THE FIVE EVASIONS OF PONTIUS PILATE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
7-22-62 7:30 p.m.
On the radio you are sharing the evening services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message, which is not entitled descriptively. "What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ?" [Matthew 27:22], is the text. Actually, the sermon title would be The Five Evasions of Pontius Pilate.
Now, turn to the twenty-seventh chapter of the Book of Matthew, the First Gospel; and let us read together verses 11 through 23 – the Gospel of Matthew, the First Gospel, chapter 27. And on the radio, listening, get your Bible and read it out loud with us: Matthew chapter 27, verse 11 through verse 23. We will close at verse 23 – now all of us reading it together:
And Jesus stood before the governor: and the governor
asked Him, saying, Art Thou the King of the Jews? And
Jesus said unto him, Thou sayest.
And when He was accused of the chief priests and elders,
He answered nothing.
Then said Pilate unto Him, Hearest Thou not how many things
they witness against Thee?
And He answered him to never a word; insomuch that the
governor marveled greatly.
Now at that feast the governor was wont to release unto the
people a prisoner, whom they would.
And they had then a notable prisoner, called Barabbas.
Therefore when they were gathered together, Pilate said
unto them, Whom will ye that I release unto you? Barabbas,
or Jesus which is called Christ?
For he knew that for envy they had delivered Him.
When he was set down on the judgment seat, his wife
sent unto him, saying, Have thou nothing to do with that just
Man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of Him.
But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitude that
they would ask Barabbas, and destroy Jesus.
The governor answered and said unto them, Whether of the
twain will ye that I release unto you? They said, Barabbas.
Pilate saith unto them, What shall I do then with Jesus which
is called Christ? They all say unto him, Let Him be crucified.
And the governor said, Why, what evil hath He done? But
they cried out the more, saying, Let Him be crucified.
That text, that question, is one of the most famous and one of the most inescapable in all human life: "What shall I do with Jesus which is called Christ?" [Matthew 27:22]. What shall I do with His words? "Never a man spake like that Man" [John 7:46]. No man in history, no man in recorded literature, no man in his highest imagination ever deigned to say that, "I am the resurrection, and the life; he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never, ever die" [John 11:25-26]. He’s a madman to say that; or He is Christ, the Son of God.
Whoever said, "He that hath Me hath life, but he that hath not Me hath not life, but the wrath and the judgment of God abideth upon him"? [John 3:36, 1 John 5:12]. Whoever said that but a madman, or the Christ, the Son of the living God? What shall I do with His words?
What shall I do with His life? Never in Israel was it seen like Christ [Matthew 9:33]; nor in all of the annals of time, nor on all of the pages of history was there ever delineated a life like Christ’s. It is not without reason that they have made Him and His birth the great focal point of all time. Things happened before Christ, BC; or things happened after Christ, AD. But the great pivot and the great continental divide of all time is found in the life of our Lord. And that life was dedicated to seeking and to saving us who are lost [Luke 19:10]. What shall I do with His life?
And what shall I do with His death? The centurion, to whom the Roman procurator gave the assignment to crucify Him, when he looked upon Him, said: "Surely this Man was the Son of God" [Matthew 27:54]. Never did a man die like that Man died. It is written large in the sacred page that the "life is in the blood; and God hath given it to us upon the altar to make atonement for our souls" [Leviticus 17:11]. And our Lord said of His death, "This is My blood of the new covenant, shed for the remission of sins" [Matthew 26:28]. What shall I do with His death? [Matthew 27:50].
And what shall I do with His resurrection [Matthew 28:5-7] – triumphant, victorious? Did ever a man rise and triumph over death and the grave? Men have been resuscitated. They have been brought to life. But whoever died, and after the third day was raised immortal and triumphant in a living and resurrected body? And who could say, as John the seer heard Him say on the isle of Patmos: "I am He that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of life and of death? I have the keys of the grave and of hell" [Revelation 1:18], in His mighty and omnipotent hands.
And what shall we do of His promise and certain return? "In that day, when every eye shall see Him, and they also who pierced Him, and the kindred and tribes of the earth shall wail because of Him, even so, Amen" [Revelation 1:7]. What shall I do with this Jesus who is called Christ?
And these five evasions of Pontius Pilate – as that decision, ultimate and final, was forced upon him – are the five evasions that I have seen in all of the years of my life and of my ministry. Time and again, repeated over and over, will you find these five evasive answers as men are forced to make a decision regarding this Lord Christ.
Look at them. Following the story of the whole passage of the Scriptures, the first evasion I find in the story, as the beloved physician Dr. Luke tells it; the first evasion is to send Him to somebody else and to do what somebody else does. "My wife, she has the religion in the family. I do what she does." Or, "The family, whatever family religion we’ve had, I do what they do. I was born in a certain faith," or "I belong to a certain community because my family, and I do what they do."
Now look at it. Pilate said to the chief priest and to the people: "I find no fault in this Man." And they were the more fierce and vehement saying, "He stirreth up the people, beginning up there in Galilee [Luke 23:4-5]; He – He is an insurrectionist!
And then when Pilate heard of Galilee, he asked whether the Man were a Galilean. And and as soon as he knew that He belonged under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent Him to Herod. He sent Him to Herod [Luke 23:6-7]. And that’s the first evasion. "I’ll do what Herod does. If Herod condemns Him, I condemn Him. If Herod frees Him, I free Him. If Herod accepts Him, I accept Him. If Herod crowns Him, I crown Him. If Herod crucifies Him, I crucify Him. Whatever Herod does, I’ll do." Following Herod: now that is a common a procedure as you’ll ever find in life. This Lord Jesus that is presented to me, that I read about, that I hear about, that is written large in the Bible, that’s spoken of on the radio, that the Lord’s Day is in honor of, you can’t escape Him." Every time you write a letter, there He is when you date it. Every time you live through a week, when Sunday comes, there He is. Every time you go down a street, there’s a church and a star; there He is. You can’t escape it.
Well, what shall I do with Him? Well, I’ll just do what somebody else does. And whatever they do, well, that’s what I’ll do. What my family does, that includes me. What my wife does, that includes me. What my husband does, that includes me. Whatever others do, that’s what I do! I follow them!
And now may I apply that to some tragic situations that I met in my life? I do not know the number of young people that come down an aisle, and they’re following a crowd, following a crowd. And later on sometimes, they come to me and say, "Preacher, I wasn’t really converted. I wasn’t saved. My girlfriend went. She encouraged me to come." Or, "The gang went, and I went."
And there were a lot of times the other part and the other side of that is true. There will be a young fellow moved in his soul, or there will be a girl that God has earnestly called, but if the gang around doesn’t respond, so they don’t respond. They do what somebody else does. Had that bunch come forward, that one would have gloriously come forward. But they didn’t come, so they stayed behind and missed the great calling of God. Oh! What a tragedy. What a tragedy! If the religion of Christ is any one thing at all, it is first a personal accountability, and is a personal responsibility – whatever anybody else may do. Our souls, naked and bare before God, we have a great commitment to make unto Him – we ourselves!
Most of the times, when I talk to little children in my study, I say, "Do you realize, do you realize that you have to accept Christ for yourself? You have to repent for yourself. You have to accept Jesus for yourself." And then I emphasize it; "Son, do you realize that someday you have to die for yourself? See your daddy sitting there? He can’t die for you. See your mother seated here? She can’t die for you. See all these friends and this preacher? They can’t die for you. Some of these days, you are going to die for yourself."
And then, God’s book says beyond that, "Some of these days, you are going to be judged for yourself. Your mother can’t be judged for you. Your daddy can’t be judged for you. These of us who love you, we can’t be judged for you. You will stand alone and naked before the judgment bar of Almighty God!" [Hebrews 4:13]. It is a personal accountability. And however somebody else may choose, and however somebody else may turn, and however somebody else may go, my soul stands before God alone. And I must decide for or against Christ myself! That’s the reason why a family cannot accept religion for the child. We may promise God to rear him up in the love and nurture of the Lord; but someday that youngster must stand before Christ for himself and make a decision for Jesus for his own soul. "What shall I do with Jesus which is called Christ?" [Matthew 27:22].
And just like you find it here in the Book: and after Herod had seen Him and had heard Him – Herod, with his men of war, "set Jesus at nought, and mocked Him, and arrayed Him in a robe, and sent Him back to Pilate" [Luke 23:11]. And that is so everlastingly true, however we may shove it off, this great decision, on somebody else, always it comes back to us! And Herod sent Him back again to Pilate. It is our personal responsibility.
Now the second compromise, the second evasion, follows immediately. And Pilate called together the chief priests and the elders, and he said unto them, "You brought me this Man, and I find no fault in Him, touching any of these things that you say. And not even Herod has found fault with Him. I will tell you what I will do. I will scourge Him, and let Him go. I will scourge Him, and I will let Him go" [Luke 23:13-16].
And how many times does a man, face-to-face with a call and the challenge of Christ, how many times does a man say, "Well, I’ll tell you, preacher, I’ll just compromise this thing out"? "I won’t be down that aisle; and I won’t take Jesus as my Savior. And I won’t give my heart and my life to Him. But now I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll cut out my cussing." Or another one, "I’ll cut out my drinking." Or another, "I’ll cut out my carousing." Or another, "I’ll cut out my cheating and my lying." Or another, "I’ll cut out this and I’ll cut out that." Compromising it out. "I’ll scourge Him, and I’ll let Him go" [Luke 23:16].
Listen, you can cut out all of your cussing, and all of your drinking, and all of your carousing, and all of the other things in life that are dark and evil and vile and still be lost! For a man doesn’t stand before God according to the deeds done in the flesh. Our righteousnesses as the Bible says are "as filthy rags in His sight" [Isaiah 64:6]. But we are saved or we are lost according to the blood of cleansing shed by the Crucified One [1 Corinthians 6:9-11]. "What shall I do with Jesus which is called Christ?" [Matthew 27:22].
And there’s no compromise that God will accept. I either stand before Him – and for Him – and crown Him – and God help me until I die – on His name and subscribed to His faith, or I drown that hope, and I deny that commitment, however else I might reform and do better. God’s call is for a full commitment to Him – no compromise.
This third evasion of Pontius Pilate is an unusual one. He tried to reason out of it. He called all of those Jewish people into the hall of judgment, and he tried to reason them out of those fearful accusations. Finally, he said, "Well, you take Him and judge Him according to your law" [John 18:31], and right back again. Then Pilate entered into the judgment hall again! [John 18:33].
And then down here – and he sent for those Jewish leaders. And then again – and Pilate entered into the judgment hall and saith, and then again and from henceforth, Pilate sought to release Him, reasoning with those Jews [John 18:38].
Well, I meet it every day, almost. "Tell you what, preacher. I look at it this way, as though the Lord God – in the great judgment day – will condemn us or will save us according to what we think. I’ll tell you, preacher; I look at this way." Then they go through a whole lot of philosophical, metaphysical reasons that amount to so much rubbish and so much trash – just a man conjuring up, just a man thinking, just a man talking.
A whole lot of them will say things like this. "Now, now, now you listen to me. Now look. I just wasn’t raised in a religious family. I, I just wasn’t raised in a religious family. And, and, and I’ll tell you, I am just not a religious man. I’m just not a religious man. I’m just not interested. I’d far better go out here – and, I like it a lot better – and on and on and on. I’m just not interested." As though God would save a man on the basis of a fact that he liked to play golf better than he loves, than he loves the Lord Jesus, that he likes to swim, or he likes to fish, or he likes to hunt, or he likes to take his boat, or a thousand other things that he likes! And God is going to remember, "Well, this man disowned My Son, and dishonored My day, and spurned My grace, and did [despite] to My church, but I am going to forgive him because he liked to do it." What a defense! What a defense in the great judgment day of Almighty God!
Or a fellow will say, "Well, now – now, now, preacher – now, listen. Look at all these churches. Well, I don’t – I have no idea what to do or where to turn. God never said anything like that – what you going to do with Jesus? – not about all of these churches."
And then a fellow will say, "Well, well, now. Now, now, now, look. Look at the hypocrites in the church." Man, I’ve heard that all my life: "Look at the hypocrites in the church." I’ll tell you one thing. I’ve been in the church thirty – wait a minute – forty-five. Man, how long have I been in the church? Forty-two years I’ve been a member of the church. And when a man says that, that to me is one of the funniest things I ever heard of in my life. For every one hypocrite in the church, there are ten thousand out there where he is – or ten million out there where he is! Then he says, "I don’t like to associate with hypocrites." And he goes out there, and he gives his life to the devil who is the number one hypocrite in all God’s creation – [makes] himself an angel of light [2 Corinthians 11:14] when he’s of the very pit of hell.
I’ve always heard it said like those old-timers where I was fetched up, "Whatever you can behind is bigger than you." And if a man can hide behind a hypocrite, man, what a beanpole of a child of the devil is he, hiding behind a stick like that. The great mass of the people of God in the church of the Lord are God’s people! They’ve been saved, they’ve been bought by the blood of the Lamb, and they are the first to admit that they are sinners, saved by the blood of the Crucified One [Acts 20:28].
Well, they say, "I just don’t look at things like you do." And they say, "I just don’t believe in political and social issues like you do." And they say, "I just don’t look upon these situations like you do." That’s not the point. However a man may look upon it, however a man may reason about it, whatever a man may say about it, this thing is what God says and what God testifies of His Son.
The Lord says we’re all lost and undone, and on the road to perdition and damnation, and God says, "This will I do that a man might be saved." And He points us to the blood of the Crucified One. And then if the man will turn and look in faith to Jesus, God will give him a new heart. God will give him a new soul. God will give him a new life. God will give him a new hope. God will save him forever! [John 3:16]. But if a man turns aside from the only way of salvation, there is nothing left but the eternal and final judgment! [John 3:36]. "What shall I do with Jesus who called the Christ?" [Matthew 27:22].
And hastily, this fourth evasion of Pontius Pilate is written in the text that we read together. It was one of substitution. At the feast the governor was willing to release a prisoner, and he had a notable one: a felon there, an insurrectionist and a murderer, by the name of Barabbas [Matthew 27:16-17]. And he said to the people, "Now, now, now listen, now we’re just not going to do anything about Jesus. Now, now let’s – let’s just forget about Jesus, and let’s talk about Barabbas! And we’ll take Barabbas and talk about him. And then this Jesus, why, we’ll, we’ll just let Him go."
Some kind of a substitution – and how often and how much do we find that evasion, substituting some other way besides God’s way? Trying to climb up to heaven some other way besides God’s way? Trying to be saved in some other man-made way other than what God has provided – some kind of a substitution.
One the most terrific impressions I ever had in my life was made upon me in one of my earliest country pastorates. There was a man there, a noble man, a marvelous man, who developed a cancer on his lip. And he’d prepared himself to go way off and see the doctor, and to be healed of that cancer. And one of his friends – a man that he loved greatly – one of his friends said to him, "Now listen. That’s expensive to go way up there. And that’s expensive to go through all that medical treatment. That’s expensive, all those things. . . . Now, you just listen. I’ve got a little vial of medicine at home. I’ve got a little vial of medicine on my shelf. I’ve got a little vial of medicine, and I’ll give you that. It won’t cost you a thing. I’ll give you that, and you put it on that place, and it’ll heal. And it’ll heal. And you’ll be well."
So the fellow, being a rancher – untaught, and not conversant with the terror of those things, ah, how dangerous! How dangerous. Why, he listened to the word – the siren voice of his best friend – and he took the little vial of medicine, and he placed it on the sore on his lip. Well, the thing would go, and then it would come back, worse. It would go and come back worse, and every time he’d doctor it with that little vial of medicine. And, upon a day, when it became so tragically terrible, he finally made his way to the physician! And the doctors looked upon his lip, and they said, "Why, why, why, had you come in the day when that first began, when you first noticed, why, we could have healed it easily. But now, but now."
And the day came, and the day came when, if you visited that good man, he had a bib. He had a napkin from his nose that fell down on his chest. For the day came when all of the lower part of his face and his throat were eaten out, and his tongue lay down on his breast. Ah! These terrible things – substitutions! Man, let’s get it right. Let’s get it straight! Let’s get it honest! Let’s get it true. "My life depends on this. My soul depends on this! My eternity depends on this. O God, remember me! Remember me."
And when God says, "There is one gate"; when God says, "There’s one door"; when God says, "There is one way" [John 14:6], O God, that I might know it, and that I might seek it, and that I might find it, and that I might be saved in the blood of the Crucified One.
And this last and final evasion of Pontius Pilate: when he tried to do what somebody else did, when he tried to compromise it out, when he tried to reason it out, and when he tried to substitute it out; and every time that same inevitable question [came] back again, "What shall I do with Jesus? What shall I do?" [Matthew 29:22].
Then finally and last, and the governor said, Bring me water. Bring me water. And they brought him a basin of water. And, "He took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just Man: see ye to it" [Matthew 27:24].
"I refuse to crown or to crucify. I refuse to say yea or nay. I refuse to accept or reject. I’m going out that door tonight, and I shall make no decision – none, none, none." Why, you don’t do that. When you say that, you deny our Lord. When you say that, you crucify our Lord. When you say that, you deliver Him into the hands of those who nail Him to a tree.
And he took water and washed it. And he took water and bathed his hands. And he took water and washed them before the multitude [Matthew 27:24]. "I refuse to give an answer."
Many of you here tonight have been in Lucerne, Switzerland – one of the most beautiful cities in the world. And just on the other side of the Lucerne Lake from the city of Lucerne is a mount, that in their language they call, "Mt. Pilates," in our language, "Mt. Pilate, Mt. Pilate." And the reason why it is so named, it is said that when Pontius Pilate was recalled by the Roman Caesar and exiled, that he committed suicide, and his body was thrown into that lake. And the tradition has it that peasants who walk by the lakeside, in the twilight of an evening, can see that Roman procurator rise from the depths of its blue water, and in agony wash his hands in the lake.
"I refuse to make a decision. I refuse to say, yea or nay. I refuse to crown or to crucify." But, when you do it – but when you do it, it is an everlastingly nay. It is an eternal no. It is a negation. It is a refusal. It is a rejection.
"What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ? [Matthew 27:22]. This will I do." As a youth, as a youth, stand up before men and angels, and as God shall see and witness, "give my life, and my hope, and my destiny, and my soul to Him. This will I do."
"What shall I do with Jesus which is called Christ? This will I do. As a man, I will walk in the faith, and in the hope, and in the blessedness of the Lord Jesus, my Savior."
"What shall I do with Jesus which is called Christ? This will I do. As an old and feeble man, I will love God in hope and in faith to Him for the fairer and better day that is yet to come."
"What shall I do with Jesus which is called Christ? This will I do. When I close my eyes to the light of this world in which I have been a weary pilgrim, this will I do. I will open my eyes on the other side of the River Jordan and behold my living Lord, face-to-face. Thus will I do. I will give the love, and the allegiance, and the hope, and the destiny of my soul and my life to Him. O blessed Lord, remember me! I come. I come."
Will you? Will you? Will you? While we sing this hymn of appeal, you, somebody you, "Thus will I do tonight. I will give my life, and my heart, my soul, and my destiny to Jesus; and I do it now."
In the throng in this balcony round, there’s a stairway at the front and the back, on either side, come. There is time and to spare. Make it tonight. In the press and the throng on this lower floor, into the aisle and down here to the front, "Preacher, here I am. I give you my hand. My heart I give to God." A family to come, "Preacher, here’s my wife. These are my children. All of us are coming." Or one somebody you, while we sing, while we pray, while we make appeal, while we wait, come. On the first note of its first stanza, come, make it tonight, while we stand and while we sing.
EVASIONS OF PONTIUS PILATE
I. What shall I do with Jesus which is
called Christ? (Matthew 27:22)
His words? (John 3:18, 36, 7:46, 11:25-26, Luke
13:3, 1 John 5:12)
His life?(Luke 19:10)
His death? (Mark 15:39, Matthew 26:28, 27:54,
His resurrection? (Revelation 1:18, John
II. Five evasions of Pilate
what somebody else does – Herod (Luke 23:4-7, 11)
B. Compromising(Luke 23:13-16, Isaiah 64:6)
C. Reasoning(Luke 23:14, John 18:30-31, 38, John 19:5)
D. Substitution –
Barabbas(Matthew 27:17-21, John 18:38-40)
E. Washed his hands –
refused to give an answer(Matthew 27:24)
III. What I will do
A. As a youth, give my
life, hope, destiny and soul to Him
B. As a man, walk in
faith, hope and the blessedness of Jesus, my Savior
C. As an old man, love
God in hope and faith for the better day to come
I close my eyes this this world, open my eyes to behold my living Lord face to
the love, allegiance, hope and destiny of my life to Him