No Friend of the Emperor



Scripture

12 From then on Pilate tried to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor.”

Observation

Jesus was an innocent man and Pilate was pretty sure of this. He knew the right thing to do and when he stood on the brink of making the best decision, he faltered. He tried asking questions but he really didn’t want to hear the answers. This was no real investigation and therefore Jesus kept quiet. It was all a facade to try and keep all of his constituents happy. Instead of doing the right thing he put his finger to the wind and made a decision. 

The Jewish leaders knew exactly how to taunt Pilate, and that was by threatening his power. He was a representative of the Emperor and if he sided with Jesus, he would be no friend of the Emperor. Weighing his options, he decided it was better to stand against the Almighty God and put in his lot with Caesar. 

Writing in the 6th century, Romans Melodus wrote this hymn about the incident: 

“Crucify!” the murderer 
heard the impious crying out,
And their will he fulfilled,
Handing over, without being compelled to,
The One whom he planned to have crucified.
For having heard that he would be an enemy of
Caesar,
The coward was frightened.
He would rather be the enemy of the Almighty
Than the enemy of Caesar,
Preferring his life over the Life.
Therefore he will certainly not escape blame,
Since, because of the lawless,
He killed the Living One. (Kontakion on the Passion of Christ 36.16)

Pilate chose to be the Emperor’s friend, “preferring his life over the Life” and he lives with the eternal consequences.

Application

Jesus was ushering in the kingdom of God which meant that there were two colliding empires. The kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world continue to be at odds with one another, and we have a choice as to whether we will be friends of the Emperor, or loyal to our new citizenship in God’s kingdom. 

Pilate lived in fear of what others thought about him. While we might like to believe that we are idealistic, we too live with the temptation to respond in ways in which others will think more favorably of us. Let’s be honest, we try to keep the peace and not step on other peoples’ toes, but sometimes we need to step on some toes. For Pilate, choosing to appease Caesar meant standing against God. 

We are citizens of the kingdom and our calling is to follow Jesus Christ and therefore find ourselves in the same places where Jesus would be. Jesus never found power through political means, nor through appeasing those who held authority. Instead, Jesus challenged the authority figures of the day and made them feel uncomfortable. Jesus went to the margins and aligned himself with those who were being mistreated and spoke words of truth to those who were doing the mistreating. “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:27) 

There is no place for injustice within the kingdom of God. Injustice is the result of a misalignment and misuse of power. Paul reminded us that in the kingdom barriers have been destroyed and “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28) If any brother or sister is not being treated as an equal citizen in God’s kingdom, then we are playing friendly to the Emperor. 

For Pilate to choose God, meant he could not choose Caesar. We are not to be a friend to the Emperor, but we are called to be faithful citizens of God’s kingdom, which may challenge us to openly shift our loyalties and live with the consequences. 

Prayer


Lord, please help me to have the courage to faithfully live as a citizen of your kingdom every day.  Amen.

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