important for us to bear this in mind.
In our reading from Mark’s gospel today Jesus is rejected by the religious authorities, the civil authority of Rome, and finally the common man in the street as well.
This is far more than just part of the Easter story. It goes much deeper, as it reveals the very heart of human nature. This story proves that man, in his natural state, is a totally depraved sinner, capable of intense hatred and evil. It proves that man, in his natural state, is God’s enemy. It is a mirror for the human heart, revealing the character and condition of the heart, and it is not a pretty picture at all.
There’s a story of a tribal chief who was visiting a mission station. Hanging outside the missionary’s hut on a tree was a little mirror. The chief happened to look into the mirror and saw his reflection, complete with terrifying war paint. He looked at his own frightening reflection and jumped back in horror. “Who is that horrible looking person inside that tree?” “Oh,” the missionary said, “it is not in the tree. The glass is reflecting your own face.”
The chief would not believe it until he held the mirror in his hand. Then he said, “I must have the glass. How much will you sell it for?” But the missionary said it wasn’t for sale.
The chief continued to pester him, and in an effort to keep the peace, the missionary reluctantly sold his mirror to him.
As soon as he had paid for the mirror, the chief threw it against a rock, breaking it into tiny pieces. “I will never have this glass making faces at me again,” he said.
This is precisely what the religious establishment did to Jesus. He exposed them for who they are, so they nailed him to a cross, but their plan backfired as Jesus’ death only magnified their reflection.
When we look at Jesus and what the people did to Him that day, we can see ourselves.
Everyone who was in Jerusalem that week rejected Jesus.
We’re told that this all happened early in the morning. In the previous chapter Jesus undergoes an illegal trial before Annas the high priest. During this trial, Jesus was accused of blasphemy and condemned to death. He was then beaten and mistreated by the religious leaders and the temple guards. This early morning meeting was held for just one purpose; these men wanted to add a sense of legitimacy to the illegal decision they had made during the night. During this phase of the trial, the Jews asked Jesus the same question they had asked Him during the night. In Luke’s account of the same events in chapter 22, they once again asked Jesus if He was the Son of God. And again, Jesus answered that indeed He was the Son of God. To the Jews, this confirmed Him as a blasphemer, and they reaffirmed the sentence of death, but this presented them with a problem.
Israel was under Roman rule, and the Romans allowed the Jews a certain degree of latitude when it came to applying Jewish law. They were free to try cases and pronounce sentences, but they were not allowed to carry out a death sentence. Only the Roman governor had that authority. The Jews had condemned Jesus to death, but they lacked the authority to carry out the sentence, so they bound Jesus like a common criminal and led Him away to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor.
Now they faced a further complication. When the Jews brought Jesus to Pilate, they knew they could not accuse Jesus of blasphemy. Pilate was not interested in getting involved in what he would regard as a petty Jewish religious argument. If Jesus, or any other Jew for that matter wanted to claim that he was God, Pilate would simply dismiss the whole thing as a waste of his valuable time. And so, when they brought Jesus to Pilate, they changed the charges against Him. Luke 23:2 says, “They began to accuse Him, saying, ‘We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Christ, a king.’”
Pilate’s job was to ensure that the Roman Empire remained in power, and anyone brought to him who threatened his position was bound to get his attention. The religious leaders simply lied by bringing 3 false charges against Jesus before Pilate. They said He was undermining the security of the nation by trying to stir up some kind of revolution, He opposed the payment of taxes to the Empire, and He claimed to be a king, when in the Romans’ eyes, the emperor was king.
These religious leaders had no place for Jesus. Religion has no place for Jesus. These Jewish religious rulers had it made, and Jesus threatened their comfortable lifestyle. They held all the power over the people. They were making vast amounts of money through the buying and selling that went on at the Temple. They were rich and powerful, and had fooled themselves into believing that they were right with God. These men thought they were justified in all their actions. The Jews rejected Jesus because religion has no room for Jesus Christ.
The truth is, no religious system has room for Jesus. Religion is all about human involvement and human activity. Religion is always based on external works. Biblical Christianity, on the other hand, is based on faith. Religion tries in vain to approach God on the basis of what we do, while Biblical Christianity approaches God on the basis of what God has done for us through Jesus. It’s been said many times, and it bears repeating: Christianity is not a religion. It is a relationship with our Father, based on the saving grace of Jesus Christ.
Salvation is not about what we do. It’s about what God has done.
Things like giving, praying, good works, baptism, church attendance – all of these things are good, but we do them as acts of gratitude in response to what God has done for us.
The religious elite rejected Jesus that day, and anyone who tries to seek God out or impress Him through mere religious ritual today, is really no different. It’s about relationship.
And what about Pilate?
When Jesus was taken before Pilate, he asked Jesus about this accusation that He is the King of the Jews. The answer Jesus gives Pilate is a little different from the answer He gave the Jews. When the Jews asked Jesus about His identity as the Son of God and the Messiah, Jesus simply said, “I Am.” When Pilate asks Jesus if He is the King of the Jews, Jesus responds by saying in effect, “You said it.” What He was doing, was giving Pilate the opportunity of seeing just who Jesus was for himself.
John’s gospel records the conversation in chapter 18: “Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked Him, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ ‘Is that your own idea,’ Jesus asked, ‘or did others talk to you about me?’ ‘Am I a Jew?’ Pilate replied. ‘It was your people and your chief priests who handed you over to me. What is it you have done?’”
Pilate’s reply to Jesus here is important. Remember that he was a Gentile, and had not been brought up learning the Scriptures. He had little or no idea about the prophecies that pointed to Jesus.
But now, Pilate was brought face to face with Jesus, and when he was, he had a decision to make. Pilate was given the opportunity to meet Jesus in a personal, faith relationship, and he failed. When Pilate said in John 18:37, “You are a king then,” his words were laced with irony and scorn. They were not a confession and acknowledgment of Jesus as the Messiah.
The way Jesus reacted to Pilate’s questions is very interesting. We know that when He was being falsely accused by the Pharisees, He said nothing. He’d said it all before in John 5:39-40, “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” They’d had their opportunity, but they refused to accept Jesus for who He was, but in Pilate’s case, Jesus was reaching out to Him, giving him every opportunity to see the truth.
He was convinced that Jesus was innocent of the charges against Him, and tried to have Him released. He just wanted this whole thing to go away. Even his wife had warned him that there was something very different about this man who stood before him, but Pilate refused to see it.
Jesus very specifically told Pilate who He was, and tried to teach Pilate the truth. Sadly though, Pilate flippantly says, “What is truth?” and walks out on Jesus, turning his back on truth and salvation. And ultimately, Pilate would allow the Jews to take Jesus away and crucify Him, because he just couldn’t be bothered to stand up for what he knew to be the truth.
The theologian Ravi Zacharias said, “When Pilate looked at Jesus and said, ‘What is truth?’ and walked away, Pilate walked away from the greatest authority on the greatest question and committed the greatest crime.”
Pilate ignored what he knew to be the truth. He ignored a clear warning from his wife. He ignored the fact that the Jews were lying and just wanted Jesus dead for their own purposes. Pilate ignored the truth because he wanted to hold on to his position with Rome and his power over the people.
Pontius Pilate is often regarded with sympathy today. People seem to think that he was stuck between a rock and a hard place, and was a victim of circumstance, but the truth is that he was weak and cowardly. He was more concerned with maintaining his position and his power than he was with knowing the truth. When he washed his hands and said this has nothing to do with him, he was simply copping out. He had the authority to release Jesus, but he allowed the Jews to execute Him despite the fact that the charges against Him were false. Pilate could have been saved, but he was too much of a coward to bow before Jesus and believe in Him for salvation. Pilate rejected Jesus because cowardice has no room for Christ.
There are still people like Pilate in the world today. They know the truth. They know that Jesus is the only way to Heaven, but they are afraid of committing their lives to Him. Some reject Jesus because they are afraid they cannot live for Him. Some reject Jesus because they are afraid of what others will say about them. Others reject Him because they love their sin more than they love the truth. At the end of the day, all those who reject Jesus do so for the very same reasons Pilate rejected Him. They reject Him because they are cowards. They reject Jesus because they are afraid. Contrary to popular belief, it takes courage to come to Jesus, and to admit that God was right and that you were wrong. It is hard to admit that you are a sinner. I quoted Jeremiah 17:9 in the bulletin this morning. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” It takes guts to admit that truth. Martyn Lloyd-Jones was a Bible teacher who died in the 1980’s. He wrote, “There is nothing the natural man hates more than to be told that he is a sinner, and that his nature is twisted and perverted.” It takes courage to admit that and agree with such a statement.
It takes courage to admit that you need Jesus, and to bow before Him and call on Him for salvation. Pilate didn’t have the guts to say “Jesus Christ is Lord.” Do you? It’s easy to say it here on a Sunday morning, but do you have the guts to say it on the bowling green, at the office, or in a shopping centre?
People look at Christians and say that we are weak and that Jesus is just a crutch. They’re right about Him being a crutch, but they are dead wrong about us being weak. Because of Jesus, we are stronger than they are, but they just can’t see it. I’m a spiritual cripple and I cannot walk without Jesus, and I am proud to admit that.
It is hard to live for Jesus in this world which is becoming more hostile to Him each day.
If you have yet to say “Jesus Christ is Lord,” if you have yet to admit you are a spiritual cripple and that you need Jesus, take this opportunity while you still have it. Don’t be like Pilate and walk away from the truth, because you will regret that decision for all of eternity.
The biggest question you can ever answer is this: What will you do with Jesus? The religious elite rejected Him, Pilate rejected Him, and so did every person who was there too.
Pilate knew that Jesus was innocent, so he took a gamble to try and have Him released without any political backlash. It was customary during the Passover for Pilate to release a prisoner of their choice to the Jews each year. Barabbas was a political prisoner. He’d been arrested for insurrection and murder. He was a revolutionary who had tried to overthrow the Roman government, but he’d been caught now he was headed for death on a Roman cross.
So Pilate, ducking the issue of truth once more, offered the crowd a choice between Jesus and Barabbas. He thought the people would choose the peace-loving Jesus over the violent Barabbas. Unfortunately though, they didn’t, as the religious leaders stirred up the crowds and got them to demand that Barabbas be set free instead. And here we see a classic case of mob mentality. Get enough people in a crowd to believe something, and pretty soon the vast majority will just follow like sheep. A good example is how so many people have bought into the lie of evolution. The vast majority of people who insist that it is true have not taken the trouble to examine the facts. The gaps in the theory of evolution are big enough to drive a bus through, but people just follow the crowd. Evolutionists actually have no interest in discovering where we come from. Their real but hidden agenda is to disprove the existence of God. That’s all they want to achieve, but in order to do so they have to offer an alternative to creation as described in the Bible. And all they’ve been able to come up with is this ridiculous notion that we’ve all somehow evolved from nothing over billions of years. It is a theory which is absurd and laughable in the extreme, but they’ve made enough noise and stirred up the crowds so effectively that billions believe it.
In much the same way the crowd that day were whipped into a state of near frenzy as they called for the death of Jesus by crucifixion. So effective was the stirring of the crowds by the Pharisees that the people even called down a curse on themselves.
Remember, these were the same people who only days earlier had welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Their praises turned to jeers as they were caught up in this frenzy.
They didn’t care about Jesus anymore. Now they just wanted Barabbas. They didn’t believe in Jesus, because He wasn’t the kind of Messiah they were looking for. Barabbas, on the other hand, was more of what they thought a Messiah should be, because he wanted to get rid of the Romans. So, they rejected Jesus and chose Barabbas out of sheer unbelief. The crowds rejected Jesus because unbelief has no room for Jesus Christ.
And we still have those people in the world today.
They are just like the crowd that condemned Jesus. There are people who choose the world over Jesus every day.
But just as then, the majority is not always right. The majority rejected Jesus and condemned Him to death.
And the world remains opposed to Jesus in our day. They reject Him through sheer unbelief. The world ignores the Word of God and His free offer of salvation. Listen to these chilling words of Jesus in Matthew 7:13-14, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”
Just as it was on the day Jesus was crucified, the majority refuses to believe in Him, but just because the multitude refuses to come to Jesus, does not mean that you have to follow them. You can go against the grain. You can receive Jesus, and you can be saved. You can be saved, if you have the courage to be different.
Again, what will you do with Jesus?
On Friday we will be continuing this series as we contemplate the awful events of Golgotha, the place where Jesus took on the burden of our sin and suffered the full fury of God’s wrath and anger. The priests, Pilate and the people rejected Jesus. And the greatest rejection Jesus faced was from His Father as He bore our sins. But, as I mentioned earlier, there is always hope. Our hope is built on the truth that Jesus rose in triumph from the grave. For now, this week, we do need to look at the cross once more and see the role our sin played in making it all necessary, but we know that Sunday is coming. That is our hope, our peace, and our promise.