History has not been kind to Pontius Pilate. He was prefect of Judea from AD 26-36, but ultimately was recalled to Rome in disgrace by Emperor Tiberius after his brutal suppression of an uprising among the Samaritans. The Roman historian Eusebius recounts that, after the death of Tiberius, Caligula banished Pilate to Gaul and that he ultimately committed suicide in a lake in Vienne.
But these other incidents in his ignominious life pale beside the events that he is most remembered for. History would barely remember him at all, except for his role in the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. The gospels portray him as not wanting to order the execution, but that he capitulated to the will of the mob incited by the Jewish religious leaders.
Many, therefore, have regarded him as sympathetic to Jesus — perhaps even personally affected by the Lord as He stood before him — but a coward who didn’t have the courage of his convictions.
I wonder if that’s not reading too much into the story.
Pilate certainly did give in to the mob, but I’m not sure that he was ever as concerned about Jesus as he was about his own political position. The Romans did not allow their regional authorities to be a law unto themselves. There were strict rules meant to ensure the peace of the empire. On the whole, nations under Roman occupation were allowed their religious and other freedoms, as long as law and order was maintained.
The fact is, the death of Jesus — even the scourging He endured before the Cross — was unlawful by Roman standards. There was no real charge established against Him. Pilate’s words “I find no fault in Him” is a legal opinion. He repeated it twice (verse 4 and verse 6), and it forced the Jewish leaders to come up with the bogus charge of sedition against Rome. “If you let this man go you are not Caesar’s friend. Whoever makes himself a king speaks against Caesar.” (verse 12).
They knew what button to press, and it was enough to get Pilate to act. His act of handwashing (which Matthew records) was perhaps more out of his fear he may be violating Roman law than any great sympathy with Jesus.
And yet his words remain a powerful testimony, don’t they. “I find no fault in Him.”
The Bible tells us that there was no fault to be found by anyone. Jesus is God among us, and perfect in His holiness. The only man who ever lived on earth without any sin. He is the pure and spotless Lamb sent to death as the sacrifice for all our sin.
As Alli and I read the Pilate story together this week in the lead up to Easter, it struck me that the world today is full of people like Pontius Pilate. Talk to them about Jesus, and they will assure you that they “find no fault in Him”. He was a good man. A great teacher. They appreciate some of the things they’ve heard He said, and just wish people might live a bit more according to things like that.
But their focus is not on Him at all. Like Pilate, their concern is themselves, and their lot in the little world around them. In the movie of mankind’s life on earth, Jesus is to them just an “extra”, a stand-in.
Not many people want to be thought of as an enemy of Jesus. No, they find no fault in Him. They may have an issue with “organized religion”, with the church, but Jesus is okay. Nice, even.
Listen, however, to Jesus’ own words: “He who is not with Me is against Me” (Matthew 12:30).
There’s no neutral ground when it comes to Jesus. You don’t get to choose whether or not you consider Him. If you ignore Him, or patronizingly tip your hat to Him, He says that you’ve made a choice.
The Bible declares in no uncertain terms that He is your God, Your Creator. You can submit to Him, and worship Him, or you can call it all a lie and reject Him. But you must deal with Him. The “I find no fault in Him” plea is not nearly good enough.
Again this Easter — and every day of the year besides — I walk away from Pilate’s corner, and all the world who huddle with him. Instead I stand with Peter, and all the Christian Church through 2,000 years, and say “Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”