Matthew 27:11-31 March 2009

TRIED AND TORTURED

What strikes me so much about these passages was that Jesus, God in a human body allowed Himself to be subjected to all this evil, unjust, brutal treatment from wicked evil men. He did have to. He could have blasted the whole human race into oblivion because of our corrupt, sinful, rebellious, godless behaviour and He would have been well within His rights to do so because from the very beginning we humans made in God’s image for a loving obedient relationship with Him have been nothing but a massive disappointment to God.

And yet instead of punishing us severely as we deserve God chose to take the punishment Himself and give us another chance. Here we have God, the creator of the universe in a human body submitting Himself to the most awful suffering, torture and death anyone could ever experience.

One of the pitfalls of being a Christian for a long time is that we can become so familiar with the story of the cross that it no longer affects us – we take it for granted.

Ill. A Pastor was watching a dramatisation of the crucifixion put on by the church young people. He noticed an 8 year old girl watching it with tears pouring down her cheeks. “I was envious of her. For us older Christians it was just a performance, a story we have become too familiar with. For her it was so real, it was just as if she was there.” So often we are uninvolved spectators.

Ill. Howard Pink.

My prayer this morning is that our hearts will be touched in a fresh way as look at the tragic ordeal our Lord went through in order to deliver us from the power and consequences of our sin and bring us back to God.

The cowardly governor and the cruel soldiers.

THE COWARDLY GOVERNOR v11-22

As we saw in the last chapter the religious leaders wanted to get rid of Jesus because He was becoming far too popular with the people and they saw Him as a threat to their positions of wealth, comfort and power.

They held an illegal trial to condemn him, but the only thing they could pin on Him was that he claimed to be the Messiah, the Son of God. A claim that He proved time and time again, but they didn’t want know. They just wanted Him out of the way.

Now the Jewish leaders had a problem; they had no legal authority to condemn or execute anyone. Only the Romans had that authority and so they took Jesus to the Roman governor Pontius Pilate.

Until 1961 secular historians said that Pontius Pilate was a fictional character made up the New Testament writers because there were no records of this man in ancient documents.

Then in 1961 Archaeologists unearthed a limestone block in what was ancient Caesarea and inscribed on the stone were these words “Pontius Pilate prefect of Judea.” Since then other documents have come to light verifying Pilate’s existence.

Over the last 150 years archaeologists have discovered more and more evidence supporting the Bible record. Ancient records of people, places and events that sceptics said were inventions of the Bible writers have come to light proving that the Bible is true.

I’ve been reading a book by Dr Bryan Ball called “Can we still believe the Bible”. He devotes a whole chapter to the archaeological discoveries made over the last 150 years that support the Bible record.

Our faith is not based on a lot of myths and legends and fairy tales – it is based on actual events, people and places supported by Archaeology and historical record.

Professor E M Blaiklock who was professor of classical literature at Auckland University for many years said that after studying and analysing the Gospels he came to the conclusion that they have all the hallmarks of genuine historical records.

The Jewish leaders knew that Pilate would never try Jesus for some religious reason so they said that Jesus claimed to be the King of Jews, accusing him of challenging Roman rule –putting Himself in the place of Caesar, which was treason.

Pilate knew what was going on. He knew Jesus was innocent and that Jesus was no threat to Caesar or Roman rule. In verse 18 it says he knew the religious leaders were trying to get rid of Jesus because they were jealous of Him.

When Pilate questioned Jesus about these, Jesus said nothing. He never tried to defend Himself – He never tried to wriggle out of it. He was committed to the will of God and that meant death on the cross.

Now Pilate had a big problem. He knew Jesus was innocent. In fact Luke Says that Pilate told the people he couldn’t find any fault in Jesus, but he was under pressure from the Jewish leaders to put Him to death.

Pilate had already upset the Jews and three times it resulted in a riot and the Emperor Tiberius had given him warning that if he did it again he would lose his job.

If Pilate let Jesus go he could have a riot on his hands. So he decided to test the feeling of the people. It was the Passover and it was customary during the Passover for the Romans to set a prisoner free. Pilate knew Jesus was popular with the people and so he the chose the most despised criminal in the Roman cells, a murderer named Barabbas and told the people to choose between Jesus and Barabbas.

Pilate believed the people would choose Jesus over Barabbas and then he could let Jesus go without a riot on his hands, but the Jewish leaders worked on the crowd and they called out for Barabbas to be released.

This is not what Pilate expected. He was really in a fix – What was he to do with Jesus.

In fact that is what he said to the people. “What shall I do with Jesus Christ?”

That is the most important question you will ever be asked. “What will you do with Jesus Christ?”

What you do with Jesus Christ will determine whether you go to heaven or hell, whether you receive God’s forgiveness or whether you remain condemned for the wrongs you have done. Because unless you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and follow Him there is absolutely no hope for you in this life or the next.

Jesus said, “I am the way the truth and the life and no one can come to God except through me.” The Bible clearly states that there is no way anyone can be forgiven for the wrongs they have committed apart from Jesus.

Some people say, “It doesn’t seem fair that there is only one way to God and heaven and that is through Jesus. Surely God has made others ways to God and heaven.”

That truth is that none of us deserve to have any way to God and heaven, because we have all rebelled against God and reject Him and His will. We don’t deserve anything from God at all. The fact that God has provided one way by which we can be forgiven and accepted into His eternal family is act of undeserved kindness on God’ part.

And if you reject the one and only way God has provided – through trusting in and following Jesus, then there is no other way. You have literally exhausted your options. There is only the terrible prospect of judgement and hell.

What are you going to do with Jesus Christ?

Accept Him, give your life to Him, follow Him or reject Him. That decision is the greatest decision you will ever have to make in your whole life – because it will determine the whole course of your life on this earth and afterwards.

Pilate knew what he should have done. He should have released Jesus as man innocent man – but he did a very cowardly thing. He didn’t want a riot; he didn’t want to lose his job so he gave into the demands of the crowd and sent Jesus to the cross.

THE CHANGEABLE CROWD v22-26

When Pilate asked the crowd what he should do with Jesus, they called out, “Crucify Him.”

Most of these people standing in front of Pilate had proclaimed Jesus as their Messiah just a week before and now swayed by public opinion they cried out for His execution.

So typical of human nature. Remember in John 2 that many people professed to believe in Jesus because of the miracles He did but the Bible says that Jesus did not trust them because He knew what was in human nature. He knew how fickle human nature is.

Sigmund Freud regarded as the greatest psychologist who ever lived was also an atheist and spent his lifetime studying human nature. He died a bitter and disillusioned man, with little compassion for people. Freud wrote in 1918, “I have found little that is good about human beings on the whole. In my experience most of them are trash no matter whether they publicly subscribe to this or that ethical doctrine or to none at all.”

Interesting coming from an atheist. God would never regard human beings as trash, in fact He values and loves us so much He was prepared to pay the ultimate price to save us, but at the same time God knows that because we have rejected Him and His will we have become infected with evil and selfishness.

Ill. In Poland there is a town called Jedwabne. Before 1941 around 1600 Poles and 1600 Jews lived there peacefully together for generations. In 1941 the town was taken over by the Germans and within a matter of days the Polish population of that town had turned on their Jewish neighbours and slaughtered them in the most brutal and vicious ways. Only 7 Jews remained to tell the story. Before this there had been so no racial problems in Jedwabne, no anti-Jewish feeling in the community. They all related well together but within days of the German occupation, one half of that town viciously murdered the other half. The citizens of Jedwabne themselves committed the massacre, the Nazi army did not participate in the killings.

Why did those otherwise ordinary people slaughter their lifelong neighbours? All that happened was that the Germans took over the town and said, ‘You can kill them if you want and take their land and possessions.” So they did it. The restraints of law and order were taken away and the latent evil in human nature was unleashed.

As the crowd put more and more pressure on Pilate, he brought out a basin and washed his hands in front of the crowd depicting that he was washing the blood of Jesus off his hands. He was saying, “I’m not responsible for this mans death, you are.”

But the fact is that Pilate was just as responsible for Jesus death, because if he had acted justly and obeyed his conscience he would never have allowed it to take place.

Now the people responded to Pilate by saying, “We will take the responsibility for Jesus death and His blood will be upon us and our children.

Down through the centuries this scripture has been used as an excuse to persecute the Jews. In fact people claiming to be Christian have accused the Jews in every generation of killing Jesus.

The fact is that every human being is responsible for the death of Jesus Christ, because He was executed for our wrong doing, our crimes, our rebellion. We have all contributed to the death of Jesus and therefore we are all responsible.

Isaiah 53:4-6 “And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins!
But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed. All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all.”

THE CRUEL SOLDIERS v27-31

God knew that the only way we could be released from the penalty of our sin was for Jesus to pay the penalty Himself with His own life. He became the sacrificial that would be slaughtered for our wrongdoing.

When a lamb was slaughtered for sacrifice in the Temple, it was led to the priest who would kill it by a short deep cut across its throat.

When the time came for Jesus to be sacrificed for our sin it wasn’t a clean sharp cut of the knife. These sadistic, cruel soldiers weren’t content just to execute Jesus they flogged Him, crowned Him with thorns, mocked Him, spat in His face and beat Him around the head with a piece of wood.

When it says that Pilate had Jesus flogged that is an understatement. The whip was made of leather strips studded with sharp pieces of iron and bone. The victim was tied to a post and flogged until the skin was torn from his back and his internal organs were exposed. Many men died under this treatment, some became unconscious and others went mad. The Romans often did this to hurry up the death process. This treatment weakened Jesus so much so that He was unable to carry His cross.

It was God’s will that Jesus should die for our sins, but wicked men added their cruelty to the process.

What strikes me here is just how evil, corrupt and vile human beings become when they move further and further away from God. Here was God standing among them in a human body, the One who created them and loves them and wanted only the very best for them and what do we do to Him. Turn on Him, torture Him, mock Him, flog Him and crucify Him.

The tragedy is that people haven’t changed. “Oh”, we might say, “We would never do that now, we are more civilised and sophisticated.”

People in our culture may not attack Jesus physically, but they constantly mock Him and His followers, they use His name as a curse word, they out rightly reject and ignore Him and they deliberately go against all He taught and all He stands for. They may not nail Him to a cross to get rid of Him but they have found other ways of getting rid of Him. Trying to convince themselves that He never even existed, or the whole thing was just an invention or switching off whenever someone speaks to them about Jesus.

The truth is that we can never get rid of Jesus. Pilate said, “What shall I do with Jesus Christ?”, and then he wash his hands of Him thinking that he could get rid of Him like that.

But he couldn’t. He might have physically removed Jesus but he couldn’t get Jesus out of his mind. The Emperor eventually sent Pilate to Gall and he was so guilt ridden that he ended up committing suicide. Just like Judas, Pilate could not live with himself after what he had done.

When you reject Jesus Christ you place yourself under a curse and you literally damn yourself to hell.

We can never get rid of Jesus because He is very much alive and we may try to avoid Him now but we will face Him eventually when we stand before Him on the day of Judgement and the Bible says our words, deeds and thoughts of this life will be replayed to us and they will either condemn us or justify us.

The words and attitudes that will either condemn or justify us will all be centred around this question. What did we do with Jesus Christ?

Did we reject Him, resist Him, fob Him off, ignore him or did we acknowledge that He died for our sins, ask Him to forgive us and become His lifelong followers.

That is a choice none of us can wriggle out of. You can’t sit on the fence with that one – you are either for Jesus or you are against Him.

Ill. Charlottle Elliott was a beautiful young woman with an amazing voice. One night after giving a performance at a concert a Christian minister spoke to her and said, “”Young lady, your talent and beauty are a thing of wonder. But, without Jesus, you are no better than the lowest prostitute on our streets!” Charlotte strongly resented that comment. She felt that she was a good upright person who didn’t need Jesus Christ in her life. She became very critical and negative towards Jesus Christ, but she couldn’t get out of her mind what the minister had said. She had no peace and a battle raged inside her until she realised that she would know no peace until she gave her life to Jesus. But by now she felt she wasn’t good enough to come to Jesus so she contacted the minister and said, “How can I come to Jesus after the way I have treated Him?” He said to her “Come to Jesus just as you are. He will accept you because He has already taken the punishment for all your wrong attitudes and behaviour.” Charlotte came and later she wrote a hymn. “Just as I am.”