The Man Who Washed His Hands
Leaping beyond the Nativity and the arrival of Jesus, we are going to look at some eyewitness testimonies about him. Nobody buys anything today without reading reviews, right? We’ll take a look at some reviews about this baby born in Bethlehem, but I thought we could jump to the end from the beginning, starting with this: “When Pilate saw that he could not prevail at all, but rather that a tumult was rising, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, “I am innocent of the blood of this just Person. You see to it.” And all the people answered and said, “His blood be on us and on our children.” Then he released Barabbas to them; and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered Him to be crucified.” (Matthew 27:24-26, NIV)
A Dilemma For the Ages
I have always wondered about Pontius Pilate. He was a Roman governor in a hostile land, thrust into a situation that had no reasonable outcome. Matthew says that he marveled at Jesus’ lack of response, and that his wife had been greatly troubled about Jesus in a dream. She actually told him to have nothing to do with “that innocent man” (Matthew 27:19), but in the end he couldn’t avoid it. Pilate was the ultimate example of a man stuck between a rock and a hard place, a military man forced to make political decisions for unreasonable and hostile constituents.
He offered to release Jesus, said he found no fault in him, and ultimately washed his hands publicly of the whole messy affair. Pilate and his wife were both uneasy about this Galilean “King of the Jews”, and both of them expressed a desire to be rid of this call for judgment; yet even so, Pilate handed this innocent man over to be crucified in order to pacify the zealots who were calling for his death.
So, Then What Happened?
Do you think that in later years, once they moved back to Rome, they talked about Jesus, and wondered about who he was? Did they live long enough to keep up with events back in Jerusalem, to sense the magnitude of what they had seen and done? Surely the “King of the Jews” came up in their dinner time conversation, and perhaps Mrs. Pilate was able to say “I told you so!” every once in a while…
According to Josephus, Pilate was ordered back to Rome after viciously suppressing a Samaritan uprising about AD 36. Maybe he was just doing his job as governor, or perhaps he harbored some bitterness towards the Jews for the role they had forced him to play in the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. In any case, he dealt harshly with the Samaritans and was sent home, either as a reward or a punishment. But it was clear that he needed a break from Judean politics.
What was “The Rest of the Story”?
There are a lot of characters in the Bible, and the way Pontius Pilate is presented provides interesting details about his position and personality. He was Roman, but got dragged into what he considered a mere Jewish religious dispute; he was faced with an unruly mob, and forced to handle this strange case; neither he nor his wife really wanted to pursue judgment against this surprising, enigmatic man. Pilate was so conflicted that he publicly disavowed having to pronounce the sentence. Too bad Matthew or Luke was not able to chronicle his later life after he returned to Rome. I have always wondered what he felt and thought about Jesus, what he ultimately knew and didn’t know…
And I have wondered if, during their troubled retirement years, Pilate and his wife ever found answers to the questions they must have had about Jesus, the Christ, the man whose kingdom was not of this world. Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth?” I wonder if he ever found the answer to that question, the question every single one of us must ask as we behold the man.
In an assignment far from home, caught between the Jews and Rome,
As politics and eternity swirled in events that surely changed his world,
Pontius Pilate tried to choose, when any way he went, he’d lose…
Out in this remote command, a case he couldn’t understand,
Pilate tried to wash his hands of this Jewish King, this innocent man…
Events began he couldn’t halt—and so he said, “I find no fault!”
And when the Sanhedrin wouldn’t budge, Herod was called to be the judge;
But Herod only sent him back. So Pilate tried a different tack:
“Be careful here!” his wife had urged, so Pilate had the prisoner scourged,
And asked the crowd to give relief, but instead of the King, they chose a thief…
Perplexed and trying to find a plan, he brought Christ forth: “Behold the man!”
Hoping that he could try to buy some sympathy now; But “Crucify!”
Yes, “Crucify him!” reached his ears, a cry that he would hear for years,
And think about with angry tears as the mark of the darkest of careers…
See, Pilate didn’t know from old of the things the ancients had foretold,
of another man who said, “Behold!” as political strife around him swirled:
“Behold the Lamb of God, who takes the sins of all the world!”
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