“That same day Herod and Pilate became friends with each other; before this they had been enemies.” Luke 23:12
We come this evening to the end of our thinking about some of those he met along the way, we come to the morning of the day we now remember as Good Friday and we come to Jesus’ meeting with Herod and Pilate.
Saint Luke Chapter 23 Verse 1 says, “Then the assembly rose as a body and brought Jesus before Pilate.” It is a remarkable moment, they hated Pilate. The Jewish people were very devout people and hated the ways in which the Romans would run roughshod over Jewish religious rules. Pilate had little regard for the Jewish religion; he had twice had conflicts with the Jewish leaders about images of the emperor, which the Romans regarded as images of a god and which the Jews regarded as a blatant breach of the Commandments. Twice Pilate had allowed Roman standards bearing images of the emperor to be carried into Jerusalem. Pilate had also been involved in a row over money; Jerusalem needed a new water supply so Pilate had taken money from the treasury in the Temple to pay for a new aqueduct. Yet the Jewish leaders are prepared to set aside all their scruples in their plot against Jesus.
The Jewish leaders opposed Jesus on religious grounds, but they knew Pilate would care little about religious arguments, so they fabricate political charges against Jesus. Verse 2 tells us, “They began to accuse him, saying, ‘We found this man perverting our nation, forbidding us to pay taxes to the emperor, and saying that he himself is the Messiah, a king.'” Pilate seems to have little patience with what is being said, “Are you the king of the Jews?” he asks Jesus in Verse 3 and Jesus answers, “You say so.” Pilate wants to wave away the charges, “I find no basis for an accusation against this man,” he tells the Jewish leaders in Verse 4. They are not going to let the opportunity to destroy Jesus pass, Verse 5 says “they were insistent and said, ‘He stirs up the people by teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee where he began even to this place.”
How did Jesus regard the Jewish leaders? What might we learn from the Jewish leadership? They lack integrity, they will tell a story in a way that suits their purposes. Are we sometimes guilty of similar behaviour? Are we sometimes selective with the truth? Do we sometimes tell things in such a way that we get our own way?
Pilate seizes a chance to be rid of those he would have regarded as religious agitators. When Pilate hears the word “Galilee,” he asks if Jesus is a Galilean and, in Verse 7, “when he learned that he was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him off to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time.” Galilee was not under direct rule by the Romans, instead it was ruled by Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great, who had been ruler at the time of the birth of Jesus.
We know the sort of person Herod is from his treatment of John the Baptist. Herod marries his brother’s wife and John the Baptist condemned him for breaking the law. Herod had been frightened, but also fascinated by John. We read in Saint Mark Chapter 6 Verse 20, “For Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him.” Herod’s personal pride was far greater than any principle he might have held. He becomes drunk at a party and he promises his wife’s daughter he will give her whatever she asks; she asks for the head of John the Baptist. In Saint Mark Chapter 6 Verses 26-27, we read, “The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head.”
Herod’s attitude towards Jesus seems similar to his attitude towards John, Saint Luke Chapter 23 Verse 8 says, “When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had been wanting to see him for a long time, because he had heard about him and was hoping to see him perform some sign.” There seems a mixture of fear and fascination, of opposition and curiosity. Verse 9 tells us, “He questioned him at some length, but Jesus gave him no answer.” Jesus will not engage with someone who cold-bloodedly murdered John the Baptist. The silence of Jesus must only have emphasised the impotence of Herod; he can do nothing in Jerusalem. Relations between Herod and the religious leaders cannot have been easy and Herod must have felt anger as, in Verse 10, “the chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing” Jesus. All Herod can do is to resort to his bullying ways, Verse 11 say that Herod and his soldiers treated Jesus “with contempt and mocked him; then he put an elegant robe on him, and sent him back to Pilate.”
Verse 12 shows that Herod will compromise in whatever way is necessary in order to avoid losing face with the Jewish leaders, “That same day Herod and Pilate became friends with each other; before this they had been enemies.” He becomes friends with the despised Pilate because he himself has neither the courage nor the power to act against Jesus.
What can Herod teach us about the dangers of personal pride? Inside himself, Herod had deep regard for John the Baptist and for Jesus, but he lives his life seeking the approval of others, so betrays whatever religious beliefs he had. Do we sometimes live in such a way that what we say and what we do contradict what we believe inside ourselves?
Pilate has to face Jesus again and again he wants nothing to do with the matter; Pilate was warned by his wife to have nothing to do with this Jesus. If we read Saint Matthew Chapter 27 Verse 19, it says, “While he was sitting on the judgement seat, his wife sent word to him, ‘Have nothing to do with that innocent man, for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him.'” Dorothy L. Sayers play, “The Man Born to be King” suggests that in the dream Claudia Procula heard countless voices through the centuries speaking of Jesus suffering under Pontius Pilate – it would be an unimaginable burden.
In Saint Luke Chapter 23 Verses 14-16, we see Pilate trying to heed the warning he has received, “You brought me this man as one who was perverting the people; and here I have examined him in your presence and have not found this man guilty of any of your charges against him. Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us. Indeed, he has done nothing to deserve death. I will therefore have him flogged and release him.” Pilate knows that Jesus is innocent but is happy to pervert the course of justice by having Jesus flogged if this will appease the crowd. In Verse 20, he makes a second effort, “Pilate, wanting to release Jesus, addressed them again.” The crowd must have sensed fear in the voice of Pilate for there is a almost note of despair in Pilate’s words in Verse 22, a sense that he is pleading with them, “A third time he said to them, ‘Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no ground for the sentence of death; I will therefore have him flogged and then release him.'” The mob has prevailed, they have bayed for blood and Verse 24 says, “So Pilate gave his verdict that their demand should be granted.”
What can Pilate teach us? His experience shows that there can be a very wide gulf between what is demanded by popular opinion and what is demanded by justice. When we look at the politics of our world today we have to ask how many rulers go the way of Pontius Pilate and how many go the way of Jesus? What about ourselves? Do we go with the crowd? Or do we honestly look at situations and ask ourselves, what would Jesus have done if he were standing in my place?
The Jewish leaders, Herod Antipas, and Pontius Pilate: none of them nice people; each of them with much to teach us.