They cried out, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15).
Read those words from the chief priests once more—slowly: “We have no king but Caesar.”
You remember the context: The Jewish leadership wants Jesus dead. But their zeal to carry out their plot must have aroused Pilate’s suspicion, so that he wondered: Why do these Jewish leaders, who would love nothing more than to get the Romans off their backs, now declare their allegiance to Caesar (see v. 15 above).
And why, when Pilate tried to free Jesus, did they reply, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend” (Jn. 19:12). As an unprincipled man himself, Pilate can spot deception when he sees it.
From one angle, of course, it might seem like the Jewish leaders have outmaneuvered Pilate. Their declarations in verses 12 and 15 force his hand. He must do something about Jesus. After all, if Jesus truly is the “King of the Jews” (Jn. 19:3), he must take action, or Caesar will. And Pilate will feel the repercussions.
But from the perspective of divine omniscience, as recorded in sacred Scripture, the Jewish leaders haven’t outwitted Pilate; they’ve revealed their calloused hearts—and ours.
Zooming in the Lens on Ourselves
As fallen human beings, we love to judge other people. It feels good. It’s energizing, enlivening, intoxicating. You can almost feel a burst of energy course through your bones as you breath a heavy sigh and say under your breath, “How could the Jewish leadership betray their own Messiah?” We love to imagine that we’re better.
But we’re not.
Jesus is the King of the universe. And as such, he has the right to rule our lives. He owns us.
But like the Jewish leaders in John 19, we foolishly declare our allegiance to insurrectionists. True, we weren’t physically present when the crowd demanded, “Give us Barabbas!” but the heart that gave rise to such a disgraceful demand lies within each of us. It sounds like this: Jesus, get out of the way. I want freedom. And by freedom, we mean our own definition of freedom.
But the problem is that our self-chosen paths of “freedom” enslave us to false gods. And since false gods are harsh taskmasters who detest their worshipers, those who worship them become just like them—ruthless, insatiable, and filled with hate.
And you can always tell when someone worships at the altar of a false god because the following characteristics show up with regularity:
Unrighteous anger – They’re often infuriated with people, circumstances, and/or inanimate objects.
Demandingness – They insist that other people make their life work.
Control – They have an obsessive need to know what’s going to happen in any and all circumstances. To use biblical language, they want to walk by sight, not by faith.
Narcissism – They assume that their exhaustion or frustration is a license to speak to, or treat people, however they want.
Skepticism – They pile up reasons for why they don’t believe in God, or the resurrection of Jesus, or the veracity of Scripture. But underneath all the technical jargon and pseudo-intellectual arguments is something quite sinister (and nearly always unbeknownst to the skeptic): They’ve decided in advance the kind of life they want to live and then reverse engineered a philosophy that fits their desires.
Dehumanization – They reduce people to objects who exist to satisfy their “needs.”
Autonomy – They crave personal autonomy, bodily autonomy, and intellectual autonomy—the golden calves of Adam’s posterity.
“I Find No Guilt in Him”
How can we get out from underneath the tyranny of these false gods and enjoy genuine and lasting freedom? Only by surrendering all of who we are—everything—to the Messiah-King. We need the Author of Life to rule our lives.
The dearest idol I have known / Whate’er that idol be/ Help me tear it from Thy throne/ And worship only Thee. – William Cowper, “O for A Closer Walk with Thee”
Here’s the astoundingly good news: Jesus has proven himself faithful, which is why even Pilate had to confess, “I find no guilt in him” (Jn. 18:38). Nevertheless, Jesus went to the Place of the Skull because he was on a mission. He came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10). In order to do this, he lived a sinless life. He bore our sins. He cried, “It is finished” (Jn. 19:30). He conquered death. He ascended. He now intercedes.
The Posture of Genuine Worship
I ask you: What’s holding you back? What are you holding on to? What are you refusing to relinquish?
Name the insurrectionist(s) in your heart and hand them over to your faithful Savior. It won’t be easy. But it will be worth it.
In light of the fact that the posture of genuine worship is sacrifice, I’m making it my daily practice to pray the following prayer taken from this sermon by John Henry Newman (1801–1890):
I sacrifice to Thee this cherished wish, this lust, this weakness, this scheme, this opinion: Make me what Thou wouldest have me. I bargain for nothing; I make no terms; I seek no previous information whither Thou art taking me; I will be what Thou wilt make me, and all that Thou wilt make me. I say not, “I will follow Thee whither Thou goest,” for I am weak. But I give myself to Thee, to lead me any whither. I will follow Thee in the dark, only begging Thee to give strength according to my day.