Theme: A Friend in Jesus
In this week’s lessons, we see that although Pilate declared Jesus innocent, nevertheless, he allowed for his crucifixion, and so failed to stand up for what was right.
Scripture: John 18:28-19:16
Now the reason I have gone into the study of this man at length is to say that we mustn’t dismiss him as something that has no bearing upon ourselves. Quite often, if you know your own heart, you know that you operate in a similar way. Now, of course, it is not in as great a matter as this, because you don’t have Jesus Christ brought before you for trial. But you are confronted every day in one way or another with various moral issues, where you ought to stand as a Christian against what is obviously wrong. I would be very surprised if in all of those instances you have stood firm. I know I haven’t. We back off. When the Gospel is challenged, we don’t want to offend people, or we don’t want to do something that might put us in an uncomfortable position.
In other words, we do exactly what Pilate did, and we do if for exactly the same reasons. We do it because we’re afraid. We’re afraid of what people will say. We’re afraid for our position, that if we are too outspoken as Christians we won’t get ahead. We do it because we’re afraid of the harm people can perhaps bring into our lives if we really take a righteous stand. So although Pilate sticks out in the story as a Gentile, and more than that, as a Roman who is an opportunist for his political career, he nevertheless is someone we can identify with.
When we study Pilate, we have to say to God, “What do I need that’s going to keep me from doing what he did, in betraying the truth? If Jesus is the king of truth, and his kingdom is the kingdom of truth, to betray the truth is in the final analysis betraying the Lord. What do we need in order to stand firm? Let me suggest three things.
First of all, you have to know that God is sovereign in your life. God’s in charge. You see, that’s what made Daniel’s three friends strong in a similar moral situation when they were in Babylon, when Nebuchadnezzar was demanding that they bow down before that great statue that he had set up out in the plain of Dura. It would have been easy to do that; everybody else was doing it. Well, they wouldn’t do it because that was inconsistent with their understanding of their obligation to God. You don’t bow down to images. You worship the true God and him only. And so, when they were hauled in, and they were about to be executed, they faced it because they said, “God’s in charge. God is able. He can do anything he wants. As a matter of fact, God is so sovereign in our lives and in history, that if he wants to deliver us from your hand, he can do it and he will. But even if he doesn’t, well, that’s all right. He’s in charge there too. And so we accept that because ultimately it is God himself and not human beings who are in charge.”
If you and I are going to stand and make a difference today in a world that is compromising all around us, even Christians, we’re going to first of all have to know that God is sovereign over our life. If he chooses to deliver us from the consequences that we see will come if we do the right thing, well, good; he can do that. But if he doesn’t choose to do it, that’s all right too, because it’s in his hands. He’s sovereign.
The second thing we need to know is the Bible, because even if we’re ready to do the right thing because of the faith that we have in God’s sovereignty in our lives, nevertheless, we live in a world where moral issues are very seldom presented to us in black and white terms. Should we do this? Should we do that? We hear arguments on the one side, and arguments on the other. You can perhaps see bad and good things coming from either decision. How do you make a decision? You certainly do not make it based on the world’s analysis of the situation. You have to go to the Word of God to get your thoughts clarified. The light of God has to shine into your life to show the right way.
Sometimes there’s even Christians who are divided on great moral positions. How do you proceed if that’s the case? Well, we acknowledge divisions, but let me suggest that without the Bible there’s no possibility for answers at all. You see, it might be that we understand it imperfectly, and therefore we don’t always all have the same answers. But without the Bible, there’s no chance of having a Christian answer at all. What we need to do is study the Bible together to see what it really teaches. There’s no shortcut to that. This is what Christians have to do, and they’ve done it down through the centuries in all sorts of difficult circumstances. They did it in the early church when they were supposed to bow down and worship Caesar. They said, “Can we do that and be consistent with what God has taught us in the Bible?” And they decided together that they could not. Now some did. Some were weak, and they fell. But the biblical position was one that Christians do not worship anything or anyone else.
The third thing is that you have to be willing to suffer the loss of all things in order to do the right thing. You can say, “I know that God is sovereign in my life, and that you have studied the Bible to learn what the right thing to do is. But I’m not willing to do it because the price would be too high.” That’s probably the saddest thing of all, but there are people who operate that way. Maybe you have done that yourself. You see, if you’re going to stand with Jesus Christ, you have to be willing to do what Jesus Christ did. He gave up everything, didn’t he? And didn’t he say to his disciples, “If you’re going to be my disciple, you have to deny yourself and take up your cross daily, and follow me”? That’s a way of saying, “You have to die daily to your own desires, to your own possessions, to your own advancement, whatever it may be, in order to follow me.” Now it may be as you follow Christ that you’ll be advanced in different ways. Many Christians are. But you have to be willing to let worldly things go, even perhaps your own life, in order to remain faithful to Jesus.
This matter of being willing to pay the price is the hardest one. How do you deal with that in an immoral and materialistic age? What we certainly need are Christian men and women who are able and willing and actually will pay the price as models, so that others may see them and say, “Well, that is what it means to be a Christian and that is what I’ll do.”
Let me say one final thing. You know what really brought Pilate down was when they said to him, and you read it there in John 19, “If you let this man go, you’re no friend of Caesar.” You see, what he wanted to be was a friend of Caesar more than anything. And yet the tragedy of it is that he wasn’t Caesar’s friend. Caesar hardly knew who he was. You know, Emperor Tiberius hardly had a second thought for Pilate. Yet he wanted to be Caesar’s friend. If that’s what you want, if more than anything else, you want to be a friend of the world, learn this: You are not the world’s friend. Oh, the world may be nice to you a little bit, if they get what they want out of you. But you’re not a friend of the world, and the world is no friend to you. Jesus said, “The world will hate you if you’re my disciple.”
But that doesn’t mean that you don’t have any friends, because Jesus Christ himself said, “Before this I called you servants, but now I call you friends.” Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, that sovereign God, who became flesh, declares himself your friend if you’re his disciple. And here was Pilate, standing before the greatest friend that ever was, an eternal friend, and he allowed him to be crucified because he wanted to have a friend in Caesar. Don’t make that mistake. Recognize that Jesus is a friend worth having, and even if you were to lose everything here, it’s worth it to have a friend like Jesus. It’s the people like that who actually make a difference in the world.
In what way are we like Pilate?
What three things do we need to know in order to stand firm?
Application: Make a greater effort to know God’s Word better. Also, ask the Lord for a greater trust in his sovereignty, as well as the godly courage to stand up for what is right, no matter the cost.