John 18:28-32: True to life
“28 Then the Jewish leaders took Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness they did not enter the palace, because they wanted to be able to eat the Passover. 29 So Pilate came out to them and asked, ‘What charges are you bringing against this man?’30 ‘If he were not a criminal,’ they replied, ‘we would not have handed him over to you.’31 Pilate said, ‘Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.’‘But we have no right to execute anyone,’ they objected. 32 This took place to fulfil what Jesus had said about the kind of death he was going to die.”
There is a story, probably apocryphal, about a preacher who wrote a note to self at a particular point in the margin of his manuscript. It said, ‘Argument weak; shout louder!’
There is something so true to life as we know it in this reading. When Pilate asked the Jewish leaders what charge they were bringing against Jesus, they didn’t answer his question. Instead they bridled; they got prickly. ”If he were not a criminal…we would not have handed him over to you” (30). Their argument was flimsy (in fact they didn’t have a leg to stand on), so they ratcheted up the volume. Doesn’t this resonate with what we know of life? Maybe in conversation with someone you expose the weakness of their position. But instead of conceding the point; rather than proving teachable, they get angry instead and come out fighting. By trying to shout louder than anyone else they fight to bolster their untenable position.
But Pilate’s further words revealed what was truly going on (31, 32). They weren’t interested in truth. They didn’t want to be bothered with the facts. They just wanted Jesus dead. The Jews did not have the power of the death penalty, so they needed the rubber stamp from Rome.
The gospel account emphasises the point that Pilate knew he was punishing an innocent man (29, 38). Jesus was sacrificed to the malice of His enemies and the expediency of the Roman governor. Whatever truth was, Pilate was not sufficiently concerned about it to lose his job.
Yet even against such a dark back drop the truth shines out that God is in control (32). He always is. So shout as loudly as you wish. You will never get rid of Christ. Even when you think you’ve succeeded, you will find that He is back come the third day!