At Pilate's Hall
After the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin, found Jesus guilty of blasphemy for claiming to be the Messiah, they took Him to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor. Rome allowed the Sanhedrin to oversee Jewish life, including simple trials, but did not grant the council the right to impose the death penalty. So to permanently rid themselves of Jesus, they needed Pilate to condemn Him.
At Pilate's hall, the Sanhedrin accused Jesus of subversion: "And they began to accuse Him, saying, 'We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Messiah, a king.'" (Luke 23:2 NIV) They knew Pilate would not care about a charge of blasphemy. They had to accuse Him of something Pilate would deem worthy of a death sentence. Refusing Roman taxes and claiming to be a rival king was their tactic.
Pontius Pilate was an experienced governor. He knew almost immediately that Jesus had done nothing deserving of Roman execution. He pronounced Jesus not guilty in Luke 23:4: "Then Pilate announced to the chief priests and the crowd, 'I find no basis for a charge against this man.'" Pilate even tried to release Jesus by his usual custom of releasing a prisoner in honor of the Jewish Passover celebration. Pilate brought out Barabbas, an insurrectionist, and offered to the people in the crowd a choice: Jesus or Barabbas.
But the chief priests were also politically savvy. They stirred up the crowd to ask for Barabbas, instead of Jesus. "'Which of the two do you want me to release to you?' asked the governor. 'Barabbas,' they answered. 'What shall I do, then, with Jesus, who is called the Messiah?' Pilate asked. They all answered, 'Crucify Him!' 'Why, what crime has He committed?' asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, 'Crucify Him!" (Matthew 27:21-23 NIV)
Pilate then took a basin of water and a towel and washed his hands of the matter. He condemned Jesus to be crucified and turned Him over to his soldiers, who mocked Him and flogged Him.
Pilate was backed into a corner by the Sanhedrin and the crowd. And still he exercised a choice. Instead of standing on Roman law and protecting a man he knew to be innocent of the charges brought against Him, Pilate caved to political pressure and had Jesus executed.
Truth is, there was a larger plan working itself out at Pilate's hall. The Living God did not take away Pilate's free will and force him to condemn Jesus, but He put Pilate into the pressure cooker of this no-win situation, knowing Pilate would cave, and Jesus would be put to death for the sins of the world. God's plan of redemption was moving forward, with Jesus as the willing sacrifice.
Jesus had already embraced the Cross in His anguished prayer in Gethsemane. He went there willingly, out of love, in order to lay down His life for the very ones He created who lived in sin and rebellion against Him and His Father. "But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8 NIV)
Jesus could have called a legion of angels to free Him from Pilate's court and Pilate's death sentence. But He did not. Because out of love, He took my death sentence on Himself so I would not bear its consequences. "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 6:23 NIV)
At Pilate's hall, the chief priests got their way. The crowd got its way. And Jesus got His way, too. It was intentional when Jesus went to the Cross, but it was not suicide. It was sacrifice. He laid down His life for you and for me. No wonder the hymn writer penned these words:
What wondrous love is this, oh my soul, oh my soul?
What wondrous love is this, oh my soul?
What wondrous love is this, that caused the Lord of bliss
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul?
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul?
At Pilate's hall, Jesus was condemned to die. But that's not the whole story. He willingly laid down His life to break the curse of sin and death on behalf of all who turn to Him in faith. Indeed, what wondrous love is this!