“You are a king, then!” said Pilate.
Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
“What is truth?” retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him.” (John 18: 37-38 NIV)
I had really wanted to do much more of this “Characters of Lent” series, but a two week battle with the flu has had me pretty much stuck in bed until the last couple of days. So now in the last few days of Lent and Holy Week I want to come back and look at some of the folks in the story of Christ’s last days. You can also look at my first entry in this series about Peter.
Today I want to look and Pontius Pilate, who was prefect of Judea from 26-36 C.E. Most of what we know about Pilate comes from the New Testament and the retrospective writing of the historian Josephus. That had caused some historians to question whether or not Pilate ever existed. Well in 1961 a damaged stone block was found in Caesarea Maritima with an inscription mentioning Pilate. Both the stone and the inscription date to Pilate’s time. Today the “Pilate Stone” is on display at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
Let’s put ourselves in Pilate’s shoes in the Holy Week story. Rome was occupying Judea by force, and the locals resented it. As Prefect, Pilate’s job would have been to try to keep an uneasy peace in the territory and also squash any threats to Roman rule. Sound like a tough job? You bet it was. Less than 40 years after Pilate left Judea, Roman legions came in and destroyed the city of Jerusalem and the Temple. Tensions were high between occupier and occupied.
You had probably heard about the events that had happened just a few days ago when a bunch of Jews hailed a dirty rabbi riding a donkey as their King. However, despite the fact that this rabbi had caused a stir in the Temple courts, he seemed harmless, walking around preaching about non-violence.
So it’s early Friday morning and one of your centurions wakes you from a sound sleep telling you that the Jewish High Priest was outside with a problem. Seriously? You tell the centurion to bring him in, but then he reminds you that the High Priest won’t come in because entering your house would make him unclean for the Passover. Ugh.
Reluctantly you go outside to meet Caiaphas and his followers. The temple guards are restraining a man who looks like they just yanked him away from sleeping on the streets. Caiaphas tells you that this man is very dangerous and demands that you put him to death. You scoff at the priest and tell him to go deal with his own problems. Blasphemy against the Jewish God is no concern of Rome.
Then Caiaphas plays his ace. He tells you that this man claims to be a king, and anyone who claims to be a king is no friend of Caesar’s. You gaze at the man. Could this be the man that the Jewish people were singing about? Could this be the man causing problems in the Temple? He sure doesn’t look like much of a king!
You have this man, this Yeshua, brought to the Praetorium. The light of the morning is just starting to filter in as you take your seat to question him.
“Well, ARE YOU the ‘King of the Jews?'”
The man stands in silence. Maybe he’s just crazy. You ask him again.
Then a wry, half smile crosses the face of Yeshua. “Are you asking me because of your own initiative or only because the Jewish leaders told you about me?”
This guy must be nuts to talk to you like that. “I’m not a Jew,” you say. “What in the world have you done that these people brought you to me? They want you crucified!”
After another silence the man speaks again. “My kingdom is not of this world. If it was, my followers would have fought to keep me from being handed over to you.”
You stare at this man. This dirty man with no means, nobody to defend him, and seemingly no desire to defend himself. “So you are a king, then?”
Yeshua stares into your eyes, boring down into your soul. “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
Those words will echo in your head for the rest of your life. You ponder this man and finally ask, “What is TRUTH?” The man, Yeshua, gives no answer. What do you do? Do you let him go and dismiss him as a crazy man? Do you denounce him and have him put to death to appease the crowd? Do you find some way to pawn the choice off on someone else?
We are each confronted by this Simple Rabbi in our lives. He claims to be a King, to offer something different and better, something not of this world. He tells you that he is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
Well, what is truth, and what will you do when you are confronted by this man? Will you dismiss him as crazy? Will you denounce and reject him because that’s what the crowd desires? Will you try to find an excuse not to believe, and hedge your bets? Or will you see the light in the darkness, the light that is the life of all people?
The answer to those questions are yours alone. What will you do when you sit and evaluate this claim? I pray that you will accept the grace and mercy offered by Yeshua, and that’ll you’ll follow him.
If you have already made that choice, please realize that each of us is still confronted by Christ on a daily basis. Each day He is present not only in our family, friends, and church communities, but in the homeless man on the corner, the sick person in the hospital, the victims of war and violence, and even in the convict in prison.
What will you do when you are confronted by Christ in these ways each day?