““Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him. And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. They came up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and struck him with their hands. Pilate went out again and said to them, “See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him.” So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold the man!” When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, “Crucify him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.” The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God.” When Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid. He entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.”” (John 19:1-11 ESV)
The DJ on the local radio station that I listen to as I’m getting ready for work asked a question this morning, “with Mother’s Day coming up, what phrase did your mother use often that you find yourself using?” One lady called in and responded that her mother would say, “This is going to hurt me worse than it hurts you.” Have I said them to my kids? Most certainly. Did I mean it? Yes. Did they believe me? Probably not. At least, not until they became parents themselves. I suspect they believe it, now.
When I was in the fourth or fifth grade, we lived in a house that was an old, two story structure with lots of hiding places and unique features. For me, the house was full of secrets and possibly treasures. My older brother and I shared a room and one day I discovered an opening into the attic in the top of our closet. When nobody was looking, I climbed up onto the clothes rod and began opening the attic access panel. Just as I got it opened, the clothes rod I was standing on broke and I went tumbling to the floor along with all of our good clothes.
When my mother discovered the situation, she asked my older brother, younger brother and me what happened. Neither of them knew what happened, and I lied and said I didn’t know. She spoke the ominous words, “Well, just wait until your father gets home. Then we’ll see who knows what.” When Dad arrived home, Mom filled him in on the situation and he took all three of us upstairs to the bedroom. We knew what was coming. Dad asked who was responsible and all three of us denied knowing anything. He informed us that we were each going to get a spanking until someone admitted to the deed. I kept my mouth shut, and we all three took a spanking.
At that point, I was more afraid of my older brother finding out that I was the culprit and the cause of him getting an undeserved spanking than I was of my father. So, I never admitted my guilt (at least not until I was an adult). I remember those words as my Dad disciplined each of us, “this hurts me more than it does you.” He really didn’t enjoy disciplining us. In fact, I now realize just how much it really did hurt him, but he knew it was necessary. He knew we needed it and, in some ways, we all deserved it. While I was the guilty one that day, there are other times when we were each deserving of his discipline.
As I read today’s passage, my heart aches over the pain that my Savior endured because of my sin. My sin hurt Him far worse than it hurts me. When I read these words, I’m overwhelmed by the sheer horror that the very Son of God is being physically beaten and it’s because of me and my sin. It is my fault. While I personally understand what my father meant when he said that my punishment hurt him more than it hurt me, the idea becomes incredibly real as I read how the Roman guards began treating Jesus. While John records only one simple word, they “flogged” him, the reality of what he endured is unbelievable.
These guards begin to mock and ridicule the very one who spoke and caused the dark to become light. They took some thorn branches, branches that grew from the very power that emanates from His voice, and wove them into a makeshift crown. Placing it on His head they use a reed to force it down onto His brow. They find some purple cloth and drape it across His shoulders so they can ridicule His claim of kingly authority. Then they strike Him across the face. Just for a moment, imagine that in your mind. The creator is ridiculed, cursed, spat upon and struck by the very creatures He made.
It’s one thing to defend yourself when someone strikes you and you strike back. But it’s something entirely different when the meek and gentle one that has done nothing wrong, who is truly holy, becomes the brunt of their actions. But, even that pales in comparison when you stop and consider who it is that they’re really striking. God. There are no words for that. Just for a second, let Pilate’s words sink into your soul… “See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him.” This Roman Governor who has no reason to show Jesus any compassion declares, “I find NO guilt in him!” So, if Jesus isn’t guilty then why does he die? Ah, great question. I thought you’d never ask.
In the Old Testament (go read about it in Leviticus 16) we find a solemn day, not a holiday or feast day, but a day that involves fasting, confession and sacrifice – The Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur. On this day the High Priest is to make a sacrifice for his own sin (a bull), then he’s to make a sacrifice for the people’s sin (a goat). Finally, he must take one more goat, the Azazel or scapegoat, and he places his hands on the head of this goat and confess all the sins of the people. This ritual transfers the sins of the people onto the scapegoat. This goat is then driven from the camp and into the wilderness carrying with it the people’s sins. This is all done so that they may come before the Lord and worship Him.
You see, God despises sin but not sinners. Sin is not allowed in His presence, but sinners are… Sinners whose sin has been confessed, placed on the scapegoat and then driven from God’s presence. God’s rejection of impurities in His presence provides a plan for the impure to be purified and Jesus fulfilled that plan.
But, what I find most compelling is what happens next in our story with Pilate…
The Jewish High Priest and his Council are completely unmoved by Pilate’s actions. I honestly believe that Pilate knew that Jesus was completely innocent and the flogging and ridicule were simply done to placate the Jews. I think he fully expected that would be sufficient to satisfy their anger and secure Jesus’ release. Their reaction? Crucify Him! But, He’s done nothing deserving of death. Their response, according to our religious law He has. He has “made himself the Son of God.” Catch this next part… “when Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid.”
Why would this frighten Pilate while solidifying the Jews hatred of Jesus? Often, those of us who think we know God best presume we have a better understanding of how He works and what He’s doing. We’re often wrong. Our pride gets in the way. It blinds us to God’s presence and insulates us from His power…
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9 ESV)
And just a few verses later…
“The Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares, “I will gather yet others to him besides those already gathered… His watchmen are blind; they are all without knowledge; they are all silent dogs; they cannot bark, dreaming, lying down, loving to slumber.” (Isaiah 56:8, 10 ESV)
These verses from Isaiah declare that the Jewish leaders who ought to know God’s purpose and plan are the very ones who often stand in its way. Can that also be said of us? Ouch! Instead of alerting the people, they were dogs that sleep through the night unaware of what’s happening. To be honest, this often reflects the modern churches of America. We tend to think we know the “mind of God” and we go along building our buildings and our own kingdoms all while ignoring God’s purpose and plan. (If you want to know God’s true purpose and plan for the church, see Luke 12 and James 1-2 for some reference.)
Now, back to Pilate’s question, “where are you from?” Pilate knew just enough about God to be fearful and watchful while the Jewish leadership thought they knew so much about God they had nothing to fear. They wanted to crucify Him, but Pilate asks… “where are you from?” Those are the words of a man who is having serious doubts about his previous actions. Pilate could tell there was something very different about this man, Jesus. He was completely unlike anyone else he had encountered. When confronted by authority, Jesus didn’t tremble and fear. When beaten, battered and ridiculed He remained calm, confident and focused. When threatened with crucifixion He remained committed, resolute and undeterred. Pilate’s question ought to elicit some questions from us… “Who are you, truly? Where are you from? What do you want of me?”
What do you say to someone who responds to these threats with calm confidence and, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.” I suggest, “My Lord and My God. Forgive me. I confess all my sin and ask that you take it far, far away. Let me stand in God’s presence covered in Your righteousness.”