19 The high priest then questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. 20Jesus answered him, “I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. 21Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me what I said to them; they know what I said.” 22When he had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?” 23Jesus answered him, “If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?” 24Annas then sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.25 Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. So they said to him, “You also are not one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.” 26One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” 27Peter again denied it, and at once a rooster crowed.28 Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters. It was early morning. They themselves did not enter the governor’s headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover. 29So Pilate went outside to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” 30They answered him, “If this man were not doing evil, we would not have delivered him over to you.” 31Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” The Jews said to him, “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death.” 32This was to fulfill the word that Jesus had spoken to show by what kind of death he was going to die.33 So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” 35Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” 36Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” 37Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” 38Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, “I find no guilt in him. 39But you have a custom that I should release one man for you at the Passover. So do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?” 40They cried out again, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a robber. John 18:19-40
What is it about Jesus? Have you ever wondered what it was about him that drew people to him and made his disciples drop what it was they were doing and follow him? No questions asked, people just up and followed this man, drew near to this man, trusted this man.
So, then what was it about Jesus that rattled the Pharisees and the scribes and the elders? Did they see in Jesus what the disciples saw in him? Or were they too blinded by their need for power and the comfort of the status quo? Whatever their blindness, they have finally claimed the victory they have so desperately sought and for which they have plotted so ruthlessly: Jesus is in custody and has been sent to Pilate.
Jesus’ demise is imminent.
And yet, Pilate is not so easily sold on the bill of goods he is given, that Jesus is doing evil. Even after questioning Jesus directly, he is not convinced that there is anything worthy of which to convict this man. Although Pilate does not seem to understand everything that Jesus tells him, he does seem to see something in Jesus. Perhaps he sees the same thing in Jesus that the disciples saw.
The one thing that is clear is that Pilate is drawn to Jesus’ reference to truth. To the Truth.
What is truth? This seems to be the point that resonates deepest with Pilate. Jesus tells him that he has come into the world to bear witness to the truth and those who are of the truth listen to his voice.
It’s pretty incredible to me, watching from the shadows, the levels of truth, the roots of relativism, that are so obvious here, in Jesus’ day. What the Pharisees claim as truth, the essence of Jesus as the Truth, the need of Pilate to know and to understand truth.
What is truth?
Have you ever found yourself asking this question? It seems obvious to you when you are alone, when you are studying scripture and looking at how it applies to your life. Perhaps you have no misgivings about the idea of absolute truth when you are in the presence of Jesus. Like the disciples. Or like Pilate.
But then, when you are in the world, when you mix with friends or co-workers or even family, the question of truth, of what is truth, slowly creeps into your thoughts. People suggest, well, that is true for you or well, there really is no such thing as absolutes or absolute truth. But, isn’t there?
Isn’t that what Jesus was? The way and the truth and the life. Isn’t that what Jesus is? And isn’t that what Jesus tells Pilate in their brief exchange?
Those simple words seem to be enough to rattle Pilate. When he looks at Jesus, when he listens to Jesus, he does not see and he does not hear what the Pharisees do. He sees and hears what the disciples saw and heard – he sees and hears the Truth and he wants more of it. He wants to understand it. Perhaps he even wants to apply it in the very moment he shares with Jesus as Jesus stand before him, convicted by the Pharisees.
But truth seems to be a cunning concept, almost elusive at times, as we see with Pilate’s attempts to right what he sees as an obvious wrong.
I find no guilt in him.
But like the crowd of soldiers who arrested Jesus in the garden, Pilate is merely one of God’s means to God’s end. Pilate’s efforts, although admirable, would only be successful if God deemed it so.
I find no guilt in him, Pilate announces to the crowd, and so he offers willingly to release Jesus, this King of the Jews, to them. But they refuse his offer. They refuse Jesus. They refuse the Truth.
Instead of truth, they request a common criminal, a thief, a liar.
Have you ever refused the Truth in exchange for lies, or power, or personal gain, or instant gratification? Have you ever stood with the crowd, blended in with the crowd, and chosen the easier side instead of standing up, standing out, for the Truth?
I wish I could say that I have not. I wish I could tell you that whenever I am presented with a choice, I stand up for the Truth and refuse to muddle it with the gray of doubt, or fear, or weakness. But that isn’t true. Too often I waffle, especially on difficult issues that stir up strong emotions in so many. Rather than speak truth, rather than represent the Truth, I fade into the background and cry out for Barabbas. I cry out for the easier option.
Fortunately, the Truth wins in the end. Whether we choose it, whether we defend it, whether we stand up for it, the Truth wins. How freeing to know that Jesus isn’t depending on me for the victory. How freeing to know that Jesus, who was the way, the truth and the life, defeats all of their lies, all of their manipulation, all of their shame and sets me free in the process.
And, so, by his death, I am released from the crowd, no longer just an anonymous sinner who cries out for Barabbas, but one person, one child of the Father, who has been redeemed and who will heed Jesus’ invitation to follow him, to know him, to trust him. And this gives me the freedom and the boldness to shine a light for truth and for love in a world that too often fails to believe in either.
Because despite the ideals of relativism, absolutes exist: absolute truth and absolute love. And they both exist in this man standing before Pilate.
They both exist in this man, this Savior, this Rescuing Redeemer called Jesus.