"And the whole multitude of them arose, and led Him unto Pilate." Luke 23:1
We would like to point you to three moments in the text: first, we will see the behavior of the accusers, the Jews; then, the behavior of Pilate; and, finally, the world's condemnation in the sentence expressed.
First, then, the behavior and attitude of the Jews who condemned Jesus. Yes, it seems strange to us that Jesus ever would come in the seat of the accused, but such is the case. Pilate approached the howling multitude that brought Jesus to him and asked: What accusation bring ye against this man? This blunt question puts the Jews on the defensive. And their answer is a mockery: If he were not a malefactor, we would not have delivered Him up to you! As though the mere fact that they brought Him to Pilate would establish guilt. They show at once in their first utterance to Pilate their utter contempt for things righteous.
Of course, they notice that their bombastic statement did not make any impression on the judge and therefore, they proceed to accuse Him. Accusation one: He perverts the nation. Number two: He forbids the people to give tribute to Caesar. And three: He makes Himself some sort of King! And finally they even come to the world with the claim of Jesus that He is the Son of God. But even in the form of the accusation they reveal their utter unbelief in this fantastic claim: He makes Himself the Son of God!
Notice first of all that these accusations are a mixture of truth and the lie and are therefore very deceitful. Christ certainly spoke the truth when He made Himself King. He is the King of the Jews, rightly considered. But here is the point: the Jews cunningly averred that Jesus made Himself an earthly King, a competitor to the other kings and rulers of the earth, while all that ever heard Jesus would have to admit that Jesus never aspired to earthly rule and sovereignty. He is the King of the Jews indeed, that is, the praisers of God, but His kingship and Kingdom are both heavenly and glorious.
It is also truth that Jesus perverted the nation, only He did so from evil to good, while they aver before Pilate that He brought the nation to ruin by teaching them evil things.
And, yes, He forbade to give tribute to Caesar, that is, undue tribute. And there was nothing evil in that. And finally, it was the simple truth that Jesus indeed is the Son of the living God. He did no makeHimself Son of God, it is His glorious name from everlasting to everlasting.
As to the general claim that Jesus was a malefactor, we would say that His whole life testified to the contrary of that foul accusation. He went through the whole land doing good; both Pilate and Herodsee His innocence at once, and three times Pilate tells the multitude: I find no fault in Him! Is that man a malefactor?
But the most terrible thing in this accusation is this: through it the Jews and their rulers utterly abandon their King, their real Sovereign, their God! God had promised that the Messiah would come to crush the head of the serpent and to deliver them from all evil and to crown them with all that is good and wonderful. And when He came they drag Him to the Roman world power which is not so utterly corrupted as the leaders of the Jews: He would release Jesus, but they would not. He shall be crucified! It shows the depth of human degradation! It reveals that the heart of man hates God and His Son!
Now let us see the behavior of Pilate.
First of all, we may expect of him the strictest justice. The Roman concept of law and righteousness was great.
Moreover, he is a judge, arid a judge must above all love justice and right. And for that reason he must gather all the information he can, in order that he may know how to free the innocent and condemn the guilty.
Therefore, Pilate ought to be moved only and exclusively by the sole question: is this man guilty or innocent. He is called to judge, and therefore he really stood in the place of God in this instance, even as every judge throughout all history.
We may even go a step further: every judgment here on earth ought to be so strict and true and righteous that we would have a shadow of the great judgment day to come in the end of the world.
But what a miserable show of judgment we behold at the trial of Jesus! This weak man did not consider the question of justice at all. If he had, he would have pronounced Jesus innocent and would have given commandment to the guard to clear the court of the howling mob of the real malefactors.
But Pilate would be rid of Jesus. He wants to evade the whole procedure. This becomes plain, first, by his suggestion that the Jews take Him and judge Him according to their own law. But the Jews refuse to do that. They have not the right of pronouncing and executing the death sentence, and Jesus must die! And, second, we see how Pilate evades the issue by proposing a choice between Jesus and Barabbas! Surely, he thought, they will not choose a murderer in the face of this majestic man! They will choose Jesus and I will be rid of this thorny predicament! But here he also fails, for they do the awful thing: they choose a murderer rather than the Prince of Life! Third, he tries to evade the issue by sending Jesus to Herod. Surely Herod will treat this case and I will be rid of it. But Herod sends Him back and Pilate is no nearer to a solution of this problem. And, finally, he tries to evade the issue by repeatedly proposing to release Jesus, and as a sop to their hatred of Jesus he scourges Him, contrary to all righteousness.
Can you imagine the suffering of Jesus, the Son of God in human nature as He stands in the midst of all this corruption, hatred, torturing of justice and seeking of wicked self rather than the seeking of God and His virtues?
The nation that rejects Him harbors His elect children, even though they bear the very name of one of the children of God. They are called Israel, but they act like the heathen, nay worse than the heathen. The heathen Pilate would release Him, for the man knew that He was innocent. But they, although they have the Word of God and in it a description of the Messiah who was to come, they clamor and cry until they have their wish: Jesus must be crucified!
Moreover, He loves justice and righteousness and these virtues are degraded before His face. His very name is the Lord our righteousness, but it is His torture to stand in the midst of those that pervert truth and equity.
Then too, He realizes at this dreadful hour that although He is innocent and just, He is nevertheless condemned, for He came in order to take upon Himself the guilt of all His sheep. Innocently condemned, and such that even the Triune God made Him to stand in the place of the guilty, such is the suffering of Jesus, the Lamb of God. Oh, God certainly shall visit all this show of wickedness in the day of judgment. But before God's own judgment Jesus must take the place of the guilty and He must and He is condemned and must walk the way of the Cross.
Unspeakable sufferings of the Son of God!
But this spectacle is also the world's condemnation.
As far as the world is concerned, this is not the trial of Jesus!
Heaven, earth and hell proclaim His innocence! There is the voice from heaven at His baptism: He is the beloved Son of God. Also from heaven came the angels at His birth in order to tell men that He is the joy of the angelic hosts. There is also the record of His life an earth: He went through the land doing good. He healed the sick, gave bread to the hungry, raised the dead, made the heart of the widow and orphan sing for joy! The enemies admitted in spite of themselves that Jesus was innocent. Why would they otherwise seek for false witnesses? Then there is the thrice repeated testimony of the judge himself: I find no fault in this man. But most striking of all: hell itself will bear testimony. When Judas came to himself and saw what he had done, he wailed: I have shed the innocent blood! Certainly, this was not the trial of Jesus!
No, but the world was on trial! If this so-called trial emphasized anything at all it was the innocence of Jesus. But the world was on trial; there can be no doubt about it.
And also the world at its best. The very wisdom of Greece, absorbed by the Roman world power, was present here. And this wisdom of the world such as it never shone either before or after this trial, so-called, was linked with the Roman concept of law. Moreover, we also find here the world's religion. We behold before this tribunal the very flower of the Israelitish nation. However, make no mistake: this nation has deteriorated: they are legalistic, self-righteous and hypocritical. Yes, they refuse to enter the judgment hall on this holy day and piously step backward: they shall not be corrupted by contact with these heathen abominations. Yes, but all this time they are crucifying the Christ of God!
And this world which really is on trial before and with Pilate proves its own corruption. They have taken the most wonderful revelation of God and deem it worthy to be cast out and crucified. God has never shown His goodness and wonders such as when He sent Jesus to this earth. Do you not see that the question: what shall I do and think of this Jesus determines your own state? It shall tell the whole earth and heaven what and who you are. Love Him, cling to Him, believe Him and worship Him, and you show that you are one of God's children. Despise Him, lie about Him, torture Him and cast Him out to be crucified and you prove that you are utterly abominable.
And that is what the world did. Pilate, Herod, the Scribes and Pharisees with the howling mob were on trial for their lives, for their lives as they shall spend it in hell forever and ever.
And they have conclusively proven before the bar of God's justice and even before the bar of the world that reads the record of the so-called trial that they are utterly corrupt and abominable; that Jesus is innocent but that the world stands condemned. Casting out righteousness itself, they are proven to be unrighteous.
And all this happened according to the adorable wisdom of God. The Son of God, the Savior of His people is unjustly condemned, so that the number of elect might be acquitted before the judgment seat of God in the day of days.
Rev. Gerrit Vos was born in Sassenheim, the Netherlands on November 1, 1894. He died in Hudsonville, Michigan on July 23, 1968.
Rev. G. Vos received instruction in the PR Seminary and was ordained into the ministry in September 1927. He served churches in Sioux Center, Iowa (1927-1929); Hudsonville, Michigan (1929-1932) and again in 1948-1966. He was pastor at Redlands, California (1932-1943) and in Edgerton, Minnesota (1943-1948). He retired in 1966.
The Rev. G. Vos was very eloquent in preaching and extremely descriptive in his writings. One sermon remembered well at Hudsonville Protestant Reformed Church was that preached the Sunday after a devastating tornado roared through the city in 1956. That sermon was later presented in the Standard Bearer as a meditation.
Three books of his meditations have been printed by the Men's Society of the Hudsonville Protestant Reformed Church and later reprinted by the Reformed Book Outlet of Hudsonville, Michigan.