From the Pastor's Desk 

Don't Be a Failure



            Let's pray.


            Is failure a bad thing?  Guess who these people are.  This man was a Harvard drop-out.  He co-owned a business called Traf-O-Data which was a true failure.  Bill Gates.  He missed more than 9000 shots in his career; lost almost 300 games and 26 times took game winning shots and missed.  Michael Jordan.  This guy had poor grades in High School and was rejected by USC three times.  It took him 33 years to finish his college degree.  Steven Spielberg.  Lastly, this man dropped out of high school in a failed attempt to join the army.  His Laugh-O-Gram studios went bankrupt.  He was once fired from a newspaper for not being creative enough.  Walt Disney.

            Failure might seem like a bad thing at the time, but it's not if we don't let it.  Instead, we need to look at failure as an opportunity to learn and to grow.  True, lasting success can come out of the failures we experience in life.


            From a worldly perspective, Jesus was a total failure.  Yet we know that He was actually the ultimate success story.  As we follow Him and believe in Him, we will be successful as well.  This morning, as we draw closer to the end of the gospel of John, we're going to look closer at the Lord's time with Pilate and how that seeming failure turned into a great success. 

            Last week, we looked at John's account of Peter's denials of Jesus.  After Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, they took Him to the private residence of Annas.  Annas was a former high priest and the father in law of the current high priest.  While Jesus was there being illegally interrogated, Peter and John were outside in the courtyard.  Three times, Peter was asked if he knew Jesus or if he was one of His disciples.  Three times, Peter denied it.  After his third denial, a rooster crowed, just as Jesus had prophesied.

            We're going to skip over the last section of chapter 18 and move on to chapter 19 today instead.  Suffice it to say that after being questioned at Annas' house, Jesus was then sent to Caiaphas, who was the high priest at the time.  After Caiaphas interrogated Him, He was sent to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate.  The Jews couldn't legally put anyone to death, so they needed the Roman governor to approve the execution.

            Pilate found no grounds for finding Jesus guilty of anything.  Every year, Pilate would release one prisoner for them, to try to stay on their good side.  He wanted to release Jesus, but the people demanded that he release Barabbas instead. 


            That brings us up to speed on the passage that we're going to focus on this morning.  Let's continue on now by reading John 19:1-16.  Pilate had already said that he found Jesus to be innocent of the charges that the Jewish leaders were bringing against Him.

            So it's kind of surprising at first to read that Pilate had Him flogged.  (vv. 1-3).  It's probably nothing more or less from Pilate's perspective a strategy to set Jesus free.  He might have been thinking that having Jesus flogged would meet the Jews demand that Jesus be punished.  Maybe he's also thinking that it might even evoke some sympathy for Him as well.

            There were three forms of flogging that the Romans inflicted on prisoners.  There was a less severe beating that was administered for relatively light offenses such as hooliganism and was often accompanied by a severe warning.  There was a more brutal flogging given to criminals whose offenses were more serious.  Then there was of course the most terrible scourging of all, one that was always associated with other punishments, including crucifixion.

            It is the last type of flogging that we are most familiar with in association with Christ's crucifixion.  In those cases, the victim was stripped and tied to a post and then beaten by several soldiers until they were exhausted or until the commanding officer told them to stop.  It is well-known that Jewish law limited any sort of beating to no more than 40 lashes.  The Romans had no such law and no such limits.  For victims like Jesus who were neither Roman nor a solider the favored instrument was a whip whose leather thongs were fitted with pieces of bone or lead or other metal.  The beatings were so severe that the victims sometimes died.

            It would appear that at this point Jesus was probably given the least severe form of flogging.  Again, maybe Pilate did that to appease the Jews and maybe partly to teach Jesus a lesson.  If that's the case, that would mean that later on Jesus would receive a second scourging after the sentence of crucifixion was passed.  That would have been the worst form of flogging. 

            After beating Him up pretty good, the soldiers then had some fun with Jesus.  Basically they were doing nothing more than mocking Him for who they heard He claimed to be.  They made a crown of thorns and put a robe on Him.  After that, they hailed Him as a king and slapped Him in the face.  Matthew adds that they also spit on Him.

            We also see here indirect evidence to the charge that the Jews were bringing against Jesus:  that He claimed to be the king of the Jews.  The Jewish leaders saw Him as a Messianic pretender.  They hoped Pilate would see Him as a rebel against Caesar.  There's also some irony here.  Once again, Jesus' opponents speak better than they knew:  Jesus is the true King of Israel.


            Pilate had already tried to release Jesus once, and that didn't work.  Now after having Him flogged, Pilate tries again to let Him go.  (vv. 4-6).  So he steps back outside with a beaten Jesus and proclaims, "Here is the man!"  At this point, Jesus wouldn't have looked like much of a man, let alone like much of a king.  He was swollen, bruised, bloody and wearing a ridiculous crown and robe.  Jesus is presented as a beaten, harmless, pathetic figure. 

            The Jewish leaders aren't falling for it.  They hate Jesus and want Him dead.  They want nothing less than Jesus hanging on a cross for what they considered His blasphemy.  They charged Him with sedition against the state and they knew that charge could only have one outcome:  crucifixion.  So they cry "Crucify!  Crucify!"

            As the little game between Pilate and the Jewish leaders continues, it's Pilate's turn.  He isn't formally transferring to the Jews the legal authority and ability to execute Jesus.  Rather, it is a sarcastic taunt:  "You brought Jesus to me for trial but you will not accept my judgment.  You then do something about it.  Oh wait, you can't."


            When the Jews brought Jesus to Pilate, they initially focused on the political elements of their charges against Him, thinking that's what they would need to do to convince him to convict Jesus.  That plan didn't seem to be working, so they shift gears and emphasize the religious element instead.  A Roman prefect was not only responsible for keeping the peace, they were also responsible for maintaining local law.

            So the Jews bring up a law that they had that they wanted him to uphold.  (v. 7).  This apparently comes from Lev. 24:16.  The Jews were claiming that Jesus was blaspheming by claiming to be the Son of God.  Which was true:  He did claim that because He is the Son of God.  The Jews knew full well who He claimed to be and they didn't like it one bit.  So their new tactic to get Him killed was to convince Pilate that he needed to help uphold this law.

            But instead of agreeing with the Jews, Pilate is filled with fear.  (v. 8-10).  When Pilate heard that Jesus claimed to be the Son of God, he became more afraid than ever.  The Romans were highly superstitious people.  To the Jewish ear, the charge that Jesus claimed to be the Son of God would be taken as a messianic claim and a blasphemous statement.  But to the Roman ear it would sound quite different.  It would place Jesus in an ill-defined category of divine men; gifted individuals who were believed to enjoy certain divine powers.  If that is who Jesus was, Pilate might have been afraid because he just had him whipped.

            So with that potential thought rattling around in his head Pilate and Jesus go back inside and Pilate asks some questions to find out who this guy really is.  Maybe he can figure out if this man really is a son of god or some divine person.  But Jesus is not cooperating. 


            Then things shift, as they always do, in Jesus' favor.  (v. 11).  Pilate claims to have power to do with Jesus whatever he wants, but Jesus refutes that idea.  Jesus knows that Pilate only has power because God has given it to him.  God is a sovereign God who acts sovereignly to accomplish His will over all the affairs of man.  That doesn't mean that humans aren't personally responsible for their sin; we are.  Pilate only had the power God gave him, but he's still responsible for his actions, or his non-actions. 


            After all of that, Pilate still finds no guilt in Jesus.  He is not swayed by the charges of sedition against the state.  He doesn't seem to care too much about the charges of blasphemy or the local laws Jesus has supposedly broken.  Instead of condemning Him to death, Pilate does everything he can to release Jesus.  (v. 12).

            In response to that the Jews play their trump card.  They accuse him of not being a friend of Caesar.  Pilate had good reason to be afraid of that threat.  Tiberius Caesar was the Emperor at that time.  He was known to be quick to entertain suspicions against his subordinates.  He was also quick to exact ruthless punishment.

            The Jewish authorities had earlier communicated their displeasure with Pilate to the Emperor.  Now they are threatening to do it again.  How could Pilate defend himself to a paranoid ruler against the charge that he had failed to convict and execute a man arraigned on charges of sedition, charges brought by the highest court of the land, a court that was known to be less than enthusiastic about the Emperors rule?  Everyone knew that the claim to be a king signaled opposition to Caesar. 

            Faced with such pressure, Pilate caves.  (vv. 13-14).  He finally renders his final judgment on the original charge of sedition.  Even as he capitulates on this matter, he continues to mock the Jews by proclaiming Jesus to be their king.  He knew that the Jews allegiance of faith to Caesar is simple political hypocrisy deployed to ensure that he will condemn Jesus to the cross.  He mocks their vassal status by saying that this bloodied and helpless prisoner is the only king they are likely to every have.  Yet, what Pilate says is true and he didn't even know it.

            Finally, we see where the chief priests take their blasphemy further.  They declare, "We have no king but Caesar."  The only true king of Israel is God Himself.  By claiming Caesar as their only king, they are rejecting Jesus' messianic claims; they are abandoning Israel's messianic hope and they are finally disowning the kingship of the Lord Himself.


            We see failure all over in this story.  Pilate failed to do what he knew in his heart was the right thing to do.  Yes, what he did was exactly what God wanted him to do; it was part of God's plan of salvation from before time began and Pilate could do nothing else.  But he still had a personal responsibility that he didn't carry out.  Pilate failed.

            Of course, the nation of Israel also failed miserably.  It is sad to see the Jewish people and especially the Jewish leaders, reject their Messiah.  They were the ones of all of the people on earth who had been given the most light.  They were God's chosen people and they fully and totally rejected Jesus and what He came to do.  They failed. 

            I want to close this morning by encouraging and urging each and every one of you to not fail.  We have already won because Jesus won the victory for us.  Because of His death and resurrection, we have victory over death; we have victory over the grave; we have victory over sin.  In that sense, we cannot fail because it's not up to us and there is nothing we can do and nothing anyone else can do to change or alter our eternal salvation.

            But that doesn't mean we can just coast through life, living on Jesus' coattails so to speak.  How do we succeed?  How do we participate in the victory that Christ has already won for us?  How do we ensure that we don't fail?

            One aspect of our victory is faith.  One of the great hymns that we have sung for years as Baptists is "Faith is the victory."  We are saved by grace through faith and as we place our faith in Jesus, we will have victory in life.

            Heb. 11:1 gives us a direct, biblical definition of faith.  "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for the conviction of things not seen."  Faith is living in a hope that is so real it gives absolute assurance.  Faith is not wistful longing that something may come to pass in an uncertain tomorrow.  True faith is an absolute certainty, often of things that the world considers unreal and impossible.  Christian hope is belief in God against the world.  The faithful followers of God act as if His promises have already happened; we take God at His word and live on that basis.  That is what faith is and that is what helps us to succeed in life.


            Another aspect of our victory is trust.  Not only do we need to put our faith in God and in His promises, but we also need to exercise trust on a daily basis that He is in control and that His will and purposes are going to be done in our lives.

            Isa. 40:31.  When we trust in God, He renews our strength.  Life can get us down.  How often do you feel beat up, abandoned and bruised by the trials and difficulties of life?  Don't you just get to that point where you want to quit and give up because you can't do it anymore?  You've got nothing left to fight with?

            That's a good place to be.  When we get to that point is when we need to all the more trust in God and lean and depend upon Him.  When we are weak and faint, He renews our strength.  When we feel like giving up He strengthens us so that we can continue on fighting the good fight of faith.  Because of God and who He is and what He does for us, we will run and not become weary; we will walk and not faint.  Through whatever is going on around us in our world, we need to trust God.  Trust Him with your cares; trust Him with your worries; trust Him with your future.  He's got this!  Trusting God will help us succeed in life.


            We also need to confess.  Ps. 32:5.  This is the psalm that David wrote after his affair with Bathsheba and killing her husband.  He had done some horrible things and was in a bad place in his life.  But he acknowledged his sin; he owned up before God to what he had done; asked for forgiveness and received it from a gracious, merciful God. 

            It is vitally important to our spiritual health and well-being that we acknowledge our sins to God.  We need to not ever try to hide or conceal anything from God.  For one, we can't because He is all-knowing.  Also, it's detrimental to our spiritual health and well-being.  It is good for us to admit to God the things that we have done against Him.  It's good for our own souls; it's good for our relationship with Him; it's good for our relationship with others as well.  If we're going to be successful and not fail in our walk with the Lord, we need to be confessing our sins.


            The last aspect of a victorious life that we're going to look at this morning is repentance.  Not only do we need to be confessing our sins to God, we need to repent of them as well.  Acts 2:38. 

            Repentance is the very foundation of our salvation and the very foundation of our relationship with the Lord.  It speaks of a change of purpose; of turning from sin and turning to God.  It is an essential component of a genuine conversion.  Repentance is much more than a fear of consequences.  True repentance hates sin for what it is:  an affront to Almighty God.  Knowing that sin is evil and that God hates it motivates the truly repentant person to forsake it.  When we repent we forsake sin and turn in total commitment to Jesus Christ.

            Don't just feel sorry for your sin; don't just feel bad about the negative consequences you may be facing because of it.  Hate sin.  Hate it enough to turn from it and to start fully and totally loving and obeying the Lord Jesus Christ.  If we are truly saved, we will seek to repent of our sin.  If we don't repent then that is evidence of a lack of salvation.  The truly victorious will repent.


            God never fails at anything He does; never has and never will.  Jesus never fails; never has and never will.  Because of that, as believers, we will never ultimately fail either.  The victory is already won for us and it was done because of and through the work of Christ on the cross and through the empty tomb.

            But we still have work to do.  If you're going to live a life of victory, we encourage you this morning to have faith in God; trust Him at all times for all things; confess your sins and repent.  Those are some keys to living a victorious life.

            As our singers and musicians come now, we invite you to life a life of victory.  If there are any decisions or professions that you need to make this morning, we invite you to respond now as we stand and sing.