Pilate washed his hands

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Matthew 27:11-26

The trial of Jesus has everything backwards.  The Judge of the world is in the dock.  The Truth is cross-examined.   The Righteous One is pronounced guilty.

As we saw last time, the people act as judge and jury, while at times Pilate seems more like a public defender.  Now in this verse, the Governor seeks to abdicate all governance.

“When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it.”  (Matthew 27:24)

During the Nuremberg trials, many Nazis sought to blame those higher up in the chain of command for their crimes.  Pilate does the reverse – blaming the people for a decision that lay ultimately at his door.  It is ironic that Pontius Pilate is known for two things today.  He was the original ‘washer of his hands’ over a matter for which he felt himself innocent.  Yet at the same time he is remembered every Sunday by millions all over the world as the murderer of Jesus:

…Crucified under Pontius Pilate… (From both the Apostles and the Nicene Creed).

No-one is innocent of Christ’s blood.  Neither the Jews nor the Gentiles, neither the masses nor the rulers.  We can perform as many rituals as we like, but we all have blood on our hands.

Yet, amazingly, this is where Christ meets us.  You see in the Old Testament tabernacle (and then Temple) there was a basin erected next to the altar.  Many times it is commanded that the sacrifices are to be washed before they are slain.  Yet in connection with this basin, only one kind of washing is commanded.  This basin was for the High Priest, to wash his hands (Exodus 30:18f).  The one who offers up the sacrifice must show his ceremonial cleanness to the people.

No doubt Pilate was unaware of this detail and yet he fulfilled it publicly. The Lamb of God would be sacrificed according to the law, and the man responsible would wash his hands for all to see.  Yet such an act does not vindicate Pilate, it vindicates Christ who, though silent like a sheep before its shearers, seems to be pulling the strings in a remarkable way.

For those viewing these events politically, they inspire only cynicism.  Pilate is trying to absolve himself, when he should be taking responsibility. For those viewing these events biblically, they inspire deep trust.  Even as He suffers the most cosmic miscarriage of justice, Christ remains in control.  The condemned Man is convicting the world.  The One in the dock is calling the shots.  “The Son of man goeth as it is written of Him.” (Matthew 26:24).  And His killers only end up serving His purposes.

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