Easter’s Not Over Yet – Some More Observations

Title: Easter’s Not Over Yet – Some More Observations
Text: Luke 22:59-60, 23:3-7, 12
Time: April 28, 2014

It always bothers me that culture turns the corner on holidays like Christmas and Easter so quickly. The day after these most famous Christian holidays and already people have moved on, moved past the special day. It’s too quick for me. Why? Because I’m still thinking Easter because of all that I’ve heard or seen during the holiday season. I can understand from a secular, commercial standpoint that stores would quickly take down their holiday signs and sales, and begin to look forward to the next upcoming advertising push; but for Christians and Christian churches it makes no sense. I’ve been known to give Christmas messages after Christmas, and Easter messages after Easter. I don’t always do it, but I feel again this year that things have just gone too fast, too soon after the holidays. So I’d like to deal once again with some Easter season issues. As I do every year I’m always on the look out for anything new that I can learn every holiday about something in the Bible concerning – if it’s Christmas, the birth of Jesus; if it’s Easter, something new about the death, burial or resurrection of Christ. Well, I wasn’t disappointed this year because I did in fact find a few things from the biblical text that I hadn’t noticed before. I was reading in my daily readings of the One Year Bible – which I encourage everyone to read from if you don’t have a daily Bible reading plan – and I stumbled upon a couple of new observations from the Gospel of Luke. One of the bad things about reading the One Year Bible readings is that they aren’t on schedule with the major holidays in the Christian calendar. There aren’t Christmas readings on Christmas day, and there isn’t a Easter reading on Easter Sunday. That’s one of the weaknesses of the One Year Bible, but it’s also one of its strengths on the other hand, because it schedules Christmas and Easter readings at other times of the year, reminding us of these great holidays all year round. Well, I’m reading along after Easter and I’m reading an Easter passage in the Gospel of Luke and I find three things new I hadn’t seen before. I’d like to talk about them this morning. First, there’s the possibility that Pontius Pilate is using sarcasm towards the Jews when he says, “I find no basis for a charge against this man (Jesus).” I’ll explain. Second, there’s a possible reference to territorial prejudice when people refer to Jesus and his disciples as from Galilee. And third, there’s the strange description of Pilate and Herod becoming friends after their dealings with Jesus. It’s not at all obvious why they would become friends, nor is there any further explanation why they became friends, only that they did so become friends afterwards. Let’s try to makes sense of these observations as we think some final thoughts about Easter 2014.

First, there’s the possibility of Pontius Pilate using sarcasm with the Jews in his initial verdict over Jesus. Luke 23:3-4, “So Pilate asked Jesus, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ ‘Yes, it is as you say,’ Jesus replied. Then Pilate announced to the chief priests and the crowd, ‘I find no basis for a charge against this man.’” Now I hadn’t noticed this before, and it of course all depends on how you read the description, and what the emphasis you place on words and phrases, but I’m beginning to seriously think that Pilate was trying to put down, mock or use sarcasm towards the Jewish leaders by concluding, “I find no basis for a charge against this man.” Picture the situation. The Jewish leaders are mad and angry so they bring Jesus to Pilate because he claims to be King of the Jews, which from a Jewish perspective is a joke, or laughable, or worse, blasphemy. At best, from a Jewish perspective, Jesus is a traveling teacher — not a king of any kind. We know that at one point even the family of Jesus, of course excluding his mother Mary who knew full well the identity of her son, but the others in the family, the brothers and sisters, not to mention the extended family probably, definitely didn’t believe in him, according to Mark 3:20-21. So from a certain Jewish perspective Jesus might have been an embarrassment. I’m sure the Jewish leaders were not only embarrassed by Jesus before Pilate, but also angry with him as well, which is why they wanted him dead. But Pilate, if my theory holds true, despised the Jewish leaders and wasn’t above making fun of them in any way he could. So, he questioned Jesus quickly, found that Jesus did indeed claim to be a king, and then concluded sarcastically, “Yep, there’s nothing wrong with this man.” In other words, “For all I know this man is King of the Jews; I could care less, because he’s no threat to me.” Or, “He says he’s the Jewish King, yep, that sounds about right. He looks like he’d be King of the Jews, which doesn’t say much for the Jews.” Or, “Some King the Jews have got, but who am I to judge. If he says he’s King of the Jews, that’s good enough for me. He’s harmless, so release him.” In other words, I think Pilate is making fun of Jesus and the Jews. He’s making Jesus an embarrassment to the Jews by acting like he’s taking the claim seriously, because the Jewish leaders are taking Jesus’ claim seriously by opposing it. Pilate might have found the whole thing amusing from a Roman perspective. Now we know the rest of the story, as Paul Harvey used to say, so we know that both the Jews and Pilate were wrong. Jesus is king, but not of the earthly realm; that wasn’t his mission. He was Lord, Savior and Messiah. He was more than any of these two could imagine. Are you clear on who Jesus is and what was his mission? Make sure you get these things clear because your salvation depends on it.

Second, there’s a possible reference to territorial prejudice when people refer to Jesus and his disciples as from Galilee. Luke 22:59-60, 23:5-7, “About an hour later another (bystander) asserted, ‘Certainly this fellow (Peter) was with him, for he is a Galilean.’ And, “But they (the Jewish leaders) insisted, ‘He stirs up the people all over Judea by his teaching. He started in Galilee and has come all the way here.’ On hearing this, Pilate asked if the man was a Galilean. When he learned that Jesus was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time.” Like I said, I was reading along in the daily reading of the One Year Bible when it suddenly struck me that there were a lot of references to Galilee, the northern town in the land of Israel. It suddenly dawned on me that they were all negative in context, so it got me thinking that I was picking up a little bit of territorial snobbery or prejudice. I started doing a little poking around in the scholarly literature and reading up on Galilee in biblical times, and sure enough my suspicions were confirmed. There was a definite bias against Galilee and Galileans. People from Galilee spoke a little different Hebrew or Aramaic than did others in Israel; they had a different accent. So it was possible to distinguish a Galilean from other Jews in Israel. The people of Judea and especially in the capital city Jerusalem looked down their noses at people from Galilee as hillbillies or backwater folk. Galileans also had a bad reputation for rebellion and being lax with following strict Jewish law. That might be so because they were furthest from the Jewish religious and cultural leadership in Jerusalem, and thus were not as strictly watched by authorities or official Jewish cultural police. Now it’s interesting that Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee, all of his disciples were from among Galileans (except Judas Iscariot who was from Judea), and did most of his ministry there as well. We see another reason why the Jewish established religious leadership in Jerusalem didn’t like Jesus and his disciples – they were outsiders. So now when we read about the courtyard scene in which Peter is identified as a follower of Jesus because having heard his speech they conclude he is from Galilee and was seen with Jesus, it makes sense. They were stereotyping all Galileans as followers of Jesus, and therefore guilty by association. The Jewish leaders blamed Jesus for bringing Galilean ideas into Judea and Jerusalem. Pilate handed Jesus off to Herod when he heard he was from Galilee, since that was Herod’s realm, etc. Was it just a coincidence that the subject of Galilee kept coming up, or was it part of the mix of conflicting ideas and emotions of the situation? I think it had something to do with strong opposition and cruel treatment of Jesus. Here’s an example of prejudism raising its ugly head. Let us be sure our lives are rid of this sin.

Third, there’s the strange description of Pilate and Herod becoming friends after their dealings with Jesus. Luke 23:12, “That day (at Jesus’ sentencing) Herod and Pilate became friends – before this they had been enemies.” The question is, why were they enemies to begin with, and why did they become friends after their encounter with Jesus? To the first question, we don’t really know for sure why they were enemies. We don’t have any historical record that says they were particularly hostile towards one another. Although there is the incident where Pilate ordered the slaughter of a number of Jews, as referenced in Luke 13:1, “The Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.” And that might have offended Herod who, while not particularly loyal to Jewish law, customs and traditions, still was technically “the King of the Jews” and might have seen Pilate’s actions as stepping over the bounds of authority. That might explain why they were enemies, as Luke describes. As for why they became friends, that’s a little harder to explain. There are a number of possibilities. They both might have disliked the Jewish authorities and both wanted to frustrate them by finding nothing worthy of death in Jesus. Their common resentment for the Jewish leaders might have made them friends. Or, another possibility is that in deferring back to Pilate Herod might have shown respect in trusting the judgment of the Roman procurator over his own judgment concerning Jesus. That might have made them friends, or at least, on friendly terms. They might have used the occasion to build a bridge between themselves as a means to achieve political success. In that sense they became “friends.” But Luke is definitely trying to say something by including the verse as commentary. What is the gospel writer trying to say? Is he trying to say that they were both changed by their encounter with Jesus Christ? Did they both have some kind of spiritual experience in connection with Jesus? In dealing with Jesus it can get kind of mysterious and strange spiritually speaking because you never know what might happen in the presence of the incarnate God. Maybe each of them did have some kind of spiritual experience, or maybe their encounter with Christ changed them in some way. Luke is definitely trying to say something important, but what it is I’m not sure. I think minimally, Jesus did have some kind of effect on the both of them. Even though they were not “converted” in the Christian sense, they might have gotten together and spoke of some common experience that was the result of encountering Jesus. Pilate’s wife had some strange experience concerning Jesus; maybe Pilate, maybe Herod did too. We don’t know for sure, only that they became “friends” after that.

Have you encountered Jesus in your life? Let’s assume that Jesus did effect or move Pilate and Herod in some way. Have you ever had a spiritual encounter with the living Christ? People all throughout history over the last two thousand years have been reporting experiencing Jesus in one way or another, ranging from the dramatic to the subtle. For example, on the dramatic side, there’s the Apostle Paul who was riding on his horse and suddenly a bright light from heaven appeared to him and the voice of Jesus was heard calling him to become a Christian. Now that’s an experience. But most people don’t have such a dramatic encounter with Jesus; few have such an experience. Most people encounter the living Christ in just as real, but less dramatic ways. It could be that you are reading along in the Bible and you feel your spirit stir within you to follow Christ. Or you are sitting in church and experience the conviction of sin that leads to repentance and your conversion to Christ. It could be you grow up in a Christian home and never have a dramatic encounter with Jesus, but you’ve always grown up knowing he was real and alive and present with you. There are countless ways people encounter Jesus today. Have you ever experienced one of them? It’s not so much important to imitate someone else’s experience as to have your own kind of experience with God. Each person is different. I enjoy daily prayer and daily Bible reading. That really feeds my soul. I feel God is close by me as I pray and read from the Bible. I’m inspired and encouraged in these activities. I enjoy attending church on Sunday. That helps me experience God. Reading a really interesting Christian book draws me close to God; I can feel it. And so forth. There are thousands of ways to encounter the living Christ. What’s your way? Do you connect with Jesus at all? Do you have a testimony of an encounter with Christ in your life? Now Pilate and Herod weren’t Christians; they never became followers of Christ, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t have an encounter with him. They might have experienced a profound sense of guilt for participating in the death of Jesus. That might have been their bond. We don’t know. But if so, that was a positive step because it could have led to confession of sin and repentance, although we have no record of it doing so. But to be that close to God-in-the-flesh, it must have been a profound experience. To bad they wasted such an experience by failing to humbly yield to God. It goes to show experience isn’t enough; we must make the choice to yield ourselves to God that counts. God uses experiences to get our attention, but we must embrace him personally to benefit long term from any experience he sends our way. I hope you’ve committed yourself to Jesus. If not, I encourage you to do so today. Let’s pray.

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