The CondemnedRev. Philip Miller | July 4, 2021
Selected highlights from this sermon
Jesus gets how hard life is. He gets how heartbreaking it can be. He gets how violating and brutal and unjust people are sometimes. He’s, as we often say, “been there, done that.”
In this message, Pastor Miller walks us through Jesus’ Roman trial, taking notice of two things in particular: First, John’s depiction of the cruel suffering and injustice Jesus faced. Some of us can relate to that. Second, John’s use of irony throughout this account. Things are not as they seem.
Jesus gets it. Jesus gets what it means to be human. Jesus gets what it means to endure pain. Jesus gets what it means to be wounded.
Isaiah 53:3–5 prophesied concerning the coming of Messiah, the suffering servant, with these words: “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.”
Friends, Jesus gets it. He gets how hard life can be. He gets how heartbreaking things are. He gets how violating and brutal and unjust people can be sometimes. He gets it. And I’m telling you, you need a God who gets it. Because one day, life’s cruelties will come up and break into your life, and you do not need, on that day, a god who is aloof, a god who is pampered and insulated from the realities of life. No, you need a God who gets it. You need a God who understands how it feels. You need a God who will sympathize with you, a God who will weep with you because He’s been there too. That’s the kind of God you need.
And friends, Jesus has been there. Jesus gets it.
We see this crystal clear in a passage like the one we come to today, John 18, verse 28 all the way through chapter 19, verse 16. If you want to use the blue pew Bible there, you’ll find it in the rack there by your knees. The reading is on page 904 over to 905. And today John is going to walk us through Jesus’ Roman trial. And as we make our way through this passage, I want you to notice two things in particular. I want you to notice first of all John’s depiction of the cruel suffering and injustice that Jesus faced, the kind of thing you and I can relate to, at least some of us can. The second thing I want you to notice is John’s use of irony, that throughout this account, things are not as they seem. One thing is happening, and yet there’s something else going on that’s bigger in the background. In fact, as we go through the passage, we’re going to see six striking ironies that happen in this passage that help us understand Jesus even more.
So let’s open our Bibles. Let me pray for us as we look to God’s Word, and ask if He would teach us and help us see Jesus so that we might live through the hard things of life in His power. Let’s pray together.
Heavenly Father, we ask now that you would be our teacher. Send your Holy Spirit to awaken our hearts to the beauty of Jesus Christ, that we may be lost in wonder, awe, and praise of who He is, and find in Him strength to endure the hard things that life throws at us. We pray this in Jesus’ beautiful name, Amen. Amen.
So the first striking irony that we see in this passage is the Disingenuous Fulfillment. Disingenuous fulfillment.
John 18:28: “Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters. It was early morning. They themselves did not enter the governor’s headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover.”
Just pause for a moment. So the religious leaders have already condemned Jesus through their own kangaroo trial that they held in secret in the middle of the night at Caiaphas’s house, flagrantly violating numerous Old Testament laws concerning due process. But because Rome alone had the right to crucifixion, capital punishment, they now have to bring Jesus before Pontius Pilate for final action. And it is in this moment that John gives us the first taste of irony in this account. Notice the meticulous care that the religious leaders take to make sure that they don’t enter the governor’s headquarters because they want to be clean for the Passover, right? If they enter the house of a Gentile, they would be unclean. They want to be clean for the Passover while at the very same time they are plotting murder of the Son of God.
This is full of irony, right? They are so attentive to the redemption that God works for their forebearers in delivering them from slavery in Egypt through the blood of the lamb that they’re oblivious to the redemption that God is doing right here, right now in front of them.
Verse 29: “So Pilate went outside to them and said, ‘What accusation do you bring against this man?’ They answered him, ‘If this man were not doing evil, we would not have delivered him over to you.’” (chuckles) You notice there’s not an actual charge there, right? What are they doing? They are simply pitting their credibility against Jesus, right? “This guy’s an evildoer, and you know He’s an evildoer, because we say He’s an evildoer. We wouldn’t be bothering you if He wasn’t a real problem.” Right? This is ridiculous.
Now Pilate is not born yesterday. He smells a rat here. Something’s off. He knows it and he’s going to make five attempts to get Jesus off his hands. Okay?
Now John reports for us here five different attempts. His first one is here. Verse 31: “Pilate said to them, ‘Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.’ (They can deal with Him.) The Jews said to him, ‘It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death.’ This was to fulfill the word that Jesus had spoken to show by what kind of death he was going to die.”
And you remember the words of Jesus here back in John 3:14–15. He was talking to Nicodemus remember, and Jesus said, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal.” So Jesus knows that He will be lifted up, just like the serpent in the wilderness.
John 12:32–33 says this: “And I (Jesus speaking), when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” And then John adds, “He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.” And here’s the striking irony. Through their hypocrisy the will of God is achieved. Through their hypocrisy the will of God is achieved. Despite their religious hypocrisy, despite all of their moralistic virtue signaling here, despite their disingenuous piety for the Law, they are unwittingly advancing the will of God, that Jesus will die on the cross, that He will be lifted up and draw all people to Himself, just as He said He would.
Oh the irony of their disingenuous fulfillment, you see.
The second striking irony is the Discounted King. Verse 33: “So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’”
Now, what would a straightforward answer to that question be? “Yes.” Is Jesus the King of the Jews? Yes, He is the King. He is the Messiah. He’s destined to take the throne of his forebearer, David, and rule and reign forever as King of kings and Lord of lords. Is He the King of the Jews? Yes. But that needs to be nuanced in this moment because Jesus is not attempting to seize power by overthrowing Rome. He’s not about revolution. No, His kingdom is different. It’s a different kind of kingdom. It’s a different— the kingdom has a different way. It comes from a totally different place and so notice how Jesus responds.
Verse 34: “Jesus answered, ‘Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?’ Pilate answered, ‘Am I a Jew? Your own nation and chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?’ Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.’”
So Jesus does answer the question, doesn’t He? “My kingdom is not of this world. It’s not from here. The kingdoms of men rise and fall through conquest and domination, but my kingdom is not like that. My kingdom is totally different. That’s why I came quietly. That’s why my servants aren’t fighting. My kingdom is from beyond the world.
Verse 37: “Then Pilate said to him, ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.’”
And the logic in this is a little hard to follow, but lean in with me here. So Pilate says, “So you are a King?” And Jesus says, “Well, you just said it yourself, right? In your own words. And the whole reason I’m here, I was born and I exist in the world to bear witness to the truth. Implication? You said I’m a king. And what you said is true because what I do is I bear witness to the truth, and if you, Pilate, are on the side of truth you will listen to my voice. You will hear me out and listen to what I have to say.” Right?
Do you see what Jesus is doing here? He’s affirming Pilate’s accidental confession of Jesus’ Lordship, His Kingship. It’s an accidental slip, right? But He’s affirming it and He’s inviting Pilate. He’s saying, “Come, hear me out. Hear what I have to say. Believe me.”
He’s reaching out to Pilate, and what’s Pilate’s response? Verse 38: “What is truth?” “What is truth?” Very post-modern question, right? “What is truth?” Right? Pilate throws up his hands, exasperated. “Who can get down to reality? They say one thing about you. You say another. It’s a ‘he said, she said.’ Whatever. I don’t know. I don’t know what’s going on, what’s truth?”
And of course the irony is that Pilate missed the ultimate reality that was standing right in front of him. Here He is, the True King, the highest Truth, ultimate reality in the universe, standing right in front of Pilate, and he misses Him. He misses Him. What is truth? Oh the irony of this discounted king.
The third striking irony here is the Demanded Substitute, the Demanded Substitute.
Verse 38b: “After he had said this (This is Pilate), he went back outside to the Jews and told them, ‘I find no guilt in him. But you have a custom that I should release one man for you at the Passover. So do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?’ They cried out again, ‘Not this man, but Barabbas!’ Now Barabbas was a robber.”
So this is now Pilate’s second attempt to get Jesus off his hands, right? In an act of goodwill, Pilate offers to pardon Jesus, but they demanded instead the robber Barabbas as a substitute for Jesus. And again, the irony is dripping. Here an innocent man is condemned so that a guilty man might go free. And this exchange depicts precisely what Jesus offers. Do you see that?
John is writing with irony. He wants us to see there’s more going on than meets the eye. Substitution is what Jesus does for everyone, you see. Second Corinthians 5:21 says, “[God] made him (Jesus) who knew no sin, to be sin for us, so that we in him might become the righteousness of God.” The irony is they demanded of Jesus what He was voluntarily doing for everyone, His life in exchange for ours. Oh the irony of the demanded substitute, you see.
Now the fourth striking irony here is the Defamed Innocent. Defamed Innocent.
Chapter 19:1: “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 and said to them, ‘See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him.’”
This is now Pilate’s third attempt to get Jesus off his hands. Maybe if he strips Jesus of His honor, maybe if he roughs Him up a bit, maybe if he mocks Him, maybe that will satisfy their appetite for violence. Maybe they’ll take pity on Him.
Verse 5: “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.’”
This is now the third time that Pilate has pronounced Jesus is innocent. You see that? Three times. But the mockery and shame is not enough. Their bloodlust is not so easily slaked. And they cry out for crucifixion, which, of course, is the most painful form of torture invented in the ancient world.
Pilate says, “You crucify Him! You take Him away. You do it.” Well, of course, they can’t. He’s rubbing their noses in it, you see. He’s mocking the people, reminding them of the limits of their authority. They can’t do that. And in all of this, John wants us again to see the irony. By stripping Jesus’ honor, friends, they ensured His glory. By stripping Jesus’ honor, they ensured His glory. They intended to shame Him into oblivion, but all they did was move Him closer to His glory.
Philippians 2:5–11: “Jesus...though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore (Therefore, on the basis of all of this humiliation to the point of death on a cross) 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.” (applause)
Oh the irony of the defamed innocent.
The fifth striking irony is the Disregarded Lord, the Disregarded Lord. Verse 7: “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.”
Verse 9: “He entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, ‘Where are you from?’ But Jesus gave him no answer.”
Remember Isaiah 53:7? “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.”
Verse 10: “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?’” (Your very life is in my hands!)
Verse 11: “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.’”
He says, “Look, your authority is from above. It’s from God himself. God raises up kings; He removes them. Your authority is on loan. Don’t be too full of yourself, Pilate.”
“But furthermore, this isn’t all your fault. The one who delivered me over to you, the chief priest, Caiaphas, his is the greater sin. My blood is on his hands.”
Don’t you see the irony here? Jesus is acting as the judge. He’s assigning responsibility and guilt to the appropriate parties at His own trial. (chuckles) They stand in judgment of the judge of all the earth. Oh the irony. If only they’d known who they were dealing with, that this is, in fact, the Lord and judge of all the earth. The irony of the disregarded Lord.
The sixth striking irony is the Destined Lamb, the Destined Lamb. Pilate’s about to make his fourth attempt to get Jesus off of his hands. Verse 12: “From then on Pilate sought to release him, but the Jews cried out, ‘If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.’ So when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Stone Pavement, and in Aramaic Gabbatha. Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, ‘Behold your King!’ They cried out, ‘Away with him, away with him, crucify him!’”
Pilate makes a final, fifth and futile attempt to release Jesus. Verse 15: “Pilate said to them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but Caesar.’ So he delivered him over to them to be crucified.
Now in the middle of this, John gives us some chronological bearings, doesn’t he? In verse 14 he says, “Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour.” It reminds us of how the text opened up today. Chapter 18, verse 28: “They themselves did not enter the governor’s headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover.” So John opens and closes this account of the trial of Jesus with references to the Passover. Now, why would he do that? Why would he do that? Well, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)
Do you know when the lambs for Passover were sacrificed? At the sixth hour of the Day of Preparation. At the very moment that Pilate is crying out, “Behold your king,” John wants us to see, “Behold the Lamb!” And in a redemptive twist, Jesus is the true Passover Lamb, friends. This Passover meal which was a commemoration of God’s redemption of Israel from slavery and bondage in Egypt through the blood of a lamb, right? Now, all these years later, a true and greater Passover is taking place as God redeems, not just Israel, but the entire world from bondage, not to Egypt, but to sin and death and Satan forever through the blood of a true and greater lamb.
First Corinthians 5:7 says, “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.” And here’s the striking irony. Throughout all their murderous plotting they actually played into the greatest redemptive plan the world has ever seen. They unwittingly enacted the plan of God of the Lamb who was slain before the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8). This is the irony of their destined Lamb, friends. And don’t you see in all of this what they intended for evil, God intended for good. In all of this, all this pain, all this suffering, all of this hypocrisy, all of this injustice, in the end, God worked all these things together for good, for the redemption of the world. God took this awful Friday, this God-awful Friday, and turned it into Good Friday.
God is in the business, friends, of overcoming evil with good. God is in the business of overcoming evil with good. Friends, this gives us hope because this world is full of evil. It’s full of pain and hardship and suffering. It’s only a matter of time until life’s cruelties break into our lives at some level, and when that happens we’ve got to remember we have a God who gets it, who gets it. He’s been there too. And we have a God who redeems us. He redeems it. That our God is working all things together for good for those who love Him for His greater glory.
Let me read these verses from Romans, chapter 8. This is verse 18, 26, and 28 through 31.
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us… Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For— [he] intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words— And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers [and sisters]. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?”
Friends, do you realize what this means? It means nothing irredeemable can happen to us. Nothing irredeemable can happen to us.
Friends, if God can take religious hypocrisy, if He could take trumped up charges and the abusive power and political plotting and intrigue and vindictive mobs and work somehow all of those evil things together into a redemptive twist to bring salvation to the world, imagine what He’s up to right now in your life and mine.
Imagine. The same striking ironies that are at work in Jesus’ worst day are also working in your life and mine to bring about good and glory in the end. Nothing irredeemable can happen to us. And if God is for us, who can be against us? Amen? (applause)
Would you bow your heads and pray with me?
Father, we thank you that you are a God who gets it, that you are not detached or insulated from the pain and suffering of this world but that you [know] it too. Christ has suffered, Christ has died, Christ has borne injustice.
Father, we may not understand the full level of what Christ went through, but it feels like the real world. Life is hard. It’s not fair. It hurts and death looms for all of us.
Father, when we’re in the jaws of pain, the heartaches of life, help us remember that Christ has been there, that He knows what we suffer and that if He went faithfully through it all, He will be faithful to hold us through it all as well. And we thank you, God, that you redeem it. All this suffering, all this pain is working for us an eternal weight of glory that is beyond comparison, that these hard things in life are not punitive, but purifying, and perfecting, and are moving us into the glory that you have waiting for us. So Father, when we face these hard moments, help us hold fast to you because you get it, and you redeem it for our good and your glory through Jesus, Amen.