On Trial Before Pilate
Today’s Scripture: “And Jesus stood before the governor: and the governor asked him, saying, ‘ Art thou the King of the Jews?’ And Jesus said unto him, ‘Thou sayest.’” Matthew 27:11
The most famous trial in history is about to begin.
The judge is short and patrician with darting eyes and expensive clothes. His graying hair trimmed and face beardless. He is apprehensive, nervous about being thrust into a decision he can’t avoid. Two soldiers lead him down the stone stairs of the fortress into the broad courtyard. Shafts of morning sunlight stretch across the stone floor.
As he enters, Syrian soldiers dressed in short togas yank themselves and their spears erect and stare straight ahead. The floor on which they stand is a mosaic of broad, brown, smooth rocks. On the floor are carved the games the soldiers play while awaiting the sentencing of the prisoner.
But in the presence of the procurator, they don’t play.
A regal chair is placed on a landing five steps up from the floor. The magistrate ascends and takes his seat. The accused is brought into the room and placed below him. A covey of robed religious leaders follow, walk over to one side of the room, and stand.
Pilate looks at the lone figure…
“Are you the king of the Jews?”
For the first time, Jesus lifts His eyes. He doesn’t raise His head, but He lifts His eyes. He peers at the procurator from beneath His brow. Pilate is surprised at the tone in Jesus’ voice.
“Those are your words.”
Before Pilate can respond, the knot of Jewish leaders mock the accused from the side of the courtroom.
“See, he has no respect.”
“He stirs the people!”
“He claims to be king!”
Pilate doesn’t hear them. Those are your words. No defense. No explanation. No panic. The Galilean is looking at the floor again.
Something about this country rabbi appeals to Pilate. He’s different from the bleeding hearts who cluster outside. He’s not like the leaders with the chest-length beards who one minute boast of a sovereign God and the next beg for lower taxes. His eyes are not the fiery ones of the zealots who are such a pain to the Pax Romana he tries to keep. He’s different, this up-country Messiah.
Pilate wants to let Jesus go. Just give me a reason, he thinks, almost aloud. I’ll set you free.
His thoughts are interrupted by a tap on the shoulder. A messenger leans and whispers. Strange. Pilate’s wife has sent word not to get involved in the case. Something about a dream she had.
Pilate walks back to his chair, sits, and stares at Jesus. “Even the gods are on your side?” he states with no explanation.
He has sat in this chair before. It’s a curule seat: cobalt blue with thick, ornate legs. The traditional seat of decision. By sitting on it Pilate transforms any room or street into a courtroom. It is from here he renders decisions.
How many times has he sat here? How many stories has he heard? How many pleas has he received? How many wide eyes have stared at him, pleading for mercy, begging for acquittal?
But the eyes of this Nazarene are calm, silent. They don’t scream. They don’t dart. Pilate searches them for anxiety … for anger. He doesn’t find it. What he finds makes him shift again.
He’s not angry with me. He’s not afraid … He seems to understand.
Pilate is correct in his observation. Jesus is not afraid. He is not angry. He is not on the verge of panic. For He is not surprised. Jesus knows His hour and the hour has come.
Pilate is correct in his curiosity. Where, if Jesus is a leader, are his followers? What, if he is the Messiah, does He intend to do? Why, if He is a teacher, are the religious leaders so angry at Him?
Pilate is also correct in his question. “What should I do with Jesus, the one called the Christ?” (Matthew 27:22)
Perhaps you, like Pilate, are curious about this one called Jesus. You, like Pilate, are puzzled by His claims and stirred by His passions
What do you do with a man who calls himself the Savior, yet condemns systems? What do you do with a man who knows the place and time of his death, yet goes there anyway?
Pilate’s question is yours. “What will I do with this man, Jesus?”
You have two choices.
You can reject Him. That is an option. You can, as have many, decide that the idea of God’s becoming a carpenter is too bizarre—and walk away.
Or you can accept Him. You can journey with Him. You can listen for His voice amidst the hundreds of voices and follow Him.