For he [Pilate] knew it was out of self-interest that they handed Jesus over to him (Matthew 27:18).
Jesus didn’t fit into the religious establishment of the day. In their minds, Jesus violated some of their laws and disregarded some of their traditions. He acted like a rabbi, but he didn’t have their much-needed endorsement. He associated with tax collectors and sinners, which “holy men” weren’t supposed to do. To top it off, Jesus publicly rebuked their hypocrisy.
Thus, the religious establishment felt threatened by the growing popularity of Jesus. The Bible makes it clear that they became consumed with envy, and that envy turned into hatred. As a result, the religious leaders condemned Jesus through an unjust trial where they didn’t even allow him to have any witnesses.
John Stott explains: “Jesus had upset the Jewish establishment from the outset of his public ministry. To begin with, he was an irregular. Though he posed as a Rabbi, he had not entered by the correct door or climbed up by the right ladder. He had no credentials, no proper authorization. Next, he had courted controversy by his provocative behaviour, fraternizing with disreputable people, feasting instead of fasting, and profaning the sabbath by healing people on it.”
“Not content with disregarding the traditions of the elders, he actually rejected them wholesale, and criticized the Pharisees for exalting tradition above Scripture. They cared more for regulations than for persons, he had said, more for ceremonial cleansing than for moral purity, more for laws than for love. He had even denounced them as “hypocrites”, called them “blind leaders of the blind”, and likened them to “whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean” (Matthew 23:27).
“These were intolerable accusations. Worse still, he was undermining their authority. And at the same time he was making outrageous claims to be lord of the sabbath, to know God uniquely as his Father, even to be equal with God. It was blasphemy. Yes, that’s what it was, blasphemy.” (Stott, page 52-53).
After Jesus was condemned to die by the Jewish council, the Bible says, they spit on him, blindfolded him, struck him with their fists and beat him. Jesus came as the Jewish Messiah foretold long ago, but unfortunately, they didn’t receive him. These religious men delivered Jesus up out of jealousy and self-interest.
They wanted a king to come and kick out the Romans. They wanted a Messiah who could give them political and economic stability. They longed for a leader to bring change to the externals of their environment, but Jesus never even tried to establish a political kingdom. In fact, he explicitly stated to Pontius Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). Our Lord came as a suffering servant to die on a cross. He came to establish the rule of God in our hearts. But unfortunately, most of the Jewish leaders weren’t interested in that.
As a group, these men were proud of their Bible knowledge and their moral superiority. They were proud of their status as leaders and their many sacrifices for God. They weren’t about to let a teacher outside of their movement threaten the religious system they set up and undermine their standing among the people. Furthermore, they were certainly afraid of the potential break down of their fragile relationship with the Roman authorities. Their solution was to demand for Jesus to be crucified!
It’s easy for us to judge these guys as a bunch of losers, but the fact is, we often react in similar ways. People today get upset when Jesus asks for our total allegiance and when he calls us to a holy life. We don’t like it when the Lord undermines our authority and when he challenges our hypocrisy. It can make us angry when our plans get disrupted because God has another path in mind.
People today, just like it was back then, don’t always receive Jesus for who he is, because he doesn’t quite fit into their plans. What about you? Are you willing to submit to Jesus and do life his way? From time to time, we’re all guilty of living for self-interest instead of living for the glory of God.
Lord, it is your plans that matter the most, not ours. Help us to embrace the path you have designated for our lives, as the writer of Hebrews says, “to run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” We confess that your way is better than our way, Lord. Relying on your precious Holy Spirit, we choose to walk with you.
Can you think of a time when God’s plans didn’t match your own?