Golgotha Bound and Exalted (John 19:14-22)

By | March 7, 2010

Golgotha Bound #4


     Pilate washed his hands of the matter. As much as he tried to do the right thing, in the end, he failed and washed his hands of the whole mess that day. But in doing so, he was able to Exalt the name of Jesus and despite how he was manipulated, Pilate actually brought glory to God by recognizing Jesus as the King of Kings.



     A. Who was Pontius Pilate? We know he was Rome’s appointed political leader of Judea. He’s known as Procurator or Prefect or Governor. We know he’s the one who gave the order for the crucifixion of Jesus. But apart from that what do we know?

     We actually know very little about Pontius Pilate except for what we find in the New Testament. There is very little physical historical evidence that Pilate as Governor of Judea, even really existed even though Pilate is mentioned 56 times in the NT, more than any other non-believer.

     There are a few times when Pilate is mentioned in the writings of Flavius Josephus. Josephus was the great historian of the Jewish people at the same time that the New Testament was being written.  Josephus tells us very little about Pilate but he does mention Pilate and Herod and even mentions Jesus a couple times. He also tries to explain to the Roman rulers the contours of Jewish society: who’s who and what’s what and why they do what they do.

     The only other mention of Pilate is from Roman historian Tacitus in Book 14, Chapter 44 of his Annals, written in about 114 A.D. He tells us that the founder of the Christian religion, Jesus Christ, (or Christus) was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of the Roman Emperor, Tiberius. That’s really all he says other than Nero used the followers of Christ as a scapegoat and the cause of burning the city of Rome.

     It wasn’t until 1961 when an Italian archaeologist discovered a limestone slab which had been recycled as a seat cover in the amphitheater in Caesarea Maritima in Israel that there was actual physical proof of Pontius Pilate. This slab, it turns out, was a piece of a larger dedication stone to Tiberius Caesar which clearly says that it was from “Pontius Pilate, Prefect of Judea.” Archaeologists say it was sort of like a combination of the bronze plaque commemorating a new building and the building’s Office Sign.

     B. Israel was a very important part of the Roman Empire because two of the major trade routes went through Israel, the King’s Highway and the Way to the Sea. But according to the Romans, Israel was one of the least habitable places in the outback and was talked about like the Air Force talked about awful Offut in Omaha or the Coasties talked about serving on an icebreaker. Nobody wanted that duty.

     It was hot. It was in the wilderness. The people were contentious and irritable and a powder keg of political intrigue just waiting for the right match to ignite it. And that was on a good day. Pilate didn’t want to be there but would play a very important role in the life and ministry of Jesus.

     In the clip we saw earlier, we saw one of the most famous scenes in Pilate’s life. He washed his hands of the matter. The people decided what they wanted, swayed by the religious leaders of the day, so Pilate said: “I want no part of this at all” and he washed his hands of the whole thing. We all remember that basin. Pilate’s basin.

     What we forget is during that last week of Jesus’ early life and ministry, Pilate’s basin wasn’t the only basin in the story. There were two basins.


     Years ago, a pastor shared a conversation he had with one of his active laypeople, who mentioned, “You preachers talk a lot about giving and serving, but when you get right down to it, it all comes down to basin theology.”

     The preacher was curious, he’d never heard of basin theology and asked, “What’s Basin theology?” 

     This gentleman replied, “Remember what Pilate did when he had the chance to acquit Jesus?  He called for a basin and washed his hands of the whole thing. But Jesus, the night before his death, called for a basin and proceeded to wash the feet of the disciples. It all comes down to basin theology: Which basin will you use?” (1)

     Two basins. Both contained water. Both were used to wash extremities, one feet, the other hands. One was used in a worshipful, loving act of Servanthood and proclamation; the other was used as a symbol of capitulation and defeat. One was the voluntary act of service by the King of kings out of love for God. And one was an act of servitude to an earthly king and the pressures of the crowd out of the fear of reprisal.

     B. Don’t you wish you could jump in the way-back machine and go back and whisper into Pilate’s ear, and Herod’s ear, and maybe even Caesar’s ear, “Look. You don’t know it but long after you’ve become only a footnote in history, this simple itinerant preacher will have the allegiance of hundreds of millions of followers. He will be seated at the right hand of God. And His name will be above every name.”

     They wouldn’t listen, of course.  But wouldn’t it be fun to let them know that this teacher whom they rejected and crucified between two thieves is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords whom God raised the dead and who now sits on the right hand of God (that’s the place of honor by the way.) I hope I never make that monumental of a mistake.

     But despite all of the things that Pilate missed in the midst of all the things he failed to do. He still did one thing right. Let’s look at the passage for today and you’ll see what I mean. John 19:14-22 (NRSV)

[14] Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; and it was about noon. He said to the Jews, “Here is your King!”  

[15] They cried out, “Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!” Pilate asked them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but the emperor.”  

[16] Then he handed him over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus;  

[17] and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha.  

[18] There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them.  

[19] Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”  

[20] Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek.  

[21] Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.'”  

[22] Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.”  

     Somewhere along the line, in the midst of all the interviews with Jesus, in the angry hollering of the crowds and the political machinations of the leaders, Pilate came to realize who Jesus truly was. And maybe that was his saving grace.

     I’m not sure Pilate understood one iota of it really meant but for the moment he nailed it, literally. And then he nailed it to the cross. Pilate will forever be remembered for the epitaph he had nailed above Jesus’ head: “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”


     Pilate, like Peter had to ponder the practical, political and personal  propositions projected by the party presenting the prisoner before him without appearing to pander to the populous. That was fun to write. Basically what I’m saying is like Peter and the disciples last week, Pilate had to decide who Jesus was. Who did Pilate say Jesus was?

     We know the answer: “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”

     What does that mean for us? What difference does it make how we think about Christ? Well, let’s compare a king with a president. A King has sovereign power and controls everything, no decision is made that isn’t in keeping with the King’s will. A president is a representative of the people and has limited power.

     I don’t really have the words to describe what the Kingship of Jesus means but there’s a segment of a sermon preached by S.M. Lockridge that does. There is no way I could do it justice if I read it to you, so in his own words.

CLIP: That’s My King


     In Rev. Lockridge’s words, “That’s my King?” That’s what Peter saw and what Pilate saw but didn’t fully understand. And that’s what is summed up when they lifted Jesus up on the cross which became His earthly throne with that simple epitaph. “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”

     And today our King, our Lord and Savior has set a banquet table for us, an all you can eat buffet of God’s Grace. Where we know we are welcome. Where our sins are forgiven. And where we can kneel in the presence of our Lord, the King of Kings, Jesus of Nazareth, the very Son of God.

This is the Word of the Lord for this day.



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