***This is an update of an earlier post from Thursday. Sometimes things come out right on the first try. Other times they need to go back to the drawing board for a bit of reconsideration. Thanks for growing with me.
“So Pilate asked him, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ He answered him, ‘You say so.’ And the chief priests accused him of many things. Pilate questioned him again, ‘Aren’t you going to answer? Look how many things they are accusing you of!’ But Jesus still did not answer, and so Pilate was amazed.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Have you ever been in one of those situations where you didn’t know if you should speak or not? Sometimes a well-spoken word can lift a hard situation up out of a pit and make it better than it was before. On the other hand, there are times when even a single word, no matter how well-intentioned it may be, will only add to the weight already pressing down on another person. Sometimes an eloquently arranged argument can diffuse a moment of great tension or change a mind and heart forever. Other times, whatever comes out of our mouths (or off of our fingers) will only be used as more fuel for the fire. When we are in these kinds of moments of decision where we have to decide whether to speak or hold our peace, we should know that we aren’t alone. Jesus has been there too. Here’s a story of one such time.
When the chief priests and the Sanhedrin finally had their grounds for charging Jesus with a crime whose penalty was death, they marched him straight to the Praetorium to put Him in the hands of Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea. Pilate was an interesting character about whom we will talk in more detail in the days ahead. But for now, it will suffice to say that he didn’t like the Jews. Exactly what was the nature of his own character remains a matter of great debate, but we do know he didn’t like the Jews. He wasn’t at all thrilled to be bothered by them so early in the morning. But this was, unfortunately, not a group he could simply ignore. Not only were there sufficient numbers to cause a headache if they so desired, but these were the officially recognized leaders. They could make his life miserably complicated if they so desired. Perhaps even more than the political reasons he dealt with them, though, was that this was a chance to have some face time with this Jesus about whom he had heard such interesting stories.
Now, other Gospel writers give us a great deal more detail about how the interactions among these three parties unfolded, but I want to focus this morning on just what Mark gives us in these few verses. The chief priests came and made their primary charge against Jesus. They chose this charge very intentionally and specifically because they knew it would get Pilate’s attention. Pilate didn’t care about their internal religious squabbles. He thought all their beliefs were little more than nonsense. But this charge that Jesus had made Himself to be the king of the Jews mattered politically. There was already someone with that title who had been duly appointed by Rome: Herod.
So, Pilate asked Jesus directly. This had to be at least as much from curiosity as from a frustrated desire to get to the bottom of this. After all, none of the stories he had heard about Jesus made Him sound like someone who was guilty of anything significant enough to warrant his attention. Jesus gave Pilate a simple and cryptic answer: “You say so.” Scholars have debated for centuries just exactly what Jesus meant by this. Whatever Jesus meant by it, though, it wasn’t enough to convince Pilate of any kind of guilt on His part. He was a politician and a skilled one at that. He could recognize a political threat when he saw one. This broken man before him did not represent a political threat.
So, he pushed back against the chief priests. When he did, they began making all kinds of other charges against Jesus. We don’t know what all of these charges were. It is entirely possible that in their furious desire to make sure Jesus died they started shouting out all the various things said against Him the previous night.
If the one charge was interesting to Pilate, this laundry list really got his attention. He questioned Jesus again. “Aren’t you going to answer? Look how many things they are accusing you of!” Pilate had seen men falsely accused of crimes before. He had seen them hear these charges and then immediately began pleading their case, trying desperately to show how they weren’t true so they didn’t receive a punishment they didn’t deserve. Here, Jesus was accused of all manner of things, none of which Pilate really believed were true, but for which the sought after penalty was death, and He wouldn’t say a word in response. Not a single word. Pilate didn’t even have a category for what Jesus was doing. He was utterly flabbergasted by His lack of response.
Well, this all brings up again the question we asked last week: Why didn’t Jesus answer? Throughout this whole ordeal Jesus spoke as little as He possibly could. Even here, standing (kneeling, more likely) before one of the most powerful men in the region, a man who, in political terms, held the power of life and death over Him, Jesus refused to answer any of the charges made against Him. Why?
I think there are two answers to that question, and even though this is a bit of review, it’s worth going over again. The first answer is that the text doesn’t actually tell us which means we don’t actually know why Jesus remained silent. This fact has not, however, has stood in the way of all manner of speculation based on Jesus’ character and a careful reading of the context. So let’s do a bit of that ourselves for our second answer. Jesus didn’t answer because it wouldn’t have done any good. The chief priests were absolutely determined to find some sort of justification for putting Him to death. Whatever He said was going to be twisted and used to that end. Standing before Pilate answering their charges – all of them not merely false, but patently absurd – would not have accomplished anything in terms of helping Him out of this situation. The chief priests were going to use whatever political power they had to force Pilate’s hand. Getting into debates about things that didn’t matter and weren’t going to change as the result of the debates wasn’t worthwhile. It would only delay the inevitable and make Him look bad in the process. Jesus knew the cross was coming, and didn’t want to delay it any longer than was necessary.
Here’s what this means for us. Using words where they aren’t going to help isn’t wise. Getting into debates about issues where the other person’s mind isn’t going to be changed is equally unwise. There are times in our lives when the situation we are in demands that we give an answer for the hope that we have with gentleness and respect. The ongoing saga of Jack Phillips comes to mind for me here. He is someone to whom God has given an enormous platform to defend the Christian worldview, called him to speak, and he is doing so with grace and eloquence. There are many more situations, though, when answering our critics won’t prove to be any kind of a solution to the tension we are facing because of them.
It takes great deal wisdom to know which kind of situation we are facing, but here are some factors to consider when making our decision. What is the nature of our ideological opponent? Is it a single individual, a group of people, or an entire organization or government body? Generally an individual is worth a conversation and an organizational challenge gives us a platform for making a point. When it is an ad hoc group making the charges, though, often silence is best. Are the challenges and criticisms being thrown our way coming anonymously or are they signed? Anonymous criticisms or criticisms about you that you only learn about later and weren’t meant for your ears in the first place are ones you can safely ignore. Depending on their nature, signed complaints may warrant a bit of more attention. Are the barbs being delivered personally to you, or simply publicly about you? Again, the former probably deserves a response, the latter often does not. Will your words change any minds and hearts, or will they only add to the noise? As a rule of thumb, minds and hearts are not changed by a social media post. Long-form writing and conversations are the primary places where that happens. Will responding allow you to model the character of Christ, or will it only serve to make you look petty and small? If you have to stoop down to the level of an enemy, you’re not on very solid ground. Is this about glorifying God for you, or settling a score?
There is much to consider here, to be sure, and we don’t often have all the wisdom we need to make the right call on our own. Seeking counsel from wise individuals in our lives is always important. Prayer and seeking the Spirit of Wisdom is even more so. Words are powerful things. Let us make sure we always use them wisely and well.