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Some people have a hard time deciding what they want to do, like the man who lived during the Civil War. He couldn’t decide whether he wanted to fight for the North or the South, so he wore the coat of the North and the trousers of the South. When he stepped onto the battlefield, he ended up getting shot at from both sides.
I am a decisive person most of the time, except when I go to a restaurant that has too many choices on the menu. That is why I like In-N-Out Burger. There is no mystery to ordering – just hamburgers, cheeseburgers, french fries, malts, soft drinks, tea, and lemonade. That makes it pretty simple.
Ordering a meal is rarely a life-altering decision, however. There are other decisions in life that are very important, and you want to be very clear about them before you make them. One, for example, is the decision about whom you will marry. You want to be sure and get that right.
The Bible tells the story of an indecisive man, a man who let others do his thinking for him, a man who tried to appease a bloodthirsty, fickle crowd and reconcile that with his own troubled conscience. I am speaking of the Roman governor Pontius Pilate.
Back then, governors were not elected; they were appointed by Rome. In fact, it was a very important position. Pilate was the political representative reporting to Rome from the area of Judea.
As Pilate’s story opens, he is in Jerusalem at a critical time. Normally he would have been out of town, kicking back in his beautiful palace on the Mediterranean coast in Caesarea. But he had to be in Jerusalem because Passover was under way, and there were thousands of Jewish pilgrims filling the city. And during his time there, Pilate and his well-ordered life collided with Jesus Christ. And once that happens, there is no escaping it. Pilate did everything he could to get out of the situation he was in, but nothing quite worked.
He was already in hot water with the Jewish people. He had a number of conflicts with them, and he did not need another problem. Pilate was not happy ruling over these people. But at this particular time, he did not need problems with them whatsoever. So this is what created his tenuous situation.
The writings of Phileo include a letter written from Agrippa to the Roman Emperor Caligula that gives us some insight into Pilate’s character. In describing Pilate, Agrippa wrote, “Pilate is unbending and recklessly hard. He is a man of notorious reputation, severe brutality, prejudice, savage violence and murder.”
That is why the otherwise unbending, brutal, prejudiced Pilate appears indecisive in this story. Normally he was a guy who would simply say, “You’re going to be executed. Get out of my court. Next.”
But on this occasion, Pilate was torn, because he didn’t want to offend the religious leaders who brought Jesus to him. Pilate was caught at a crossroads. He didn’t want a riot. He didn’t want to offend these Jewish leaders. But He immediately recognized that Jesus was innocent of the charges they made.
The religious leaders did not want to execute Jesus themselves, and Pilate really didn’t want to deal with this. So he said to them, “You take Him and judge Him according to your law” (John 18:31 NKJV). In other words, he was saying, “You want to execute Jesus? Execute Him. Don’t bother me with this. I don’t want to deal with this. Take this out of my courtroom.”
But they said, “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death” (verse 31). Actually, that wasn’t true, because they did put people to death. Case in point: They stoned Stephen (see Acts 7). In reality, they wanted Pilate to do their dirty work for them. Essentially they were demanding a Roman execution. What they did not realize was they were helping to bring about the fulfillment of a prophecy – because Scripture said that not only would the Messiah die, but he would die in a very specific way. He would die by crucifixion.
Pilate had to make a decision. What was he going to do with Jesus Christ? It is almost as though we could spin the camera around from a different angle. Instead of seeing Christ standing before the great Pilate, it is really Pilate about to decide his own eternal destiny, based on what he does with Jesus. This is not so much the story of Jesus before Pilate as it is the story of Pilate before Jesus.
Pilate thought he had dodged a bullet, so to speak, by passing Jesus off to Herod. And I’m sure his heart must have sunk when Herod sent him back. He knew Jesus was innocent. He was trying to get him off the hook, but he would not do the right thing and let him go because of fear of repercussions – fear of losing his political base.
This is typical of so many people today. They want to put off what they don’t want to deal with. But the one thing you cannot put off is Jesus Christ. Pilate was worried about his power. He didn’t want to lose it. He, like many politicians do, was willing to say whatever he needed to say to keep his status secure. Pilate didn’t want to lose his position. But he was culpable, and he was responsible.
Pilate had a choice in the matter, just as Judas Iscariot had a choice whether to betray Jesus. And he found out that everyone has to make a decision about Jesus Christ.
What you do in this life with Jesus Christ will determine what he will say to you in the next one. It is really up to you. Because we are faced with the same situation Pilate was faced with. What are we going to do with Jesus? That is a question we all must face in life. And we have to decide.