A Portrait of the Atonement
You guys didn’t hear my wife just now, she’s sitting up here in the front, she goes oh, I forgot, I sent all your coats to the cleaners. So that’s a little filler there why I don’t have a jacket on but I still have a tie on, I haven’t apostatized too badly. Let’s take our Bibles and open them to John 18:37, we’re going to look this morning at verses 37-40, and the title of our message this morning is a portrait of the atonement. Here we are continuing to move through John’s Gospel, hopefully we’ll get out of chapter 18 today, God willing. Of course, as we all know by now, if we don’t know it by now I can’t help because we’ve gone over and over it again, and it’s interesting we had missionaries today, the book of John is really a missionary type of book; it’s written, really to unsaved people. It’s written to document who Jesus is as evidenced by His various signs, with the hope that the unbeliever may believe in this man, Jesus, the Son of God, and have life.
We are in that very final section of John’s Gospel called the Passion narratives, which revolve around His death, chapters 18-19, and then His resurrection, verses 20-21.
We’ve been talking about the events leading to the crucifixion of Jesus. We have seen His arrest, and we have been watching Him endure what I would call mockeries of justice, sham trials. He had two trials that John has highlighted for us in front of the Jewish nation and they, at that point, hand over Christ to the Romans, to Pilate, for execution, and that’s where we find ourselves.
John organizes his material, as Jesus is interacting with Pilate, around four questions. The first question is what accusation do you have against this man? Pilate, there, is speaking to the Jews. And it’s at this point we learn that the Jews cannot execute Jesus because Rome had taken away from the Jews the power of capital punishment, and that is to fulfill the Word of the Lord, Jesus has to die a specific way, through piercing and through crucifixion. Had the Jews killed Christ they would have stoned Him to death.
And then, last time we started in on that second question and this is something that Pilate is asking Jesus; he asks Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?” And it’s at that point, remember we spent all Sunday morning on verse 36; you remember what Jesus said there? “My Kingdom is not of this world; if My kingdom were of this world then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.”
And because of the abuse that people use when they quote this verse last Sunday we traced the whole concept of the kingdom throughout the Bible. I tried to show you that this verse in no way, shape or form denies that Jesus one day will set up an earthly reign on planet earth called the Millennium. Many people use this verse to say there is no future kingdom on earth because after all, Jesus is reigning in our hearts. And when people begin to talk like that what they’re doing is they’re repackaging all of the Old Testament data that there will be a literal, earthly, terrestrial kingdom with Jesus reigning on David’s throne from Jerusalem for a thousand years.
So what is Jesus simply saying here? He’s saying “My kingdom is not now going to be established.” In the Greek text there is that word nyn which means now. And Jesus is also saying, through another Greek preposition, ek, My kingdom is not sourced in this world. When the kingdom comes it will not emanate from the earth to the earth; in fact, it will emanate from heave to the earth. That’s why it’s called “the kingdom of heaven.” So we spent all week, not all week but it probably seemed like all week, but all sermon time last time developing that idea.
And what we discover now as we move into verse 37 and Jesus and Pilate are continuing to dialogue with each other, notice verse 37, “Therefore Pilate said to Him, ‘So You are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.’ Pilate did not understand the nature of Christ’s kingdom. The point that Jesus made that His kingdom would come one day, not now, but when it comes it would be sourced in heaven, coming to the earth; it’s likely that Pilate didn’t understand any of that. But he did understand this much: Jesus is the ruler of the kingdom. The kingdom is not now, the kingdom will come and when it comes Jesus will be the ruler of it.
Pilate understood that Jesus was claiming a kingdom for Himself and that He Himself was the ruler of that kingdom. And consequently Pilate asked a question, “So you are a king?” (Question mark.) This gives Jesus, in verse 37, an opportunity to explain a little bit more about His kingdom. He had some negative prohibitions to say about His kingdom back in verse 36, this is what the kingdom is not, the kingdom is not now, the kingdom is nor sourced in this earth, and having said what the kingdom is not now he goes on in verse 37 and he begins to talk about what the kingdom actually is.
Jesus, here in verse 37, is saying I am a King, and My purpose in coming to the earth is to create citizens or subjects of this future kingdom. In fact, Jesus actually says here in verse 37 that He was born into the world for this very purpose; He was born into the world to create citizens of a kingdom that is coming, a kingdom that’s on the horizon.
You’ll notice also in verse 37 He says that He comes “into the world, to testify to the truth.” That Greek word truth, alētheia, is so important as we watch this conversation unfold between Jesus and Pilate. Jesus is born into the world to reveal the truth; that’s why He came. We know that that is the mission of Christ because this was unfolded to us all the way back in the beginning of John’s Gospel. You will recall John 1:18, it says, “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.” Jesus came into the world, taking on human flesh, adding flesh to eternally existent deity for the purpose of revealing to humanity the Father. What better way for truth to be revealed to the human race about the Father than for Jesus Christ, the Second Member of the Trinity to become human Himself. When He became a man He did not subtract from His deity but He added to eternally existent deity humanity. This is why Jesus came into the world.
You might remember the conversation between Jesus and Philip in the Upper Room, John 14:8-9, “Philip said to Him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.’  Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father?’”
What has Jesus come into the world to do? He has come into the world to disclose truth. There are many people today (as I’ll show you in a minute) that have no interest in truth. But Jesus is all about truth and He is not simply revealing truth just for the sake of revealing truth; He is revealing truth to the fallen mind so that the fallen human being can believe in Jesus Christ and consequently be born spiritually. And as that process begins to happen throughout the world Jesus is winning citizens and subjects of a kingdom that is yet to come. And yet this new spiritual birth, this opportunity to become a believer in Jesus Christ, cannot and will not happen without truth. That’s why truth there, the Greek word alētheia, is so critical.
2 Timothy 3:15 says this about the Scripture, “and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” How does an individual come to faith in Jesus Christ? Paul writes to Timothy and he says Timothy, the way it happened in your life is through an exposure to the truth, an exposure to the sacred writings which made you wise unto salvation.
We all know Romans 10:17, “So faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the” what? “The word of Christ or the Word of God.” 1 Peter 1:23 says, “For you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God.” Peter writes to his audience and he says the reason you are born again is because you had an exposure to the living and enduring and abiding word of God and you responded to that truth by way of faith.
James 1:18 says something very similar; it says, ‘In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures.” What is the tool that God uses to give men and women an opportunity to trust in Jesus Christ so that they can become citizens of this coming kingdom? It is always through a systematic exposure to truth. That’s one of the things that’s so troubling today in our society and even in our churches where truth is on the chopping block.
Truth is not something that is emphasized; even many pulpits today are not emphasizing truth. And the more that trend continues, particularly here in America, the more we can expect the church of Jesus Christ to shrink numerically. Oh, you may be able to fill up a building with a crowd but I’m talking about actual born again believers. That number starts to shrink because the way people become a born again believer, as these verses indicate, is always through an exposure of the truth.
Do you remember that story of the… it’s not really a story, it’s an actual historical event that happened, the rich man that died and went into Hades, and in that place of torment he desired to come out of Hades and he desired to warn his brothers who are on the same path of unbelief that he was on, and therefore would come to the same place where he is, in Hades? Do you remember the response that was given?
“And he said, ‘Then I beg you father that you should send him to my father’s house—  for I have five brothers—in order that he may warn them, so that they will not come to this place of torment.’  But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’  But he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone comes back from the dead, they will repent!’  ‘But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’” [Luke 16:27-31]
If a person hardens their heart to scriptural truth, in this case Moses and the prophets, which are capable of making one wise unto salvation, if a person closes their mind and closes their heart and closes their ears to truth then no amount of miracles can reverse their condition, because you see, the way that God wins converts and citizens of His kingdom, which is coming, is always through an exposure of truth to them. That’s why Jesus came into the world, to reveal to humanity truth.
And what a glorious thing it is when a person responds to the truth by way of faith. At that point they become a child of God; they become a citizen of the coming kingdom. John 1:12-13 puts it this way: “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name,  who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”
The only type of child of God that exists is the born again individual. And the only way for an individual to be born again spiritually is to respond by faith to the truth of God’s Word. That’s how citizens of this coming kingdom are won; that’s how subjects of this coming kingdom are won. It’s not a complicated process; it’s revealed to us very clearly in the pages of the Word of God as we look at all of these passages that I’ve been bringing to your attention.
One of the things that’s very interesting to note is God has no grandchildren. Many people think that they have a relationship with God based on what their parents believe or what their grandparents believed or what some close friend, perhaps, believes. And you’ll notice that God deals with each of us as individuals. Each of us, as individuals, must come to a place in our life where we have trusted in the truth, which is the gospel, and consequently we begin to experience (at that point) the gift of life.
And Jesus here indicates, in verse 37, that everybody who wants this truth, and there are many people that don’t want it, everybody who wants this truth follows Him. There are others who reject the truth. Why is that? Because John 3:19-21 talks about those who once they get close to the light they hate the light because the light exposes, and they fear the light and they move away from the light. [John 3:19-21, “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.  For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.  But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.”]
There are many people that are just like that, they don’t want to come to church, they don’t want to read their Bible; they don’t want any exposure to Christian truth because the closer they get to the light the more uncomfortable they feel because that’s the nature of light; light exposes. But there are others who desire this Light, Jesus is indicating here in verse 37. And as they desire this Light they naturally gravitate towards Jesus Christ. So of course, the question for all of us is which category do we find ourselves in? Hopefully we at Sugar Land Bible Church are in that second or latter category.
Jesus is explaining all of these things to this man, Pontus Pilate, because He is giving Pilate a rare opportunity; He is giving to this man, Pilate, an invitation. One of the things that’s very interesting to note about this conversation taking place between Jesus and Pilate is Jesus is being mistreated, Jesus is being abused. Next week in John 19 we will see Him scourged. He has already been hit in the face by those that were connected with the Jewish high priest. All of His legal rights, as we have talked about in prior Sundays, have been violated. And in spite of all of this injustice Jesus is not vindicating Himself, He is not demanding His rights, but He is focused on this man, Pilate.
I mean, what would we be like if we were in this circumstance? We would be yelling and screaming and moaning and complaining. But you’ll notice that Jesus does none of those things; in fact, He, in several of these trials doesn’t even open His mouth to defend himself. Instead, His focus is totally on this man, Pilate, His very persecutor. Why is Jesus so focused on Pilate? Because Pilate is a soul for whom Christ died. Pilate, regardless of his sinful and spiritual proclivities is a being made in the image of God.
What does it mean to be made in the image of God? What it means is we share in some of His attributes; we call those His communicable attributes. For example, God is forever, He is, according to Psalm 90:2 “olam,” forever and ever is God. [Psalm 90:2 says, “Before the mountains were born or You gave birth to the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.”]
Consequently when we are created in the image of God we have not always existed the way God has, we have a beginning point, at the point of conception, but from that point onward we are eternal beings. Ecclesiastes 3:11 tells us that God has also set eternity in the hearts of men. [Ecclesiastes 3:11, “He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also set eternity in their heart….”]
And because we bear the image of God, in essence what that means is all people will be alive somewhere ten years from now, a hundred years from now, a thousand years from now, a million years from now, a billion years from now, a trillion years from now. Daniel 12:2 puts it this way: “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt.” You’ll notice that there is everlasting life and there is also an everlasting contempt. Why is that? Because we bear God’s very image; we are fashioned for eternity.
Pilate is going to be alive somewhere long after these events happened and Jesus sees him in that light and consequently He is reaching out to this man, Pilate, because he is an eternal being, not eternally existent, this man Pilate, but will exist forever. Eternity is fashioned into his heart, and whether you spend eternity with Christ or separated from Christ in a place of conscious torment, called hell, is totally dependent upon the decision, the faith decision you make for Jesus Christ now.
How does that faith decision come about? It comes about through an exposure to the truth and believing, or having faith in that truth. That’s why Jesus is not preoccupied with Himself; rather He is preoccupied with Pilate. What an example of selflessness from this man, Jesus Christ. It reminds me of Mark 10:45 which says, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
I am reminded also of the book of Philippians, chapter 2, verses 5-8, which is a tremendous passage speaking of the servanthood of Jesus Christ. It says: “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus,  who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be gasped,  but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of man.  Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Jesus, as He is being mistreated, is simply saying it’s not about Me, it’s about you, Pilate, because your soul will be alive somewhere eternally and I’m concerned about your wellbeing.
And you would think that this man, Pilate, would recognize the unique opportunity that he had before him. You would think he would take advantage of it but as we go down to verse 38 we see Pilate is obviously a very cynical, a very sarcastic individual. He does not take advantage of this opportunity that he has. Notice Pilate’s response:  “Pilate said to Him, ‘What is truth?’” Question mark. Jesus is focusing on truth, alētheia, verse 37, Pilate flippantly responds, “What is truth?” We can gather from this that Pilate was not the person that desired the truth; rather he is the type of person that runs away from the truth. Pilate is not a seeker of the truth. You see this cynical and sarcastic statement coming out of his mouth, “What is truth?” In his mind truth is something is something that can’t even be known. It’s unknowable.
Why do I say this in condemnation of Pilate? If you look at the rest of verse 38 it says, “And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews and said to them,” in other words, Pilate doesn’t even give Jesus an opportunity to answer the question. You would think that if you were in the presence of God incarnate, who is interested in your salvation, and you asked a foundational question like “what is truth” you would at least stick around for the answer. Pilate does nothing of the sort, he just lets this flippant statement roll right off his tongue and then he leaves.
To Pilate this whole idea of truth, alētheia, seems ridiculous. It seemed ridiculous for a man to devote his entire life to promulgating the truth as this man, Jesus, had done. Why was Pilate so cynical? I don’t know, perhaps it had to do with the fact he had a very high position within Rome. People in those kinds of positions have probably been lied to regularly. He’s probably seen all the lying, the manipulation, the scheming, the criminal behavior, he’s probably throughout his career been influenced by many people to do their will rather than what Pilate was there to do, which was to govern. He probably was jaded because of life, and he looks at this man, Jesus Christ, and he simply says, “What is truth?” Dedicating one’s life to truth seemed ridiculous, if not impossible.
And how Pilate’s words here jump right off the page to those of us living in the 21st century, because beloved, what is happening in our world, what is happening in our culture, what is happening in our academic institutions, sadly even in some of our Christian institutions, is the worldview of post-modernism. Postmodernity or postmodernism is the idea that truth is inaccessible. They talk about two kinds of truth; truth, lower case “t”, and then Truth, capital “T”. And essentially the argument that’s made is we cannot know truth, capital T, we can only know truth lower case t. In other words, you’re entitled to your version of truth; you are entitled to your own reality of truth, but there is no consistent, what they call metanarrative, where truth is truth and all of us have the responsibility to find it. Essentially what the postmodern worldview is arguing is gaining truth, accessing truth in and of itself is an impossibility, and woe to the person who dares, in such an environment, to stand up and say I have the Truth, capital T.
Try doing that today; look at how you’re labeled very quickly as being either a bigot or you’re being labeled as arrogant or you’re labeled as unkind. And yet this is the environment in which we find ourselves. There are many, many people saying what is truth; truth is something that cannot be known. And I would say to you that when you hear someone say that don’t take it lying down; ask them a follow-up question. The follow-up question simply would be this: If truth cannot be known aren’t you making a truth statement? For someone to say there is no truth, truth is inaccessible; truth is unknowable, that in and of itself is a truth claim. You see postmodernity masquerades under this guise of humility but the fact of the matter is it’s really unbelief masquerading as uncertainty.
And to hide unbelief essentially what postmodernity has done is exchange one set of truths for another. When I say truth can be gained through the Bible and they say truth is unknowable, both of us are making truth claims. The postmodernist is simply exchanging one set of dogmas for another. And most people allow these concepts to slip off their tongue constantly, truth is unknown, truth is unknowable, and you as a Christian can simply enter into a conversation by getting them to understand that they, in making that very point, are making a truth claim.
You know, it’s like the person who says there are no such things as absolutes; there is no such thing as absolute reality. My response to that is do you know that absolutely? Or another person says I’m uncertain. Well, do you know you’re uncertainty with certainty? In other words, are you certain about your uncertainty? In essence this is the climate we find ourselves in, postmodernity, and it’s so easy to make a dent in people’s thinking by bringing up some of these basic concepts.
The field that I am in is not only theology but I have a background in law and this concept of unknowability, truth cannot be accessed, is all over the legal system. In fact, some people back in 2010 had an idea, why don’t we go to the House floor and read the Constitution and this was the response by Ezra Klein, who is a writer for the Washington Post and an MSNBC Contributor.
He says, “The issue with the Constitution is that the text is confusing because it was written more than 100 years ago and what people believe it says differs from person to person and differs depending upon what they want to get done.” Do you see the postmodernity in that? We can’t go back over a hundred years; there is no metanarrative a hundred years ago. It’s just everybody is entitled to their interpretation of the Constitution. There is no interpretation of the Constitution, capital T. This mindset is so pervasive it comes right out in Supreme Court opinions.
Here is a statement from William Brennan who was on the Supreme Court for years and years and years, and he writes this: “It is arrogant to pretend that from our vantage we can gauge accurately the intent of the framers on application of principle to specific contemporary questions. All too often sources of potential enlightenment such as records of the ratification debates provide sparse or ambiguous evidence of the original intention… And apart from the problematic nature of the sources, our distance of two centuries cannot but work as a prism refracting all we perceive.”
Even if we wanted to go back 200 years and understand exactly what our founding fathers taught we can’t do it because we have, in our own minds, a prism whereby each of us interprets truth a different way. There is no Truth, capital T, we can only have our individual versions of truth, little t.
And beloved, if we cannot go back 200 years into our own culture, in our same language, and understand what our founding fathers wrote, according to postmodernism, then what in the world do they think about us at Sugar Land Bible Church, because we are not here studying the Constitution, we are here studying a book that’s far older than the Constitution. In fact, to go back to the New Testament you have to go back not just 200 years, you have to go back 2,000 years, and beyond that you have to go into a different Greco-Roman culture, a different Greco-Roman language, and it’s even worse with the Old Testament, you’ve got to back 3500 years into the Hebrew culture and Hebrew language.
And so this is a very convenient tool that is used to disconnect current generations from truth. And why are the postmodernists, whether it be in theology, and why in law, either one, why are they pushing this idea? Because if there is no Truth, capital T, then I can make up the truth. The moment I say there is truth that can be gained I, as the interpreter, am no longer the boss, I have to submit humbly to what the written word says. But if I can make an argument that truth is something that is unknowable, then I am free to make up my own version of truth, and after all, man, going all the way back to the garden of Eden has always wanted to be like God. And this is the environment that we find ourselves in.
Your children, in the universities, your children in the public school system, your children, God forbid, in many cases in the private school system are being taught this over and over and over again. They are being taught that there is no such thing as truth. And they are being scolded when they claim to have truth that they are arrogant and out of touch. And yet, what is the Bible all about? The Bible is all about truth. John 1:14 says, “And the Word” of God “became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and” what? “truth.” Apparently truth is accessible.
John 14:6, “Jesus said to Him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” Notice the definite article in front of the word “truth.” Jesus did not claim to just be a version of truth or a variety of truth; He gives us no ability to pick what part of His truth we accept. He says, I am the truth, end of story. And beloved, that is the point of the Spirit of God. The Spirit of God has come into the world to illuminate our mind so that we can understand truth. God has expressed His Word in linguistic form. He would not have done that if truth was somehow unavailable. And if that weren’t enough He gives us the Spirit of God by which we can understand truth.
John 16:12-13, Jesus says, “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.  But when He, the Spirit,” notice that the Holy Spirit is called “the Spirit of truth,” “when He, the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all truth.” Jesus and the Holy Spirit would have made lousy postmodernists.
And beyond that, you take this man, Luke, a physician, a doctor who chronicled the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ through eyewitness testimony, he chronicled the birth and growth of the church in the book of Acts, what does this man, Luke, say about the acquisition of truth? In Luke 1:3-4, “it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus;  so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.” You notice that Luke wrote a book, not just to get truth, lower case t, but the exact Truth, capital T.
One of my professors in seminary, I’m sad to say, was very wrapped up in postmodern thinking; in fact, we used to joke about him, that he was the high priest of postmodernism. And this individual happened to be a Lukan scholar; that was his expertise, the Gospel of Luke. And I used to think to myself, has he never read the opening verses in Luke in which he is a scholar of, that Luke was written so that truth, the exact truth, can be recognized. The exact truth can be known!
So Pilate offers this flippant answer; he misses a golden opportunity to respond to the truth and he leaves the presence of Jesus Christ. Did you know that in hell itself, according to Luke 16:19-31 we have an ability to look back at our lives? That is what this rich man was doing when he said I’ve got five brothers, they’re on the same course in life of unbelief that I am on, and he’s thinking backward. I often think what does Pilate, in torment today, think about? I can’t help but think that the conversation that goes on in his mind, over and over again is this conversation that he had with Jesus. Pilate, regretting… if he had just responded to the truth that God had given him.
One of the frightening things about being made in the image of God is God has given us a capacity for free will. He’s given us a capacity for choice. Pilate, sadly, used his free will as a being made in the image of God to reject the truth and he went into eternal retribution itself, no doubt regretting this conversation, thinking to himself throughout the ages of eternity, if only I had responded by faith to what this man, Jesus Christ, was trying to communicate to me. What a tragic thing it is for a person not to respond to truth; not to respond to truth has eternal consequences, eternal ramifications.
We move now into the second part of verse 38, where the scenery shifts a little bit. We now move into the second trial before Pilate. And now we have yet another question, coming from the lips of Pilate, Do you want me to release the King of the Jews. Notice the second part of verse 38, it says, “And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews and said to them, ‘I find no guilt in Him.”
If you go back to verse 28 it says there that “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.” So earlier Pilate has to go out to where these Jews are because they would not enter for fear of ceremonial defilement. And then when you go down to verse 33 the scenery shifts, he goes into where Jesus is being incarcerated and that’s where the conversation takes place between Jesus and Pilate about the kingdom, about truth transpires.
And now we come to verse 38, now Pilate is going back out again to where these Jews are and the conversation continues. One of the things that’s a little bit confusing about the trials of Jesus Christ is that there are six trials total. The first three are religious in nature; the second three are civil in nature. The first three take place in the world of first century Judaism and their legal system. The last three take place before Rome. There is no gospel that says here are the six trials, the only way we know there are six trials is we have to piece all four Gospels together. John has focused on trials 1 and 2 in the religious world, and then in the civil world he focuses on trials 4 and 6. You have a trial before Pilate, and then a final trial before Pilate; one of the things that John doesn’t highlight because it really doesn’t fit his purpose in writing, remember John claims to be very selective in the information he gives us. He does not claim to be comprehensive. We know that from John 20:31 and John 21:25. [John 20:31, “but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” John 21:25, “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written.”]
But one of the things that John omits is that in the civil trials he doesn’t mention trial number 5; he mentions 4 and 6, but not number 5, and that trial was conducted before a man named Herod Antipas. That trial, in John’s chronology, is no in our rear view mirror and now we are looking at the final trial of Jesus before Pilate. But Luke’s Gospel tells us a little bit about that trial before Herod Antipas between the two trials that Jesus had before Pilate.
Luke 23:2 says this: “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, a King.” Now you recall that these Jewish leaders had to switch the charges in the middle of all of these trials because they found Christ guilty of blasphemy, Rome could care less about blasphemy. Rome could care less about what they would consider a petty difference of opinion in Jewish interpretation.
What Rome is interested in is, is this man, Jesus Christ, leading an insurrection against Rome? Since Rome had taken away from the Jews the power of capital punishment these very sneaky first century Jews switched the charge right in the middle and they brought Christ to Rome for charges that Jesus had never been tried under. Jesus was never tried under insurrection; He was tried for blasphemy. And yet they are so eager to get this man dead that they adopt legal gimmicks and tricks, charging Jesus with something He was never formally charged with, reversing the charge so that it would be more palatable to Rome for His execution.
Luke 23:2 says, “And they began to accuse Him, saying, ‘We found this man to be misleading our nation and forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, and saying that He Himself is Christ, a King.” Now Pilate  “said to them, ‘You brought this man to me as one who incites the people to rebellion, and behold, having examined Him before you, I have found no guilt in this man regarding the charges which you make against Him.  No, nor has Herod, for he sent Him back to us; and behold, nothing deserving of death has been done by Him.”
The case finally comes back to Pilate and Pilate says not only are your charges invented but even if your charges were true, I find absolutely no evidence that this man, Jesus Christ, was involved in any insurrection as well. You see, that was the point of Pilate’s questioning when he was questioning Jesus about the kingdom. I’ve questioned Him, yes, He claims to be the king of a coming kingdom but that should not be understood or interpreted as a revolt or insurrection against Rome. I even sent the case over to Herod Antipas and Herod Antipas reached the same conclusion. And now the case comes back before Pilate and Pilate goes out to where the Jews were, these unbelieving Jews, and he makes this statement: it says, [38b] “And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews and said to them, ‘I find no guilt in Him.’” He is no threat to Rome.
One of the things I believe John is trying to highlight for us through these various stories is the innocence of Jesus Christ. In fact, did you know even Pilate’s wife got into the act of declaring the innocence of Jesus Christ? She apparently had a dream of some sort. Matthew 27:19 puts it this way, “While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent him a message, saying, ‘Have nothing to do with that righteous Man; for last night I suffered greatly in a dream because of Him.” Why did she have this dream? Perhaps that dream was given to her by God Himself demonstrating and authenticating the innocence of Jesus Christ. This is why John, sixty years later, in an epistle that he wrote, called 1 John, calls Jesus Christ “Jesus Christ the righteous.”
If there was anybody that knew Jesus well it was John. In fact, the inner circle of disciples was Peter, James and John. They had seen Jesus in every situation you can possibly imagine, under pressure, under duress, under temptation, and John says I was with this man for three years and I still contend to this day, sixty years later, that He was righteous. If the people that knew you best, your spouse for example, looked at your life, would they call you righteous? If they do call you righteous, I’d like to interview your spouse because our spouses know us the best, don’t they? They see us when we’re happy, when we’re sad, when we’re energetic, when we’re fatigued; when we’re not being pressured, when we are being pressured. And all of our spouses can testify how badly we fail in many circumstances.
John says I saw Jesus in every circumstance imaginable and yet to this day, six decades later, I still testify that Jesus is a righteous man. There has never been somebody that has walked the face of the earth like this man, Jesus Christ. There is not a man living where you can look at them and say they are righteous in all that they do. What makes Jesus unique? He is not just a man; He is the God-Man. His humanity is intertwined with His deity, and only Jesus Himself can fulfill the rich Passover imagery. Remember that Jesus is being executed on Passover. What do we know about Passover? We know about it all the way back in Exodus 12; there was a lamb involved in that Passover. And what sort of lamb was necessary? Exodus 12:5 says this, “Your lamb shall be … unblemished,” there cannot be any genetic defect in the Passover lamb.
What kind of sacrifice does God accept in the place of the guilty? What He accepts is an innocent sacrifice. The problem then becomes how do you have an innocent sacrifice to die for the human race when all men are sinful? Answer: God has to become human flesh. Only God in human flesh can live a life of perfection and lack of blemish and righteousness to qualify to be that sin bearer, or that sin offering for the sins of the world. Pilate himself says there is no charge, no crime that this man, Jesus Christ, has committed. And you would think that given this statement that Pilate has made, you would think he would come to his senses and release Jesus Christ. But he does not.
Notice verse 39, “but you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover; do you wish that I release for you the King of the Jews?’” This is what Ed Bloom, in The Bible Knowledge Commentary says, “Having displayed a lack of interest in truth Pilate then revealed a lack of commitment to justice. He lacked the courage of his convictions. If Jesus was innocent of all charges then Pilate should have set Him free. Instead, Pilate began a series of compromising moves to avoid dealing with an inconvenient truth in a difficult circumstance. Pilate tried to appeal to the crowd hoping to bypass the desire of the chief priests and the elders.” [page 338]
At the end of the day Pilate does not act on his own convictions and his own conclusions. He gets back into the business of pleasing man. How interesting it is that the Bible tells us that fear of man is a snare, it’s a trap. [Proverbs 19:5, “The fear of man brings a snare, but he who trusts in the LORD will be exalted.”]
Pilate got into this business of wanting to pacify this group of unbelieving Jews, this constituency that could have caused Pilate a great deal of political trouble, no doubt, in his tenure there over the land of Israel as a Roman governor; rather than doing what was right he gave into the fear of man, and consequently Pilate asks the Jews a question: don’t you all have a custom on Passover that I release somebody? Now in Pilate’s mind he thinks that they will see what he sees, that Jesus is, in fact, innocent and they will demand that Jesus Himself be released.
Pilate should have never asked the Jews that question; he should have simply released Jesus right then and there. Yet what does Pilate do? He tries to draw attention to his own generosity; he wanted the Jews to realize that he was being good to them by honoring their custom. And in the process Pilate himself opens the door to a tragic mistake; something is about to happen here that Pilate probably never dreamed can happen, that the Jews themselves would turn down the offer, which is what they did. Pilate, perhaps, incensed them further by referring to Him as the “King of the Jews.” Maybe Pilate was being sarcastic but he uses this phrase, verse 39, “the King of the Jews.” This seems to irritate this unbelieving Jewish contingency even more, opening the door to this possibility that perhaps they don’t want Jesus released, and in fact, verse 40 tells us that is exactly what happened.
Notice, if you will, verse 40, “So they cried out again, saying, ‘Not this Man, but Barabbas.’ Now Barabbas was a robber.” No doubt Pilate was stunned by that statement. Don’t release Jesus, these unbelieving Jews say, release Barabbas. Now who is Barabbas? Barabbas was a robber; it says it there in verse 40. He is one, a robber is one, when you look at that word in the Greek language is one who seizes plunder. Barabbas was worse than that, just a robber, because Mark 15:7 adds this little detail, it says, “The man named Barabbas had been imprisoned with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the insurrection.”
Who exactly is this man, Barabbas? Not only is he a robber but he is involved in a bloody insurrection. We might even call this man Barabbas a guerilla fighter, a murderer; if you want to put it in modern day vernacular we would call this man a domestic terrorist, a zealot, somebody who had sought the overthrow of the Roman Empire. And everybody knew it, because when the opportunity is given to have somebody released, everybody mentions this name, Barabbas. This man was what we call infamous in the land of Israel, being an insurrectionist.
What is being shown here? What is being shown here is that Barabbas himself is guilty and deserves execution, and yet these Jews, these unbelieving Jews, the religious leaders of the nation prefer an insurrectionist, a domestic terrorist, a murderer, a plunderer over Jesus Christ Himself. The Jews preferred Barabbas over Jesus despite the fact that Jesus had never sought the overthrow of Rome. Pilate has concluded that in his first trial. Herod Antipas concluded that. Pilate, in his second trial, concludes the same thing; this man, Jesus Christ, is innocent. And yet the Jews could care less, we want this man dead. We view this man as a threat to our power structure and we don’t care if He’s innocent or guilty, just get rid of Him, even if it means releasing someone that is completely guilty in lieu of this, in his place.
Matthew 27:25 adds this very interesting detail as the Jews are demanding the release of Barabbas, they say, “His blood,” that would be Jesus, “His blood shall be on us and on our children!” They’re admitting their guilt.
What is all of this showing? It’s showing the guilt of first century Israel. It is an explanation why the Jewish nation came under discipline in A.D. 70 and why the Romans came, as Moses on the plains of Moab, all the way back in Deuteronomy 28:49-50 outline that if you stray away from God according to the terms of the Mosaic Covenant which is a covenant between God and national Israel, a foreign power that speaks a language that you do not know will come and invade your land and drive you out of your land. [Deuteronomy 28:49-50, “The LORD will bring a nation against you from afar, from the end of the earth, as the eagle swoops down, a nation whose language you shall not understand,  a nation of fierce countenance who will have no respect for the old, nor show favor to the young.”]
This is an explanation as to why that temple is about to be destroyed, why the events of A.D. 70 are about to happen. Josephus, a historian of that time period, tells us that over a million Jews were killed because of the disciplining hand of the Lord for what they are doing here to this man, Jesus Christ.
And beloved, as I stand here today, 2,000 years later, the nation of Israel is still under the disciplinary hand of God. There are those Jews that come to Christ but they are a minority. They are a remnant. And you are not going to find anybody, perhaps… maybe that’s too broad a statement, but as far as being pro Israel, pro Zionist, pro Jewish, there is nobody that is a bigger cheer leader for the nation of Israel than perhaps myself. I love the Jewish people, I love the prophecies of God in both the Old Testament and the New Testament, that God is not thru with the Jew, there is a great future for the nation of Israel, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Jewish nation, as I speak, is under the disciplinary hand of God. And that won’t change their outcome until they reverse or respond, by way of faith, that Jesus is the Messiah. Let’s help the Jewish people; let’s pray for the Jewish people. Let’s elect people to office that will safeguard the protection of the Jewish people. Let’s do all of that.
But that doesn’t change what’s happening to them spiritually; they are under the disciplinary hand of God and no amount of pro Zionist cheerleading can change that. That is a fact; that is a reality. His blood shall be on us and our children, is what they are saying to themselves. Jesus Christ, an innocent man, is condemned and a guilty man, Barabbas, goes free.
Notice this pattern here, the guilty are free, the innocent man, Jesus Christ, is condemned. Jesus, the non-insurrectionist, is ushered into His execution and then the actual insurrectionist himself, Barabbas, is allowed to go free because of a decision that the Jewish leadership made back in the first century. And that’s why I’ve entitled this message, A Portrait of the Atonement, because if we can understand the exchange of the innocent for the guilty, or the guilty for the innocent we can understand the gospel, because in this story is a microcosm of the atonement of Jesus Christ. Barabbas was released, despite the fact that he was guilty, despite the fact that Jesus went to an execution in spite of His innocence.
Do you know who Barabbas is in this story? It’s the human race, because all of us are guilty. If the Bible is not clear on this point it’s not clear on anything. Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” And yet what does God do? He releases us as guilty people because of the sacrifice of the innocent. This was prophesied 700 years in advance by the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah 53:6 says, “All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.”
One man who is innocent is executed, another man who is guilty is free; that’s the gospel. We have all been freed from the rightful penalty and condemnation that our actions deserve because Jesus went to the cross in our place. He bore a penalty that was unfair and yet had He not borne that penalty Barabbas could not have been released, and we can’t be released either. That’s the gospel. That’s what it’s all about; it’s about an unfair exchange. And people say to God, God, why can’t You be fair? Do you want God to be fair? I don’t want Him to be fair because if God was being fair I would be punished, but because He decided to be unfair He allowed His Son to be punished and the guilty to be released.
The question is, have you received that gift. Has there reached a point in your life where you have trusted in what Jesus has done for you. The gift or the release of you is not applicable; it doesn’t benefit you until you receive it. And the only way you can receive it is through a faith response. You have to receive it as a free gift; it is not something that can be earned, it’s not something that can be merited, it’s not something that can be New Year’s resolutioned into, it’s something that comes to a human being as they receive it as a free gift. And you say well, I’m going to hold on for a better deal. You’re not going to get a better deal than this one; this is as good a deal as you’re going to get. And you need to take it and you need to take it now because the Bible teaches that today is the day of salvation. The book of Proverbs says, “Do not boast in tomorrow, for you do not know what” tomorrow or “a day may bring forth.” Some of you could die between now and next week, or next year. The opportunity is now; it’s yours for the taking. As the Holy Spirit places some of you under conviction our exhortation to you at Sugar Land Bible Church is to believe the gospel; believe is another way of saying depend upon the gospel, rely upon the gospel, have confidence in the gospel. It is not something you join a church to get, it’s not something you give money to get, it’s not something you try harder to get, it’s a private transaction that takes place between you and God as the Holy Spirit places you under conviction. I made the choice when I was 16 years of age and at that point my eternal destiny was altered. And our exhortation to you is to make that choice now, even as I am speaking; in the privacy of your own mind and thoughts and heart, trust in the gospel. If it’s something that you have done or are currently doing then on the authority of the Word of God you have just changed your eternal destiny. If it’s something you need more information on I’m available after the service to talk. Shall we pray.