Now we come to the trial phase, and once again John reveals to us material which none of the other Gospels report. Of course much of it is similar to what we read elsewhere: Jesus’ confrontation with the religious leaders, the utter illegality of the entire “trial,” and Peter’s shameful denial of his Lord. There are three points on which I’d like to focus here.
The mindset of the religious legalist is fully on display in vs. 28. Why did Pilate have to come out to Jesus’ accusers instead of them coming into his palace? Because they were concerned about becoming “unclean” during the Passover feast. Wait a minute. Back up there. They were in the process of murdering an innocent man, a man they knew to be innocent. This whole event had the sheerest veneer of legality, since they'd already violated several legal protections which Jesus was supposed to have during trial. But what were they concerned about? That they not be “unclean” during a religious festival.
Now, I know that all sin before God is serious; in fact, he takes sin infinitely more seriously that we ever will. But I don’t believe that God takes all sin equally seriously. Do I think that he considers violating ceremonial cleanliness as seriously as he takes purposefully murdering an innocent man? No. But that’s the mind of a legalist: He cares passionately about something that the Lord doesn’t care as much about, and doesn’t care about things that the Almighty counts as a high priority—such as murder.
Second I want to point out the intricate details with which God’s word is fulfilled. Jesus’ only enemies were the Jewish religious leaders, never the Roman authorities. If they had had their way, they would've executed him the same way they did Stephen in Acts 7—stoning. But because they were officially forbidden from executing anyone, they had to hand him over to the Romans, and the way the Romans executed the worst criminals was thru crucifixion. But this was all planned out by the Father. He used the free decisions of sinful men to carry out his purposes and fulfill his word. Jesus had already foretold how he was going to die, as vs. 32 reminds us. But there was more to this than just Jesus’ prediction. As Paul pointed out, the Law of Moses told us that anyone who was hung on a tree was under God’s curse. And Jesus was under the Father’s curse, not because of anything he'd done, but because of what we'd done.
And finally we see the sad triumph of cynicism. Jesus stood before Pilate. John’s record of the conversation focused on the issue of kings/kingdoms. Jesus’ accusers couldn’t really have a Roman governor authorize an execution based on a religious controversy. But Rome had a serious zero-tolerance policy towards insurrection and sedition. So they had to officially accuse of him of claiming to be “King of the Jews.” So that’s what Pilate and Jesus talked about. Pilate asked him what type of king he claimed to be, and Jesus made it clear his kingdom was not of this world. Jesus’ kingdom (until he returns) is on the spiritual plane and conducts its warfare thusly. The kingdoms of this world defend themselves with physical means: swords, then bullets, then bombs.
And just at the end of the conversation, Jesus tells Pilate “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me,” and Pilate responds “What is truth?” Well, if Pilate really wanted to know the answer to that question, he would've found out, well, since the Truth Incarnate was standing right in front of him. But anyone who asks a question like that shows that he doesn’t really care. He was first and foremost a politician, a man who craved and dealt in power.
So what questions do we need to ask ourselves? A) Does my priority list match God’s? B) Do I trust God’s word implicitly, and do my actions show it? C) Do I have the spiritual discernment to see and hear when Truth is standing right in front of me?
Lord Jesus, I know that your word is true. In fact your word is Truth. I want to match my priorities to yours. And by your grace I will, no matter how long it takes.