The Glory of Christ and the Depravity of Man
Scripture: John 18:28–40
The Glory of Christ and the Depravity of ManJohn 18:28-40
Sunday, March 14, 2004
Pastor Randy Smith
On April 13, 2001, Luther Casteel walked into JB's Pub in Elgin, Illinois, with four guns and opened fire. He killed two people and wounded 16 others. At his trial, Casteel was unrepentant. According to the Chicago Tribune, when asked by his attorney if he felt any remorse, Casteel said, "Any feelings I have in that regard, I'll keep between myself and the Lord." He also said, "As ironic as this sounds, I'm a passionate, giving person. I like to think I'm a pretty good person."
Contemplate the irony. Contemplate the depravity.
Our biblical account this morning from John 18 is also dripping with irony and depravity. Luther Casteel is a living representative of millions throughout the ages who expose their depravity through horrific acts and still maintain that they are good people rightly related to God. Most might not murder with a gun, but they slaughter the commandments of God on a daily basis. Their most horrific act is that of wasting Jesus Christ and settling for lesser idols clothed in religious or philosophical baggage. Their claim, "When I die I'm going to heaven because (like Casteel) I'm a pretty good person."
We have studied the glory of Christ the past two weeks against the backdrop of Adam's sin and Peter's denial. Today we'll see the glory of Christ against the depravity of man who when exercising his free-will always elevates self and rejects the Messiah. This morning we'll learn that the depravity of man: Desires religion, despises Jesus, doubts Jesus, drives worldliness, denies truth and displaces Jesus.
1. THE DEPRAVITY OF MAN DESIRES RELIGION (vs. 28)
Allow me to begin in verse 28. "Then they (the Jewish religious leaders) led Jesus from Caiaphas into the Praetorium, and it was early; and they themselves did not enter into the Praetorium so that they would not be defiled, but might eat the Passover." Point number one, "The Depravity of Man Desires Religion."
After covering the trial with Annas (in the middle of chapter 18), John bypasses the remainder of the religious trials and records the first phase of the civil trial. Early in the morning (probably before 7:00) after concluding His time with Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin, Jesus was bound and brought to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea. The text states Pilate was situated in his Jerusalem headquarters called the Praetorium. It also states that the Jewish religious leaders did not enter the Gentile Praetorium in fear they would be defiled and unable to participate in the Passover (it is probably better to think of this as the entire Feast of Unleavened Bread-Lk. 22:1).
I find this account indicative of man's depravity. Here we have the Jewish leaders going through elaborate precautions to participate in their religious rituals, while manipulating their own law to murder an innocent man. They are intent on keeping the Passover ceremony, but eager to murder the true Passover Himself.
This account sums up the human heart, zealous for shadows, but devoid of the substance - zealous for religion, but devoid of true spirituality. The unknown author said, "Religion is us trying to prove to God how important we are...spirituality is being humble enough to allow God prove to us how important He is." The flesh craves religion which breeds rules, checklists and external actions (which only feed our pride), while suppressing the weightier matters of the heart, which find favor in the sight of God (which feed His greatness). Oh how easy it is to avoid a certain food, attend a certain church, and perform a certain ritual while rejecting true belief in Jesus Christ, which involves difficult heart issues such as repentance, submission and self-denial. How many today are following the Jewish authorities by discarding the demands of Scripture while at the same time devoting themselves to meaningless religiosity. Mark my words, there will be many religious people in hell.
Even as believers we must guard ourselves from such an attitude. Unless we are driven by the Holy Spirit, the flesh is always looking for the lowest common denominator. We settle for complacency. We settle for mediocrity. We keep the outer shell of religion, both personally as individuals and corporately as a church, but on the inside our heart grows cold. We lose our "first love" (Rev. 2:4). We may dress well, carry our Bibles and debate doctrines, but as humans we are quick to jettison the issues most important to our Lord. We've fallen into religion when we disregard those requirements that require sacrifice. Are you growing in personal holiness? Are you serving in church ministry? Are you actively sharing your faith? Are you personally discipling someone else? Most of all, religion hinders an intimate love relationship with Jesus Christ from which all these disciplines must flow.
We must guard ourselves from becoming religious! Religion takes the easy way out. Religion is man-centered. Religion never experiences the greatness of God. Religion sends people to hell. Religion, as this text will prove, crucified Jesus Christ.
2. THE DEPRAVITY OF MAN DESPISES JESUS (vs. 29-32)
The depravity of man desires religion and the depravity of man also despises Jesus. Beginning in verse 29, "Therefore Pilate went out to them and said, 'What accusation do you bring against this Man?' They answered and said to him, 'If this Man were not an evildoer, we would not have delivered Him to you.' So Pilate said to them, 'Take Him yourselves, and judge Him according to your law.' The Jews said to him, 'We are not permitted to put anyone to death,' to fulfill the word of Jesus which He spoke, signifying by what kind of death He was about to die" (Jn. 18:29-32).
Though Pilate wished to hear the formal charge against Jesus, the Jews had already made up their minds. They weren't concerned about a trial, they simply brought Jesus to Pilate for an execution because as verse 31 states, the Jews were not permitted to exercise capital punishment themselves. Their intentions were plain and simple. They wanted Jesus dead. And since they knew that Pilate would never go for their indictment of blasphemy (Mk. 14:64), they merely cast Jesus in a political category that Pilate could understand. In verse 30 they referred to Him generally as an "evildoer." No doubt they wanted Pilate to believe that Jesus was an enemy to Rome, a threat to the peace (Pax Romana), a Man who even had the audacity to crown Himself King (Jn. 19:12).
How much does the depravity on man despise Jesus and love the darkness? Here we see the Light of the World standing in their midst and all they can think about is deception and murder. Three times in the span of eight verses (18:28; 19:4, 6) we read Pilate, the highest official in the land, remarking, "I find no guilt in Him." Where is the depravity of man? Against the innocence of Jesus, we see those eagerly bent on eliminating the sinless One.
It's sad that those who should have been the first to run to the Messiah, the leaders of Judaism, were the first and most adamant to execute Him. Moreover, they requested permission to kill Jesus, not by their own means of stoning, but rather through the horrific Roman method of crucifixion (verse 32). They wanted Jesus to agonize. They wanted their fellow Jews to believe He was "accursed by God" (Dt. 21:23). "Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree" (Gal. 3:13).
John MacArthur said, "He was from God -- they concluded He was from Satan. The Friend of sinners was shackled by the hate of sinners. The Judge of all the earth was arraigned before a fallen son of Adam. The Lord of glory was treated like a vile criminal. The Holy One was condemned as a blasphemer. Liars gave false witness against the living Truth. And He who was the resurrection and the life was killed at the hands of men" (MacArthur, Sermon: Jn. 18:28-38).
Unfortunately, we can't pin this depravity only on the Jewish leaders of the first century. Humanity is no different today. Most are not as overt in their hatred of Jesus. Many may even claim to be His followers. But as we have learned in this Gospel, straight from the lips of Jesus Himself, our commitment to Him is always based on whether or not we hear His voice and follow His words. "If you love Me (said Jesus), you will keep My commandments" (Jn. 14:15). Anything less, as innocent as it may appear, despises Jesus and exposes depravity.
3. THE DEPRAVITY OF MAN DOUBTS JESUS (vs. 33-35)
In point number three we'll see how the depravity of man doubts Jesus as well. Beginning in verse 33. "Therefore Pilate entered again into the Praetorium, and summoned Jesus and said to Him, 'Are You the King of the Jews?' Jesus answered, 'Are you saying this on your own initiative, or did others tell you about Me?' Pilate answered, 'I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests delivered You to me; what have You done (Jn. 18:33-35)'"
The focus now shifts from the Jewish authorities to the interrogation of Pontius Pilate. It goes from the highest Jewish leaders to the highest Roman leader in the land. The true King stood before these prominent men and these educated and gifted individuals representing Jews and Gentiles missed Him. In many ways they were on trial before Jesus. The evidence for Christ's claims was irrefutable, but these men in their doubting disbelief were found guilty in the sight of God.
In particular, Pilate's comments are indicative of today's society. In verse 33 he said, "Are You (emphatic) the King of the Jews?" I can imagine him thinking: Where is Your dignity? Where is Your army? Where is Your royal attire? All Pilate could see before him was a peasant carpenter, bloody from the sweat that dripped from His forehead at Gethsemane. Pilate was not about to bow down to a King who presented Himself in such a manner. Pilate like countless others today doubt Jesus. They cannot get beyond His humanity to His deity. In focusing on His outward appearance (1 Sa. 16:7) and failing to see His character, majesty and glory, the earthly king rejected the King of kings.
People doubt Jesus because they fail to see who His is and they also doubt Him because they fail to see what He does. At the end of verse 35 Pilate said, "What have You done?" In other words, "Why have You caused such division and animosity among Your own people?" "What have You done by way of actions?" "What have You said to these people?" Jesus came to reveal God (Jn. 1:18). Those who are given spiritual eyes to see His actions and spiritual ears to hear His words know and accept what He has done and what He has said.
As we benefit from hindsight, a deeper theological question on the part of Pilate would have not been, "What have You done" but rather, "What will You do?" Little did Pilate realize that within hours the humble Man standing before Him would go the cross he permitted and die for the sins of the world. Little did he know that God was providentially using his sin to reconcile the world to Himself. The doubt of Pilate would in many ways make salvation possible for those who believe.
We live in a doubting world when it comes to things pertaining to the Lord. Especially when so many have seen The Passion, we must be quick to explain the true Person of Jesus and the works He came to accomplish. Remember, salvation is faith in His Person and works, who He is and what He has done.
4. THE DEPRAVITY OF MAN DRIVES WORLDLINESS (vs. 36)
In the fourth point, the depravity of man also drives worldliness. While Pilate was thinking along the physical realm, Jesus replied in verse 36, "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm."
Throughout this gospel, we have learned that Jesus divides people into two camps: Those in Him and those in the world. Pilate in this account stands as the epitome of worldliness, while Jesus stands as the epitome of true spirituality. Pilate was focused on things of this world, while Jesus focused on the things above. Pilate was the material king, while Jesus is the spiritual King.
Their two approaches to life were thus revealed: One would do anything to receive power, honor and glory. The other gave up His glory. One was arrayed in royal robes. The other had "no stately form or majesty" (Isa. 53:2). One valued only what He could touch, taste and feel. The other lived and taught that we are not to lay up for ourselves riches upon this earth. One ruled by material manipulation. The other ruled by spiritual persuasion (adapted from: Hughes, John, 425).
To which camp do you belong? Depraved man follows after the kingdoms of this world. The Christian follows after Jesus and His "kingdom…not of this realm."
5. THE DEPRAVITY OF MAN DENIES TRUTH (vs. 37-38)
Fifth, the depravity of man also denies truth. Beginning in verse 37, "Therefore Pilate said to Him, 'So You are a king?' Jesus answered, 'You say correctlythat I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.' Pilate said to Him, 'What is truth?' And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews and said to them, 'I find no guilt in Him'" (Jn. 18:37-38).
We live in an age called Postmodernism. One of the key characteristics of this age is the denial of absolute truth. Truth is relative they say. Any claim that holds there is one truth by which all must abide is viewed as the essence of intolerance and bigotry. Sin is no longer defined as failing to follow God as He has revealed Himself in the Bible. Sin for the postmodernist is when people claim theirs' is the only right way.
An absolute truth was accepted as recent as the 60's. Quite often the Christian was ridiculed for believing that the gospel was truth. Forty years later all religions are viable and Christians are ridiculed for believing there is a truth.
Jesus makes a horrible postmodernist. He claimed, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me" (Jn. 14:6). Pilate would have made an excellent Postmodernist when he remarked, "What is truth" (Jn. 18:38)?
Regardless of Pilate's flippant and sarcastic comments, Jesus made His position clear. In verse 37 He said, "For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth." According to Jesus there is an absolute truth. As Creator and Lord He defines the parameters of truth, because He Himself is the embodiment of truth. He is "the truth" (Jn. 14:6). Many will reject the truth, but Jesus said at the end of verse 37, "Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice." His sheep will hear Him and accept what He says (Jn. 10:3, 16, 27).
I believe that Jesus was basically inviting Pilate to accept Him, but when Pilate heard about a claim to absolute truth, like so many other depraved souls, He immediately terminated the interrogation and rejected the One who is "the truth." Martin Luther once said, "Peace, if possible, but the truth at any rate." God's children yearn for truth while those opposed to God reject it.
6. THE DEPRAVITY OF MAN DISPLACES JESUS (vs. 39-40)
Finally, as we move to point 6, the depravity of man also displaces Jesus. Obviously if Jesus is rejected, He is replaced with a lesser substitute. Let's see who the people chose over Jesus. Beginning in verse 39 Pilate said, "'But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover; do you wish then that I release for you the King of the Jews?' So they cried out again, saying, 'Not this Man, but Barabbas.' Now Barabbas was a robber" (Jn. 18:39-40).
Pilate was in a difficult situation. He already announced the innocence of Jesus (Jn. 18:38), but he knew the leaders and now the crowd wanted Jesus crucified. To crucify Jesus would be injustice. To release Jesus could have created a riot among people already aggravated with his rule. The solution in his mind was to adopt one of their customs, which was to pardon a criminal at the Passover. Surely he thought they would accept Jesus over a hardened convict.
Unfortunately, he thought wrong. The people repeatedly cried out for Barabbas (Lk. 23:18), a murderer (according to Mark 15:7) who was identified with a bloody insurrection. Matthew identifies him as a "notorious prisoner" "(They called) for the release of a man who committed murder…against Rome while condemning a Man falsely accused of being a danger to Rome" (Carson, John, 596). Or as someone else once put it, the crowd wanted a man officially named Jesus Barabbas, meaning "Jesus, Son of a father" in substitute for Jesus Christ who is Son of the Father. The depraved heart always rejects Jesus for illogical substitutes whether it be a person, a false god or the second rate pleasures of this world. They substitute the Creator of galaxies for a worthless idol.
In addition to the depraved heart and it's desire to displace Jesus, the depravity of man desires religion, despises Jesus, doubts Jesus, drives worldliness and denies truth. But against the backdrop of human depravity, stands the glory of Jesus Christ. Against our sin stands His love, mercy and forgiveness.
Barabbas is the only man in history who can say Jesus took his physical place. Jesus died the physical death he deserved. (Imagine Barabbas in his dirty cell, hearing the lock unlatched from the door, thinking his time had expired. But rather than going to the cross, the guilty murderer was given a complete pardon.) However, all those who believe in Jesus Christ, repent of their sin and submit to His lordship can say that Jesus took their spiritual place. Jesus died the spiritual death we deserved. The depravity of man placed Jesus on the cross. The goodness of God used that death to remove His wrath and atone for our sins.
In speaking of this substitutionary death, Donald Grey Barnhouse confessing his own depravity once said, "For it was I who deserved to die. It was I who deserved that the wrath of God should be poured upon me. I deserved the eternal punishment in the lake of fire. He was delivered up for my offenses. He was handed over to judgment because of my sins. This is why we speak of the substitutionary atonement. Christ was my substitute. He was satisfying the debt of divine justice and holiness. That is why I say that Christianity can be expressed in three phases: I deserved Hell; Jesus took my Hell; there is nothing left for me but His heaven" (Barnhouse, Donald Grey. Romans, v. 2, p. 378).
Are you like the Jewish leaders, Pontius Pilate or even Luther Casteel, the murder I read about in the introduction, trusting in your own self-righteousness or are you trusting in the glorious Jesus Christ to give you His perfect righteousness through His work on the cross?