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I Am King, You Say

The ones guilty of Christ death aren’t those in the passage, but those reading it.


Do you remember what happened this week? This week, as he rode into Jerusalem, they put their cloaks before him and took branches from date palms and strew them in his path and said, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna to the King of Kings.” And by the end of this week, they would take thorns from those same date palms and create for him a crown of thorns. And these same people would say, “Crucify him.” It is so wrong. Someone is guilty. As we look at this account from John, perhaps we can figure out who is guilty.

(Read John 18:28-40)

Instant pudding was just coming on the market as I was growing up. You mix a little water or milk with that little packet of powder and suddenly you got pudding. Well, for my mother, the great cook, that shortcut was not worthy of her skills. There is no way that she is going to make instant pudding while we were growing up. Pudding is a work of art, right? I mean, the right amount of milk, eggs, and chocolate and boiled for however long it takes to get to the right consistency, and then you put it in the refrigerator and it sets up. And then decorate it with fruit and candies and whipped cream. Now that’s pudding.

I can remember one particular night when my mother took the pudding dessert out of the refrigerator and put it on the table for our family with six kids, and it became obvious that at some point in the afternoon as that pudding was setting up, one of those six kids had created what you could only call a thumb lollipop. I mean, there is a hole in the pudding. My mother says to all six of her children, “Who did that?” And like a junior choir singing in unison, all innocent voices said together “Not me.” Now, we want justice. None of us wants to be blamed for what we didn’t do, right? And that’s always true, that we don’t want the finger of justice to point to the wrong person.

Who’s Guilty? Not Jesus

It leads us to consider the terrible account that we just read where Jesus, having been declared King of Kings as he has ridden into Jerusalem just days before the trials that we are seeing, is suddenly being found guilty. It’s not right; it can’t be right. Something in us cries out, “We need to find out what’s really right here.” Who is really to blame for what is happening here?

It’s clear, isn’t it, that Jesus is not guilty. After all, if you look at the account, no Jewish charge is ever specified. Did you ever notice that? There is ultimately a verdict and there is ultimately a sentence, but we never actually get any charge. If you will let your eyes scan backward in the passage I read to you, in John 18:19 we see the trials have actually begun. The High Priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and teaching. Jesus answered him: “I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me what I said to them; they know what I said.”

Now, Jesus is simply appealing to the Roman standard that in a court of law everything is to be established by at least two witnesses. Now Jesus is saying, “Hey, if you’re going to charge me, bring witnesses, but not just two. You can bring the crowds. I haven’t said anything in secret, I have spoken openly in the marketplace and the synagogues, bring those who want to accuse me.” He doesn’t get witnesses; he gets slapped. Do you remember verse 22? “When he had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, ‘Is that how you answer the high priest?’” All Jesus has been doing is calling for witnesses to sustain whatever charge they have. But no charge comes, though Jesus asks for it in verse 23. “Jesus answered him, ‘If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong, but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?’” Bring your charges; tell me what I’ve done. That doesn’t happen. Instead you see in verse 24, “Annas then sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.”

Now, it’s hard for us to see in our English setting, but what happened is this case was bumped up the ladder. Annas was the high priest who begins the questioning. He’s the preferred priest of the Jews, but not the puppet high priest of the Romans, the one who actually has the civil authority to bring charges. So Annas sends the matter to Caiaphas for more question, but as of yet, there has still been no specific charge. Caiaphas himself tires of that so he sends the matter on to Pilate. You may remember how this question begins. Now not only is there no Jewish charge specified, there is no Roman charge that will stick. Verse 29 says, “So Pilate went outside to them and said, ‘What accusation do you bring against this man?’” What’s the charge? Verse 30, “They answered him, ‘If this man were not doing evil, we would not have delivered him over to you.’” Did you catch it? There’s a verdict. He’s guilty, but still no charge. What’s the accusation? What’s the crime? That has not yet been specified. Verse 31, at the end we not only get the verdict, but we get the sentence for which there has been no charge. Pilate said to them, ‘Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.’” The Jews said to him, “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death.” And then you read, of course, more than the Jews intended.

It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death. They are still speaking in terms of the civil code, right? We are an occupied state of the Romans. We don’t have the authority to put anyone to death. But while they are speaking in civil terms, there is a spiritual reality to what they have just said. “It is not lawful for us to put him to death.” And even though they have already given the sentence to him, a death sentence, you must recognize it is not lawful to do what they are doing. This is their crime against Jesus and against heaven itself. And ultimately, that is proven not only by what the Jews are doing but by what the Romans themselves determine. The Jewish charge is never specified and no Roman charge will stick either.

As the account proceeds with Pilate, you may remember that Pilate takes over the questioning himself in verse 33: “So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’” Translation: Are you a threat to Caesar? Are you the one who is claiming that you have more authority over these people than Caesar himself? I as the Roman governor need to determine, are you a threat to Roman occupation and control? And Jesus again asked for witnesses, verse 34: “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” Pilate, in exasperation, verse 35: “Am I a Jew?” To determine what your sin is. Your own people have turned you over to me. Verse 36, Jesus basically turns away all charges: “My kingdom is not of this world.” Now, you hear that spiritually; think of what Pilate’s ears heard. “My kingdom is not of this world.” I am not challenging Caesar here, not on this turf. You don’t have to be worried that I am somehow claiming to be the civil emperor. There is not a charge that will stick. My kingdom is not of this world. And the consequence is incredible. At the end of verse 38, you see after Jesus had said this, Pilate had gone back outside to the Jews and told them, the end of verse 38, “I find no guilt in him.” It’s the first of three times that Pilate will say those words. If you let your eyes go into the next chapter, you will see it again. At the end of John 19:4, Pilate goes out again and says to the Jews, “See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him.” John 19:6, again at the end, Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.”

No Jewish charge is ever specified. No Roman charge will stick. In fact, three times he is declared not guilty. But, of course, the Romans and the Jews are not the only judges. There is a God in heaven, and he is looking on as well. And before that judge as well, there is no charge that will be sustained. After all, verse 37, when Pilate says to Jesus, “So you are a king,” when Jesus said his kingdom was not of this world. Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king.” A number of you will know already this is just the way in which the people of that time would say, as you say, I acknowledge I am a king not of this world. And then Jesus’ further words: “For this purpose I was born, and for this purpose I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth.”

Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice. Jesus has claimed to be a king not of this world. That’s true. He has claimed to be born for that purpose, and he has claimed that his purpose is to make known this truth of who he is to the world. In other words, what he has done is not denied the truth. Why is that so important? Because of what has happened three times in the passage already. Do you remember? John 18:17, “The servant girl at the door said to Peter, ‘You also are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?’” He said, “I am not.” John 18:25, “Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. So they said to him, ‘You also are not one of his disciples, are you?’ He denied it and said, ‘I am not.’ One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, ‘Did I not see you in the garden with him?’ Peter again denied it, and at once a rooster crowed.”

Two things are said in sharp contrast: Peter denies the truth three times; Jesus affirms the truth when his very life is at stake. I am a king, not of this world, and for this purpose I was born. And even speaking to Pilate. And all who listen to me, says Jesus, are on the side of truth, which, of course, is why Pilate must say what is truth, as though that does not count. But even then Pilate declares the truth. He is not guilty. It could not be clearer or more necessary that what John is making clear to us is the thing he said from the very beginning. “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. A lamb without spot or blemish.” There was no sin upon him. He is not guilty, and yet they screamed that he be crucified. Somebody has done something wrong, but it is not this One.

Who’s Guilty? Not the Jews

Well, who then is guilty? Is it the Jews? I mean, it’s easy to go there, particularly in our culture. Maybe it’s the Jews that we have the Bible pointing at, saying, “These are the guilty ones.” But the reality is the Jews obey Jewish law. I mean, at least by their own standards, they are not guilty. Their own standards say that if someone was blaspheming that they were to be killed.

You may remember they cite their own law in John 19:7, “We have a law and according to that law, this Jesus ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God, and that’s undeniable.” I mean, after all, you may remember back in John 10:30, Jesus said, “I and the Father are one.” So the Jews simply quote to themselves Leviticus 24, “Whoever blasphemes shall surely be put to death.” They’re just following the law. How could that be wrong? And they’re so scrupulous about doing it that they’re going into it in such a way that they stay ceremonially pure for the observance of the Passover. Do you remember, that was in John 18:28? They led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas, that is the Roman-appointed High Priest, to the governor’s headquarters, that is Pilate. It was early morning. They themselves did not enter the governor’s headquarters so that they would not be defiled but could eat the Passover. Isn’t that wonderful? We are so spiritually minded that we will not even enter the house of a Gentile at the time of a feast day so that we will stay holy and can ensure that the Son of God is crucified while we stay holy. It’s at least by their own standards lawful. They’re not guilty.

They don’t just obey Jewish law; they clearly obey Roman law. Verse 31, when Pilate says, “Take him and judge him yourselves,” the Jews said to Pilate, verse 31, “It’s not lawful for us to put anyone to death.” Hey, we don’t want to break the law. We won’t break our law; we’re not going to break civil law either. We’re not guilty. And after all, in all future generations if they turn you over to the Romans we can always say we didn’t do it; the Romans did it. Not us, they did it. But maybe most telling for all of us is John 18:32. When they said, “It’s not lawful for us to put this Jesus to death. This was to fulfill the word that Jesus had spoken to show by what kind of death he was going to die.” The reference is back to John 12:33, in which Jesus had declared by what—same words—“by what manner of death he was going to die, that he would be lifted up for all the world to see and scorn him.” But you must recognize while Jesus himself had said this is the way that he was going to die, what the Jews are now clamoring for, their own records had said for over a thousand years.

Some of you may remember the key words of Psalm 22. Do you remember how it begins, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Who would say those words in just a few days? Jesus, upon the cross. The words predicted to be said a thousand years prior in the Jewish psalter. And not just those words alone. If you were to continue in Psalm 22, you would read these words: “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint.” What is that a reference to? Would you let your eyes go a little further into John 19? Look in John 19:32, “So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first”—who were hanging on the crosses? Remember, two others were crucified with Jesus. The soldiers came and broke the legs of the first—“and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.” Now, let me read to you again the words written a thousand years earlier from Psalm 22, “I am poured out like water and all my bones are out of joint.” It didn’t say broken, did it, because none of the bones were to be broken, according to the Jews’ own prophecy. Out of joint as the cross allowed to settle into the hole with a jolt, and he, hanging by hands and feet nailed, had all the bones out of joint. But not broken, that the word of God might be fulfilled. And that was not the end of it, for remember also in Psalm 22, “They have pierced my hands and my feet.” Just as John 19:37 says, “They looked on him whom they have pierced.” The spear in his side, the nails in his hands and feet, just as they had said. And finally in Psalm 22, “They divide my garments among them and for my clothing cast lots.” Again, a thousand years prior to this moment. But what do you read in John 19:23-24? “When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom, so they said to one another, ‘Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.’ This was to fulfill the Scripture which says, ‘They divided my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.’”

Who’s Guilty? Not Pilate

Who is guilty? Not Jesus. And the Jews follow their own law and they follow Roman law, and they fulfill heaven’s purposes down to the smallest detail, seeing that it gets done. How could they be to blame? After all, they are fulfilling the script that was written for them. And ultimately it’s not their hands that do it. Somebody’s got to be guilty. Who’s guilty? Well, it must be Pilate then. I mean, he is in charge of the moment; he is in charge of the troops that see that this be done. But even Jesus doesn’t seem willing to put the blame on Pilate. Look at John 19:10, when Pilate is saying to Jesus, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” In John 19:11, Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.” I mean, maybe Pilate is guilty, but he is not as guilty as others. Jesus will not allow Pilate to be the fall guy. Someone else is guiltier than that. And so that you know how important it is that Pilate is identified, there are so many of you in the room that you should know that in your own lifetime, one of the major challenges to the veracity of Scripture was the name of Pilate. He’s so central in the biblical accounts. But up until 1961, there was no external evidence of there actually being a Pilate. Until in 1961 in excavations in Caesarea in Israel, they turned over a stone that was to be used as a theater seat and found that it had been repurposed, that it was ultimately and formerly an announcement of one named Pontius Pilate, the governor of the Romans, the stone that had been carved centuries earlier confirming this, saying Pontius Pilate. But while confirmed, not condemned. Why is he not condemned? Well, believe it or not, because, among other things, even Pilate honors Jewish law.

This almost gets funny when you begin to see it, when you begin to recognize how scrupulous Pilate is to try to do what is honoring to the Jews so that he himself will not be guilty. John 19:29 says, “So Pilate went outside to them.” Now, do you remember, why does he go outside? Because they will not do what? They will not come inside. That would make them ceremonially impure. So Pilate goes out to them in order to honor this Jewish law. Now look at verse 33, “So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’” Now, Pilate has gone out, now what has he done? He has gone back in. Look at verse 38, “Pilate said to him, ‘What is truth?’” After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews.” Now, this is going to happen over and over again: 19:1, “Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him.” Now, you don’t see it, but this means he has to go back inside the Antonio fortress where the flogging station was. 19:4, “Pilate went out again …” 19:9, Pilate entered the headquarters again. 19:13, “So when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out.”

He goes out, he goes in, he goes out, he goes in, he goes out, he goes in. He does this seven times. Also, the Jews will not get upset. I mean, this is a guy trying to honor the law. It’s not even his law, and he’s trying to honor the law. And as the Roman governor, you must know, this makes him look foolish and silly. But apparently, to keep the peace, because they won’t give in, he goes out. And because they won’t give up, he tries to clear up the issues in ways that will get Jesus off the hook. I mean, he really does. He asks Jesus questions. Now, as the Roman governor, he should. Are you the king? What did you do? What is truth? These are fair questions. And ultimately, remember, he declares Jesus guiltless three times.

Now, still the Jews won’t give in so he tries to humor them. I mean, you may remember that even the Bible itself says Pilate, from that point on, sought to release Jesus. So a number of things are tried. Remember, verse 39, you have a custom, says Pilate, that I should release one man for you at the Passover. So do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews? No, they said, we want Barabbas. But what Pilate offered was Jesus. Can I let him go? Why don’t you let me do that? I’ll honor your own custom. I’ll let him go. When that doesn’t work, he tries to humor them a different way. 19:1, “Pilate took Jesus and flogged him.” Now remember, he’s already declared Jesus guiltless and still he flogs him. As if to say to the Jews, “Alright, you want your pound of flesh. I’ll give it to you.” So he has Jesus beaten in order to release him. Surely they will be satisfied now. They will see the blood run, they will see the pain, they will see the crown of thorns, how we’ve mocked him. I’ll fulfill their hate crime for them so they’ll let him go. But they don’t.

So finally you read in John 19:12, “From then on Pilate sought to release him but the Jews cried out, ‘If you release him, you are not Caesar’s friend.’” So to be a good Roman, Pilate honors the Roman purposes. He tried to find out if this man was a threat to Caesar, determines he’s not. He tries to keep the populace in order by offering Barabbas and then flogging Jesus, that doesn’t work. Finally, he has got to keep the blame off of Rome, so what does he do? You know from the other Gospel accounts. He says, “Fine, he’s yours, but I wash my hands of it,” and physically does it before their sight so they will know he is not guilty.

Who’s Guilty? Barabbas, Son of the Father

Jesus is not guilty, the Jews are not guilty, Pilate is not guilty. Who is guilty? Well, there is at least one man identified as guilty in John 18. It’s the very last words of John 18, do you see that? The Jews cried out again, “Not this man, this Jesus. … Not this man but Barabbas.” And in the final words, the only words of condemnation, “Now Barabbas was a robber.” Robber is gentle here by this gentle John who writes this Gospel. If you go to Mark, you will find out he was an insurrectionist who had murdered people in an insurrection. If you go to Matthew, you will find out he was a notorious insurrectionist. In our terminology today, Barabbas is a terrorist. It is a name wrought with all kinds of irony because Barabbas means son of the father. Remember: “We have been adopted as sons and daughters by which we cry to God, Abba, Father.” This is Bar Abba. This is a son of the father.

Who is the only guilty one in the passage? A son of the father, in whose place the Son of the Father was crucified. Who is the only one guilty in the passage? A child of the Father for whom the Son of the Father was crucified. A child of the father for whom the Son of God was crucified. Who is the only guilty one in the passage? To whom does the whole passage point? A child of the Father for whom the Son of God was crucified. Who is a child of the father? I am. And you are. We are the children of the father for whom the Son of the Father was crucified. What the passage is doing over and over again is saying, “Not him, not him, not him, but ultimately those who read this account, for whom Jesus was crucified. They are the ones.” After all, he was the Spotless Lamb of God and he was the One for whom the Jews were only fulfilling their own documents. And Pilate was a mere instrument by his own power, fulfilling the purposes of God. Even Jesus says that. “It was the will of the Father to crucify him, that he might rescue many.” A child of the Father for whom the Son of the Father was crucified.

If we’re only reading the account and being glad that we’re not like the Jews and not like Pilate and not like Peter, we have not read it right. We are in the account. We are in the account because we are the ones for whom Jesus died. And all the pointing is not going to the ones in the passage but to the ones reading the passage.

When my mother saw the hole in the pudding and said to her children, “Who did that?” All of us said in that choral unison: “Not me.” But my mother is a smart lady. So what she did to all six of her children is she said, “Alright, line up and stick out your thumbs.” Then she began to measure because the hole revealed the dimensions of what would fill it. It was my brother Gordon.

Why do we have this passage? In order to enable us to see that the wounds of Christ reveal the nature of what must fill them: my sin and your sin and every child of God for whom the Son of God died. We don’t like being in this place where in humility we have to confess that it was for me my Savior died. But this place of humility, where we do not want to be, where we resist being, is the very place where we are most blessed by God. For when we can in our hearts say, “It was for me my Savior died. My sin nailed him there. It’s my sins that filled his wounds.” When we can say that, then we recognize this. My sin he took and I need to know that.


I think sometimes people believe it is the role of a preacher to help people be convinced that their sin needs forgiveness. I actually don’t think that’s the case. If the Holy Spirit is at work in your heart as you look at family and life and behavior and struggle, I don’t think those in whom the Holy Spirit is working need to be convinced that they are guilty. We know that.

We need to be convinced that the wounds of Christ were made for our sin to fit there so that the guilt we have is not upon us but as we turn to Christ in faith our sin is on him. And the sin of a child of the Father was put on the Son of the Father so that we could be free of it now and forever. As you put your faith in him, the guilty one is made free by the guiltless One, as the sin of a child of the Father is put on the Son of the Father forever.

Bryan Chapell is the senior pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church in Peoria, Illinois.

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