Reminiscere, The Second Sunday in Lent March 8, 1998
155, 143, 399, 334
Now at that feast the governor was wont to release unto the people a prisoner, whom they would. And they had then a notable prisoner, called Barabbas. Therefore when they were gathered together, Pilate said unto them, Whom will ye that I release unto you? Barabbas, or Jesus which is called Christ? For he knew that for envy they had delivered him. When he was set down on the judgment seat, his wife sent unto him, saying, Have thou nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him. But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitude that they should ask Barabbas, and destroy Jesus. The governor answered and said unto them, Whether of the twain will ye that I release unto you? They said, Barabbas. Pilate saith unto them, What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ? They all say unto him, Let him be crucified. So far our text.
In Christ Jesus, who said, “No man cometh unto the Father, but by Me,” Dear Fellow Redeemed,
When I lived in White River, South Dakota, I used to travel to Rapid City once in a while along old Highway 44. At about the halfway point, there were two signs. The first was a sort of historical marker along the roadside; it said something about a famous Indian trail that used to exist there. I always meant to stop and read it, but I never really got the time, and it didn’t seem to matter much. The other sign was more important. It was at a crossroads, and it said, “Kyle left, Interior right.” That sign I did pay attention to, because I missed it once, and spent an entire afternoon lost on an Indian reservation in the middle of nowhere.
The questions that confront you in your life are that way, too. Some questions are like signs along a straight road—it doesn’t really matter how you answer them; life will go on pretty much the same, regardless (“What color will I paint my kitchen?” “What kind of car insurance should I buy?”) Other questions, though, are like signs at a crossroads—it matters a great deal how you answer them. Every so often you find yourself confronted with a question so vital that how you answer it will determine the whole course of your future life. The question we’ll consider today is one of those. In the pleading, bewildered words of Pontius Pilate, we hear one of the most searching questions of the Lenten season, indeed, the most searching question any of us will ever have to answer…
You might well ask: what circumstances could drive a Roman governor to ask such a question? After all, he wasn’t some timid junior bureaucrat—he was the highest authority in the land. As far as Palestine was concerned, Pontius Pilate was the Roman Empire, a man of influence, used to making decisions. His word was all it took to either condemn a prisoner to death, or to set a prisoner free. And when it came to these stubborn and contentious Jews, it usually didn’t matter much to him which he chose.
But there was something strange and different about the case of this Man, Jesus of Nazareth. For several hours the crowd of Jews outside had been calling for his blood, urging Pilate to pass a sentence of death on Him. And yet, the more closely he examined the prisoner, the more obvious it became that Jesus had done nothing wrong. The governor had said as much—several times—to the crowd, and even announced his intention to set Jesus free.
How strange it all was, though—each time he declared Jesus innocent, it only seemed to whip the crowd into a higher pitch of frenzy. Something about this Man was beginning to gnaw at the governor’s mind; strangely enough, he found that he was becoming frightened. “‘Crucify Him! Crucify Him!’ the people shouted. Pilate said to them, ‘You take Him and crucify Him, for I find no fault in Him.’ The Jews answered him, ‘We have a law, and according to our law He ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God.’ And when Pilate heard that saying, he was even more afraid…” —Jn 18:6-8.
Pilate found himself in an uncomfortable position. He was being forced to answer a question that was increasingly difficult for him: what am I going to do with Jesus? The answer of the mob was unequivocal—“Let Him be crucified!” But what if Jesus was as innocent as He seemed? “What if…” the governor must have trembled a little, “what if He really is some sort of son of the gods? What then will be the consequences if I condemn Him to death??”
To make matters worse, even Pilate’s wife was turning up the heat on him. When he was set down on the judgment seat, his wife sent unto him, saying, Have thou nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him. His fear and apprehension grew.
Pilate had a feeling he’d better release this Jesus, and he thought he knew just the political maneuver to accomplish it. During the Passover festival, the governor would customarily pardon one criminal. Usually it was whoever the people wanted released, but this time Pilate gave them a choice between two—either Jesus, or a depraved murderer named Barabbas. A brilliant solution! Now Pilate would surely be off the hook, because not even the envious Jews would condemn Jesus if it meant releasing a menacing criminal like Barabbas on the public. But imagine his shock when he put the choice to them: The governor answered and said unto them, Whether of the twain will ye that I release unto you? They said, Barabbas. Utterly bewildered, Pilate asked the question—the question that he could no longer avoid, What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ? They all say unto him, Let him be crucified.
“What then shall I do with Jesus?” It’s a question Pilate had to answer in the end. Oh sure, he made a big show of washing his hands, but that was just a smokescreen. He’d answered the question, alright. In the end he’d gone along with the crowd and given his assent to the death of God’s Son.
“What then shall I do with Jesus?” It’s a question every human being must sooner or later answer for himself…and washing your hands is not an option. “He who is not with Me is against Me,” Jesus said, “He who does not gather with Me is scatters.” If you’re unwilling to crucify Him in unbelief, then there is only one thing left for you to do…confess Him as your Savior!
But there in the emotion-charged courtyard of the Roman governor, this was the one answer that no one seemed prepared to give. Not the crowd, not Pontius Pilate, not even Jesus' own disciples, who were conspicuously absent from the scene. Not one person was found who would acknowledge Jesus for who He was. No one had the faith to stand up and tell these people the horrible truth—that they were mocking and beating and killing the Son of God!
It wasn’t like Jesus was dying for people who deserved it, for faithful friends who stuck by Him to the end. Even now, Jesus blood was flowing not for the faithful, but for the faithless. For the inconstant, for the sinful…for you and me! I wonder if the words of the hymnwriter stab your heart, like they do mine: What punishment so strange is suffered yonder! The shepherd dies for sheep that loved to wander; The Master pays the debt His servants owe Him, Who would not know Him.
I saw that bumper sticker again the other day: “Smile—God loves you.” We’ve seen and heard that phrase so often that it’s almost become a meaningless cliche. But it’s true, nevertheless. In fact, there’s a way you can accurately measure God’s love for you, and it has nothing to do with smiley faces or bumper stickers. If you want to know how much God loves you, take a good long look at Jesus on the cross. There, in throes of writhing agony, He bore the punishment for your sins. He ransomed you from eternal death, not because you were His friend, but in spite of the fact that you were by nature His enemy! The Apostle Paul says, “Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us!” —Rom 5:6-8.
There on the cross you see what Jesus has done for you. Now you must ask yourself that searching question: “What then shall I do with Jesus?” In the second century AD, an aged Christian named Polycarp was forced to answer that question by the Roman proconsul in Smyrna. During a period of religious persecution, Polycarp was arrested and brought to the local arena to be executed in front of a cheering crowd. The proconsul gave him one last chance. “Swear, and I will release you,” he said. “Revile Christ!” The old man replied, “Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never did me wrong. How can I now blaspheme my King who has saved me?”
My fellow Christians, can we answer any differently? When we reach the crossroads where we have to decide, “What then shall I do with Jesus?” let us confess Him as our Savior.
Pilate didn’t know how to handle that question, but we do. With the faith God has given us, let us confess Christ boldly, at every crossroads in our life! Because you know, those crossroads may appear more often than you imagine. When somebody asks you, out of the blue, what you believe in, you may have to decide in an instant, “What then shall I do with Jesus?” Often, too, a temptation to sin may bring you to a crossroads. Young people, when you’re tempted to join others in abusing alcohol and drugs, remember that question, “What then shall I do with Jesus?” Children, when you’re about to disobey your parents, say those words: “What then shall I do with Jesus?” Women, when you’re tempted to join in the local gossip and say a few choice words about whoever they’re cutting down at the moment…men, when the atmosphere where you work tempts you to keep your faith under wraps and join in the cursing and dirty jokes…wherever you are and whatever the temptation happens to be, just stop a second and ask yourself, “What then shall I do with Jesus?” Pray the Lord for faith—it only takes a second!—and He’ll give you the answer you need: “I shall confess Jesus as my Savior!”
A Christian man once asked that God would make him into a road sign. Not a sign along the way that people could either read or ignore as they chose, but rather a sign at the crossroads. He prayed that his life would be such a clear witness to Christ that people who saw him would be forced to ask themselves, “What then shall I do with Jesus?” Let’s you and I be signs at the crossroads, too. On Calvary, Jesus confessed His love for us. God grant us the faith to confess Him, in every way, as our Savior! AMEN.
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