There are times in life when avoiding the truth seems like a good idea. We may be talking to someone about God and it is going great. They are interested and asking questions. We see the wheels turning in their head as they consider a life in Jesus. They seem just so close to eternal salvation. Then we hit a roadblock. We may touch on an area of firmly held sin or pain in their life and they start to draw back. Their love of money or drugs or sex causes them to start to put up their defenses. They follow up and ask a question that we know they are not going to like the answer to if they are entrenched in their sin. A truthful answer may push them away. The great temptation arises to shade the truth, avoid it or compromise in answering so as to not lose the momentum. We suddenly become like the Joel Osteen answering a doctrine question on Larry King. We rationalize that if we avoid this one thorny issue, maybe they will be satisfied with the rest of the discussion. In our doubt, we can hide one part of the truth while hoping that they find the rest of the truth. Appeasing someone’s sin in the name of doing what is “greater good” seems like a reasonable accommodation to make at the time. It seems so reasonable and pragmatic. Get them to Jesus first, then we will answer questions truthfully seems to be the reasoning.
The problem is that it never works. Compromising truth to avoid offending sin always just results in more sin. It also serves to hide Jesus from the people who need it the most. He is the Truth after all.
Pontius Pilate is an infamous figure in history. The man who ordered the crucifixion of Jesus certainly deserves all of the notoriety he gets. Yet, in interacting with Jesus, Pilate seems like less of a villain than many of the others involved on the day of Jesus’ death. The Jewish religious leaders are carrying out a plan to demand Jesus’s death though they know He is from God. The Roman soldiers mock and beat Jesus. The crowd that appears before Pilate repeatedly demand that Jesus be crucified. There is some serious maliciousness going on that day 2000 years ago. Many different types of people are out for blood.
In contrast, Pilate relatively politely examines Jesus. He shows no great ill will towards Jesus during His trial. At worst, he seems weary of the situation. Pilate asks Jesus straightforward pragmatic questions about the charges against Him. He truthfully finds Jesus innocent of any civil charges under Roman law. Pilate certainly does not acknowledge that the Son of God is standing in front of him as he should. However, he has enough wisdom to see clearly that Jesus is no criminal. He has done nothing to earn the hate of the crowd. Despite famously asking, “What is truth”, Pilate pronounces Jesus an innocent man and even pushes back against the religious leaders in the name of truth. He initially does his job well.
And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews, and said to them, “I find no fault in Him at all. 39 “But you have a custom that I should release someone to you at the Passover. Do you therefore want me to release to you the King of the Jews?” 40 Then they all cried again, saying, “Not this Man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a robber.
Pilate confronts the lies of the crowd and states what should have been the end of the conversation – He finds no fault in the man. Pilate was the Roman authority over the area. He was the highest power in the land. His word was final and he had the Legions of the Roman Army at his disposal. The Legionnaires have no issues with enforcing the decisions of the Roman governor. They would have been happy to beat up a few unruly Jews. There was no need to bargain with a people who had shown themselves to be rebellious and exceedingly difficult. Yet this is exactly what Pilate does and in doing so brought condemnation upon himself.
Faced with an incensed crowd demanding the death of an innocent man, Pilate attempts an exceedingly evil compromise. He orders Jesus scourged to appease the bloodlust of the crowd. Remember just a few verses prior how Pilate pronounces Jesus innocent of all charges? He has declared it as the highest legal authority in the region. Well, that goes out the window in the name of trying to satisfy the murderous crowd. This direction is no small thing. Scourging is a horrible process. A scourge was like a multi-corded whip but much more. Lead balls were added to the end of the cords to make the speed and weight much greater. Broken glass and possibly small hooks were also added to the cords and balls to tear off skin each time the scourge touched a body. Bones were often broken and victims of scourging ended up a bloody mess. Many victims did not survive this brutal torture.
This is Pilate’s compromise with evil. The crowd doesn’t want to hear about Jesus’ innocence so Pilate has Him tortured almost to death. Pilate appears to be reasoning that surely rendering the Way, the Truth, and the Life unrecognizable as a man would satisfy the crowd, right? Surely, they would see that it was enough. If he does something just a “little” evil to an innocent man it can save Him from the greater evil of death. Pilate doesn’t want to deal with the issue of the truth of the matter with the Jews, Jesus is innocent, so he avoids it for a while. He tries to buy them off with a whole lot of blood and a smaller injustice to the King of Kings. This never works with compromise. Appeasement of sin just opens the door and invites it to come in and take over the whole house. Their sin wants Jesus crucified and they will not stop until their sin is indulged.
Abraham found this out in the Old Testament when he compromised the truth about his wife Sara. She was so beautiful that Abraham believed that men would kill him during their travels in order to gain Sara as their wife. Fear leads him to have Sara tell people on two separate occasions that she is his sister rather than his wife. His small view of God and His power led him to play with the clear truth and display his lack of trust in God in the process. Each time Abraham lied to protect himself, God allowed men to come along and take Sara into their household before subsequently protecting her there. His sin opened the door to the world violating their marriage and placed those around him in great danger.
How differently Abraham’s story would read had he simply stated the truth, “She is my wife and my God will protect us!”
How would we see Pilate now if he had simply stuck with “I have found no fault in Him.”
The power of the message of Jesus and the Word of God is not in our eloquence, persuasiveness or presentation. It is not in how it is crafted to fit the culture. The power is in that it is the eternal truth inhabited by the Holy Spirit Himself. It is mighty to the pulling down of strongholds. The moment we stop trusting in this fact when we start pulling away from desperate reliance on that truth to change lives is when the Holy Spirit pulls away from whatever we are doing. The spiritual door that may have been opened before us with a seeker gets slammed shut.
There is a reason that Jesus referred to Himself as the Way, the Truth and the Life. He is THE TRUTH. Backing away from the truth means backing away from Jesus.
We are living in a time where relativism is running rampant. Entire generations have been taught that there is no absolute truth. One idea of reality is as good as another. The result is generations that are unbelievable lost and confused. They are adrift in a sea of lies and are desperate for anyone to tell them the truth, simply and clearly.
“Why am I not happy like I was told I would be?”
“Why do I feel so lost and empty in the midst of a world of excess?”
“Why do I feel so depressed despite doing anything I feel like doing?”
Are we willing to stand up and tell them the clear eternal Truth even if it makes waves?