Monday, March 25, 2013

The Evangelism of Pilate

I want to talk about Jesus' evangelism of...Pilate! We don't really think of Jesus as evangelizing Pilate during his interview with the Roman leader, but if we turn to 1 Timothy 6:13, we see in the letter of Paul to Timothy:

I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who testified the good confession before Pontius Pilate...

So Jesus testified a good confession to Pilate? Now, let's go back to our Luke passage (Luke 23) and see what Jesus does. I know other gospels have more that Jesus says to Pilate, but here we have Jesus saying one single thing to Pilate, and the rest of what he says is nothing at all. Jesus is silent in the face of his accusers and people deciding whether he lives or dies. Now, what we see is Jesus saying one thing to Pilate in response to a question. Pilate asks Jesus, "are you the king of the Jews?" Jesus responds with something that when I was a child was perhaps confusing to me, because it wasn't something that I expected Jesus to say.

In the dramatizations that they showed on TV and in movies, Jesus always seems to respond with this statement: "you say so," or, "you say that I am." What does this sound like to our modern sensibilities? Our modern sensibilities, especially in this country, revolve around personal defense.  We do not like to be caught or to be trapped by our own words. We do not like to be put into a corner. We defend ourselves. We distance ourselves from what we say. We care so much about what other people, even strangers, think about us! We care so much!   We don't want to make waves. We do not want to stir up the pot, so from my modern childlike sensibilities, being immersed in the public school system, being taught to always be paranoid about what people are thinking about me, I saw Jesus as responding to Pilate with words that amounted to, "I never said that! YOU are the ones who said that, not me! Those are YOUR words, not mine! You are the ones who are saying that I am a king; I never said that I was a king." But that's not what Jesus actually said.

He does say, "you say so," in our modern, politically correct, NRSV translation, but in the NASB, which is the preferred translation, Jesus says, "It is as you say." This is a self-affirming statement. Jesus is saying, "you say SO! You speak the truth." He is essentially saying, "yes!" Yes! Emphatically YES! Is this really evangelism? What is the result of this word of Jesus to Pilate? Well, we see several things. We see, firstly, that Pilate does not want to kill Jesus. He may be acting legally. He may officially see nothing wrong with him, but we do have scenes of Pilate being very anxious. We see Pilate's wife being anxious about this. We see Pilate greatly disturbed by what is going on. Jesus has affirmed what the Jews had said about him. He has not backed away. He has not tried to defend himself by lying his way out. He has not stood up and said, "you know what? I will just go back to my little quiet life teaching my disciples, and I won't do anything that will upset anybody ever again. I promise, if you let me go, that I will be docile. I will be just sitting around, minding my own business, okay? I'll go back to carpentry!" None of this happens. Jesus says, "yes," and in other places he says nothing at all, and Pilate is greatly disturbed. It's as if Jesus WANTS to be killed. Pilate continues to try to save him from death and fails.

We also see that Pilate does not become a Christian convert. He does not suddenly take up his cross and change his ways. In fact, it says in this very gospel, that he and Herod become friends. He does not exhibit an alteration of life, a willful amendment of his evil ways. So, in that way, Jesus' evangelism doesn't really work. It is what we moderns would call "unsuccessful" evangelism, because to modern Christians, every act of evangelism needs to result in a convert.  Why is God himself unable to convert Pilate? Now, God is not unable. God's will is such that he does not want Pilate to be converted, but that doesn't stop Jesus' words from having a strong impact on Pilate. We wonder what would have happened if other Christian seeds had been planted in Pilate's life along the way. Do you see that we're getting into this kind of hybrid "everything is God's will," but he also wills us to be the means of grace in each others lives.  He uses our wills to bring about his kingdom.

Let's get back to this kind of evangelism that Jesus is practicing. There seem to be three responses to preaching, to relating the gospel to someone. We can see this come to life in Acts 17. Paul preaches to the Athenians. He stands there and preaches about Jesus and the resurrection. The Athenians have three responses. The first is, "what is this babbler saying? This is ridiculous! I am leaving! I am not even going to respond to this nonsense." The other extreme is conversion.  "I believe in what you just said, Paul. I want to become a Christian, thank you!"

The middle way is, "this was very interesting; can you come back tomorrow? I want to hear more."  A seed has been planted, but conversion has not taken place. This is what Jesus does with Pilate. A seed has been planted, but conversion has not taken place. Sometimes it takes 5, 10, 20 times of planting seeds before anything has taken root.  We see this middle-way in the New Testament. John the Baptist is brought before Herod every day, because Herod likes to hear John preach, and John is preaching AGAINST Herod. John is tearing into Herod because of his marriage to his brother's wife, but the scriptures say that Herod ENJOYED listening to him.  The same with Felix and Drusilla in Acts. Paul is preaching about self-control and yet Felix keeps bringing him back day after day for two years.  He wants to hear more but there is no conversion. This kind of evangelism is important, because Jesus does it. Paul does it. John the Baptist does it. How can we do it?

We are under the mistaken impression that our evangelism has to result in someone coming to Christ right there on the spot.  This is wrong.  Most evangelism is this planting of seeds, but it is HOW we evangelize that is important. A seed is planted when we say, like Jesus said to Pilate, "yes it is as you say." Yes. Affirm what you believe. We hear people say to us, "you don't believe that nonsense do you?" and we respond, "well it's good for me, but it may not be good for you. I mean, I have my own truth, and you have your own truth, so don't worry about it. I, of course, do believe this, but you don't have to believe it if you don't want to." Jesus corrects us. Say "yes!" Let your yes be yes. Yes, I believe this. Everything that I say is true is true. None of this wishy-washy garbage. We have to stand firm in faith. And now we get to our Old Testament passage:

The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens-- wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught. The Lord GOD has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward. I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting. The Lord GOD helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me. It is the Lord GOD who helps me; who will declare me guilty? (Isaiah 50:4-9a)

The Lord God has given me the tongue of disciples (NASB). The tongue of disciples: we are to be disciples.  Knowing God is not just everlasting life; it is life in also the present. God is sovereign.  He ordains all things.  He is in all things.  To not know God and to be in this world is a hazard. As Peter says, we should be ready to give a reasoned defense for everything we believe. If we are not immersing ourselves in the word of God every day--and when not reading this Bible, listening to sermons and other people talk about God's word--we become unable to give ourselves or others the proper assistance in dealing with life.

If I were to grab you right now, put you in a cage, drag you down to the Amazon jungle, release you into the wild there without any supplies, without any mention of what I'm doing--I'm mute about it--would you consider what I did cruel? If I drag someone from the Amazon jungle and stick them in Times Square without any discussion of what I was doing, without any tools for survival, would you think I was being cruel? Of course I'd be cruel! But here we all are, born into this world and we either ignore, or we deliberately withhold, information, tools necessary for survival.  We deliberately withhold the knowledge of God from each other.  That is just as bad as if I dragged you down to the jungle and left you for dead. You would not last 24 hours in the Amazon jungle without any supplies, without any way to get out, and yet we do it every day to each other by withholding knowledge of God from each other is this world. God, Chesterton said, is like the sun: you can't look directly at Him, but without Him you cannot look at anything else. We need God to understand the world we live in.  We need God to survive.  We cannot withhold God from each other.

So the Lord has given us the tongue of disciples that we may know how to sustain the weary one with the word.  Look at Jesus.  One word, yes, is what he responds. Yes is what he says. You are correct, sir, yes. Morning by morning he wakens-- wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught. Do we listen as disciples? Do we immerse ourselves in the word? Do we listen as disciples? Do we listen to sermons? Christian audiobooks? Do we listen to our Christian friends? Are we in active discourse with other Christians about the gospel, or do we sit around talking about other things like what was on CSI last night? Did you see CSI? That was great! No, we shouldn't be talking about worldly things with other Christians.  We should be talking about Christian things with other Christians.  We should be enhancing other people's knowledge of God, to feed each other.  Remember, Christianity is one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.  As Christians we should be helping each other out of the Amazon Forest.

I gave my back to those who struck me and my cheeks to those who yanked out my beard. I did not cover my face from humiliation and spitting.  This is obviously prophecy about the suffering servant, Jesus, but it is also the reaction that we are going to get from people, when we stand firm in faith, and we have to be able to say, "yes." We cannot back away and say, "well it's true for me, and your truth is true for you.  You don't have to believe what I believe; you can just believe your own thing. We'll just agree to disagree." But no: we are to allow people to strike us; we are to allow people to yank out or beards, so to speak; we are not to cover our faces from humiliation and spitting; we are not to shy away from this, because (verse seven) the Lord God helps me, therefore I am not disgraced; therefore, I have set my face like flint, and I know that I will not be ashamed.  He who vindicates me is near.  Who will contend with me? Let us stand up to each other; who has a case against me? Let him draw near to me. Behold the Lord God helps me. Who is he who condemns me? Behold they will wear out like a garment; the moths will eat them.

We are not to shy away. We are to say "yes" when someone asks us, "you don't believe that garbage, do you?" We answer, "yes, it is as you say, yes," and in the end, we may have only planted a seed. We may never see that seed come to fruition; we may never see that seed grow. Somebody else will plant another seed, and then another person, and perhaps God intends that person never to come to Christ, and to die in his sins and be lost like Pilate, like Herod, like Felix. Perhaps that is God's will. But we don't know. So let your yes be yes and your no be no. Make a firm stand; set your face like flint; do not shy away from the truth; always speak the truth in love; but speak the truth. Jesus did it. We do it.