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The Gospel writers clearly point out the innocence of Jesus and the guilt of the plotters. Innocence will be condemned to death; guilt masqueraded as authority and lives on.
Then the whole multitude of them arose and began to accuse Jesus, saying, "We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, saying that He Himself is Christ, a King."
Then Pilate asked Him, "Are You King of the Jews?" He answered and said, "It is as you say." So Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowd, "I find no fault in this Man." But they were the more fierce, saying, "He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee to this place."
Pilate asked if the Man were a Galilean, and he sent Him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time. Now when Herod saw Jesus, he was exceedingly glad; for he had desired for a long time to see Him, and hoped to see some miracle done by Him. Then he questioned Him with many words, but Jesus answered him nothing.
The chief priests and scribes stood and vehemently accused him. Then Herod with his men of war, treated Him with contempt and mocked Him, arrayed Him in a gorgeous robe, and sent Him back to Pilate. That very day Pilate and Herod became friends, for previously they had been at enmity with each other.
Then Pilate, when he had called together the chief priests, the rulers, and the people, said to them, "You have brought this Man to me, as one who misleads the people. Indeed, having examined Him in your presence, I have found no fault concerning those things of which you accuse Him; no, neither did Herod. I will therefore chastise Him and release Him."
Luke 23:1-16 NKJV, condensed
Pilate and Herod
As the passion story evolves, we hear the opponents of Jesus express more vehemently that Jesus is dangerous and must die because he threatens the stability of their nation. Their motto: One must die to save the many. They meant that literally. Jesus was just too popular. In an attempt to set up his kingdom, he might lead a revolution endangering many lives and whatever privileges folks had within the Roman Empire.
Also as the momentum builds, we notice the growing conviction of Jesus that, yes, one must die to save the many. But to him that meant something entirely different. He was on a track that would lead, not to the establishment of his kingdom on earth, but to the sacrifice of his life to open up the possibility of a heavenly kingdom within the hearts and minds of all mankind. His was an idea that would only be understood and appreciated in retrospect, and by those who loved and believed in him.
On the morning when Peter was weeping bitterly and Judas was hanging himself, Jesus stood before the Roman governor. How quickly things fall apart! Just twelve hours earlier the disciples had gathered with Jesus to celebrate the Passover meal. Now they were scattered. Jesus was battered and bruised. In that sense, his death on the cross had already begun.
Pilate heard the charges and he zeroed in on the heart of the matter, "Are you the king of the Jews?" Pilate hoped for a response that would shed light on these proceedings, but got no such thing. Nothing made sense. Why wasn't Jesus defending himself? His silence was troublesome. Pilate had heard of Jesus' wisdom and air of authority. But as he looked at Jesus, he was disappointed and saw nothing worthy of his attention. Politically, he was caught in a catch-22 and needed a way to defuse the situation peacefully.
And then someone mentioned Galilee. Jesus was from the region to the north where his enemy, Herod, ruled. And Herod just happened to be in town! Why not send Jesus to Herod and let him deal with these Judean people. We met this particular Herod earlier when he ordered the death of John the Baptist. Not because he wanted John dead, but because he had made a foolhardy promise to a beautiful dancing girl!
King Herod too had heard about Jesus and was pleased at the prospect of meeting him. He wanted to see a miracle, which shows just how quickly this whole judicial process had degenerated into a game. While Pontius Pilate is portrayed as a man of constraint, Herod evidenced little self-control. When Jesus defied his authority with silence, Herod let him have it. His henchmen dressed Jesus up to look like a king and mocked him with ridiculous insults.
Herod kept the crowd happy, and he enjoyed the derisive laughter himself. He cleverly avoided a guilty verdict by subjecting Jesus instead to humiliating punishment. Then with a smile, sent him back to Pontius Pilate in a kingly robe.
Jesus was judged by two high profile personalities that morning and neither one of them declared him guilty. However, delivering justice was not their highest priority. On one hand, Pilate and Herod acknowledged Jesus was innocent. On the other hand, they did not wish to upset the masses of people that were in Jerusalem for the Passover festival.
What would these public officials do? Listen to their own convictions? Or bow to the pressure of the multitude before them? Pilate choose the same tactic Herod used. He declared Jesus not guilty, but in order to keep his constituents happy, he decided to ruff him up so he wouldn't cause trouble again.
Jesus had moved quickly through three different courts. It was speedy, but it wasn't justice.
Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further study or reflection.
Icebreaker: Describe a situation in which you were blamed for something you did not do.
Jesus was accused of perverting the nation. What do you think perverts and undermines a nation?
It's interesting that only now, after three years of public ministry, we are told about a multitude of people who did not like having Jesus in their midst. List some possible reasons why Jesus was an unwelcome Messiah. What do you think the charges against Jesus were really about?
What other factors do political figures (Pilate and Herod included) have to consider besides the rightfulness of their decisions? Why couldn't Herod and Pilate stand by their "not guilty" verdicts? In what ways do you sometimes succumb to pressure and end up doing what you didn't want to do? Explain why we bow to pressure?Name your all-time favorite political figure and explain your choice.
Jesus was an entirely different type of public figure. Think of some situations wherein he remained true to his principles instead of doing what others wanted him to do. When did he reject the opinions of others and stick to his own life plan?
Luke, as he wrote this story, put Pilate and Herod on trial. What were Pilate and Herod guilty of? Or not guilty of? Pilate preferred to sit on the fence and not take sides. When have you been a fence-sitter?Jesus refused to defend himself in word or deed. Why didn't he speak to Pilate or perform a miracle for Herod?
Jesus is portrayed as both king and savior. What do these two images of Jesus mean to you?What was the relevance of the question, "Are you the king of the Jews?"
In Philippians 2:5-11, the apostle Paul instructs us to have the same attitude as Jesus, "Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death--even death on a cross." Give some examples of what it means to die to self and live to serve.