Pages 175-184, Arms Open Wide
This Week’s Scripture
“Then the Jewish leaders took Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning…”
A Tale of Three Kingdoms
On November 22, 1963, three influential men, each with his own distinct world vision, died within hours of each other.
John F. Kennedy
Kennedy was a humanist, and his arena of power and influence was political.
Huxley, author of A Brave New World, was an impassioned believer in mysticism and universalism. His search for hidden truth, assisted by mind-altering pharmaceuticals, persisted up until the very end of his life. He is reported to have taken an injection of LSD not long before death.
Lewis was a Christian, a prolific author, and brilliant defender of the faith.
Three brilliant men, each wildly accomplished in his own field, each with radically differing views of what was really matters in this life. In 1982, a philosophy professor named Peter Kreeft imagined what a conversation between the three men would have been like if they met up in purgatory together in his book, Between Heaven and Hell.
Just Here to Win
In today’s lesson, 2,000 years before the death of Kennedy, Huxley, and Lewis, we find three forces in conflict.
The Jewish Leaders
Each of the three are powerful, each possesses a distinct view about what is really important in this life, and each of them is there to win.
The Jewish leaders of Jesus’s day, are there to win religiously. They have carefully crafted a world in which they hold power over the masses by using God’s law as a weapon. Their goal is to hold onto the wealth and power that comes with their position. Jesus is a threat to that.
Pilate’s worldview is distinctly Roman, and he is there to win politically. He is manipulative, thirsty for power, and determined to eliminate the constant threat to his position spearheaded by the Jewish leaders.
There have been multiple uprisings in Israel under his leadership and he is on thin ice with Rome. The Jewish leaders have made it all worse by stirring up trouble for him and ratting him out to his superiors. He needs to cement his control and he will use anything, anyone, to do it.
Jesus was there to win too, but it falls short to say his goal was to win spiritually. It was just bigger than that.
He was there to win the redemption of all creation.
What Does Winning Look Like?
It is strange to read this passage, because when we get to the end, we realize that both the Jewish Leaders and Pilate are probably each confident they have walked away with the ultimate prize.
The Jewish Leaders got rid of the troublesome young Rabbi who was threatening all they held dear.
Pilate manipulated the situation to coerce the Jewish Leaders’ fealty to Caesar, and thereby eliminated their threat to his appointment in Judea.
Jesus, at first glance, seems to be the only loser. He was used by both sides, his suffering, his very life, tossed about as a pawn.
But the thing is, it is impossible to lose something you didn’t want to win in the first place.
Jesus’s goal all along was to win the redemption of creation and there was only one way to do that- his suffering, death, and resurrection. When, bloody and bruised, he shoulders his crossbeam and begins the tortuous path to Golgotha, he is heading toward the only battle that matters to him, one he knows he will win.
A Kingdom Not of This World
Pilate is manipulative and cold-hearted. I think it is even safe to say he is more than a tad sadistic, but he had just one small thing the Jewish leaders didn’t. He at least realized there was something unique going on with Jesus, that this “King of the Jews” was approaching life from a completely different angle than he was, and he was curious about that. He grills Jesus about who He is, and what He is about.
Jesus has one simple answer for him, “My kingdom is not of this world…” (John 18:36)
Like Pilate, Jesus’s answer stops me in my tracks. It leaves me wondering about this man from Galilee. It leaves me pondering where I, like the Jewish Leaders and Pilate, am getting the whole thing wrong.
It leaves me asking where in my life I am greedily grasping at things that don’t really matter at all when I am called to be a citizen of Heaven, a kingdom not of this world.
Behind the Story
Wash, Rinse, Repeat
Perhaps when you have heard this story, you thought Pilate was somewhat noble when he called for the water to wash his hands of the murder of Christ. Not so. He was re-enacting a ceremony from Deuteronomy 21:1-9, the atonement for an unsolved murder. We have absolutely no indication from history that Pilate was a sincere person of faith, seeking out the God of Abraham. This was a deliberate mockery of the Jewish Leaders in which Pilate was using their own law against them. Pilate didn’t care anything about Jesus’s suffering or the defense of justice. He had one goal- his own preservation.
What a Palace!
Pilate was most likely living in Herod the Great’s former palace in Jerusalem. See this great article for what life was like there.
Why Did the Jewish Leaders Refuse to Enter the Palace?
It was Passover week, and the Jewish Leaders had important duties at the Temple. They didn’t want to run the risk of rendering themselves “unclean” and therefore disqualified for service. Infanticide was widespread in Rome as a solution for unwanted pregnancies. The remains were often discarded into the sewers. The Jews, therefore, considered Roman residencies as tombs and as a result, unclean. This is why they met Pilate outside.
Think About It
- We all lose sight about what really matters at times, especially when we are frightened, anxious, or tired. What helps you regain sight of the big picture and realign your priorities with God’s?
- Scripture is a great clarifier! When I find myself veering off course, I remind myself of Matthew 22:37-40.
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
What verses help you more clearly see the Kingdom of God and your role in it?
- Grab a pen and a journal. Prayerfully write down one thing you do when you feel threatened, anxious, or afraid that you know is an unhealthy response to fear. (Example from my own life: I lash out at my kids.) Ask God what your response would look like if you kept your eyes on the big picture- His kingdom that is not of this world. Write that down too and ask Him to help you choose the better option next time. (All is grace friend. If you fail, you just try again next time.)