In Jesus, God does what we cannot do. In Jesus God binds his love for his world, with all of its beauty and promise, with its rebellion, its fear, its guilt and sin. God binds them together in the flesh of Jesus.
God does this to bring new life into the world and Jesus knows what is unfolding … he is nobody’s victim. He has already been condemned by the chief priests for blasphemy because he claims to be the Son of God. Now here, before the Roman Governor, the crowd has been worked into a frenzy. They are determined to have him convicted of sedition (treason), for that is punished by execution, Roman style.
With one voice, the educated, the illiterate, the leaders, the people, the Jew and the Gentile – all humanity convicted the one person in whom the strands of divine love and human sin were bound. Crucify him, not Barabbas…And his disciples, who somehow thought they were better, different, than Judas, they stood at a distance. Blasphemy and sedition… accused and convicted…Crucify him, not us.
Even as he endures humiliation and physical pain of flogging Jesus is in control of every step he takes to the cross. This is a public investigation into who Jesus is. It is left to Pilate to ask the crucial questions. But is it really of trial of Jesus – or a cross examination of Pilate?
A lot of ink and film footage have been given to the portrayal of Pilate’s character. Against his conviction to secure his threatened place in the hierarchy of Roman imperial favour, Pilate is a case study in the power of fear to corrupt the human soul.
John’s account reminds us that it is Passover. The lambs are being prepared for the sacrifice in the temple as Jesus is brought before the Roman governor. Pilate has the sole power over life and death. The city is packed with visitors and pilgrims-civil unrest now would be a complete disaster for Pilate. He must keep a lid on civil unrest…and he has a reputation for doing just that. For Pilate, it boils down to pragmatism – he will do whatever is necessary to keep order.. and his position of Roman power and authority. We know this in our contemporary world too…we now of the senseless slaughter of civilians in Syria, the persecution and terror attacks on Coptic Christians in Egypt…the inhumane grind of poverty.
He hands are full. There in his headquarters, Pilate summons Jesus to question his identity: Are you the King of the Jews? he asks. Are you a direct threat to my power – because if you are it’s over right here, now. Pilate frantically tries to determine what Jesus has done. Pilate presses again: So are you a king?
True to form even under interrogation, Jesus does not answer the question directly; he is in control even here: “You say that I am a king, For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice”. (18.37)
Pilate is then left with the job of putting the question, What is truth (18:38)? It is perhaps the most celebrated question in the whole of the New Testament. Jesus answers him with a silence that is overwhelming in its eloquence. And in that silence we recall the night before when gathered at the table for the last time in the upper room Jesus put it into words for his friend Thomas: I, he said, I am the way, the truth and the life…(14.6). Standing in front of Pilate, Jesus is the embodiment of truth…he speaks the truth – the truth that there is a personal God, that God is a loving Father, the truth that God knows the number of hairs on our heads; the truth that the great commandments of God are to love God and our neighhour as ourselves. That is truth, Pilate asks. Look at Jesus, listen to his voice…see who he is and you will discover the truth about God…and the meaning and purpose of your life….what is truth? Here it is: God will bring new life out of death, this death.
Pilate finds no case against Jesus…he has him flogged, the soldiers dress him up in a king’s costume with a crown of thorns and present him to the crowd one last time…still Pilate finds no case against him…appears to the crowd one last time as Pilate presents him, “Here is the man!” I like the translation in the KJV: “Behold the Man” Look at him, closely.
And when we do that, we are reminded of the beginning of the Bible – this is where John’s gospel wants us to go. After all, John begins his account with the opening words of the Old Testament, “In the beginning”…
When we rewind the story to the beginning of the Bible, to Genesis, for a moment, we see more about what is happening as Jesus stands before the Governor and the raging crowd. The story of creation is told in the Book of Genesis – God made the sun, the moon and stars, the birds and fish, the plants and animals and on the 6th day God made man in His image. He created Adam, named him and commanded him to rule wisely over creation…he breathed into Adam the breath of life…a masterpiece! The fulfillment of God’s creative plan – he created the crown of all life – the pinnacle of God’s creation, the only creature to bear God’s image and God saw that it was good, very good. Behold the man, the first Adam.
But Adam would rebel against God’s will for creation…he would be cursed to till the ground and endure the elements. But God’s story of redemption does not stop there – it is only a beginning. Right there in the Garden, God promised Eve a son – a man who would come to confront that serpent of rebellion…and second Adam would come to put right all that had gone wrong.
Behold the man…Pilate may not have known what he was saying but John the writer of the 4th gospel surely did…Jesus is the perfect, sinless human. The image of the invisible God, the Word made flesh, the beginning and the end, the One in whom the fullness of God was pleased to dwell…the one who shows us what God intends for human life, for the whole world. Jesus, the second Adam who would confront the forces of sin and death. Jesus, the One who carries the guilt, betrayal, the doubt, the mockery of evil; and all our fears…the same One who carries the Way, the Truth and the Life…sorrow and love flow mingled down to breathe new life into the world. Once, for all.
Here stands the Good Shepherd, the new Adam, the Son of God made man, at the hour of his anguish, knowingly giving himself into the hands of those who have come to kill him, laying down his life for his sheep, for you and me”. For the sake of the whole world.