The World Today
Have you ever been in a dilemma and didn’t know what to do? Have you been in a position of authority and responsibility and were afraid to make a decision? If so, you can identify with Pontius Pilate, the governor of Judea, and his encounter with Jesus of Nazareth. The fate of Jesus was literally in Pilate’s hands and he couldn’t decide what to do. He alone, according to Roman law, was judge and jury. Should he listen to the crowd? Should he believe the accusations of the religious leaders? Should he trust his wife’s warning as the result of a dream? Should he trust his own gut? Or, should he trust the testimony of Jesus? In that situation or in a similar situation today, what would you do?
Through the eyes of Matthew (Matthew 27:11-24), let’s take a quick look at Pilate’s situation. As Governor, he asked Jesus if He is the “King of the Jews.” Pilate’s concern was not that of the religious leaders, his only concern was how such a claim would impact Rome and, more specifically, Roman rule over the city of Jerusalem and the region of Judea. After hearing his wife’s warning, hearing the desire of the people to release Barrabas, he called for a bowl of water, washed his hands, and proclaimed, “I am innocent of this man’s blood. The responsibility is yours” (Matthew 27:24b).
If you encountered Jesus, standing before you, and it was your responsibility, what would you have done? When you find yourself in a position of authority and responsibility, and faced with a difficult decision, how do you respond? Let’s consider the glimpses of ourselves that Pilate’s story offers and its insights into what we should do.
The Word Revealed
The first insight that Pilate’s story offers is –
- When you’re in a position of authority, lead with integrity.
“Don’t you hear all these charges they are bringing against you?” Pilate demanded. But Jesus made no response to any of the charges, much to the governor’s surprise” (Matthew 27:13-14, NLT).
Pilate was amazed at integrity and character of Jesus, evidenced in His refusal to defend Himself. Billy Graham said, “Integrity is the glue of life that holds our way of life together. We must constantly strive to keep our integrity intact. When wealth is lost, nothing is lost. When health is lost, something is lost. When character is lost, all is lost.” The word integrity comes from the root word which means “to integrate.” It makes sense that what you say and what you do are unequivocally the same if you have character! But, why is that so important?
If you don’t know who you are, you won’t know what to do.
Why do we, and so many other well-meaning Christians, fail to demonstrate integrity in our daily lives? I believe there are two reasons. First, we exhibit moral weakness, we have little or no strength to overcome temptation. Our society encourages an understanding that our shortcomings are the new normal. The simplest way to witness this moral decline is in recognizing in ourselves and others a willingness and a comfort in looking the other way when faced with something that’s troubling or uncomfortable. A second reason in which we demonstrate a lack of integrity is hypocrisy, professing a belief that we don’t hold onto or possess. We are all too willing to compromise our beliefs because we are afraid of confrontation. We want the approval of others, we want to blend in, we are afraid to be seen as different.
That was Pilate’s situation in a nutshell; he wanted to be liked! The psalmist wrote “Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but whoever takes crooked paths will be found out” (Proverbs 10:9, NIV). Yes, if we lack integrity, our actions which speak louder than our words will clearly demonstrate it and be recognized by others and by God. If, for no other reason, we must lead with integrity.
The second insight offered by Pilate’s story is –
- When you’re pressured to make a decision, evaluate all options.
“Just then, as Pilate was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent him this message: “Leave that innocent man alone. I suffered through a terrible nightmare about him last night.” Meanwhile, the leading priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas to be released and for Jesus to be put to death” (Matthew 27:19-20, NLT).
It goes without saying that making decisions, at any level, includes pressure. You’re the coach and an irate parent asks, “Why didn’t you let Johnny play?” You’re Johnny’s teacher and his parent declares, “You’re the reason he’s ineligible! Why did you give him that failing grade? As a parent, you overhear another adult speak of your toddler’s tantrum, saying, “I wish parents today would make their children behave.” As a pastor, you are confronted by a parishioner asking, “Why didn’t you visit me when I was sick at home? Just because I didn’t want anybody else to know, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have!”
Or maybe you’re a hotel manager – yes, a hotel manager like the one who faced a truly unique pressure. A female guest, staying at his five-star downtown high-rise hotel, decided she would go to the rooftop to sunbath. Seeing she was totally alone, and had been for quite a while, she chose to take the opportunity to get an all-over tan by removing her swimsuit. While soaking up the sun, she heard the door to her rooftop getaway noisily fly open. The hesitant but agitated manager called out, “Ma’am! Excuse me, ma’am!” She covered herself as best she could and asked, “What’s the problem? There’s no one else around!” With total embarrassment, he meekly replied, “Ma’am, I don’t mind you sunbathing up here, but the problem is that you were laying on the skylight of the restaurant!”
Faced with the pressure of making his decision, should Pilate listen to his wife, the chief priests who were jealous and afraid of Jesus’ popularity, or the crowd? Oh, the crowd; they’re almost always wrong and can take you from hero to zero in the blink of an eye. Think of Moses at Red Sea. What if he had taken a vote among the Israelites? They probably would have voted to go back to Egypt, back to the slavery that they seemed to miss so much. What if Joshua and Caleb had asked who wanted to keep going as they neared the land of milk and honey. They and the Israelites would probably never have entered the Promised Land. You see, Pilate’s decision was more than a life or death decision for Jesus for it demonstrated the lesson for us today that –
Short term impulsive decisions can lead to long term consequences.
When you are pressured to make a decision, stop and look, evaluate all the options, and do one last thing. Talk to these three before you make that decision. Talk to God; talk to a godly mentor, one who knows you and your circumstances; talk to your spouse if you’re married, a close friend and confidant if you’re single. Rest assured that these three are the only ones you can trust to have your best interests at heart.
The third and final insight we can glean from Pilate’s story is –
- When you’re in the middle of a crisis, respond with courage.
“Pilate saw that he wasn’t getting anywhere and that a riot was developing. So, he sent for a bowl of water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood. The responsibility is yours” (Matthew 27:24, NLT)!
In judging Jesus, Pilate was also judging himself. Through his indecision, he proved himself guilty of being a coward in a moment of crisis. He was far more concerned about his job, his popularity, and doing the safe thing rather than the right thing. Pilate only wanted to overcome the obstacle of making a decision by releasing Jesus without having to take a stand. In the Chinese language, there are two words that can be translated as crisis. One literally means “danger” and the other means “opportunity.” You experience the danger side of a crisis or obstacle when you respond to it as a coward, while you can experience the opportunity side of it when you respond to that same crisis or obstacle with courage. Pilate’s indecision in the face of his crisis, the obstacle he avoided overcoming, offers us a valuable lesson –
Obstacles can be opportunities to see God work.
Peter and John were brought before the Sadducees, in the place of the High Council, for proclaiming the Gospel. The High Priest lashed out at them, saying, “We gave you strict orders never again to teach in this man’s name!” he said. “Instead, you have filled all Jerusalem with your teaching about him. . .” (Acts 5:28, NLT).
They continued to teach in Jesus’ name because God had taken their courage and used it to His purpose. He showed them that, through Him, the obstacles they were facing could be used as opportunities to advance the Gospel all over the world. Whatever your crisis, consider it an opportunity to see God work in the midst of it. However, His working within your crisis, as with Peter and John, will only be realized if you step up and respond with courage.
Applying the Word to the World
Our Take Away this morning is a question, but more so a challenge –
Take Away: What will you do with Jesus?
It’s the question of the ages. It’s a question that everyone who walks upon the earth must deal with at some point in their life. Like Pilate, we too must decide what we will do with Jesus. We either accept Him as our Lord and Savior or we reject Him as a fake and a fraud; for this question, there is no middle ground.
Maybe you’re already a Christian. The same question applies to you as well as it asks what you will do with Jesus in the marketplace? What will you do with Him within your family, at your work, or in your school? Will you compromise your faith, follow the crowd, and blend in or will you reach deep for that courage within and take a stand? Will you wash your hands of Jesus, not wanting to get involved or are you willing to step up and speak up for His sake and the sake of the Gospel, regardless of the cost? You’re probably shying away from the idea, wanting to tell me that you’re only one person and you’re right. Pilate was only one person and his decision could have changed the course of history. You may not be in a position of authority such as Pilate, but as a follower of Christ, you have a great responsibility to be His representative. You are one person, within your home, your church, and your community. I believe very strongly that God placed each and every one of us where we are in this world, in His Kingdom, for a reason – to make a difference. But, be assured, the difference you can make will never happen until you decide – What will I do with Jesus!