HIS STEADFAST FACE
By Pastor Glenn Pease
You never know when something embarrassing will happen to you. We are constantly on guard, for we do not like to be humiliated. Mrs. Howard Field was walking to a near by funeral home for the funeral of an old acquaintance when she saw an Easter bonnet that caught her eye. She went in and purchased it. She felt it was improper to carry it into the chapel, so she asked an usher to take care of it for her. You can imagine her dismay when she saw it being placed on the coffin with the flowers. At the grave site she hoped to recover it, but she was too embarrassed to do anything, and so she watched her new Spring hat lowered into the ground. She hardly knew the woman being buried, but she was weeping as sincerely as the immediate family.
Her embarrassment was real but hidden. In other situations we cannot hide, and we are embarrassed by what is beyond our control. The poet gives an example:
I sat next to the Bishop at tea;
It was just as I feared it would be.
His rumblings abdominal
Were simply phenomenal,
And everyone thought it was me.
Then there are the deliberate efforts to get a laugh at the expense of others. It can be funny to embarrass others. This is the motive behind roasts and many other types of humor. We do this frequently as men. It is part of our sense of humor. Sometimes it borders on the cruel, however. For example, Bernard Shaw was browsing in a secondhand book shop when he found a copy of one of his own books peeping out at him from a dusty shelf. He looked at the inside cover and found it was an autographed copy he had given to a friend. He bought his own book just so he could return it to the friend with these words on the flyleaf- "With renewed compliments of Bernard Shaw." You can imagine the embarrassment of the friend.
The desire to humble another can be just good fun, and when people are friends it can be good for a laugh, even for the one embarrassed. But there is also sadistic side of this that we see dominating the whole scene of the trial of Jesus. John chapter 19 is just one embarrassing scene after another as the church and state try to manipulate each other by means of humiliation. Pilate represents the state. He is the power of Rome, the secular Gentile state. In the other corner of the ring are the chief priests and officials of Israel.
They are the church, or the religious establishment in the legal conflict over the issue if Jesus is worthy of being sentenced to death.
It is one of the greatest paradoxes of history that the state tried hard to release Jesus, but the religious leaders would not let the state do what was just, but used the power of humiliation to compel Pilate to send Jesus to the cross. Let me share with you the clear facts of this great paradox of that pagan secular state trying to do the right thing, but the clever religious people thwarted justice, and manipulated the state to join them in the evil plot to officially murder the only perfectly innocent man who ever lived.
Pilate was a pagan, but he knew when a man was innocent, and he knew Jesus was just such a man. In fact, the Gospels tell us Pilate acknowledged seven times that Jesus was innocent. We see three of them in our text. In verse 4 Pilate said to the Jews, "Look, I am bringing Him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against Him." In verse 6 he says it again, "As for me, I find no basis for a charge against Him." In verse 12 we read, "Pilate tried to set Jesus free." The Gospels confirm that Pilate found no fault in Jesus, and that he did seek to release Him. Even his own wife had a dream about Jesus and warned Pilate not to sentence Him. He tried every trick in the book to set Jesus free. He even gave the people a choice to let Barabbas or Jesus go free. He thought for sure they would choose Jesus rather than a known violent killer, but they did not.
The record is clear, Jesus was killed by religious people and not secular people. The religious leaders forced Pilate to give the order to Crucify Jesus. They embarrassed him into it. Here were the people who had the promise of God to have a Messiah sent to them, and they demanded that the state put this Messiah to death. There is no guarantee that in a conflict between the religious and secular that the religious will always be right and the secular wrong. Pilate was a pagan but he was right. Jesus was innocent of any crime. So why did he give in and sentence Jesus to death? It was because of the clever minds of the Jewish leaders.
They knew that Pilate dreaded the thought of being embarrassed before the Emperor Tiberius Caesar. It would be humiliating to have Caesar get a report that he had let a rival king live when the Jews were clamoring for His death in order to be loyal to Caesar. Caesar was touchy about rivals as most tyrants are, and Pilate would feel more comfortable standing before him naked than with the charge against Him that He was a traitor in supporting a rival ruler. The Jews knew this and they shout in verse 12, "If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.
These hypocrites hated Caesar and would gladly see an opponent take his throne, but they knew this threat would be more than Pilate could defy. They were right, and Pilate was humiliated into handing Jesus over to be crucified. He played by their dirty rules to the end, however. Even knowing Jesus was innocent, he had Him flogged and mocked, and presented to the Jews as a pathetic king. He hoped to embarrass them by mocking their fear of Jesus.
In verse 5 Pilate brings Jesus out to the Jews looking so pathetic with His crown of thorns and purple robe, and he says, "Here is the man!" He was saying that here is the man you so fear. He is really dangerous looking isn't He? No wonder you want Him dead so bad. He is so fierce and threatening. But his plan did not work. They were too cold hearted to slink away in embarrassment. Pilate could not embarrass them to back off their plot. They were harder-hearted than himself, and he gave in instead. But he got in the last punch in this battle to embarrass. Verse 19 says Pilate had a notice fastened to the cross that read, "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews." The Jewish leaders protested, but Pilate would not give in on this, and he said, "What I have written I have written." They were embarrassed by the message that they were killing their own king, but they went ahead in spite of it.
Here is another paradox. The Jews were as determined to get Jesus to the cross as He was determined to get there. Jesus had set His face steadfastly to get to the cross, and not all the power of Satan and evil men combined could make Him swerve from this path. But those who despised and rejected Him had the same goal, and they were equally determined. They would not let their law or Roman law stand in their way. Compassion and justice meant nothing to them. They were hard as steel, and nothing could stop them from getting Jesus to the cross.
The paradox is, you have the forces of evil and the forces of good aiming for the same goal, which was the cross. Can evil and good have the same goal? Of course they can. We see it all the time. In every election we see good people and evil people fighting for the same candidate. Even the Mafia wants a certain candidate to win, for they feel he is more likely to benefit them. The drug dealers and pimps vote for someone too, for they feel that someone will be to their advantage. Good and godly people can want the same candidate to win also, but for very different reasons, but both have the same goal and can be out supporting the same man. The fight for freedom can mean freedom of religion, freedom of the press, but also freedom to use drugs, or practice anti-social behavior, and so forces for freedom to do good or evil have the same goal.
So we see Jesus and His opponents aiming for the same target-the cross. Their motives are radically different, of course. Jesus is going to the cross because that is the only way He can atone for man's sin and reconcile man to God. The Jews want Jesus on the cross to get Him out of their hair so they can go on with their legalistic religion that enables them to manipulate people. A goal is not a bad one to aim for just because evil men aim for it as well. The motive is what matters. Jesus did not reason that these wicked leaders want me crucified, and so if that is the goal of evil men I must resist it and find another way. On the contrary, Jesus sided with the evil Jews and did not give Pilate the support he needed to stand against them.
Pilate is desperately searching for some way to get Jesus released. He even violated Roman law in his efforts. He had Jesus flogged and mocked as a an innocent man in hope of placating the Jews, but it didn't work. Then he took Jesus back inside to talk privately, and Jesus refused to answer him. Jesus was uncooperative with Pilate, not because He had anything against a man doing his best to be just and fair, but because He did not want Pilate to succeed in helping Him escape the hands of these wicked leaders.
Jesus is our advocate, which means He is our lawyer before the court of God, and He pleads our case and seeks acquittal for us as guilty sinners. But here He is being condemned as an innocent man, and He does not speak in His own defense. Poor Pilate-his perfect prisoner is siding with his perverted prosecutors to assure His condemnation. Pilate did not have a chance. He was embarrassing alone, for he was the only man who cared that Jesus was innocent. All His disciples had forsaken Him, and there was not a single witness in His defense. Jesus would not even defend Himself, and so Pilate gives in to what seems inevitable and condemns an innocent man to the cross.
Jesus embarrassed Pilate too by His refusal to cooperate, but Jesus also comforted Pilate and let him know that He understood his dilemma. Jesus knew Pilate had no real choice, for Jesus would not let him save Him from the very goal He was determined to reach. Even if Pilate could change the minds of the Jews he could never change the mind of Jesus. He was going to the cross one way or another. But notice the comfort Jesus gives him in verse 11. Here is another paradox, for we see the prisoner comforting the judge who is about to sentence Him to death. Don't feel too bad judge, its and awful thing you are forced to do, but the one who handed Me over to you is guilty of the greater sin. The choice you are making to condemn Me is wrong, but the real crime is in the hearts of those who are forcing you to do it.
Jesus is saying that not all are equally guilty in this wicked plot. Some are victims like Pilate. Others are the master minds, and they will be held accountable for the greater evil. By so saying, Jesus is in essence telling Pilate I know you are the only good guy in this whole legal maze. You can count on it, I will not hold it against you. The prisoner is letting the judge off the hook. Pilate knew this and fought like crazy to get Jesus released, but he could not do it. The best he could do was to embarrass the wicked schemers who forced him to be a partner in their evil plot.
The New Testament makes it clear, the primary guilt for sending Jesus to the cross falls on the Jewish leaders. The evidence is overwhelming. Yet the tragedy of this truth is that Christians have used it to promote anti-Semitism. Jews have been called Christ-killers, and have suffered repeatedly at the hands of bigoted Christians who have the reasoning power of a cutting board. To hate all Jews because of what the Jews did to Jesus is as foolish as holding all white men responsible for killing the Indians buffalo. Crimes of folly and prejudice of the past are not pasted on through the genes making future generations guilty of those crimes. Besides this, Jesus forgave from the cross even that generation who were fully guilty. Anyone who holds any Jew responsible for the death of Jesus today is as blind as those Jews who really were guilty of history's greatest legal
Some of history's greatest Christians were filled with prejudice against the Jews because they refused to let the spirit of Christ be their guide. Luther, for example, was terribly anti-Semitic. It is easy to find plenty of New Testament evidence to support being anti-Semitic toward that generation of Jews who crucified Jesus. But to carry that attitude beyond that generation should embarrass the Christian. If is does not, that Christian is exhibiting the very blindness that made the Jews who crucified Jesus so despicable.
What we need to see is that this hatred of Jesus by the Jewish leaders was His final hurdle to overcome to get to the cross. This is where other men would fail. I don't know about you, but I would have a hard time choosing to suffer one minute from a paper cut on the finger, let alone crucifixion, for people who so despised me. This was the final test of the love of Christ. Could He go through with the plan to die for men when they could be so cruel? He could, and He did. Here is the proof that love is the strongest power in the universe. Hate met love in a head on collision, and love just kept on going pushing hate off the road. They could not stop Jesus from loving them. They were as cruel, brutal, and hard-hearted as man is capable of being, yet Jesus did not call ten thousand angels to wipe them from the face of the earth. He said, "Father forgive them for they know not what they do." Then He died for them that they might be forgiven and restored to fellowship with God.
Their hate was as black as coal, but His love made them able to be made as white as snow. Nothing, absolutely nothing, could stop Jesus from loving even the most unlovable of men. We do not even know what love is until we study the love of Jesus and see the love of God reflected in His face. In the Old Testament the highest source of glory was the awesomeness of God's glory in creation. "The heavens declare the glory of God...." But now in Jesus we have a far greater glory. The sun, moon, and stars are still wonders to behold, but the cannot give us the light we can get from the face of Jesus. Paul says it in II Cor. 4:6, "For God, who said, let light shine out of darkness, made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ."
If you want to know how to think and act in any situation, look to the face of Jesus, and ask, what would Jesus do? This is not always easy, but there is no better way for guidance for in the face of Jesus is all the light we need. It will lead us to choices and attitudes where love will conquer all the evil and prejudice we struggle with. The face of Jesus was marred by unbelievable cruelty. Verse 3 tells us the mocking soldiers used His face as a punching bag. He was bruised and blackened, and the crown of thorns would send blood running down His forehead. Jesus knows what it is to be an abused person, and to be violently hurt by brute force for no good reason. Yet we do not see His face bitter with resentment. He was surrounded by faces of horrible hatred who with sadistic determination would not be satisfied until Jesus was crucified. Yet the face of Jesus was calm with a love even more determined than their hatred.
Fritzgerald asked Tennyson, as they looked at the marble busts of two famous men, "What is there in the face of Dante which is absent from the face of Goethe." The poet responded, "The Divine." The presence of God makes all the difference in the world, and that was what we see in the face of Jesus.
God of sun and stars and space,
We can your glory trace.
But your best we can embrace
In your Son's loving face.
Jesus met every hate filled face with a look of determined grace. If you want to know how to face life with all of its burdens and problems, turn your eyes upon Jesus and look into His face and you will receive the light you need to go the way that pleases God. The face of Jesus becomes the sun of our spiritual solar system. On the Mt. of Transfiguration the face that Jesus had for all eternity past, and which He will have for all eternity future, broke through His limited earthly face, and we read this in Matt. 17:2, "His face shown like the sun."
Jesus had to endure every indignity men could devise to embarrass Him and humiliate Him, and create on Him a face of bitterness. They did make His face ugly and repulsive, but they could not, by their vile and violent behavior, wipe the light of love from His face. Christina Rossetti, the great poetess, wrote,
Is this the face that thrills with awe
Seraphs who veil their face above?
Is this the face without a flaw,
The face that is the face of love?
Yes, this defaced, lifeless clod
Hath all creation's love sufficed,
Hath satisfied the love of God,
This face the face of Jesus Christ.
There is an old legend that when Adam was driven from the Garden of Eden he asked the angel who stood guard with flaming sword, what shall I bring back to God when I return? The angel replied, "Bring him back the face in gave you in the garden, and I will let you in." Sin had changed the face of man. The inner corruption distorted his external features. We see it full blown in the trial of Jesus. The ugly hatred of man is seen at its worse. In their rebellion against God they marred the face of His Son. But Jesus refused to let the externals change His inner face. He remained calm, loving, and endured it all that He might have a face worthy of entrance again for man into the paradise of God.
Do you realize that the vision of the face of Jesus is one of the key blessings of heaven? In John 17:24 Jesus prayed, "Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see My glory...." The ultimate answer to this prayer is revealed in Rev. 22:3-4, "No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and His servants will serve Him. They will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads."
The most beautiful face in the universe forever will be the face of Jesus, for this is the face that made it possible for man to return to paradise and to fellowship with God. Man did his very worst to embarrass and shame the face of Jesus, but He came through with a face aglow with love. Jesus passed the final test and refused to forsake the goal of the cross because of shame and embarrassment. May our Lord's example motivate us to set goals in our service for God, and then pursue them like our Savior did with His steadfast face.