The Apostle Peter, preaching just a few weeks after the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, said this in Acts 3:13, "The God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God of our fathers, hath glorified his Son Jesus; whom ye delivered up and denied him in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let him go."
We learn of this Pilate that Peter spoke of from the Bible, but also from the ancient writers Josephus, Tacitus and Philo of Alexandria. Josephus wrote that Pilate was the procurator of Judea for 10 years. Tacitus, when speaking of the cruel punishments inflicted by Nero upon the Christians, says that Christ was put to death when Tiberius was emperor by the procurator Pontius Pilate.
Pilate. His name has rightfully gone down in history as the man who signed Jesus' death warrant.
But Peter made the correct and stunning observation that Pilate was actually determined to let Jesus go. He knew that Jesus was innocent. At least three separate times in the proceeding, he proclaimed Jesus to be without fault. And yet, knowing the truth and having made up his mind to release Jesus, Pilate still ultimately condemned him to die.
In his immortal work "The Screwtape Letters," C.S. Lewis has Screwtape, the senior tempter, saying this to Wormwood, his demonic apprentice: "Pilate was merciful till it became risky."
Matthew 27:24 says, "When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it."
Once again Pilate proclaimed the innocence of Jesus. Yet, because people were rioting, he gave him up to be crucified anyway. He washed his hands in front of everyone, but no amount of water or time ever has or ever will wash away the stain from his name. Pilate was merciful till it became risky
Siding with Jesus always has been risky and always will be. Not just in martyrdom, which is still very much extant in the Middle East and many other places, but in other ways as well.
If you follow Christ you will risk ridicule. You may be called a follow of "Jebus" by people who think their Homer Simpson reference to be clever. You may be told, as I was, "I know your book better than you do, fool." (I did not answer back. I have read the Bible cover to cover some 50 times and studied it fervently since childhood, and thus did not feel the need to engage the inanity). You may be broad-brushed as a fanatical fundamentalist when you are, in fact, well-reasoned and kind.
If you follow Christ, you will risk alienation. Friends and family may not understand why you are following someone you cannot see and trusting him to take you to a place you have never been.
If you follow Christ, you, like Pilate, will risk people actually getting angry each time you speak up for him. There has never been a greater flashpoint than the name of Jesus, there has never been a name that generated simultaneously such devotion and such disgust.
Following Christ is risky, yes. But not following him is a greater risk by far. All of the risks of following him are found only in time, but not following him carries a high price tag both in time and eternity. Acts 4:12 says, "Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved."
Pilate was merciful, till it became risky. If only he had taken the time to think of the risks far beyond his immediate well-being.
Bo Wagner is pastor of the Cornerstone Baptist Church of Mooresboro, N.C., a widely traveled evangelist and the author of several books. His books are available at www.wordofhismouth.com. He can be contacted by email at email@example.com.