Two Trials; Two Responses: Luke 23:1-12

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It is at about this point in our year moving through the gospels where I realize there are more events left in Luke’s gospel than we have adequate time for in the remaining time this year. This happened for the last two gospels, and I was pretty certain this would happen in Luke’s gospel as well, since Luke’s gospel is the longest of the four gospels.

However, while we only have three episodes left and two full chapters of Luke remaining, let’s not focus too hard on what I wasn’t able to include, and instead focus on what we do have time left to focus on from these last chapters in Luke.

With that said, our last podcast episode focused in on Jesus’ trial before the religious leaders. After the religious leaders condemned Jesus as guilty, they still had a problem. Because of Rome’s occupation of their territory, they did not have the right to execute someone, and especially the right to execute someone in a very public, humiliating way. This means that after Jesus was religiously condemned as guilty, He still needed to be condemned worthy of death by the government.

For this dilemma, we then come to another trial Jesus faces, and Luke includes an extra detail that no other gospel includes, which is fascinating in my mind. Let’s read what Luke describes.

Our passage for this episode is found in Luke’s gospel, chapter 23, and we will read from the God’s Word translation. Starting in verse 1, Luke tells us:

Then the entire assembly stood up and took him to Pilate.

They began to accuse Jesus by saying, “We found that he stirs up trouble among our people: He keeps them from paying taxes to the emperor, and he says that he is Christ, a king.”

Pilate asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

“Yes, I am,” Jesus answered.

Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowd, “I can’t find this man guilty of any crime.”

Pausing briefly, I am amazed at both Pilate’s response here, and at the way this translation simplified Jesus’ response. Technically Jesus did agree with Pilate, but a more literal reading of Jesus’ response would be that Jesus replied by saying, “It is as you say” or “Those are your words, not mine”.

As I compare various translations, since I don’t know the original Greek language to look back at the source, the translations seem divided along the lines of Jesus agreeing with Pilate verses Jesus telling Pilate that this is not the title He claims.

Either way, I am surprised at how Luke seems to summarize this conversation. According to Luke, after Jesus answered one single question, Pilate declares Him as innocent of any crime.

However, the religious leaders are very unsatisfied with this ruling. Continuing in verse 5, Luke tells us:

The priests and the crowd became more forceful. They said, “He stirs up the people throughout Judea with his teachings. He started in Galilee and has come here.”

When Pilate heard that, he asked if the man was from Galilee. When Pilate found out that he was, he sent Jesus to Herod. Herod ruled Galilee and was in Jerusalem at that time.

Herod was very pleased to see Jesus. For a long time he had wanted to see him. He had heard about Jesus and hoped to see him perform some kind of miracle. Herod asked Jesus many questions, but Jesus wouldn’t answer him. 10 Meanwhile, the chief priests and the experts in Moses’ Teachings stood there and shouted their accusations against Jesus.

11 Herod and his soldiers treated Jesus with contempt and made fun of him. They put a colorful robe on him and sent him back to Pilate. 12 So Herod and Pilate became friends that day. They had been enemies before this.

In Luke’s version of Jesus’ public, civil trial, we discover that Pilate tries to hand Jesus off to Herod because Jesus is from Galilee. However, Herod, while being interested in meeting Jesus, is not all that impressed with Jesus. Herod wanted to see a miracle, but He wasn’t interested in Jesus for who He claimed to be.

As I look at these two very different rulers, and their respective impressions of Jesus when meeting Him, I am amazed at one detail that each event uncovers. With both these meetings, Jesus doesn’t visibly step into the role of king. Jesus doesn’t act like a king for either governor, and Jesus doesn’t really even overtly defend Himself against the accusations of the religious leaders.

This shared detail is powerful, because we discover something amazing about both governor’s in their response to Jesus being claimed as a king. Pilate is reserved and intrigued, because Jesus is not like any self-proclaimed messiah that he had dealt with before. In stark contrast, Herod laughs and mocks Jesus because Jesus doesn’t display any characteristics Herod believed a king would have. Pilate’s response to meeting Jesus is one of curiosity, while Herod’s response is one of mockery.

I suspect this is why only one gospel includes Herod’s brief encounter with Jesus. In the big picture of the cross, Jesus being taken to see Herod is an easy event to exclude, since Jesus stands before Pilate both before and after this very uneventful meeting.

Why then might Luke have included this unique detail?

I suspect that Luke included this, not just to be historically accurate, but to illustrate a powerful truth. When we ask questions of God with an open mind, don’t be surprised if or when God answers. However, if we demand things of God, I’m certain we will be answered with silence.

Herod’s encounter with Jesus was entirely self-serving. Herod didn’t care one bit about who Jesus was or what the religious leaders claimed Jesus to be. Herod simply wanted to see a miracle that Jesus had been rumored to do, but Jesus knew that any miracle given in this context would not bring God glory. A miracle in this context might have even derailed Jesus facing the cross, which was His ultimate mission.

Pilate’s encounter with Jesus, which each gospel shares unique details about, is one where Pilate is curious about Jesus and about the claim that the religious leaders make of Jesus. Pilate isn’t fully sold on the accusations of the religious leaders, but he also doesn’t know what to make of Jesus. It is Pilate’s reservation about this entire event and a partially open mind that let’s Jesus speak briefly.

Jesus’ brief conversation with Pilate prompts Pilate to see Jesus in a completely different frame of reference, and while Pilate ultimately bends to the crowd’s demands to crucify Jesus, he ended that morning with a different impression of Jesus than he began his morning with. Pilate also likely ended that morning with a slightly different impression of the religious leaders than he had before.

We can learn from these two encounters. If we want to hear God speak and if we want God to show up in our lives in powerful ways, we must be open to receiving the Holy Spirit into our lives. Demanding God will do something for us is an easy way to receive silence and disappointment. Instead, let’s honor God, give Him the glory, and praise Him for any and every blessing, challenge, and opportunity to grow that He brings into our lives.

As we come to the end of this podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

As I always challenge you to do, intentionally seek God first in your life and choose to be open to receiving the Holy Spirit. When coming before God, intentionally be humble and repentant when bringing God your request and don’t demand that He helps you. A demanding, arrogant spirit will ultimately get the same response Herod received when he met Jesus, and that response was silence.

Also, continue to pray and study the Bible for yourself to learn what God wants to teach you and to grow closer to Him. When praying and studying, be sure to ask God for His help to understand what you are studying, and be open to what God wants to teach you through the pages, passages, and events included in the Bible. Don’t let anyone get between you and your relationship with God!

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, chicken out of, or try to arrogantly rush into where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him! Remember that even if we don’t understand why, God’s timing is always best!

Year in Luke – Episode 48: When we read Luke’s gospel about Jesus’ trial before Pilate, we discover that Pilate sends Jesus to Herod. While these very different rulers both meet Jesus, discover how each meeting is unique while also containing something that remained the same!

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