Fighting the power with absolute power
If you were tied up, brutally beaten and dragged in front of someone who had the blessing of the government to send you to your death, do you think you’d be calm?
It never ceases to amaze me that Jesus was not only calm when He stood before Pilate, but downright defiant. “Don’t you know I’ve got the power to kill you or to set you free?” the Roman Procurator asked (John 19:10).
“No, you don’t,” Jesus replied (John 19:11).
I don’t know about you, but if I’d been a disciple watching proceedings from the sidelines, I’d have thought at that point that Jesus had lost the plot. How on earth could He say something like that? Rome ruled the world and Pilate was their man in Palestine. He had the big house up near the temple and the High Priests in his pocket. The same High Priests who’d held Jesus in their dungeon prison over near Mount Zion the night before and had brought him here to get him killed and out of their way. To borrow from Donkey in Shrek, they had an ogre and they weren’t afraid to use it.
“You don’t have any power over me…” Jesus told Roman ruler Pilate
Their ogre had already ordered some nasty things to be done to Jesus. He’d had him flogged, the skin on his back ripped to shreds by the stones in the whip. With the soldiers adding a crown made of sharp thorns to his head, Jesus had been reduced to a pathetic physical state when brought back to appear before Pilate one last time.
You don’t say, “you don’t have any power over me”, when clearly Pilate did! Another thing I’ve always found fascinating is that, for some reason, all through this process Pilate had been reluctant to give in to the popular demand to have Jesus crucified. That’s why he’d had him flogged. It’s why he fobbed off judgment to the inept Herod, who happened to be visiting from Galilee that weekend. It’s why he offered to release Jesus, only for the crowd to call for Barabbas to be set free.
What Jesus said next stirred that desire in Pilate even more. “You don’t have any power over me in and of yourself,” Jesus was saying. “You only have derivative power, given to you by a higher authority. Condemn me if you must, but the real guilt is with those who claim to act for the highest authority [God] and yet have delivered me over to you.” (John 19:11)
Pilate seems to have concluded from this that Jesus had a spiritual integrity that meant it would not be right to give in to the crude wishes of the priests and the masses.
The higher authority that had orchestrated this outcome did so with a purpose and a power that transforms the world.
Of course, we know that the situation overwhelmed him and, soon after, Pilate sent Jesus to the Place of The Skull to be crucified. But we also know that the higher authority that had orchestrated this outcome did so with a purpose and a power that transforms the world. The resurrection of Christ a couple of days later ushered in the beginning of the last days, which will consummate with the crucified one as Lord of all.
Everything in our lives must be changed if we realise that this is the hope of Easter. Hope lives! This is what makes everything matter. To know the higher authority that Jesus knew and to be part of God’s transforming work through Christ is our high calling.
Our skills, our personalities, our being, AND our money — all are within the ambit of this calling. If you have this hope, then you also have a great opportunity to share in the way God is making the world new.
You don’t really have any power to do anything else; even Pilate’s evil act served God’s purpose. So why not intentionally choose to be part of it?
Warren Bird is Executive Director of Uniting Financial Services