Matthew 27:15-26 15 Now it was the governor’s custom at the Feast to
release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. 16 At that time they had a notorious
prisoner, called Barabbas. 17 So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked
them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Barabbas, or Jesus
who is called Christ?” 18 For he knew it was out of envy that they had
handed Jesus over to him. 19 While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat,
his wife sent him this message: “Don’t have anything to do with that
innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of
him.” 20 But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for
Barabbas and to have Jesus executed. 21 “Which of the two do you want
me to release to you?” asked the governor. “Barabbas,” they answered. 22
“What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called Christ?” Pilate asked.
They all answered, “Crucify him!” 23 “Why? What crime has he
committed?” asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”
24 When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar
was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I
am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!” 25
All the people answered, “Let his blood be on us and on our children!” 26
Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed
him over to be crucified. In the name of Jesus Christ, whose hands of the Passion set us free from Satan’s power and now embraces and upholds us, dear Christian friends,
Listen to this! Pontius Pilate handed [Jesus] over to be crucified! That is
shocking news because Jesus was perfect, yet was sentenced to die on a cross like a
hardened criminal! That is not shocking news because you are fully aware of this
travesty! But what might be news to you is that Pilate had decided to let him go” (Ac
3:13)! That is what is written in the Acts of the Apostles by the Apostle Luke who was
recording the words of the Apostle Peter spoken in his Pentecost sermon. Pilate had
decided to release Jesus! We will soon see that Pilate did many different things on Good Friday, but there is one thing he didn’t do. He didn’t do what he had decided to do. Instead of letting
HANDS OF SELF-PRESERVATION
2 Jesus go, he let the enemies of Jesus have their way. So, Pilate will forever be
remembered as the man who sentenced the Author of life to death.
So what happened? What made Pilate change his mind? We will answer that
question tonight as we see Pilate, in order to protect his position and to proclaim his
innocence, wash his HANDS OF SELF-PRESERVATION.
What is so sad is that it didn’t have to end this way! Pilate had been given a long
list of reasons to release Jesus. I will number them:
1 – Jesus’ acceptance of his circumstances. The chief priest and elders were
accusing Jesus of anything and everything, but Jesus said nothing. He didn’t protest his
innocence, didn’t plead for mercy, didn’t say a word in his own defense. Pilate was
amazed, but didn’t do anything to stop the injustice.
2 – Jesus’ boldness and bravery. When Jesus was alone with Pilate, he told him,
“My kingdom is not of this world. . . . the reason I was born and came into the world
is to testify to the truth. . . . you would have no power over me if it were not given to
you from above” (Jn 18:36,37; 19:11). No one spoke to the Roman governor like that.
Was Pilate beginning to realize that this man was no ordinary human being?
3 – The message Pilate received from his wife. “Don’t have anything to do with
that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of
4 – Pilate’s personality. Pilate didn’t get to his position by being a moron or
naïve or easy to manipulate. He could see what the Jewish leaders were trying to do. He
knew that they were jealous of Jesus and he was convinced that Jesus was no criminal.
After examining all this evidence, after weighing all the testimony, it should have
been an open-and-shut case. Pilate should have set Jesus free and sent the Jewish leaders
home. But he didn’t. Pilate didn’t want to touch this political hot potato, so he tried to pass it along quickly before he got burned. First, he told the chief priests to judge Jesus according to their own law. That didn’t work. Then he sent Jesus to King Herod. That didn’t work
either. His last and best option was a Passover custom to release a prisoner chosen by the
people. To make the choice obvious, Pilate proposed two men: Jesus and a notorious
criminal named Barabbas. But Pilate’s plan backfired when the chief priests and elders
persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas’ release.
Pilate must have been stunned as he watched his foolproof plan fall apart. Pilate
must have been at a loss for words when these desperate words came out of his mouth,
“What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?”. The crowds
immediately called for his crucifixion. But when Pilate tried to reason with them, it was
too late. They kept shouting, “Crucify him!”.
Pilate’s attempts to free Jesus had started a riot. He needed to do something. “Do
I do what I know is right or do I do what I think is best for me?” He took water and
washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,’ he
said. ‘It is your responsibility!”.
Pilate’s hands of self-preservation were washed, but they were not clean...of guilt
and sin. He blatantly disregarded justice and condemned an innocent man. He blatantly
disregarded the one true God and condemned the Son of God.
3 But that is what unbelievers like Pilate do, right? They are only concerned about
themselves. Do Christians do that?
Do you cooperate with your classmates in the cafeteria and ridicule the lesser-
liked students rather than stop the verbal assault because YOU want to be liked? Have
you read the rant on Facebook demeaning your God-established government authority
and gave it a thumbs up instead of responding negatively to it or not responding at all
because YOU want to keep your friendship with the author? Did you silently accept the
argument against the sacredness of Scripture rather than speak out because YOU were
trying to save your own skin?
Hands of self-preservation do not belong on a Christian when it means we care
more for ourselves than our Savior and the instructions of his Word. Jesus says,
“Whoever denies me before others, I will also deny before my Father who is in
heaven” (Mt 10:33 EHV). That makes us tremble in fear when we realize that those
condemning words are aimed at us when we seek to save our own skin rather than
confess Christ and his commands clearly.
On this night we think about what Pontius Pilate didn’t do, let’s also think about
everything Jesus didn’t do in order to save us. He didn’t run from the soldiers who came
to capture him. He didn’t call down legions of angels from heaven to destroy his
enemies. He didn’t defend himself in an unjust court of law. He didn’t come down from
the cross to avoid the pain of torture and the punishment of hell he suffered there.
By not doing these things, Jesus accomplished what we could not do and washed
clean of guilt and punishment our hands of self-preservation. He secured forgiveness for
all of our sins, including the times we have tried to selfishly save our own skin rather than
witness to others what Jesus has done for us. By Jesus not doing these things, he has
given us strength to follow him unselfishly, to serve him gratefully and to pray to him
confidently that his will be done.
As his humble, grateful people, we want to follow Jesus. We eagerly seek out
opportunities to serve him. We ask him to turn our hands of self-preservation into hands
of selflessness, service to others and salvation-sharing.