The Governor and King | Matthew 27:1-2; 11-31
Topic: New Testament Passage: Matthew 27:1–2, Matthew 27:11–31
Christopher Rich – March 13, 2016
Passion of the King - The Book of Matthew Pt. 5
Wk7: The Governor and the King | 27:1-2; 11-31
Good Morning! This week we are continuing the “Passion of the King” We are spending the weeks leading up to Easter, looking to Jesus on the cross taking our defeat for us including Good Friday, His victorious resurrection on Easter, and the commission He gives his disciples to make disciples and live for him. But none of what we see in the events of this gospel mater if the identity of Jesus isn’t clear through-out. Matthew is clear; Jesus is the savior-king, Christ, Messiah of God’s people. It is this identity which illuminates the events we see unfold around the condemnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus. He is not simply some good teacher that got caught up in a rough political climate, became unpopular and suffered for it. He is the king who came to serve his people by taking their defeat on the cross so they could rise with him in the victory of his resurrection. This week and next will focus where Matthew does, mostly on the events around Jesus crucifixion and less on the implications, put another way there will be more “what” less “why”.
PART I | Marveled by the Governor | Matthew 27:1-2; 11-14
Matthew 27:1-2; 11-15 | When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death. 2 And they bound him and led him away and delivered him over to Pilate the governor.
11 Now Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You have said so.” 12 But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he gave no answer. 13 Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many things they testify against you?” 14 But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.
There is a transition on authority and judgement from the religious authorities to the state authorities. The Chief priest couldn’t legally execute someone, but the Roman government can easily. Jesus early in the morning is delivered to Pilate the Roman Governor of Judea. He was a military guy and his main office/residence was closer to sea, but he had a longer than average reign over this region and had several challenging incidents between him and the Jewish religious authorities in Jerusalem. Early on he had marched in to the city with Roman standards, imagery the Jews found to be idolatrous for declaring the divinity an ultimate authority of Caesar. There was an uproar and Pilate threated to kill the huge crowd of people if they didn’t end their protest. They called his bluff, Pilate relented and he had the standards removed. Since then, Pilate had regular difficulty maintaining order in the region.
Looking at the other gospel accounts we see Pilate has been told by the chief priests there are great political reasons for Jesus to be executed. They’ve told him, “Jesus has perverted our nation, and kept us from honoring Caesar. He says he is a King, he says he is the Son of God.” This is a direct challenge to Tiberius Caesar who is the lord and son of god. Pilate you’ve got to do something with this guy because he is keeping us from being good patriotic subjects of Rome. Pilate needs to make a judgement about Jesus.
So again Jesus is asked a direct question about his identity, this time by someone with the earthly authority to actually execute him. “Are you King of the Jews?” If Jesus answers “yes” he will be asserting he is some sort of treasonous rebel against Caesar, Pilate and others will confuse what Jesus means when he says he’s the king. If he answers “no” he is denying the truth about who he is and his glory. So for the third time in the last twelve hours Jesus gives an answer that puts the responsibility back on the one asking the question. “You have said so.” Pilate I am who I am, you have declared something true about me. Pilate wants more, seeking greater clarification so he brings up all the other false charges the chief priest have presented. “Jesus don’t you realize how many different things they claim about you? Any single one of them could condemn you by a government with zero tolerance for treason?” At this, as he was with the High Priest, Jesus responds with a silence that speaks volumes. In this legal system you were guilty until proven innocent; to not defend yourself was to surrender to the punishment. Pilate was used to dealing with people making vigorous verbal defenses to keep from condemnation and here is silent Jesus, and Pilate was amazed. An experienced governor, if not a highly effective one, Pilate has encountered many rebels and criminals, his engagements with Jesus assure him Jesus is not one of them and not worthy of execution. Pilate’s judgement of Jesus is, he is innocent of anything looking like a capital offense. He wants Jesus released.
PART II |Murdered by the Mob | Matthew 27:15-23
Matthew 27:15-23 | 15 Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the crowd any one prisoner whom they wanted. 16 And they had then a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. 17 So when they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” 18 For he knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him up. 19 Besides, while he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much because of him today in a dream.” 20 Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. 21 The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” 22 Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Let him be crucified!” 23 And he said, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!”
Regularly it was tradition for a condemned criminal to be released during the Passover feast as a sign of good will and to signifying Israel being released from slavery in Egypt. After other attempts to appease the priest and clear Jesus, Pilate plans offer up Jesus as one of the candidates for clemency to the crowd. Jesus isn’t the only option this is going to be a run-off election between a notorious criminal whose guilt is well established and the innocent Jesus who is the anointed savior king of God’s people. This seems like an easy choice. Sometimes there is a lot of discernment required in making a godly choice especially when worldly options can seem so attractive. In this case it seems like a pretty easy comparison. Pilate is no friend to the chief priest and he is betting people will make a choice that removes the issue from his plate, spares Jesus, and doesn’t satisfy the envy of the religious leaders. Win, Win, Win.
Pilate discerns rightly the chief priest are not motivated by justice or even patriotism but by envy. It is the same motivation men have had since the garden they see someone else with something they don’t have and they want it. In this case they see Jesus with power, authority, and praise and they want it all for themselves. Pilate see the challenge, but seeing the problem and acting in a way that brings solutions are completely different. He is trying to find a political solution to a heart level issue. As the crowd deliberates and Pilate sits publicly in the judgement seat he gets an urgent not from his wife. “I’ve been having terrible dreams about Jesus and the decision you have to make about him. He is more than an innocent man, he is righteous…Have nothing to do with him." During this break the leaders of the people go to work on their smear campaign and make it a twofold referendum. Part one release Barabbas, part 2 destroy Jesus.
Pilate over estimates the popularity of Jesus among the crowd. With the echoes of the cheers barely faded 5 days earlier, Pilate is sure the crowd will pick releasing Jesus the peaceful teacher and miracle worker.
The crowd liked the idea of Jesus as a triumphant king coming to rule and overthrow Rome, they liked Jesus when he was giving them free food at his mega church sized sermons, but when Jesus has nothing to immediately and materially offer them, when it’s time to pledge allegiance to Jesus for who he his rather than what they think he can do for them, the crowd doesn’t identify with Jesus when it actually mattered.
They are easily convinced to release Barabbas, a robber and a man who had murdered someone during an insurrection. “Barabbas is fighting for us!” He’ll help us use violence to overthrow Rome. They like his style. When a mob chooses it’s hero they are seldom very noble. When you look to a mob for guidance and direction you shouldn’t over estimate there intelligence or character. The crowd is easily swayed by an emotional appeal by their leaders. Crowds go where leaders lead. If you have your allegiances quickly and easily swayed they are not that strong to begin with. They trusted what elite people said about Jesus more than what was true and right about Jesus. Item #1 Release Barabbas passes by a wide margin.
It’s possible Pilate cannot believe what he’s hearing “so ya’ll want Barabbas out, check” So again the issue of Jesus is brought up. Jesus who is called the anointed savior-king of God’s people, what should I do with him? (options include, prison, beating, release, or execution) What will it be come of your King, shall he be killed like a criminal? “They all said” not a vocal minority, not several, Matthew says all. The verdict of the mob has spoken and the answer is crucifixion. This isn’t just a royal execution this is the most shameful form possible. John tells us the chief priest balk at the claim as Jesus as their king answering “We have no king but Caesar.” Pilate goes back to the crowd with a simple question to reconsider. “Why? What evil has he done?” As frenzied crowds often do, their answer doesn’t have any clear thought or logic just a louder cry of “Let him be crucified.” All the people answered. The verdict was unanimous; and because a crowd of angry voters has never made a bad decision ever, Crucify Jesus passes with 100% of the vote.
PART III |Mishandled Justice | Matthew 27:24-26
24 So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man's blood; see to it yourselves.” 25 And all the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!”26 Then he released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified.
Judea was a region with a long history of difficulty for the Roman Empire. There have been countless riots and insurrections. Pilate is likely having flashbacks to his own failed attempts to bring peace and continues to lead through fear of the people. He makes a grand gesture to distance himself from what is now inevitably going to happen to Jesus. He literally washes his hands of the incident blood to be shed. Pilate believes Jesus is innocent but it isn’t a core conviction that leads him to decisive action, particularly in the face of adversity. It is never a good idea to rely on the chants of the crowd to determine your actions.
Pilate is trying to be neutral about Jesus and claim that he isn’t participating in his crucifixion at all. But you cannot be neutral about Jesus. You can wrestle with the identity of Jesus and you can wrestle with what your response to Jesus will be, but you cannot distance yourself from the questions. Jesus either is God or he isn’t. If he is then you have to respond. By Pilate avoiding owning the verdict he is still guilty of murder. It doesn’t matter what the crowd’s response to Jesus is, it matters what your response to Jesus is. Neutrality is not an option, and hostility puts you with the crowd. Pilate is clear this in an innocent man. His gesture doesn’t actually do anything to absolve him of the guilt of his self-declaration innocence is less than accurate. He echoes the attempt of all men to place the blame of their sinful inaction on others. He just makes excuses. Barabbas is then released, the people get their champion, and a rebel is free.
Jesus is then scourged, this was an official penalty where one or two men would beat the prisoner with a whip with multiple lashes each having sharp or hard pieces of metal, bone, stones, or broken glass at the end of it to tear and tenderize the flesh. The beatings were often sever enough to tear off muscle and expose organ. It was designed to weaken someone so severely it would make death by crucifixion shorter.
PART IV | Mocked by the Solders | Matthew 27:27-31
27Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, 28 And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29 and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 30 And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. 31 And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him.
Hundreds of soldiers are gathered around Jesus. While the scourging was standard procedure for convicts before the cross what we read here is not standard procedure. They have heard of this man being a king and drunk on their own power their response is not to revere him, follow him, but to mock and belittle him. They strip him down, place a robe on his lacerated back dressing him up as a farce of a king giving him a crown of thorns and reed for a scepter. A procession of men takes their turn kneeling before and mockingly pledging their allegiance to the man they’re going to crucify.
They have judged Jesus not only unworthy to stand with but believe him worthy only of their scorn, from their lips comes not praise but spit, their hands are not raise in worship but in striking anger. In this is great irony, they believe they are mocking Jesus by calling him a king. Matthew has from the beginning been point to Jesus as the savior-king of God’s people. Jesus is the king of the Jews; he is king of the universe whose authority extends even over this cohort of solders. Jesus allows it because he is a king with a mission and his mission is to secure salvation for his people by enduring what they deserve, so he humbly endures. Jesus knows the story isn’t over yet, the soldiers will not get the last word Jesus will. They will all see him again at the end of their days just as we will. But Jesus will return and when he does it will be in full glory. So mock Jesus now, but know this, where men have seen Jesus humbled God has exalted him and we will be the humbled ones.
Philippians 2:9-11 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.
My prayer is all would humbly be on our knees before the king and confess with our lips we Trust Jesus.