God is in Control
Good morning everybody, if we could take our Bibles and open them to John 18, verse 25, we’re going to try to take a look this morning at verses 25-32. The title of our message this morning is God is in Control. Amen! Sometimes life throws some curve balls at us, doesn’t it? And we need reminders that God is very much in control. They were talking about missionaries and mission trips and so forth a little bit earlier; I’m going to be going on a mission trip this week. I’m going to the Texas House of Representatives and they asked me to be the pastor of the day on Thursday, January 15. Rick Miller, who attends our church set that up so I’m going to be opening the legislative session in prayer and so that will be a fun time. I will do my best to behave myself but opening legislative sessions with prayer is a long standing practice in America, it goes back to the beginning of our country.
And one of the reasons I wanted to do it is because the devil obviously doesn’t like it; I mean, if it wasn’t significant why would the ACLU and some of these groups work overtime to kick it out. So obviously Satan doesn’t like it so I’m happy to be a spoke in the wheel, I guess you could say, or… what am I trying to say… stick in the wheel, spokes are already in the wheel aren’t they. That analogy doesn’t make any sense. So don’t worry, I’m going to have my prayer written out, I won’t make any verbal faux pas like that.
But let’s take a look at John 18:25-32, God is in Control. As you know we are continuing, ever so slowly, to move through John’s Gospel. John, of course, is highlighting this man, Jesus Christ, as evidenced by His signs so that people would read this Gospel and believe in Jesus, and consequently have life.
We are in that very final section of John’s Gospel called the Passion narratives. And they’re called the Passion narratives because they reveal the final week or so of Christ’s life. They reveal His death, chapters 18-19; and then fortunately the gospels don’t just say Jesus died, even more important perhaps than His death is His resurrection and the resurrection of Christ begins to get emphasis in chapters 20-21. But we are still in chapter 18 so we are studying the events that led up to the crucifixion of our Lord.
We have looked at His arrest, chapter 18, verses 1-11, and then following that we began to look at His trials; these would be His legal trials. And when we take all of the information in the Gospels and put them together we discover that there were basically six trials of Jesus; the first three were Jewish in nature and the final three were civil in nature. The first three took place before the Jewish religious leadership on religious charges. The final three trials take place before the Roman leadership and those are not so much religious in nature, the charge, but they deal with something that is political in nature. And we’ll try to draw that distinction for you as we go through these. No Gospel writer gives you all six trials. John, who is very selective in his approach, is going to highlight trials 1, 2, 4 and 6. So the first two religious trials John is focused on, and then he begins to focus on the first civil trial and the last civil trial.
We have already looked at, if you will, Christ’s religious trials. We’ve looked at His trial, as John describes it, before Annas, and then His trial as John describes it before Caiaphas. Now if you weren’t with us last week what we went through are fifteen legal rules that the Jews violated to rush Jesus Christ through the court system and get Him dead. These religious trials that Jesus went through were a sham of justice; they were a mockery. The Jews, to rush Him to an early grave, in their attempt to do so violated their own Old Testament numerous times. And beyond that they violated a document called the Mishnah, which was a set of legal rules that the Jews were supposed to follow. Most Christians have never heard of the Mishnah so we sort of explained what that was last time, and I explained to you the various parts of the Mishnah that the nation of Israel violated.
So the nation of Israel, in essence, has already made up its mind what it’s going to do with Jesus Christ. I believe that the die is cast all the way back in John 11; the Jewish leaders don’t like this man, Jesus. They see Him as a threat to their power and consequently they are going to do whatever they have to do to kill Him, even if it means making things up and making rules up along the way. And that, in essence, is what happened as the Gospel writers describe Christ’s three religious trials. We went into some detail about that last time.
Now as Christ is going through these religious trials one of the things that is happening is there is a contrast taking place in John’s writings in between Christ, who is standing up firm under unjust treatment and then Peter, who is collapsing. He is collapsing morally, he is collapsing ethically, he is collapsing because he is trying to do the work of God through human power. So in these religious trials the scene will shift into what Jesus was enduring, and then it will move very rapidly to outside the building where Annas and Caiaphas were housed, and it shows us what’s going on in Peter.
And John wants us to see this clear contrast. And one of the things that John is trying to communicate to us is the breaking process that the Apostle Peter went through. And I have been referring to this over and over again, as we have been looking at Christ’s dealings with Peter, because I am convinced that it is the identical process God puts many of us through. And it’s a process that we must go through in order to be used of God down the road. There is a tremendous human tendency, and I believe this is related to our sin nature, which we have inherited from Adam, there is a tremendous tendency in our nature towards pride; and that pride doesn’t just stop just because you become a Christian, the Adamic nature is still there. Have you noticed that?
As we move into the Christian life and as we begin to experience the process of discipleship, until we really come under the disciplinary treatment of God we still carry with us a lot of this pride into Christianity. The mind, which has been programmed to think a certain way since conception, since birth, doesn’t just stop thinking that way because you’re a believer now. If my mind was immediately changed into a godly line of thinking why would Paul, in Romans 12:2 tell us very clearly to not be conformed to the pattern of this world, but to be transformed in the renewing of the mind. The command there is to be renewed in the mind, as you study that in Romans 12, particularly verse 1, you’ll see the word “brethren” in that verse, and in verse 2 it talks about it as well.
[Romans 12:1-2, “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.  And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”]
In other words, Paul, in Romans 12, is talking to the believer. Now if our minds were immediately reprogrammed the moment we come to Christ, why would we be told to renew our minds constantly as Christians? So what happens is we become believers and then God begins to want to use us and so He has to reprogram the way we think; He has to, in a sense, neutralize the power of the sin nature that is within us, and He does this largely through a breaking process. This is a process that Peter is involved in.
The breaking process of God is such that He allows us to experience multiple failures as we attempt to do the work of God through human power. So we go into the Christian life and we have all of this pride and self-sufficiency and we want to get involved in ministry and we want God to use us and we sort of step out through human power, and the problem is as long as we are stepping out through human power God really cannot use us. We can only accomplish so much. Our fruit as God’s people comes from not us going out and doing ministry through human power but rather it comes from us being flexible and pliable vessels in the hands of an all-powerful God. If we are the latter rather than the former we will accomplish great things for God. But as long as we are wrapped up in ourselves and in our self-sufficiency and we think in worldly terms our ministries will have very little eternal impact.
Peter is a man of destiny; he is going to become a strategic character or figure in the book of Acts. There isn’t a man that is more dominant to the life of the early church than this man, Peter. God wants to use Peter but He cannot use him as he currently is; He has to first break him down. And that’s true with your life and it’s true with my life; it’s true with all of our lives. God wants to use us but until we go through this breaking process we can never become everything that we have been called to be in God.
So what we have happening here is what we would call a breaking process, but we must go through this breaking process. So notice, if you will, verse 25 as the Lord is setting up, I believe, an opportunity for Peter to fail and to become aware of his limitations. Notice, if you will, verse 25, it says, “Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. So they said to him, ‘You are not also one of His disciples, are you?’ He denied it, and said, ‘I am not.’” This would be Peter’s second denial. You will recall that he denied the Lord earlier in the chapter, back in chapter 18. And what Peter is going through here is this breaking process.
One of the things that’s very interesting about this verse is not so much the way John describes it but rather the way Mark describes it. Mark gives what we would call a parallel passage in Mark 14:69 and this is what it says: “The servant girl saw him, and began once more to say to the bystanders, ‘This is one of them!’” Now you’ll notice who the accuser is, not exactly the most ferocious person you can imaging; this is a little girl. And Peter, under the pressure of this little girl collapses. And what is the Lord trying to teach Peter? He’s trying to teach Peter through this the powerlessness of the flesh. You were so confident in the Upper Room that you would never deny Me. In fact, you might remember what Peter said back in John 13:37, “Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, why can I not follow You right now? I will lay down my life for You.’”
So Peter is making a statement there under human power, I can do this, I can pull this off. And as long as we keep thinking along those lines of I and me and what I can do for the Lord, rather than relying upon His strength, we can do very little for God. So the Lord has to put us through a process by which we become aware of the limitations of the power of the flesh, or the power of human ability. And Peter collapses quite dramatically. He folds under the pressure of not just a woman, but of a little slave girl.
And in fact, if you back up and go back to verse 17, [John 18:17] the first time Peter denied Christ, notice what it says in verse 17, “Then the slave” what? “slave girl who kept the door said to Peter, ‘You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you? He said, I am not.’” So this is the second time this has happened. Peter is collapsing under the pressure of not just a woman but he is collapsing under the pressure of a little slave girl. And the Lord is strategically using these things to show Peter the limitations of his own human power.
You see, it’s not until we actually fail we begin to understand the impotence and the powerlessness of the flesh. The flesh is such that it blinds us. We think that we can accomplish so much for the cause of Christ through human power. God has to allow us, where He says to us, “go for it!” And then we collapse under the mildest of pressure and God then reminds us, this is what you can do through human power…almost nothing!
Jeremiah 17:5, this is a verse that I quoted a little earlier in our series, John 17:5 says, “Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind and makes flesh his strength….” Let me ask you a question, as you sit there and listen to me this morning, as you think about the year 2015, what are you really trusting in? You think of all of the things that you need to accomplish this year, you think of all of the ministries you want to do, you think of all the people you want to reach, all of the people you want to touch, you think of all of the responsibilities in your business or your employment; you think of your family responsibilities and you look at all of those things and my question is as you look at all of those things what are you trusting? How are you going to get all that done?
And I have discovered that when I feel that I am anxiety-ridden and worried about these things of the future that is a sure sign that I am trusting in myself, because you see, if I was really trusting in the Lord what’s there to be worried or anxiety-ridden about? The Lord, after all, is all powerful. And so you level of worry, or your level of anxiety as you look at the future is a pretty good barometer to determine what it is you’re actually trusting in. As you look at the future are you filled with anxiety? That to me is a very sure sign that you could very well be trusting in yourself to accomplish all of these things. But God does not call us to walk out the Christian faith through human power; He calls us to rest in Him. This is a lesson we all must learn and this is a lesson that Peter had to learn.
The Lord, as we have said before, allowed Peter to go through four failures and we’ve talked about those in prior sermons. And even beyond that this is a principle that the Lord uses in any life that He wants to use for His purposes. Joseph had his breaking process, as did Moses, as did Paul, even as did modern characters that we revere in history, people like Abraham Lincoln.
And as we continue on as the Lord is dealing with Peter, notice what He says there in verse 26, “One of the slaves of the high priest, being a relative of one whose ear Peter cut off, said, ‘Did I not see you in the garden with Him?’” Verse 27, “Peter then denied it again, and immediately a rooster crowed.” Now comes the third denial of Peter. You remember what precipitated all of these things? How do we know that Peter was trying to do the work of God through human power? The reason we know that is because he, when Christ was arrested, did not like the fact that Christ was arrested and he picked up a sword or a dagger and he began to swing away. So he began to accomplish what he thought was the work of God through human power. And in the process he cut off a man’s ear; that man is mentioned there in John 18:10 as Malchus, and of course, one of Malchus’ relatives would remember that Peter was the one who cut off the ear. I mean, if someone cut off the ear of your grandfather or your mother or sister you would remember them; right? So the relative of Malchus is remembering what Peter did, and so he raises this issue, I was an eyewitness, I saw you swinging away, I saw you with Christ. You’re one of the disciples of Jesus, aren’t you? And this leads to Peter’s third denial.
Now Mark’s Gospel adds a very interesting detail in the third denial of Jesus. It says this in Mark 14:71, “But he” that would be Peter, “began to curse and swear, ‘I do not know this man you are talking about!’” So Mark tells us that Peter, in the third denial, simply didn’t deny Christ, but he actually got angry over it to the point where he began to curse and swear. Now how do you know if you are under the breaking process of God? How do you really know if God is really doing the surgery, spiritual surgery, in us that He wants to do? You know that He begins to do His greatest work in us when we get angry. The reason we’re getting angry is because God is removing from us, over and over again, all of the things we’ve been trusting in: human strength, human power, human flesh, failure after failure. And that’s a humiliating process to go through.
And as you go through these repeated failures there’s a tendency to become very emotional about it. There’s a tendency to become very angry about it. And so if you find yourself today angry at God over whatever issue is taking place in your life, look at that as now God is really doing the spiritual surgery in your life that He wants to do. As the saying goes, no pain no gain. There has to be some sort of pain involved as our minds are being reprogrammed and God is taking away from us all of the things we’ve been trusting in. And so we have a tendency to become very emotional.
Peter, here at the end of his rope, is just very emotional. I think he’s frustrated because what he thought would pull him to the finish line (himself) he is failing dramatically in that regard. We have a tendency to think that if we become angry then somehow God is not at work in our lives. But when you study this issue of anger in the Scripture what you’ll discover is people get the angriest when they’re about ready to receive one of the greatest transformations they could ever receive.
Remember what David did? David, the King of the nation of Israel, how he committed adultery and then he committed murder, and then he lied to cover it up, and there was a season in David’s life where he hid this sin from the Lord and just kind of went on with business as usual, and pretended that the things that he had done had never transpired. Do you remember when he was confronted by the prophet, Nathan? Do you remember when Nathan told a parable about a king or a shepherd abusing his authority? Do you remember David’s reaction? In 2 Samuel 12:5 it says, “Then David’s anger burned greatly against the man, and he said to Nathan, ‘As the LORD lives, surely the man who has done this deserves to die.’” David, at the point of his breaking, which was imminent, was his angriest. He was angry at the story, he was angry at Nathan, and no doubt he was also angry at God.
Paul went through the same thing. You know, Paul wasn’t always Paul; at one time in his life he was Saul, and his conversion to Christ is recorded in Acts 9 and prior to his conversion to Christ Saul was the angriest. Acts 9:1 says, “Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord….” So just before his breaking he was the angriest; he was the angriest at God, he was the angriest at Christ, he was the angriest at the church. That’s how it worked in David’s life, this anger rose up within him. And that’s how it is working here with Peter’s life. As these men are all on the verge of being broken by God, either through conversion or through discipleship, they become the angriest.
So perhaps you are angry at God, perhaps you are angry at your circumstances, perhaps you are visibly in emotional turmoil and frustrated. I would say you’re probably a lot close to the end of the line, finish line, than you may realize, because we become angriest when the Lord begins to take away things that we have trusted in. That is part of the process; that is part of the breaking process of God.
And finally, when we hit the end of verse 27 we see Peter, in his absolute brokenness. Notice what verse 27 says, “Peter then denied it again,” that would be his third denial, “and immediately a rooster crowed.” The three Synoptic Gospels, that we call Matthew, Mark and Luke, all tell us that Peter wept at this point. For example, in Mark 14:72 this is what it says: “Immediately a rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had made the remark to him, ‘Before a rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times.’ And He began to weep.” Matthew 26:75 puts it this way, “And Peter remembered the word which Jesus had said, ‘before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.’ And he went out and wept bitterly.”
Matthew tells us that Peter didn’t just weep, he wept bitterly. And Luke, in Luke 22:62 says that same thing; it says, “And he went out and wept bitterly.” Now the question becomes why is he weeping? He is weeping because everything that he thought would get him to the finish line; everything that he has trusted in has failed. And there is, consequently an emotional response at loss. He moves from anger, because everything that he had trusted in is collapsing, and now he moves into weeping and there’s a certain sorrow over the fact that everything that he had foolishly trusted in, the arm of the flesh, has in fact been taken away.
And it is not until Peter gets to this point of weeping bitterly that he is exactly where he’s supposed to be in God. The reason he is weeping bitterly is because he now realizes the futility of human power. It’s not until he went through these failures that he understood the futility of human power. But now he has experienced the futility of human power and consequently he begins to weep bitterly. And once he reaches that point he is exactly where God wants him. God is now ready to use this man in a strategic way.
Now why have I gone into this process? Because it is the identical process He is using in your life, the identical process He is using in my life. He’s bringing us to this point of humility, He’s bringing us to this point of dependence, He’s bringing us to this point where we weep bitterly. Why are we weeping bitterly? Because everything we thought would work hasn’t worked. And we say to the Lord, well, Lord, I’ve got no one else but You. Have you been there in your life? Lord, I’ve got no one else to trust in but You, as if that’s some kind of disadvantage. Once you’re in the hands of an all-powerful God, God says that’s exactly the response I’m looking for, and now I’m ready to use your life in a dramatic way. But until I put you through these experiences, until I put you through these circumstances you’re really not ready, you’re really not prepared because of the blindness associated with the power of the flesh.
So are you at a point today where you are angry at God? Are you at a point where you are weeping bitterly before God? Are you at a point today where you are despairing? I would say you’re exactly where God has you because He is doing His greatest spiritual surgery right now in your life.
And as Christ predicted, what happened? “And immediately a rooster crowed.” What was, in fact, the original prediction? You remember back in John 13:38 Jesus said this: “Will you lay down your life for Me? Truly, truly, I say to you, a rooster will not crow until you deny Me three times.” Peter denied the Lord not once, he denied the Lord not twice, he denied the Lord not four times, not six times, not twelve times, but exactly three times, the way Christ said would happen, and following that third denial you have the rooster crowing. And what you discover is a short term prophecy of Jesus Christ that He had made in the Upper Room now is fulfilled.
John 13:19 says this, Jesus made this statement in the Upper Room. “From now on I am telling you before it comes to pass, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am He.” All the way through John’s Gospel Jesus is evidencing who He is through His various signs and miracles. We’ve studied at least seven signs that Jesus has performed. There is another sign, though, that he gave to Peter and there’s another sign that He gives to us, and that other sign is the fulfillment of short term prophecy.
You see Jesus, as God, knows the end from the beginning. And one of the ways He demonstrates or one of the ways He evidences that He is who He claimed to be is through His ability to predict the future. And so to prove this to these twelve Jesus made several short term predictions in the Upper Room, predictions involving Judas, predictions involving Peter, and John is careful to document for us and describe for us how those short term predictions came to pass. And this is further evidence that Jesus Christ is who He claimed to be.
One of the things to understand about the Bible is it is a book of predictions. There are many predictions made way, way back in Old Testament times that were fulfilled in the life of Christ. There were other predictions that Jesus Christ made during His earthly ministry that were fulfilled in the lives of the disciples a short time later. There are other prophecies that are yet to come, things to come. And as you study those predictions of the Bible it is very eerie how the world is being set up exactly as the pages of Scripture said it would be set up in the last days. Because when you study the Bible you are not studying man’s book, you are studying God’s book. You are studying a book that was breathed into existence by an omniscient God, and this subject of prophecy is therefore one of the greatest signs that we have that the Bible is, in fact, the Word of God. There are no such similar signs found in the book of Mormon, there are not no such similar signs found in the Quran. There are no such similar prophecies or predictions found in any other alleged holy book.
This is something that is unique to the Scripture itself. And the reason I bring this up is because many, many people will challenge you on why you believe the Bible is true. To their minds the Bible is just another book, another legend, another story. And this is one of the great proofs that you can use to show them that the Bible is not just one of many religious stories, the Bible is unique in itself, it is God’s book and we know that it is God’s book because of these predictions. Many of them have come to pass; many of them are yet to come. And Jesus Himself said, in John 13:19, “From now on I am telling you before it comes to pass, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am He.’” He uses these short term predictions as the way to validate and verify His claim to be God.
And so consequently at this point Peter is broken. And consequently at this point God is now ready to use Peter. Why is that? Remember the contrast that is taking place between Jesus and His trials and Peter outside the compound of Annas and Caiaphas. That contrast is there to show us what can be accomplished through divine power, Jesus Christ, and what little can be accomplished through human power, Peter.
So how did Peter change? The power of Jesus Christ that was resident in Christ’s trials as He stood up under unfair treatment; that power came inside Peter. That power, that man Jesus Christ Himself who stood up under all of that unfair treatment, went inside of Peter himself on the day of Pentecost. And this is why the Bible tells us that our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. And this is why the early church was able to do everything that it was able to do in God because it was not relying upon human power the way Peter was outside the temple compound, but that early church was relying on Jesus Christ Himself, who as He stood up under unfair treatment took residence in the heart of Peter on the day of Pentecost. And Peter learned to draw upon that strength and consequently he became the man of God and the man of destiny that he became. He became that because he was no longer the John 18 Peter but he became the Acts 2 Peter. And what was the difference? The power of Jesus Christ exhibited through His trials and standing up under unjust treatment actually went inside Peter on the day of Pentecost. His body became the temple of the Holy Spirit and he became everything that he became in God as he depended on God.
We simply cannot accomplish great things for God through human strength. It is only as we learn to rely upon and depend upon the resources of the Holy Spirit that is within us can we become what we are supposed to become in God. Peter would not only become a strategic character in Acts 1-10 but as we study John’s Gospel, later on in John 21, we’re going to see that another prediction was given over Peter, his martyrdom. Peter would be given the privilege of dying a martyr’s death.
How is it that we can have the strength, even to deny a martyr’s death? You know, there are martyrdoms happening all over this world as I speak, Christian martyrdoms. How is it that people can become a martyr? How is it that they have the strength to stand up under unfair treatment, such as martyrdom? And the answer is they are not relying upon themselves. They are relying upon Jesus Christ, who Himself stood up under unfair treatment during His three religious trials. That same Jesus Christ comes into us at the point of faith and we learn to walk moment by moment dependent upon these resources of the Holy Spirit that is within us.
I have no ability to die a martyr’s death. I have no ability to be burned at the stake and to die with praises to God on my lips as has been recorded through many martyrdoms throughout the last 2,000 years. If you’re asking me to do that through human power I cannot do that. But if you’re asking me to do that through Jesus Christ who is within me, then it becomes possible, doesn’t it? I cannot minister the way Peter ministered in Acts 2; I cannot do that through human power, but if you’re asking me to do that through the power of Jesus Christ, who is living inside of me, then I have the ability to do that.
And unless we go through this breaking process we will foolishly move into our Christian life where we will seek to do this and that and this and that for God and it will get absolutely nowhere. And God has to bring us to the point, through perpetual breaking, whereby we acknowledge that it is by His strength and His power. What did Paul say? “I can do all things through,” what? “Christ who strengthens me.” [Philippians 4:13] What does Zechariah 4:6 say? “Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the LORD.” And this is what God is trying to teach us. This is what He is trying to communicate to us. And this is why we have so much evidence about this transitionary character and transitionary figure, the Apostle Peter.
Now as we move into verse 28 the scenery shifts just a little bit. John, as we mentioned before, is highlighting trials 1 and 2, and 4 and 6, so now we’re moving away from the religious trials of Jesus Christ and we’re now moving into the civil trials of Jesus Christ, these are trials that Jesus experienced primarily before a man named Pilate. So the religious trials of Jesus Christ are now in our rear view mirror and now we are moving into the governmental trial, the trial before Rome. And John primarily is focused on the two trials that Jesus had before this man named Pilate.
This is a massive section of Scripture. John is one of those writers that records long conversations. You remember the very long conversation that Jesus had with Nicodemus in John 3. You remember the very long conversation that Jesus had with the woman at the well in John 4. And John is using that same style of writing and essentially these final trials before Pilate he records in the form of a giant conversation, a fascinating conversation and a dialogue takes place between Jesus and this man, Pilate.
I believe that John organizes this material around four questions, because when you study John 18:28 all the way through John 19:16, what you will discover here are four questions. These are all questions asked by Pilate. Notice, for example, verse 29, “Therefore Pilate went out to them and said, ‘What accusation do you bring against this man?’” That’s question number 1, and that covers the material from verses 28-32.
Now notice if you will John 18:33, here is the second question that Pilate asks: John 18:33, “Therefore Pilate entered again into the Praetorium, and summoned Jesus and said to Him, ‘Are You the king of the Jews?’” That’s question number 2. And that will cover that block of material from verse 33 through about halfway through verse 38. And then Pilate asks another question, notice, if you will, John 18:39, here is the third question. “But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover; do you,” now here Pilate is speaking to the Jews, “do you wish then that I release for you the king of the Jews?” That’s question number 3 and that is going to cover verses 38-40. And then finally there is one more question it’s over in chapter 19:9, this is during the second trial of Jesus before Pilate, his final trial. And it says, Pilate says this, “‘Where are You from?”’ And this gives Christ an opportunity to answer and so chapter 19, verses 1-16 is covering that section of material.
Now all of this, don’t worry, we’re not going to be covering today but I’m trying to explain to you why I have decided to outline this material before Pilate the way I have. It’s essentially related to four questions by Pilate giving Jesus primarily opportunity to reveal to this man, Pontius Pilate, more information about Himself.
But notice, if you will, verse 28, this is the first trial before Pilate and let’s take a look as we have time today just at this first question: notice, if you will, John 18:28, notice what it says: ‘Then they led Jesus from Caiaphas into the Praetorium, and it was early; and they themselves did not enter into the Praetorium so that they would not be defiled, but might eat the Passover.” You’ll notice that they are now leading Jesus away from Caiaphas; Caiaphas was the functioning high priest; he was the head of the Sanhedrin. Jesus has been found guilty before the Sanhedrin for the charge of blasphemy. So he is guilty in the eyes of the leadership of the nation of Israel and consequently they are now, with that guilty verdict rendered, leading Him away from Jewish authority to Roman authority.
You’ll notice also in verse 28 that it says they went “into the Praetorium.” What is the Praetorium? The Praetorium is the Roman military governor’s headquarters. Pilate was a Roman governor over Judea. At this time in history, as we will explain, the Romans had come to power, they had occupied the land of Israel, and they put into place this man, Pontius Pilate. Pilate was the Roman governor over this land of Judea.
Now Pilate’s headquarters were normally up north in a place called Caesarea. However, when it was a Jewish feast day what Pilate typically did is he moved his headquarters temporarily to Jerusalem to prevent any riots that might be breaking out, because you have to understand that when there was a Jewish feast day Jews from all over the known world would come to Jerusalem; there was always the risk of riots and things of that nature because of these massive crowds. So during the Jewish feast days Pilate would move his headquarters from Caesarea down south into the city of Jerusalem. And of course, as we know, this is a feast day. All of these events are happening on Passover. Pilate probably chose, as his headquarters, Herod’s former palace on the western wall of the city. It was just a temporary headquarters that he would use during feast days and this is where the Jews brought Jesus Christ because that’s where they knew Pilate was.
You’ll also notice in verse 28 that it was early in the morning; most would say it was probably somewhere between 6:00-7:00 a.m. And you’ll notice that when the Jews brought Jesus Christ to Pilate they would not enter the building or the room where Pilate was. That’s very fascinating; notice this if you will, verse 28, “and they themselves did not enter into the Praetorium so that they would not be defiled, but might eat the Passover.” The Jews believed that interacting with the Gentiles, like Pilate, made them ceremonially unclean.
In fact, in the book of Acts, chapter 10:28 there is an example of this as Luke, the author of Acts, highlights some things Peter said; “And he said to them, ‘You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; and yet God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean.’”
You see, when Peter was told that his job was to minister to Cornelius, a Gentile, Peter initially did not want to do that because he felt that his presence with this Gentile would make him ceremonially unclean. So the Jews believed that if they were too closely connected with this man, Pilate, they would be disqualified from participating in the Passover. A Gentile, like Pilate, would not keep everything in a kosher state. A Gentile, like Pilate, might even had yeast in his residence or in his home. When you study Exodus 12:19 and Exodus 13:7 there can be no leavened bread. Exodus 12:19 says, “Seven days there shall be no leaven found in your house.…” Exodus 13:7 says, “Unleavened bread shall be eaten throughout the seven days; and nothing leavened shall be seen among you, nor shall any leaven be seen among you in all your borders.
So this was a requirement that the Jews were under to celebrate Passover. And they felt that their presence with this man, Pilate, would make them ceremonially unclean. Tasker, in his commentary, says this: “…they are anxious to avoid external defilement in order to observe a festival whose real significance was that, as well as reminding God’s people of the ancient deliverance from Egypt, it pointed forward to the true Passover Lamb, whose sacrifice would bring to an end all distinctions between what was ceremonially clean and unclean, and effect an inward cleansing; and it was the death of that true Passover Lamb that the Jews at this moment are anxious to bring about.” How ironic.
Constable, in his online notes says this: “Ironically the Jews were taking extreme precautions to avoid ritual defilement while at the same time preparing to murder the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world.”
Why does John give us this little tidbit about the Jews not wanting to go into the Praetorium? John is explaining to us the power that religion has to blind us to the big picture. See, religion will get you focused on do’s and don’ts. Religion will get you focused on rules. Religion will get you focused on external behavior. And those religious concepts can be so blinding over us that we miss the big picture in the process. There they are so uptight and worried about ceremonial defilement that they don’t even realize that they are crucifying the One that the Passover Ceremony ultimately points to. They are crucifying the One who is actually going to, through His death, burial, resurrection, get rid of, in the age of the church, all of these rituals and rules.
How many people in this world, how many people in this city, are so focused on the minutia, they are so focused on the do’s and don’ts, they are so focused on the ritual, they are so focused on the routine of their religiosity that they are blind to the reality of Jesus Christ. I can’t tell you how many people there are like that; I know from firsthand experience, because I was once one of them. I was an altar boy in the church that I grew up with; I had the whole service memorized by heart. I received a giant cross to wear around my neck because of my record in that church in terms of perfect attendance, service as an altar boy and things of that nature. And I could tell you everything you wanted to know about that service; I could tell you about the hymns that were going to be sung; I could tell you about the sections of doctrine that were going to be read. If there was ever a person focused on dos and don’ts and ritual and routine, that was me. And may I just say to you that during that whole time period I was completely blind as to who Jesus Christ was. I did not understand that Jesus had come into the world to die for my sins and that I can have a personal relationship with Him by way of faith.
And this, in essence, is what is happening to these in first century Israel: worried about the Passover, worried about unleavened or leavened bread; worried about ritual, ceremonial impurity, and they are ushering Jesus Christ to an early grave in fulfillment of all of that rich Passover imagery.
John doesn’t just point out this blindness here; he points it out in John 19:31. It says this, “Then the Jews, because it was the day of preparation, so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.” We’ve got to get these bodies down; we’ve got to get these people out of here. Why? Because of our religion, because of Sabbath and things of that nature. So focused on Sabbath, so focused on the routine, so focused on the ritual that they don’t even realize what has happened before their very eyes regarding the death of Jesus Christ. The power of religiosity and rules to blindness, to truth, cannot be understated and it cannot be overestimated. It’s a tremendous blindness that humanity is under as long as we remain religious.
Notice, if you will, verse 29, it says, “Therefore Pilate went out,” see, Pilate has to go out to where the Jews are because the Jews aren’t going to come into the Praetorium, “Therefore Pilate went out to them and said, ‘What accusation do you bring against this Man?” Pilate goes out to them, Pilate addressed those assembled outside of his headquarters, and he says to them, do you want me to put this man to death? There needs to be a formal charge.
Notice, if you will, verse 30, as the Jews begin to respond, “They answered and said to him, ‘If this Man were not an evildoer, we would not have delivered Him to you.’” You’ll notice how these Jews are hesitant to bring up this specific charge against Jesus Christ. The specific charge against Jesus Christ, based upon these faulty religious trials, is the charge of blasphemy. That issue will not get Christ crucified because that is a religious charge, not a political charge. We have now transferred things from the religious world to the political world.
Pilate wants to know what Roman law has this man violated; if you want me to crucify Him I need to know what the specific charge and infraction of Roman law this man has violated. And they just said well, He was a bad guy, He was bad, He was evil and take our word for it. And essentially what they want is a rubber stamp. I’m reminded very much of Paul when he was in Corinth and this is what it says in Acts 18:14-15, it says: “But when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, ‘If it were a matter of wrong or of a vicious crime, O Jews, it would be reasonable for me to put up with you;  but if there are questions about words and names and your own law, look after it yourselves; I am unwilling to be a judge of these matters.”
You see, a Roman, in order to execute punishment was not interested in a religious controversy. The charges against Jesus were blasphemous in nature; they were religious in nature, and that may have been sufficient to get Christ executed in the land of Israel by the Jews but it was not sufficient to get Him executed before the Romans.
In fact, one of the things you discover through these trials and shenanigans that are going on is the Jews changed the charge. Now every attorney knows you can’t change the charge or the indictment right in the middle of a trial, but that is, in essence, what they did because Luke 23:2 says, “And they began to accuse Him, saying, ‘We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, and saying that He Himself is Christ, the King.” Now they’re trying to rephrase the issue as if Jesus is promoting insurrection.
So right in the middle of this legal process that is going on they change the charge, they change the indictment and what prosecutors typically do it they try to throw so much Jell-O at the wall hoping something will stick, let’s throw this charge at Him, let’s throw that charge at Him. And if we just keep throwing enough Playdoh or Jell-O against the wall something will stick and they actually come up with three things: number 1, He was misleading our nation; number 2, He was forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar; number 3, He Himself says He is Christ the King.
Now were the prior trials that took place involved in those specific charges? No. Were there any witnesses raised on those specific charges? No. But what their thinking is we have got Jesus guilty in the eyes of Israel, now we’ve got to get Him guilty in the eyes of Rome so let’s just change the charge, let’s just change the indictment, and let’s just come up with a smorgasbord of charges, hoping something will stick.
And you’ll notice what Pilate’s reaction is, verse 31, when he sees all of this going on. “So Pilate said to them, ‘Take Him yourselves and judge Him according to your law.” If you can’t come up with a formal charge, if you can’t come up with something specific that this man has done wrong, then I’m going to return, or remand the case to you and let the Jewish system handle it. That is a problem for the nation of Israel and the Jews that wanted Christ dead. Why is that? Because of verse 21, the second part of the verse, “The Jews said to him, ‘We are not permitted to put anyone to death….” If they return the case to the Jews the Jews know they have a problem because they are not permitted, at this time in history, to put anyone to death. What had happened historically? What had happened historically is Rome had come to power over the land of Israel in about 63 B.C. and they had taken away from the Jews the power of capital punishment. They had taken away from the Jews the ability to execute criminals.
You say well, wait a minute; wait a minute! Wasn’t Stephen killed? Didn’t the Jews stone Stephen to death? Yes, they did stone him to death but you see, Stephen was tried for speaking against the temple. Josephus, in his Antiquities quotes General Titus, a Roman, as follows: “And we do not permit you to put to death anyone who passed by it,” the barrier “even were he a Roman.”
In other words, the nation of Israel could not execute criminals unless the charge involved speaking against the temple. As long as the charge was speaking against the temple they could execute their own criminals but you see, Jesus has not been charged with that. They tried to, you remember, earlier on in the religious trials, falsely charge Him with that but the witnesses couldn’t agree with each other. So now they come up with this other charge of blasphemy. Now blasphemy is a terrific or horrific charge in the nation of Israel but it does not involve speaking against the temple. And so consequently the Jews, even with this exception, are still lacking in the ability to put Jesus Christ to death.
And what I want you to see in all of this is the sovereign hand of God. God is not going to allow the nation of Israel to put Jesus to death. He is specifically orchestrating things whereby only the Romans are going to be allowed to put Jesus to death. Why? Because the Romans have a way of putting people to death called crucifixion. You say well, where did this idea of crucifixion come from? Crucifixion did not come from originally the Romans? Contrary to popular opinion the Romans did not invent crucifixion; it was the Assyrians that invented crucifixion there on that eastern circle you see Assyria and there east of the Tigris River is the key city of the Assyrian Empire in the days of Jonah called the city of Nineveh. These were the people that invented this barbaric practice of crucifixion. And of all of the barbaric and cruel people on the face of the earth, the Assyrians, I believe, were right at the top of the list.
If I came in here with some of my extra biblical citations and read to you exactly what the Assyrians did to people and how they punished people it would be enough to make you stomach turn. It was the Assyrians that God used to scatter the northern tribes in 722 B.C. This explains why Jonah, when God commanded him to go to Nineveh and preach the grace of God went in the exact opposite direction. That circle there on the far west, that’s a place called Tarshish or modern day Spain; that’s where Jonah went. Jonah did not want to see grace come to the Assyrians, the inventors of the crucifixion.
Just to give you kind of a modern parallel we see in the news all of these people from ISIS chopping off the heads of Americans and things like that and we have a natural hatred for that and a natural revolution. And what if all of a sudden God gave you a vision and a dream right now and said I want you to go to where the people of ISIS are and I want you to preach My grace. We would say God, I thought you were an American, what do you mean preach grace to those people. Jonah hated these people. And of course, we know the story of Jonah, how God had to deal with Jonah to get him into a frame of mind to do God’s will.
But it’s the Assyrians that developed this concept of the crucifixion. The Romans, when they came to power, simply said you know, this idea of a crucifixion, this sounds like a swell idea; I mean, this will deter crime, won’t it? We’ll have these criminals executed publicly and hang on crosses and that will deter crime. All Rome did was take an ancient Assyrian practice and popularize it.
But what I want you to see is this was the hand of God; it was necessary for Jesus to be executed by the Romans rather than the Jews. Why? Because of a subject we mentioned a little earlier, the fulfillment of prophecy. How did the Jews execute people? Through stoning. Now when you go to the land of Israel, I’ve been there twice, you see why they use stones and rocks because stones and rocks are everywhere. What a great way to kill people, just throw rocks at them until they’re dead. In fact, Leviticus 24:16 says, “Moreover, the one who blasphemes the name of the LORD shall surely be put to death; all the congregation shall certainly stone him.” Numbers 15:32-36 says, “Now the sons of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering wood on the sabbath day.” And later on it says,  “So all the congregation brought him outside the camp and stoned him….”
John 8:59, you know Jesus was almost stoned to death. It says in John 8:59, “Therefore they picked up stones” after He claimed to be the great I am, “they picked up stones to throw at Him….” If the nation of Israel had been given permission to execute Christ He would have died through stoning, not through crucifixion.
You say well, so what? Had that happened the specific prophetic blueprint would have never been fulfilled. One of the prophecies Jesus gave about His own death in John 12:32, He says, “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.” What lifts you from the earth? Not being stoned to death but being lifted from the earth through crucifixion. Jesus, in Matthew 20:17 says, “and they will hand” speaking of Himself, “Him over to the Gentiles to mock and scourge and crucify Him….” Jesus Himself predicted that He would die, not through stoning but through crucifixion.
Not only would Christ prophesies have failed if the Jews had killed Christ but prophecies written about Christ in the pages of Scripture, going back into the Old Testament would have never been fulfilled. Do you remember what David said in Psalm 22:16, about a thousand years before the time of Christ? He says, “For dogs have surrounded me; a band of evildoers has encompassed me; they pierced my hands and my feet.” What instrument of death pierces one’s hands and feet? Not being stoned to death but being crucified. You see David, a thousand years in advance is prophesying this specific way that the Messiah would die before the Assyrians had even invented the practice.
This shows you that God knows the end from the beginning and He is orchestrating human events so that the specifics of His Word can be fulfilled. Isaiah 53:5, of course Isaiah 53 is a well-known prophecy about Christ, written 700 years in advance, and it says, “But He was pierced through for our transgressions….” Zechariah 12:10 says, “I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have….” What? “pierced.” Was Jesus pierced? Yes, His hands were pierced, His feet were pierced, His side was pierced, none of which would have happened had the Jews simply thrown rocks at Him until He was dead.
What’s the main point I’m trying to communicate? God is in control; God is in control of events that seem like they are out of control. These things are happening as the Jews want to execute Christ but legally they cannot do it so they have to turn it over to the Romans. This whole dialogue is taking place between the Jewish leaders and Pilate. But what is behind it all? It is the hand of God; it is God that allowed the Assyrians to invent this practice of crucifixion. It is God that allowed the Romans to popularize it. It is God who allowed the Romans, in 63 B.C. to come into power over the land of Israel so that the Jews would not have the ability to execute their own criminals. It is the hand of God that is at work in all of these things so that the tiny specifics of His Word can be fulfilled.
And if God can be in control of events like this, that seem totally out of control, how is it that we develop this mentality in our lives that when we have problems God is not in control. If God can control what government is in place and what method of execution is in place to fulfill specific prophecies that He made hundreds and thousands of years in advance, can He not govern and narrate your life? And we move so quickly into fear without trusting in God who is in control of all things. And that’s why we titled this message “God is in Control.”
He’s in control! But pastor, don’t you know that the Iranians are about ready to get their hands on nuclear weapons? Aren’t you worried about that? In a sense I am worried about it but I’ll tell you one thing, God is in control of that. If I didn’t have the perspective of the Word of God I would be terrified at things I see in the news. But pastor, haven’t you been watching all of the things that have happened regarding Ferguson, and the racial tension that is escalating in our country? Yeah, I’ve watched it. Aren’t you disturbed by it? Yeah, I am disturbed by it but ultimately I look at something like this as that too is under the sovereign thumb and hand of God.
But pastor, don’t you realize when you read these prayer requests about the number of people that are in our congregation that are having difficulty, some have signs of cancer, aren’t you worried about that? Yeah, I am concerned about that and I’m worried about that but the fact of the matter is, even cancer is under the sovereign authority and the control of God.
There isn’t anything that is happening in this world, there isn’t anything that’s happening in your life right now that is not under the sovereign thumb and control of God. I don’t understand all of the reasons why God does what He does; I wish I did. But at the end of the day I know that God has not somehow lost control of our lives; He has not lost control of this universe, He has not lost control of you and we need to simply trust Him moment by moment and walk by faith. God is in control!
It’s possible you can be here today and life seems out of control to you because you really don’t know Him personally. And that’s why at all of our services we like to give out what we call the gospel. The gospel is so critical because the gospel shows you specifically how to enter into a relationship with the God who made you. How do you specifically enter into a relationship with the God who is in control of all things? And it’s through something that the Scripture calls and that we call the gospel. The gospel means good news. And the reason it’s good news is because Jesus did all of it. We’re going to be studying later on, not today but in subsequent sermons, John 19 where Jesus will say “It is finished.” In other words, the sin debt of the world has been paid for, “It is finished,” there’s nothing else for us to do; that’s why it’s good news.
And we simply respond to it as one responds the way they receive a free gift from God; we don’t work for it, we don’t earn it, we don’t commit ourselves through New Year’s resolutions to trying harder, I’m not against New Year’s resolutions but we don’t enter into a relationship with God through New Year’s resolutions. We enter into a relationship with the God that made us, who is in control over all things by responding by faith, receiving as a free gift, what has already been accomplished for us.
The Holy Spirit has come into the world to convict us of our need to receive the gospel and if you find yourself this morning under the conviction of the Holy Spirit, because you perhaps are a religious person but you don’t know if you’re a child of God or not, our exhortation to you is to respond to the convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit and to simply receive what Jesus has done. Metaphorically open your hands to God and receive what He has already accomplished for you. You do that by way of faith alone. Faith is another way of saying trust, it’s another way of saying reliance, it’s another way of saying dependence upon, it’s another way of saying confidence in.
The Spirit of God convicts us and we respond by faith to what Jesus has done; we rely upon Him and His Word and His truth for the safekeeping of our soul. Becoming a Christian is not twelve steps; becoming a Christian is one step. It’s something that takes place in the privacy of one’s own mind and heart as the Holy Spirit places you under conviction. It’s not something you raise a hand to do, walk an aisle to do, join a church to do, give money to do; it’s a moment of privacy between you and the Lord where you place the trust for your eternity and the safe keeping of your soul into the hands of Jesus Christ, who has accomplished everything for us.
If that’s something you have done or are doing then on the authority of the Word of God you have just changed your eternal destiny. It’s something you can do right now, even as I am speaking. But that’s what brings you into a relationship with this God who is in control of all things. Shall we pray.