“HERE IS THE MAN!”
If you have an imagination for dramatic scenes in history, close your eyes and imagine the scene of the trial of Jesus Christ before the Roman Procurator Pontius Pilate. An angry mob, baying like wolves at a kill, headed by the “religious” Pharisees, chief priests, elders and scribes of the Jewish people, had gathered with the deadly intent of an aggressive cancer to snuff out the life of the Lord of glory, the Son of God. So intent were the leaders of this unbelievable mayhem on preserving the time-honored Law and traditions handed down to them by Moses… by this time in history way past the point of having become meaningless rituals and observances, now just an empty and harmful mockery of the tender love of God toward His chosen people… that they would honor none of the traditions of justice and mercy from the Law that their God required of them. At all costs, to protect their sinful lust for a lucrative trade in religious practices rather than strive to fulfill the spirit of the Law that had originally set the Jews apart from all others, the religious establishment of the nation of Israel was standing ready to shed innocent blood.
No Jew of that time would have even entertained the thought of being in the presence of Gentiles, but that did not stop the angry mob from ‘holding their noses’ against the stench of the Romans as they dragged Jesus Christ, fresh from a drum-head court-martial by the Sanhedrin and beatings and humiliations by His guards and the religious leaders, to the Fortress of Antonia to stand before a court of Roman justice. There He would come into contact with Pontius Pilate, the ranking Roman administrative official in the province of Palestine, a man with no hallmarks of greatness other than ambition. His multiple weaknesses would show amply in his dealings with both the Jewish religious leadership and with Jesus Christ Himself:
Then the Jews led Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness the Jews did not enter the palace; they wanted to be able to eat the Passover. So Pilate came out to them and asked, “What charges are you bringing against this man?” “If he were not a criminal,” they replied, “we would not have handed him over to you.” Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” “But we have no right to execute anyone,” the Jews objected. This happened so that the words Jesus had spoken indicating the kind of death he was going to die would be fulfilled. Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?” “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “It was your people and your chief priests who handed you over to me. What is it you have done?” Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” “What is truth?” Pilate asked. With this he went out again to the Jews and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him. But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?” They shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” Now Barabbas had taken part in a rebellion. (John 18:28-19:1)
In an initial exchange with Jesus’ accusers, Pilate rightly asked the Jews what charges they were bringing against Jesus, but in a conversational ‘bait-and-switch’, the Jews simply said the equivalent of ‘Hey, if we are here talking to you, this man is a wrong-doer!’ Again rightly, Pilate told the Jews (because there obviously were no criminal charges that Pilate had heard at this point) to take Jesus in hand and condemn and execute Him by their own law. Indeed, the Jews did have a code which, for religious offenses, provided for death by stoning… a penalty that the Romans would have let go unchallenged since the offense being punished had nothing to do with any threat to Roman rule. However, according to Holy Scripture, Jesus Christ had to suffer a death whereby He would bear “the curse”:
If a man guilty of a capital offense is put to death and his body is hung on a tree, you must not leave his body on the tree overnight. Be sure to bury him that same day, because anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse. (Deuteronomy 21:22-23)
With God’s condemnation of murder, ‘hanging on a tree’ symbolized both divine judgment and rejection. On the ‘tree’ of the Cross of Calvary, Jesus Christ accepted the full punishment of all the sins of humanity, thus becoming “a curse for us”:
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” (Galatians 3:13)
A death by stoning, at the hands of the Jews, would not fulfill the Scripture… Jesus had to die by hanging on a tree as an accursed person upon whom God would inflict the full power of His wrath and the unbearable agony of His rejection… only a death by crucifixion, at the hands of the Romans, would fulfill the Scripture. God had spoken!
Hearing that the Jews wanted the Romans to execute a death sentence would not have overly impressed Pilate… he cared nothing for the Jews he was overseeing in Palestine, and he cared less than nothing for their religious customs and laws. If what Jesus had done was not a threat to Roman rule in Palestine, Pilate would not have a vested interest in imposing a death sentence to be carried out by the Romans. To be sure of what Jesus had done that had brought Him before him, Pilate asked and verified the answer to a question that, had Jesus answered it in the wrong way in Pilate’s eyes, would have amounted to a criminal offense against Roman rule in Palestine: was Jesus a king? Jesus said that he indeed was a king, but that His kingdom was not of the world: once Pilate heard that and additionally heard Him confirm it by His example of His followers not fighting to keep Him from being captured by the Jews, he knew in his heart that no criminal charge against Jesus could be brought by the Jews that Rome could morally support. However, Pilate committed a horrendous moral error when Jesus said that everyone on the side of truth listened to Him:
“What is truth?” Pilate asked. (John 18:38)
From this point on, Pilate did not have either a judicial or moral leg to stand on… he already knew that a criminal charge for resisting Roman rule in Palestine could not be lodged against Jesus, based on Jesus’ own testimony, and he could not distinguish right motivations and actions from wrong motivations and actions.
Incredibly, Pilate compounded his double blunder:
With this he went out again to the Jews and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him. But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?” They shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” Now Barabbas had taken part in a rebellion. (John 18:38-40)
In one breath, damning with faint praise, he found no basis for a charge against Jesus, yet asked an unruly crowd thirsty for the blood of an innocent man which person they wanted him to show mercy to. Talk about a truly fatal question poorly phrased! That Pilate would compare a man blameless before both God and men to a man proven to be a violent criminal with an already expressed and carried out evil intention toward Roman rule in Palestine… and therefore richly deserving of death by that standard… was simply mind-boggling.
Regrettably, Pilate committed perhaps his greatest blunder when he had Jesus flogged… he may as well have directly condemned Jesus, as this action only reinforced for the crowd seeking Jesus’ death that he was indeed “guilty”, and Pilate had fully confirmed that by inflicting flogging upon Jesus. Because Roman crucifixion was such a brutally agonizing death, those subjected to it were not usually flogged beforehand, but in a senseless attempt to gain pity from the hostile crowd for Jesus, Pilate did subject Jesus to it. Anyone familiar with the process of Roman flogging knows it was a punishment renowned for its singular brutality and savagery even in that brutal time when life had so little value. Floggings were administered by Roman soldiers with a flagellum, a whip of multiple leather cords studded with jagged bone and metal fragments, specifically designed to shred flesh to piecemeal all the way down to the bones: the victim was tied to a post by his hands; there was no limit to how many blows could be given, and no part of the body was exempt from being struck. A flogging continued until the soldier administering it either tired or was satisfied in his own mind that the victim had been sufficiently punished… there was not a shred of mercy shown to a flogging victim, and the Roman soldiers, calloused by the very nature of their trade, considered beating victims almost to death as sport. Many times, the victim of a flogging was so thoroughly beaten that he did not survive to be crucified. For Jesus, there was not only pain but humiliation as well:
The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe and went up to him again and again, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they struck him in the face. (John 19:2-3)
One cannot even imagine the depth of the pain that Jesus suffered during His flogging, but even as a King rejected by His own people, He endured it for a sinful humanity worthy of death… and His greatest pain and suffering was yet to come. It comes as no surprise that the Apostle Peter could later write:
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. (1 Peter 2:24)
In an abortive attempt to win pity from the crowd, Pilate displayed Jesus to them after he had been brutally savaged by Pilate’s soldiers, pleading the cause of His innocence a second time:
Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him.” When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them… (John 19:4-5)
The preceding verse was left incomplete to emphasize Pilate’s introduction of Jesus with a declaration that has come down to those who believe through the ages, those who believe standing in silent, reverent awe of a man who subjected Himself to untold agony for their sake… a declaration uttered not by a believer in awe and reverence, but by a man outside of the Kingdom of God who could yet feel in his heart that he could not subject this man to what even he knew was an unjust death…
“HERE IS THE MAN!”
Seeing Jesus beaten almost to unconsciousness and barely recognizable did nothing if not further inflame the passions of those who were present to ensure that the purpose of their father (Satan) was carried out. The Jews began to clamor in remorseless fashion for the condemnation of the Lord of glory, despite Pilate’s third protestation of Jesus’ innocence:
As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him, they shouted, “Crucify! Crucify!” But Pilate answered, “You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.” The Jews insisted, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.” When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, and he went back inside the palace. “Where do you come from?” he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jews kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.” (John 19:6-12)
Because of factors like the prevailing political climate of tension between Rome and Palestine, Pilate’s own previous political and administrative mistakes in dealing with the Jews, an old, sick, suspicious and unstable Roman emperor in Tiberius Caesar, and the very real possibility of the Jews reporting back to Tiberius Caesar that Pilate had possibly allied himself against the interests of Rome, Pilate found himself in an untenable position that he could not defend without risking extreme exposure to his person and position. Not even realizing that Jesus had shown mercy to Pilate by not convicting his heart of the greatest sin (His betrayal to the Gentiles by Caiphas, the High Priest of the Jewish nation… Pilate was still guilty of weakness of character, fear-driven vacillations, political posturing, vain assertions of his “authority”, and willful condemnation of a man he knew in his heart was innocent, thereby perverting justice and mercy), there was no other choice for Pilate to make other than to fall into line with God’s plan for the salvation of sinful humanity:
When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge’s seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha). It was the day of Preparation of Passover Week, about the sixth hour. “Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews. But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!” “Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked. “We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered. Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified. (John 19:13-16)
Can you confidently confess with your mouth to a lost, unbelieving and dying world that “Jesus Christ is LORD” to the glory of God the Father, and believe in your heart despite the scorn of the world that God the Father raised Him from the dead? If your answer is yes, how blessed is your assurance of God’s favor:
For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile – the same LORD is LORD of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved.” (Romans 10:12-13)
It is incumbent upon we who believe to take the words of Pilate… “Here is the man!”… and echo them to a sinful and utterly lost humanity, that it might be broken to its knees to give adoration to the Son of God whose blood has washed us clean and made us blameless in the sight of a sinless God. Not only has Jesus Christ washed us in His blood, but He has also provided for our every true need as well. We can say, and we must say, to those in the world who laugh us and our faith in Jesus Christ to scorn…
Are you alone, despised, rejected, unloved?
“HERE IS THE MAN!”
Are you abandoned, filled with grief, hurting?
“HERE IS THE MAN!”
Are you cold, homeless, hungry, sick, out of work?
“HERE IS THE MAN!”
Are you ignored, considered of little or no importance?
“HERE IS THE MAN!”
Are you angry, bitter, frustrated, thwarted at every turn?
“HERE IS THE MAN!”
Are you afflicted with hopelessness?
“HERE IS THE MAN!”
Are you without direction, passion, purpose?
“HERE IS THE MAN!”
Pilate knew not the power of the words he spoke when he so ineffectively lobbied an angry crowd to have pity upon the Lord of glory. He glorified Jesus Christ not, but we believers do, and we declare that “HERE IS THE MAN!” means…
JESUS CHRIST IS THE ANSWER!