Theme: God and Caesar 
In this week’s lessons we look at Pilate’s role in Jesus’ crucifixion, and learn about our need as Christians to take a stand when righteousness is at stake.
Scripture: Matthew 27:11-26
I suppose there are a lot of lessons at that point, but one obvious lesson is that we cannot stand in the great crises of life successfully and do the right thing apart from the help of God himself. You see, Pilate had everything going for him. He was the governor, after all. He had the legions of Roman soldiers at his call to do what he wanted. If he decided that Jesus was innocent and had had the courage to stand by that, why, nobody could have touched Jesus. He could have kept him from any harm. Besides all this, he was even warned, and yet he failed. If one could fail in those circumstances it is certainly brash arrogance for you and I to think that we are going to be able to stand in the moral crises of life apart from the power of God.
We get the idea we can because generally things are in our favor. Things have been going along well, and we haven’t faced any real crisis. Oh, now and then a little challenge comes along. Someone gives us a little too much change after we pay for lunch and we face a little moral crisis of whether we will give it back. We have little crises like that. I suppose many people manage those quite well. 
But suddenly a great crisis comes in life. Are we going to do the right thing or not? In and of yourself you will fail in those circumstances exactly as Pilate failed. You might try to justify why you made the choice you did, but that only shows how bad the situation is. You cannot stand without the power of God. The only way Pilate could have done the right thing in this trial was by availing himself to the power of the very man who stood before him. And of course, that is the one thing he did not do.
I want to ask, on the human level, what was wrong with Pilate. To answer that I want to suggest a number of ways we look at government. You’ll recall that the Lord Jesus Christ on one occasion when he was asked about paying tribute to Caesar said, “Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” In that statement he established the two poles—God, on the one hand, and Caesar on the other. And he indicated that there was a proper duty to Caesar just as at the same time there was also a proper duty to the Lord God. Now I take those two things, Caesar and God, and I put them into the various combinations that are possible, and I suggest that these are the positions that have marked an attitude toward government down through history.
The one position is God alone with the authority of Caesar entirely denied. This is the view of monasticism. It says this world is corrupt and we can’t countenance human authority. Human authority is always bad. Therefore, we should withdraw and go off in the desert someplace. We should live our lives apart from human society. Christians have their own ways of doing that. They withdraw into their own ghetto and say, for example, that we don’t want to be involved in politics. 
The second view is the opposite. Instead of God alone with the authority of Caesar denied, this is the view of Caesar alone with the authority of God denied. This is the view of secularism that we have all about us in America today. Our country was founded upon Christian principles and, in part, by those who were Christians. But today our country is doing everything in its power to force God from national and public life. 
The problem with this, you see, is that if you push God out of the picture you’re in trouble because then you’re at the mercy of mere men. As long as you have God in the picture you can always appeal to God and the laws of God and the standards of God and the presence of God and ultimately the judgment of God can be brought into the equation to restrain passions of human beings. But if you put God out, then you are at the mercy of the secular rulers. We have seen this happen in Communist lands, and I am afraid we are going to find increasingly in this country. 
The third position recognizes both authorities, but says that the authority of Caesar is dominant. The problem with that, of course, is that as long as you have God and Caesar together in the same equation, obviously by definition God has got to be the dominant authority.
That brings us to the final position, which is the Christian one.  God and Caesar have their respective authority, but with God as the dominant authority, so that Caesar, though he has true authority, nevertheless, derives his authority from God. This is what Jesus said at his trial, as recorded in John. Jesus said to Pilate, “You would have no authority but such as is given you from heaven. The authority you have is given to you from God.” 
So our rulers have a certain authority, but because it’s given to them by God they are answerable to God for how they use it. That’s the proper relationship of church and state, not that the church is unable to speak to political issues but it doesn’t exercise the political power of the sword. That belongs to the state. But the church has to be there to tell the state that it is responsible to God and it will answer to him when it behaves in a godless manner. 
Now the reason I mention those four possibilities is to say that as we analyze Pilate he probably falls into the third of the four categories. He might not have had a very strong apprehension of God, but he probably had something of it. He believed at least in the gods or fate or superstition of something. But in the final analysis, you see, Caesar was dominant in Pilate’s thinking, and so he was afraid of him. The reason he finally pronounced the verdict of death upon Jesus is that the religious leaders said to him, “If you excuse this man you are not Caesar’s friend.” Whom did Pilate fear? Oh, he probably feared Jesus a little bit, and he certainly feared the people, but most of all Pilate feared Caesar. And so because he feared Caesar he failed in the one great moral crisis of his life.
You and I are in danger of doing that. We’re always in danger of doing that individually in the moral crises that are suddenly thrust upon us. But we are also in danger of doing that as a country—fearing Caesar, that is, secular power, more than we fear God. And I ask the question, how are we going to stand against them? We know we’re going to stand in the power of God, but how, practically, do we do that? 
Study Questions:

What are the four views of the relationship between God and Caesar?  Can you give examples for each?
From the study, into which one does Pilate probably fit, and why? 

Application: Can you recall a time when you had the opportunity to stand up for righteousness, and did not do it?  Why did you respond that way?  Who was affected by it and how?  What did you do afterward to make the situation right?  Pray for strength to act in honorable ways when the temptation exists to do the opposite.

Study Questions
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