Luke 23:13-25
A Judicial Decision Of Guilt For An Innocent Man

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

1. Today we read the situation around the sentence given under the governor Pilate. Christ's death penalty by crucifixion will be put into effect as a result of this sentence. In the Apostles' Creed we always recite "he suffered under Pontius Pilate." We see as part of our faith that this judgment scene is not something incidental to it, but has substantial significance. To understand the meaning of Jesus' passion we must direct our careful attention onto what happened here.

The Sin Of Humanity Was Revealed At Pilate's Court Of Law

2. The reason Jesus was sentenced under Pilate was that the chief priests made charges to Pilate against him. A religious trial was held in the high court convened at early dawn that day, and Jesus was incriminated," (22:66). But, the high court did not legally have the authority to sentence Jesus to the death penalty. So they brought him to Pilate's court and made the charge, "We have seen that this man is alluring our people, forbids paying taxes to the emperor, and claims that he is the messianic king," (23:2). So Pilate heard the Jew's charges against him and held an investigation.

3. The first thing I notice in the details of this trial is the fact that Pilate himself repeatedly insists on the innocence of Jesus. "I cannot find any fault in this man," (verse four). "I have held my investigation before you all, but as for the crimes that you have charged him with, I have not seen any of it in this man," (verse fourteen). "This man has done nothing that deserves the death penalty," (verse fifteen). "What, you say that he has committed some kind of crime? I have not seen in this man anything of a crime worthy of death," (verse twenty-two). Notwithstanding, Jesus received the sentence of death in Pilate's court of law. And based of that decision, the Lord would be crucified. This trial was an unusual process in which a guiltless sinless person is decided against by sin. The participants in this unusual process were the chief priests, the public, and Pilate. They are the parties involved.

4. First, it was the chief priests, they are the ones who judged Jesus in their high religious court and made him guilty. They were on the judging side and Jesus was on the side being judged. They had total confidence in their judicial ruling. The ones here intending to kill Jesus are not men suffering from guilt feelings that they were doing something wrong. They were righteous men. With the conviction in their hearts that they were right, they wanted Jesus killed.

5. But, whenever people believe themselves right and judge another guilty, that kind of "righteousness" most of the time hints at their being crooked. What was really behind the decision that they handed down? Each gospel depicts the situation just before the arrest of Jesus from different perspectives. For example, please look from chapter eleven and verse forty-five [to verse fifty-four, especially this last verse]. In that text is recorded the instant that the Jewish authorities began plotting to kill Jesus.

6. A direct opportunity for them came when a man named Lazarus had been dead for four days but then Jesus raised him up from the dead. When the many who had seen this had come to believe on Jesus, the chief priests and the Pharisees had a terrible sense of impending crisis over this situation. They immediately summoned the high court and spoke with one another about it. "This man has performed many signs, but should he? If we leave him alone, everyone will believe on him. Then the Romans will come and our temple and nation will be destroyed," (John 11:47-48). "Be destroyed" is the word "take by force, rob." To put it plain, that's what they meant. Everyone will believe on this man and chaos on the present system will arise to no small degree. Therefore, the Romans will interfere and the special rights and the authority to rule, that we have obtained at such great expense and trouble, will be jeopardized. They were worried about that. In short, it means that in the process of seeking justice according to their religious system in which they spoke, they included their own very self centered interests and self protective motivations. This is often the reality when it is a justice that humans speak forth.

7. Let's go back to the original scene. There, too, is the crowd that kept shouting "Crucify him." The text says, "The people relentlessly demanded in a loud voice that they crucify Jesus. Their voices became louder and louder," (verse twenty-three). They were demanding the cruelest of punishments, death by the cross. They demanded that the living human being before their eyes would be hung on a tree and as his blood shed and he suffered, he would die a slow death. It wasn't just one person [saying] this; many were shouting it out. Were they deliberately cruel? No, not exactly. Perhaps everyone thought they were being especially good citizens. When they went back home they may have been good fathers and mothers. They may have been good fathers loving their children and wanting so much for them to grow wholesomely, and they may have been good mothers filled with the kind of love that would stay up all night by their child's beside if he or she took sick. Or they may have been some nice youth with a good reputation in the neighborhood. But, even people like that, when put into certain situations, will change all of a sudden. They [can] loudly beg that someone not live but die. That does happen. [It did happen.]

8. What happened to them? In The Gospel Of Mark it says, "The chief priests incited the crowd to have Barabbas released for them," (Mark 15:11). It would seem that every year, at each festival time, amnesty from Pilate was granted for a prisoner. Around that time, a man named Barabbas had been arrested. The text explains that, "Barabbas was imprisoned for an insurrection that took place in the capital and for murder," (verse nineteen). Seeing how that the people asked for the release of Barabbas in such an impassioned manner, it is believed that Barabbas was probably a leader in the Zealot party which had continuous anti Roman skirmishes. His "insurrection and murder" were kinds of resistance movements against Rome. It is believed that the high priests stirred up the crowd by using Barabbas. In short, they said, "If Jesus is released here, Barabbas will be punished and killed. Is that okay? Which one do you take, Barabbas or Jesus? Which release do you require?" After that they began to shout out, "Kill that man. Release Barabbas." With that, they soon became one in demanding the death of Jesus.

9. Then, Pilate stood up before them. He [stood] there as the embodiment of the authority of the Roman empire. He pronounced the innocence of Jesus. He pronounced it again. But, he could not penetrate their belief that they were right. He was afraid of the voice of the multitude. He might have thought that if chaos broke out among the Jews, his position as governor would be at risk. In The Gospel According To John, the record states that the Jews went as far as threatening Pilate when he was wanting to release Jesus. They said, "If you release that man, you will not be a friend of the emperor. Anybody who calls himself king rebels against the emperor," (John 19:12). Since it was put like that, he couldn't release Jesus.

Pilate's Court Of Law Where The Love Of God Appeared

10. So, as we've seen here, what becomes clear in this trial scene is that Jesus is innocent. And in a real sense, what is brought way out into the open so much the more is the sin of humankind that surrounded the Lord. It was humankind putting Jesus on trial, but the people themselves were actually on trial too and their sinfulness became dead clear by it. That's [God's] way of justice.

11. There were Jews there. Pilate was a Roman and a Gentile. Both Jews and Gentiles were involved in this. In other words, the sins of every kind of people were brought out. Also, what is brought out into plain open view is the duplicity of each person. On the one side, people stand on the side of the righteous. They stand with righteousness and hold the other guilty. At times they will even demand death. But, on the other side, there is the real world where they cannot do what they truly believe is right. What happened to Pilate sometimes happens to us. Thus, these [kinds of] sins, which normally are not seen on the surface, will in a specific situation pop to the surface in a flash. Muddy water after about an hour is clear, but no matter how pretty the clear water seems, stirred up, it's the same and goes back to its original muddy state.

12. But what comes out in this trial scene is not just the sinfulness of the world and of humanity. What becomes clear in it is the love of God. Christ was standing there. He stood right in the middle of Pilate's court of law. Pilate is not some made up character. He is a person with a historical date with a reign from the years A.D. 26 to 36. Christ, who stood in Pilate's court, certainly did stand in history. The son of God stood in this sin-filled world within its truly ugly history. That is because God sent him. [God sent him] because he still loves this sinful world and sinful us [in it].

13. God's son didn't just stand there. The son of God was judged in Pilate's court. The one who did the judging was Pilate. He was of the authority of imperial Rome. But, the Lord said to Pilate, "Unless it is given to you by God, you would not have any authority over me," (John 19:11). That's true. At that instant in time, it was God indeed who had given the authority to judge to Pilate. Even Paul said it like this, "There is no authority but that comes from God, for every existing authority gets its stand* from God," (Romans 13:1).

14. God did not only let his son stand in history, God judged him. God judged the son of God guilty though he should have been innocent. Christ wasn't just crucified and killed. Christ was crucified and killed as a result of his conviction in court. That was so that he would take the judgment of God upon himself instead of upon the world which must by nature be pronounced guilty when under the judgment of a righteous God.

15. How shall we look at this world? How shall we look at our lives? Living in this world is often so hard. We suffer with the world's sin, other people's sin, and our own sin. We kind of get to the point where we would rather chuck this world and even our lives at that. Yet, this world is one that did receive a verdict of guilty instead of God's son. We mustn't forget that. And we are invited to participate in God's forgiveness and God's salvation as persons living in the world such as it is.

End Note:
*Or, "is established by God." The translator chose to show that the Japanese continues with the "stand" theme as seen in Jesus' standing.

 
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