Governor Pontius Pilate had to decide,
"What Shall I Do with Jesus?"
Thinking About the Easter Story with Elizabeth Rice Handford
A surviving statue of Pontius Pilate shows him as a serious man, seemingly bedeviled by regret and heavily laden with
care. He was a Prefect of Imperial Rome over the bitter and hostile nation of Judea in 33 A.D. He found them impossible to please or pacify. There came a time of crisis when he was forced to make a decision. It seems it was a decision he regretted for the rest of his life.
The Lord Jesus stood before Pilate on a balcony in Antonio's fortress in Jerusalem. It was in the early hours of the morning, and a murderous mob below screamed for His death. Just a few hours before, Jesus had been praying in an olive grove overlooking Jerusalem. He had been marked for death by Judas's kiss-a kiss!-and Judas used it to betray Someone who loved him enough to die for him! Jesus had been dragged to the house of the high priest, then given to the Roman soldiers to be mocked and beaten. From there the religious leaders had dragged him to the governor's fortress. They were forbidden by Roman law to kill a man; they needed Pilate's signature on His death warrant.
Pilate had to make his decision on the things he already knew about Jesus. He knew, for example, that the mob hated Jesus and wanted to kill Him "for envy." The Israelite leaders were jealous of the crowd's adoration of Jesus (Matthew 27:18).
Pilate's wife had sent him a brief and passionate word to "have nothing to do with that just man" (Matt. 27:19).
Pilate offered the mob the chance to decide whether to release Jesus or Barabbas, hoping they'd choose Jesus. Instead, they chose Barabbas.
"What evil has Jesus done?" he asked. It was a moot question, since everybody there knew Jesus had done nothing wrong. Even their hired, perjured witnesses couldn't agree on their accusations! (Mark 14:56).
Bewildered, Pilate asked, "What then shall I do with Jesus?" (Matthew 27:22). His decision? Though convinced of the Lord Jesus' innocence, he called for a bowl of water and ceremonially washed his hands, and then he signed His death warrant. Pilate did make a decision that day. Against his own certain knowledge, he gave an innocent man up for death.
Tradition differs about what happened to Pilate afterward. Some say the Roman Emperor Calligula forced him to commit suicide. Others say he was exiled to Mount Pilatus, on the shores of Lake Lucerne in Switzerland. There, they say, in the blue waters of that lovely lake, he kept trying to wash the innocent blood of Jesus off his hands and that he died of a broken heart.
Some say Jesus was just a very good man. But that cannot be. How could He be good if He deliberately lied to us about salvation? We have only three choices:
Was He actually crazy and certifiable?
Was He was an evil man, deliberately deluding people?
Or is He who He claimed to be, the Son of God, come to give us everlasting life, and who came out of the grave on Easter Sunday morning?
Knowingly or unknowingly we, like Pilate, have made a decision. God grant that it be the right one.
Bad Luck or Bad Choices?
A Word of Encouragement from Elizabeth Rice Handford
"How is your new hire working out?" I asked a friend the other day. She is in upper management in a large firm. The pressures of her job are very heavy, and she was excited about a job interview with someone who seemed to have the training and skills to do the job she needed help with. So she hired Mehitable (not her real name, of course.)
My friend's smile faded when I asked how she was working out. "She's in our ‘validate and release' program."
"What in the world is that?" I asked. "Sounds like a Bass Fishing Tournament!"
"We're going to have to let her go, but we need to show her the exact causes for her termination."
"I thought she had good credentials."
"She did. But she just won't follow instructions. She always does things her own way. Thinks her way is better."
"You're sure she understands your instructions?"
"Oh, yes. When I ask her to repeat them, she does it, perfectly, and then adds, ‘But I prefer to do it another way.'"
Mehitable will lose her job, and she will think it was just bad luck. But she will keep on having "bad luck" until she commits herself to doing a job just as she was hired to do it, until she sees her decisions are the real cause of her troubles.
Motivational speaker Tony Robbins says,
"It is in your moments of decision that your destiny is shaped."
We all make various decisions all day. Some are unimportant, and we shouldn't waste time fretting over them. But some of them are truly important, and we need to be aware that they actually shape our lives. The trouble with Mehitable is that she is not even aware she is making bad decisions that will affect her future. True for me, too, sometimes. I might make a thoughtless commitment to a project without counting the cost in the time and emotion it will require until later, when I am overwhelmed by my obligations.
My safety? That I ask God to help me realize when a choice is truly important, and then make it deliberately and thoughtfully. There's a wonderful promise in the Bible that helps this decision-making:
"How gracious God will be when you cry for help!
As soon as He hears, He will answer you.
Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction,
your teachers will be hidden no more;
with your own eyes you will see them.
Whether you turn to the right or to the left,
your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying,
This is the way; walk in it."
If I ask God for help, if I will listen for His guidance, He will give me the wisdom to make good choices. When obstacles arise, I'll know it isn't bad luck. My God is still in control of my life. He will keep His promise to show me the way I should walk.
Does His Mother Not Love Him?
A Word of Encouragement from Elizabeth Rice Handford
John and Ruth, my fourth- and second- graders watched as Jackie's mother pushed his wheel chair down the sidewalk. As his mother pushed him toward school, they could see Jackie had huge, unwieldy casts on his legs.
"What happened to Jackie, Mom?"
I'd known, from the time Jackie's mother had told me about his up-coming orthopedic surgery that it was going to be hard to explain it to my kids.
"You know how Jackie's been on crutches all his life, because his feet were turned crooked? Well, the doctor broke his legs to turn his feet around the right way. When the bones grow back, he'll be able to run and play like all the other kids."
Of course all they heard out of that long explanation was, "The doctor broke his legs."
They shook their heads sadly. "Huh! His mother must not love him very much."
"Not love him? You've got it all wrong. Jackie's mother loves him so much she didn't want him to have to hobble on crutches all of his life. She paid a lot of money so the doctor could fix his feet."
Have you ever wondered if God really loved you? If He loves you, why does He let bad stuff happen? The perplexing answer is that it's because He does love you that difficult things come into your life. Can I tell you exactly how that is going to work out? No, because He's God, and I'm a sort-of-second grade student, so I'm not smart enough to understand it all.
But three things I do know:
❀ God will love us forever.
(Jeremiah 31:3: "I have loved you with an everlasting love.")
❀ Everything God does is good.
(Psalm 119:68: "You are good and do only good.")
❀ God is so wise that His loving goodness will always bless us, not hurt us.
(Romans 11:33: "Oh, what a wonderful God we have! How great are his riches and wisdom and knowledge!")
Here's the way Ephesians 1:6-8 puts it:
So we praise God for the wonderful kindness He has poured out on us
because we belong to His dearly loved Son.
He is so rich in kindness that He purchased our freedom
through the blood of His Son, and our sins are forgiven.
He has showered His kindness on us,
along with all wisdom and understanding.
As I said, I'm not able to understand all that God lets happen in my life, and I can't explain to you what all He is doing in your life. But God's Word assures us that His love is everlasting; that everything He does is good; and that His wisdom guarantees His loving goodness will truly work for our joy and usefulness.
No Matter Where I Go, God Is There Too
A Word of Encouragement from Libby Handford
Once, long ago, Walt and I flew to a third-world country, almost at the other end of the earth. When we arrived, we had to wait in the baggage claim area, absolutely alone, desperately tired, with no place to sit down. All the other passengers had claimed their baggage and left. Tight-lipped officials had taken our papers and disappeared with them. We had come with valid visas, passports, and immunization records. I had dressed exactly like the culture of that country expected of married women. We couldn't imagine why they held us.
It had already been a harrowing trip. As our Airbus 300 began the takeoff from the Bankok airport, the pilots had aborted the flight and taxied back to the terminal because of a mechanical problem. So our flight had been three hours late. Our psyches were still on USA Eastern Time, twelve hours behind, and jet lag increased our apprehension.
We waited alone as the night deepened. Standing in that silence, cut off from human contact, we felt so alone, as if maybe even God Himself had forgotten us!
We had known there was risk in going. In recent months, three churches had been burned and two national pastors had been been murdered. Our missionaries desperately needed encouragement, so we had come.
As we waited in the deepening darkness, Psalm 139 came to our minds. King David had once felt very desolate, in exactly the place we seemed to be. As we thought about the promises God made to him, our fearful hearts were comforted.
Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend into heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the morning,
And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
Even there Your hand shall lead me,
And Your right hand shall hold me. Psalm 139:7-10
We felt abandoned, but we were not abandoned. Our holy God, whose presence is everywhere on earth, and in the stars as well, was there with us as we waited that dark night.
I am not always conscious of the presence of my dear Heavenly Father when things are going well for me. I bumble along without much sense of my need of for God. When the sun is shining, and I'm among friends, life is sweet, and I am grateful. If I ascend into heaven, You are there.
Sometimes, in a time of great joy, I've been aware of God's holding me tight. If I take the wings of the morning, And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, Even there Your hand shall lead me, And Your right hand shall hold me.
But it is when I feel I've "made my bed in hell," in the darkest night, with threatening loss, that's when God's presence becomes unutterably dear. (The word hell is Hebrew sheol, often translated the grave, or the depths.) I might be there because I made a wrong choice; still I cannot go beyond His loving care. In this instance, Walt and I made a deliberate choice to go because we wanted to tell people about Jesus. Either way, If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. God was with us that dark night. We were eventually released and freed in time to give the Gospel to folks who had never heard He loves them too.
Are you in a dark place? Even there, God is with you. Even there His hand will lead you, and His right hand will hold you tight. If you are a child of God, you cannot go beyond His presence.