This weekly topic is an effort to recap the Wednesday night Bible study I teach at Sola5, my youth group. I hope it serves to help us all in contemplating the ceaseless riches of God’s grace as revealed through the Scriptures.
Last night, we looked at Jesus’ questioning by Pilate in John 18:28-40. Pilate is an interesting figure in the Bible – he’s often seen as simultaneously a villain (for his hand in the execution of Christ) and as a sympathetic character (for having his decision-making hijacked by the hateful Pharisees, who just wanted to see Christ dead). We look at the poor decision Pilate made, and though we see it as bad, we don’t see him to be as bad as the Pharisees. Last night, we took a closer look, and saw in Pilate a man whose actions reveal an attitude toward Christ every bit as insulting as the Pharisees – and much more subtle, to the point that we can see the same attitudes in our friends, our neighbors, and sometimes even ourselves.
The Pharisees take Jesus to Pilate (the Roman governor of Judea) for one reason and one reason only – they want him dead, and the Romans were the only way to make that happen. Make no mistake, the Jews hated their Roman oppressors with a vitriol that we might feel if Canada conquered us, taxed us, and told us how to live. John reminds us that the Pharisees’ disdain for Gentiles (and their concern for legalistic righteousness) was so great that they wouldn’t even enter Pilate’s house. They’re not concerned with charges or justice, only with an execution. Pilate realizes early in the game that something is up, and when he asks why they don’t just deal with this themselves their goal comes out – they didn’t have legal authority to execute anyone, and thus they wanted Pilate to order exactly that.
Having seen the vitriol of the Pharisees, we are now presented with the encounter between Jesus and Pilate. Pilate shows none of the animosity that the Pharisees did, but to cast him as the good guy would be a big mistake. Pilate is also concerned with one thing and one thing only – his own life. His questioning was designed to quickly evaluate if Jesus was a threat to him. The claim in question was Jesus’ claim of kingship. If Christ was claiming political power, then he could incite a rebellion that would be trouble for Caesar and thus trouble for Pilate. He asks straightforward questions, and when Jesus responds by asking a question of his own, Pilate’s response is the equivalent of “I don’t give a rip. Your people brought you to me, so I want to know if you’re a problem for me.” Pilate is consumed by his own interests and sees Jesus as little more than an annoyance to be dealt with. Sound like anyone you know?
Christ answers Pilate’s question, but he does it in a way Pilate surely didn’t expect. Jesus delivers the famous line, “My kingdom is not of this world.” He’s telling Pilate that he is indeed a king, but not in the sense Pilate is worried about. However, Jesus is claiming a kingdom that transcends all, and an authority over Pilate that far exceeds what Pilate is concerned about. In essence, he’s focusing Pilate’s attention upward and calling him to focus on something greater. Pilate, however, wants none of it, essentially responding, “Is that a yes, then?” Jesus continues to explain his purpose – to bear witness to the light of God, to reveal the truth to all mankind. To Pilate, however, he might as well be speaking Japanese. He doesn’t understand at all, and dismissively says, “What is truth?” He doesn’t care at all about what Jesus has to say. At this point, he’s determined that this man isn’t a threat – maybe crazy, but not a threat, and he’s ready to get this situation out of his hair.
He takes Jesus outside, and the Pharisees start screaming for blood again, even demanding the release of a notorious killer so Christ can be executed. Our focus tends to turn to them again. What bad guys they are, right? I may not care about following about Christ, we think, but at least I don’t hate him. People in our culture like to think that they’re neutral to Christ, not taking a side one way or the other as if this makes things okay. Ask yourself the question, though – is Pilate’s lack of concern any better than the Pharisees’ hatred. Think of it this way – if I were to proclaim that I hated my wife and daughter, people who know me would be morally outraged, and rightly so. But would it be any better if I proclaimed that I don’t hate them, I just don’t care about them. I don’t give a rip. Would that be any better? Of course not! Why? Because apathy is insulting in the face of someone or something of great value. Anything less than love and devotion to my wife and baby girl is horrible, and it is infinitely more so with Christ. He demands our all, and he has given himself for our redemption. To view his perfect sacrifice for sin with indifference is every bit as antagonistic as outright hatred. There is no middle ground. That’s Pilate’s dangerous warning to us – apathy to Christ is a temptation that we are all prone to, but when we see him for the incredible savior that he is, apathy is inexcusable. This week, see Christ for the infinite source of joy he is, and follow him with your entire being.