Pilate’s Dilemma: Taking Responsibility for Difficult Decisions
YBL Good Friday Blog, 4.7.23
No one wants to make difficult decisions, and those decisions can be hard to make for different reasons. Sometimes the difficulty of making the decision comes from the challenge of understanding right and wrong. Other times, right and wrong are very clear. However, the consequences of the right decision are difficult. In these cases, it takes courage to make brave decisions. In the story of Jesus’ trial, we see that the Roman Governor, Pontus Pilate had a difficult decision of the second kind—difficult consequences:
But Pilate answered, “You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.”
The Jewish leaders insisted, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.”
When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, and he went back inside the palace. “Where do you come from?” he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?”
….Finally, Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified (John 19:6-10, 16)
Pretty early on, Pilate knew the right thing to do. Jesus was innocent. His difficulty was not in judging right and wrong – it was in the ability to face the consequences of an unpopular decision. Influential people wanted Jesus to be found guilty. The Jewish leaders did not have the power to judge Jesus – that was Pilate’s job. However, the pleasure or displeasure of these leaders could greatly impact the success or failure of Pilate’s governorship. The pressure mounted on Pilate to give the desired verdict. Pilate pressed them repeatedly, but the leaders would not back down from their pressure. Pilate finally caved. Even though he washes his hands of the matter, it was his decision to make. He chose to make the wrong decision because it was easier – at least in the short term.
Contrast that with Jesus. The gospels make it very clear that Jesus was in complete control as he went to the cross. He was not a victim. He resolutely set his face toward Jerusalem (Luke 9:51). He wept over the city (Luke 19:41-44), knowing they would reject his message of peace. Jesus knew of Judas’ betrayal, and could have easily avoided it (John 13:27). Jesus told Peter not to resist his arrest; Jesus had legions of angels to defend him if he wanted to stop their plan (Matthew 26:53).
Perhaps most remarkably, we see Jesus in the garden praying for strength. Strength not to run, but to stand firm and face what is coming. Jesus dreads the consequence that looms – not merely torture or painful death, but separation from God as he will become the offering for the sins of all people. He says to God, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will” (Matt 26:39). Jesus, like Pilate faces a difficult consequence for His choice. However, Jesus is willing to bear the consequence of doing what is right.
When we consider all of the remarkable events about the week that Jesus suffered, one of the most amazing is his courage. Courage to face a death he did not deserve. Courage to do so willingly. We all know the shame of choosing Pilate’s path at some point in our lives – the easy way out, but at the cost of what is right. On Good Friday, let’s pray to be the sort of people who will follow Jesus – and to trust in the one who always does what is right, no matter the cost.