Preached on Good Friday 2018 at Hinson Baptist Church, Portland OR
From the earliest times, Christians have confessed their belief in Jesus using the words of the Apostles’ Creed:
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
Born of the virgin Mary.
Suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried
On the third day, he rose again from the dead.
The creed makes clear that we believe Jesus is God’s only Son, conceived by the Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, crucified, dead, buried, raised… All that makes sense. Those are key Christian doctrines. But why this detail that Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate? Just a historical detail? Or have Christians understood something more?
As we read through John’s account of Jesus’ passion, we saw Jesus suffering under Pontius Pilate in chapters 18 & 19. There’s much that could be said about those chapters but let me make three brief observations.
- Obs. 1: Jesus was put through a formal trial
Throughout Jesus’ life, mobs of Jews had become enraged at Jesus’ teaching. At one point, they tried to push him off a cliff. On another occasion, they picked up stones to stone him. But each time Jesus eluded them. Jesus would not be executed by the rage of a mob.
But now, the Jewish leaders had captured Jesus. They tried him within their own religious courts and found him guilty of blasphemy. According to their laws, he was worthy of death. But living under Roman occupation, they did not have authority to exercise capital punishment.
And so, they brought him to Pilate. It seems that the Jewish leaders expected Pilate to simply rubber stamp this thing through. But Pilate will not be played by these Jewish leaders. To even consider their request, Pilate demanded a proper trial. He demanded formal charges to be made and then proceeded to interview Jesus and examine those charges, in order to make a formal judgment. Jesus was put through a formal legal trial.
- Obs. 2: Jesus was charged with claiming to be a king.
This is the charge that the Jews brought: Jesus was claiming to be a rival of Caesar. Roman law was clear, there was no king but Caesar. Anyone who claimed to be a king was guilty of insurrection.
And yet as Pilate interviewed Christ, it became clear to him that Jesus was no insurrectionist. Jesus did not deny he was a king. But he wasn’t stirring up a rebellion. His kingdom was not of this world. His goal was not to conquer nations, but to testify to the truth. In fact, the more Pilate heard from Jesus, the more he was convinced, Jesus was not guilty. Pilate had seen insurrectionists before. Jesus was not one them.
But the Jewish leaders do not back down. Even after Pilate has Jesus flogged and mocked, and beaten, the Jews are not content. And it’s by using this charge that they trap Pilate…if he doesn’t put Jesus to death, then he is no friend of Caesar.
Jesus was accused as a pretender king, and therefore, he had to be put to death.
- Obs. 3: Jesus was condemned to death by Pilate
At this, we read:
John 19:13 When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge’s seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha). 14 It was the day of Preparation of Passover Week, about the sixth hour.
“Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews.
John 19:15 But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!”
“Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked.
“We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered.
John 19:16 Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.
Here we come to the end of the proceedings. Pilate sits down on the judgment seat, where legal pronouncements are made. And there he announces, “Here is your king.” Jesus of Nazareth is condemned as the king of the Jews… and handed over to be crucified, a capital punishment reserved for the worst enemies of Caesar. If we had access to ancient Roman criminal records, we would find around AD 30 a legal record, authorized by Pontius Pilate, governor in Judea, condemning Jesus of Nazareth, a pretender king, guilty of insurrection, and assigned to death by crucifixion.
Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate.
And this was no accident. From the beginning, we are those who lived under the kingship of God. In His goodness, He provides life and every good thing to those under His reign. And from the Garden, to Mt. Sinai, to Portland, humanity has always lived under God’s Law, revealed in our hearts and in God’s Word, teaching us what it looks like for us to submit to our good King.
And yet, as we see in the Bible and in our lives, we are those who have rejected God’s Law. We have rejected God as King, and have each set ourselves up as kings. And in our attempt to be king, we not only trample on God, but we trample on all those who get in our way. After all, there can only be one king.
Well, God is the one true King and he will not stand idly by while we rebel and bring evil into this world. No, His warning is that for all those who would break His law, they will suffer His judgment. In this world full of pretender kings, the Day is coming when God will put down all false kingdoms and re-establish His righteous reign.
And yet… before that Day, God sent His Son, God in the Flesh. Unlike us, Jesus perfectly submitted Himself to the Kingship of God. He perfectly obeyed and lived out God’s Law. Here was the perfect Man, worthy of God’s approval and reward. And yet here at the end of his life, we see him condemned as a pretender king and crucified.
Why? Unbeknownst to Pilate, he was playing a part in a much greater event. On that Day, Jesus was not only condemned by an earthly judge, but also by the Judge of the Universe. The one true King was condemned as a pretender king on earth, and he was condemned on behalf of all pretender kings in heaven. And so he would go to the cross, suffering the death of a false king, bearing the judgment of rebels, insurrectionists, like you and me. Bearing the wrath of God in our place.
There are many theories out there for the meaning of Jesus’ death. Some say Jesus’ death was a powerful example of his great love for us. Others say that Jesus’ death was about his victory over evil and Satan.
While there is wonderful truth in all those ideas, they are not the central idea. No, rather, as J.I. Packer says, at “the very heart of the Christian gospel” is penal substitutionary atonement. Jesus Christ was condemned as our substitute, in our place, bearing the penalty, the punishment for our sin in order to bring us to God.
Today, as in every age, there are people who are offended by that idea. Doesn’t this make God out to be a vengeful Deity? Why would God’s wrath and justice need to be satisfied? Why couldn’t God just forgive and love?
But friends, this isn’t just a made-up idea. This is what we see here in this story. Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate. Jesus did not die by the fury of a mob, or on a battlefield or as some extravagant act of passion. No, he died under a legal verdict of guilt, bearing the penalty of that judgment. Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate because God was teaching us something about the meaning of His death. We as sinners deserve the judgment of God. And yet, amazingly, astonishingly, Jesus was condemned and crucified for us, in order that we might be set free.
As the reformers wrote in the Heidelberg Catechism:
Q.38. Why did [Jesus] suffer “under Pontius Pilate” as judge?
A. So that he, though innocent, might be condemned by an earthly judge, and so free us from the severe judgment of God that was to fall on us.
This is the heart of the gospel: Jesus bore the punishment of our condemnation. He suffered as a pretender king, in our place, so that we pretender kings might go free. And yes, in doing so, he modeled God’s love to us, he took away our shame, he brought us healing, he conquered Satan and sin and death… But all those benefits flow out of this one central truth: Jesus Christ took our condemnation and judgment upon Himself, so that we might go free.
He wore my crown of thorns; I wear his crown, the crown of glory. He wore my dress, nay, rather, he wore my nakedness when he died upon the cross, I wear his robes, the royal robes of the King of kings. He bore my shame; I bear his honor. He endured my sufferings to this end that my joy may be full, and that his joy may be fulfilled in me. He laid in the grave that I might rise from the dead and that I may dwell in him
If this is the case, then what difference should that make for us? Two points of application:
- App. 1: Embrace the condemned King
To accept Jesus means you must accept Him as your King. It means you stop pretending to be King and you confess that Jesus is Lord and King.
But what kind of King is he? Not a cruel dictator. Not a violent insurrectionist. No, He is a King who lays his life down, for His people, the one who willingly bears upon Himself our condemnation.
Which means, to embrace Jesus means you have to accept God’s judgment of your sins.
If you are proud, self-righteous, you’re not going to like Jesus. Because what proud person likes a weak and condemned king? No, his condemnation will offend you. You will think, “That’s not what I deserve. He can’t be my King.”
Ah, but if you know you are a sinner, if you know the darkness of your own heart, if you know the sins that lie past your clear exterior, if you know you have made a mess of your life… then friend, here is the King for you. He stands condemned, for you. He hangs on the cross, for you. He was put to death, for you. This is what you deserved… but he took it upon himself, because He loved you.
To embrace Jesus is to embrace him as the condemned and crucified King for you.
Friends, in this world of so full of condemnation, it is here that we gain our footing. While we live in this fallen world, we will hear all kinds of accusations… from our consciences, from Satan, from people around us. It’s so easy to be crushed by the weight of condemnation.
And yet, here is the truth that we need to remember: Our King was condemned for us.
Yes we are sinners, deserving of judgment. But Christ bore all our condemnation for us. Therefore, when we hear accusations, we’re not hearing anything new. If anything, those accusations are only a sliver of the accusation we deserve from God. No, condemnation no longer shakes us because we are no longer living in the illusion of our self-righteouness. No, in the gospel, we are those who have embraced the condemned King, and we gladly confess our sin.
Which means, now, whenever we hear accusations, criticism, rebuke, our first instinct doesn’t have to be to defend ourselves. Rather we can respond humbly. Even if those accusations are not 100% correct, but maybe they’re 5% correct, we can respond with grace and seek understanding and forgiveness.
Because, even when we own up to our sin, even when we’re falsely accused, our hope is always secure. Our King was condemned, why? So that we might be justified, set free from all condemnation.
- App. 2: Rejoice in the King’s freedom
Oh, friends, the message of the Christian life is not simply that King Jesus has paid for your sins and now it’s up to you to do the rest. It’s not simply that Jesus made a way for you now to make things right with God. Oh no, friends, King Jesus has done it. As he said on the cross, “It Is Finished.”
Rom. 8:1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.
The Good News of Jesus Christ is that by His life, death and resurrection, all condemnation that there ever was, all condemnation that there is, and all condemnation that there ever will be, has been taken away, as far as the East is from the West. Jesus has accomplished all that you will ever need in order to be loved and accepted by God.
As Christians, I think we often live under the illusion that God’s love and approval of us increases and decreases depending on how good we’re doing. So when we’re going to church, when we’re avoiding sin, when we are being kind to others, then God is pleased with us… and when we’re not, then well, I’m not sure.
Oh friend, that’s not Christianity. That’s not what Jesus accomplished for us. No, rather, we believe in a King who took all of our condemnation upon Himself. You make a mess of things everyday. And yet even that everyday sin has already been condemned and paid for in Christ. So now there is nothing left of God’s wrath against you. Not a drop. All that remains is His acceptance of you, His unending love for you for you.
So friend, rejoice in the freedom of the King! To belong to Him is to be set free from all condemnation forever! God is no longer against you, but now He is for you. No one can effectively bring any accusation against you, because God is the one who justifies you. And
neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Oh friends, this is the freedom that King Jesus has won for us. Freedom from our condemnation. Freedom to live in the love of God.
Come to the King’s table and rejoice!