Over the past few weeks, our Sunday school lessons from the Gospel of John have been leading up to the Passion Week and the Emancipator of Humanity and Hero of Heaven’s appointment at that lonely place known as Golgotha, the Place of the Skull. I have been trying to expand my natural thought process in my preparation to teach, so that I might more fully and deeply understand the events, the dynamics and people involved as God’s plan of redemption became a reality. I am thinking that I will do a series of blogs over the days ahead and try to focus on various parts of this great event.
Today, I am writing on the roles played by three misguided and foolish men who were present and played a role in God’s Plan. It is important to remember that each one of the men had free-will and could have done differently than he chose to do. It is also important to remember that the choices made by each man had an impact on his life on earth and throughout eternity. Some would argue, I know that none of the men had any choice . . . that what each one did was simply fulfilling his role in history as he was destined to do . . . but, of course, that is nonsense. We know that it is nonsense because the Scripture clearly says that “God commands men everywhere to be saved,” and he would not make such a command while at the same time predestinating (literally Programming) a man to do something totally opposite. The line of thinking that has God predestinating folks to do wrong things, fails to consider that redemption was God’s idea . . . not man’s. That redemption was totally and completely accomplished and offered to humanity . . . absolutely free by God. It also fails to acknowledge that God is not a respecter of persons . . . the truth is that God loves all people!
- Judas – one of the Twelve, who used the infamous kiss to betray Jesus. Judas did not have to do what he did. He made a choice and acted on it. The choice became easier day- by-day as he stole money out of the purse and his senses became more and more calloused. The truth is that Judas, like the other Disciples, wanted Jesus to provide a political Kingdom which would remove Roman domination and control and thus, reestablish Israel to the place she had been under David’s rule. But that was not the Kingdom Jesus offered. Jesus offered a Kingdom on the inside (a Kingdom in which his throne was the hearts of humans). Judas accepted the 30 pieces of silver, believing that his agreement would force both God and Jesus to “Do” something. The sad truth is that most all of us have tried to play that very game with God. It goes something like this, “Ok, Lord, I will do this . . . if You will do that.” What a silly game . . . and how selfish and silly we are when we try to play it. I have an old preacher friend who says, “We can’t do any horse trading with God, ‘cuz He has all of the horses.”
Afterwards, Judas went out and hanged himself from a tree; another foolish decision and action by Judas. He decided on a permanent solution to a temporary problem. I would argue that just as Peter found forgiveness for his denials over those breakfast coals, that morning with the Risen Savior, the same forgiveness would have been available for Judas. Before you get your head set to argue this point, perhaps you ought to look back and consider how many times you have betrayed Jesus.
Annas – what a wicked, mean old man he was! The son of Seth was appointed by the Roman legate Quirinius as the first High Priest of the newly formed Roman providence of Judaea in 6 AD. He actually served as High Priest for ten years. At the age of 36, he was deposed by the procurator Gratus. In spite of having been officially removed from office, he continued in power, influence and social status by way of five sons, and a son-in-law who each was his puppet High Priests. In the Gospel of John, we are told that upon his arrest, Jesus was first taken before Annas for questioning prior to being taken to the home of Caiaphas (John 18: 19 -23).
The truth is that under Roman law, the trial of Jesus was a mockery of a fair and well intentioned legal system which was designed and intended to offer justice to any and all who were charged with a crime (much of our legal system today was taken from the old Roman system). The truth is that God had a plan and even if every man-made law had to be broken, God would bring that plan to pass. That, plus old Annas being such a crafty and seasoned politician, such a great manipulator, who was successful in putting Pilate on the horns of a dilemma.
Secular history testifies to the fact that Annas was one of the most brilliant, clever, and ruthless high priest in history. It was likely he who plotted the arrest, the charge, the trial, and the crucifixion of Jesus. In his cleverness he knew that Pilate would not be concerned about a charge that Jesus claimed to be the son of God, so he pushed the charge that Jesus claimed to be the King of the Jews, thus alleging a serious threat against Caesar.
Consider the debate over the sign that Pilate had made, “The King of the Jews.” The religious leaders tried to persuade him to change it to read, “He said he was the King of the Jews,” but Pilate had been so manipulated through the entire process that he found a political victory in saying, “What is written is written!”
In Acts 4:6, after Pentecost, we still find old Annas involved and presiding over the Sanhedrin when Peter and John are brought in for questioning.
The Scripture testifies that some of the Pharisees believed in Jesus as Lord and Savior (in fact, two of them lovingly and publicly removed his body from the Cross and delivered him to the tomb). Annas could have received forgiveness . . . he could have made a different choice , but by this stage of his life, his attention was so greatly focused on himself, on his status, and his identity before the nation that he became blinded to whom he actually was and the important things of life. He had clearly forgotten (if he ever knew) the true role and responsibility of the High Priest . . . which, of course, was to represent the people before God. By the time Jesus’ earthly ministry began Annas was so cold, crafty, indifferent, and cunning that he was unable to do something that a simple, demon-possessed man living in a grave-yard was able to do . . . and do it from a long ways off . . . to recognize God . . . when he saw God.
Pilate – As Jesus was delivered to Pilate by the most religious people on the planet, Pilate certainly saw the stark contrast between religion and the person of Jesus, the Messiah, the one who had come to fulfill the Passover. On one side stood a howling mob of religious fanatics who insisted on remaining outside of his home . . . so they would not be defiled, and thus prevented from eating a religious dinner later. The contrast was so clear that any qualified judge would have seen it . . . they were willing to call for the death of this good man, but unwilling to enter the Governor’s home. For all practical purposes, we can know that Pilate did, indeed, see the contrast, as the lengths to which he went to try to escape the burden of doing his job. Here is a brief account of how he fidgeted:
. . . “Pilate then went out” (John 18:28)
. . . “Pilate then entered into the judgment hall again” (v 33)
. . . “and when he has said this, he went out again unto the Jews” (v 38)
. . . “Then Pilate therefore took Jesus and had him scourged” (v 19:1)
. . . “Pilate therefore went forth again” (v 4)
. . . “and went again into the judgment hall” (v 9)
. . . “he brought Jesus forth again” (v 13)
Pilate knows something is wrong and tries to get off the hook. He tells them to judge Jesus themselves. They wanted the death penalty . . . but were forced to acknowledge they had no authority to carry that out. Surely, Pilate picked up on their boast in 18:33, “We are the seed of Abraham and have never been in bondage to any man” . . . and then proclaim, “We have no King other than Caesar.” Don’t you know that any judge would have seen how bi-polar they were?
Moreover, his questioning of Jesus didn’t pan out the way he needed it too, either. Prior to this experience, every prisoner brought before him had surely been nervous and afraid, recognizing his authority to render judgment. Jesus was none of that and remained in absolute control. He openly acknowledged that he did, indeed, have a kingdom, yet simply said it was not of this world. He acknowledged that Pilate did have authority, but qualified it by saying only because it was an authority loaned to him. Added to this, that very morning his wife had warned him against doing anything to hurt Jesus and told him of a dream she had the night before.
Pilate thinks that his plotting and maneuvering had given him an out, and he said, “Every year at this time of your Passover, I release a prisoner to you . . . this year I will release Jesus” . . . He never imagined that the religious leaders could be successful in urging the crowd to cry out for the release of Barabbas . . . because the contrast between Jesus and Barabbas was just too great.
One final attempt to escape . . . he had a basin of water brought out onto the balcony and poured over a basin as he ceremoniously washed his hands, declares, “I wash my hands of this good man.” But there is no escape for him! He knew it was all wrong . . . yet he lacked the . . . strength . . . snap . . . insight . . . confidence . . . to do the right thing, so he did nothing. His “Nothing” . . . forever changed his eternity. He walked through hell, wringing his hands asking, “Why did I do that with Jesus?”
Can you imagine what might be Pilate’s place in history if he had fallen on his knees before Jesus and cried out, “My Lord, and my God” that morning? Such action by Pilate would not have changed God’s plan . . . but it most assuredly would have changed everything for Pilate. You know he wished every minute of every day that he had washed his hands of Rome and the Jewish people and cast his lot with Jesus. He surely wished that he had walked away from the privilege and prestige of his earthly position . . . in exchange for the privilege and prestige of being in the family of God.
As you look at the Cross . . . I am compelled to ask, “What decision will you make?” Do you understand that it is crucial for you, just as it was for these three men . . . Judas . . . Annas . . . and Pilate?
The stark truth is that your decision won’t change one single thing about God, Jesus, Hell, Heaven, death, or eternity . . . but you must know that your decision can certainly change everything for you!
Be wise my friend!