What Shall I Do With Jesus?
“What shall I do with Jesus?” It is the right question. It is the question each one of us must ask. It is the question Pilate asks in the passage we’re going to look at today, Matthew 27:11-31.
You may remember last Sunday we were looking at the first part of Matthew 27, when early Good Friday morning Judas’ betrayal of the evening before had led to Jesus being condemned and being brought before Pilate, the Roman Governor over Palestine. In Matthew 27:11, we pick up the story as Jesus stood before Pilate in the presence of His accusers, the chief priests and elders of Jerusalem.
Pilate’s first question, though, was this: “Are you the king of the Jews?” This is the charge against Jesus.
If He says He is the King of the Jews it amounts to political insurrection against Rome, for Rome does not and will not recognize His Kingship over Palestine. This is the reason the Chief Priests bring Jesus to Pilate, for under Roman Law, the local Sanhedrin, this kind of religious judicial group could not judge this case. They were playing Rome. They wanted to get rid of Jesus, yes, but they wanted to see Pilate squirm as He made the judgement, he had to condemn Jesus to death and thus clear the chief priests of any responsibility.
“Are you the king of the Jews?” Pilate asks directly and to the point. If He says yes Jesus will be guilty of political insurrection. If He says no then what’s the fuss? But in His typical way Jesus’ answer was not what was expected and, to be fair, it is not entirely satisfactory.
“You have said so.” Or, I like how the Message puts it, “If you say so.”
What?! Isn’t Jesus taking this seriously? We have spent all our time in Matthew speaking to the primary message that Jesus comes with an “Invitation to the Kingdom”. We have made pains to point out that Christ’s Kingdom is like no other, we have nothing to compare it to. Jesus is continually describing the Kingdom by way of His parables and His own actions. With an opportunity for Jesus to explain Himself, He answers with “if you say so”. This seems to unleash more accusations by the chief priests: “When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, Jesus gave no answer. Then Pilate asked him, ‘Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?’ But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge—to the great amazement of the governor.”
The rumours of Jesus’s silence would have made it around Jerusalem; it was so unexpected. We’re kind of wanting to hear the wisest reply ever; come on Jesus, give us an answer! What we get is silence. He does not reply, not even to a single accusation. Thus, through the ages, we see this playing out the prophecy of Isaiah 53:7, “‘He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers so He did not open His mouth.’”
Pilate was amazed. Why is this great amazement? Pilate is expecting a person who is accused of insurrection to be pleading their case, either begging for mercy or making some grand political statement. He expected a defence. He was not expecting silence.
Here is Pilate, with chief priests and elders lobbing false accusations and contradictory evidence against Jesus, and Jesus says nothing.
It says in verse 15 that there was “a governor’s custom at Passover to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. At that time they had a well-known prisoner whose name was Barabbas.” Which is kind of ironic, since the name “Bar-Abbas” means “son of Abba”, son of the Father. So Pilate was hoping that he could pit Barabbas, the well-known insurrectionist, against Jesus, the guy who didn’t say a word, a man he could clearly see was no military or political threat to Rome. Seems like a no-brainer.
In verse 19 it says:
While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.”
But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.
“Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” asked the governor. “Barabbas,” they answered.
“What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Pilate asked. They all answered, “Crucify him!”
This version of Jesus before Pilate is my favourite. What do you see in this unusual perspective, looking from behind as if you were a member of Pilate’s entourage?
You see Jesus slightly to the left already beaten and mocked with soldiers guarding Him as if He were a threat. You see Pilate’s wife over to the right, who has just told her husband to leave Jesus alone and is now walking away. You see Pilate over to the far left sitting in the judgment seat over Jesus, watching. You see a chief priest in the centre of the proceedings, gesturing to Jesus and persuading the crowd to crucify him. Lastly, you see the crowd. If you were able to look more closely at some of their faces you would see that Ciseri captures them forming the word “Cru-ci-fy” him.
“What shall I do with Jesus?” What did the different actors in this scene do with Jesus?
The chief priests and elders accuse Jesus of being King and call for him to be crucified; what is more, they persuade the crowd to crucify Jesus. “Jesus is King” is a statement that isn’t quite true and isn’t quite false either. Jesus is indeed King of a Kingdom that is unlike any other geo-political empire, but, insurrection against Rome was hardly a large enough goal. Let’s be honest, Jesus came to conquer us to Himself. I love how John Owen put it, “When Christ comes with his spiritual power upon the soul to conquer it to himself, he hath no quiet landing place. He can set foot upon no ground but what he must fight for.” (John Owen, Sin and Temptation, 1667)
This is the insurrection, it is us. Conquering Rome? Well, wait in line. Jesus has come for “He so loved the world.”
The chief priests and elders of Jerusalem answer the question “what shall I do with Jesus?” by calling for Him to be crucified.
This is how the soldiers answer the question of “what shall I do with Jesus?”
[They] took Jesus and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand. Then they knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said. They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.
As for Pilate, in verse 24, it says “When he saw that he was getting no where”. He can’t solve this puzzle, he can’t placate the chief priests and the Jewish crowd, “he washes his hands in front of the crowds.” Rather than establish justice he caves in to the crowds; he gets back to some quiet, back to the normal low rumbling of occupied lands. In answer to his own question “What shall I do with Jesus?”, “he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.”
Pilate’s wife makes it into this account to tell her husband that she’s had a bad dream. Here God is giving a prophetic dream to a Roman woman. Remember what she says to Pilate? “‘Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.’” She’s the only one to stick up for Jesus, kind of. She doesn’t even know His name other than to refer to him as “that innocent man”. And who is she? A foreign, non-Jewish, Roman wife of the governor; we don’t know of any other reference to her faith in the living God. Her advocacy for Jesus doesn’t come out of a desire for justice; She wants her husband to have nothing to do with him because of her own self-referenced desire for relief because she’s “suffered a great deal today.” She answers the question “what shall I do with Jesus” by saying have nothing to do with him.
The crowds in Pilate’s court join the chief priests in calling for Jesus to be crucified. Who were these people? They were not the same ones a few days earlier who lined the streets into Jerusalem singing “Hosanna”. These were insiders, friendly to the chief priests. They didn’t know it at the time – but they became co-conspirators in having Jesus crucified.
Now let me say this clearly in contradiction to anti-Semitism. From time to time there circulates an idea that Jews are responsible for Jesus’ death. This notion, in part, led to justify the Holocaust where over 6 million Jewish men, women, and children were killed. This anti-Semitic notion misses the point that Jesus came to save us from our sins. He died for us. You may as well blame Jesus for His own death; you may as well blame yourself, for He died for you.
We are brought back to the question Pilate asked: What shall I do with Jesus? It is the right question. It is the question each one of us must ask. It is the question we cannot escape.
It is not: What shall I do with the government? What shall I do with the moral issues of the day? What shall I do with such a confused and corrupt culture?
What shall I do with Jesus?
Me? I’m going to take up my cross, daily, and follow Him. I’m going to seek His face; I’m going to search Him out. I’m going to get to know Him and keep on getting to know Him better; for to know Him is to love Him, and to know Him truly is to worship Him authentically. I’m going to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with Him in the power of His Holy Spirit.
What shall I do with Jesus? I’m going to live the whole arc of my spiritual journey with Him in the communion of others who want more of Jesus too.
What are you going to do with Jesus?
Join me in this 13th century prayer from Richard of Chichester:
Dear Lord of Thee, three things I pray,
To see Thee more clearly,
Love Thee more dearly,
Follow Thee more nearly,
Day by Day.