God Before the Governor

Christ before Pilate in the church Chiesa di Santa Maria dei Miracoli by artist with the initials G.D.L (1929) as artistic copy of Ecce Homo by Antonio Ciseri (1871). (Renáta Sedmáková / Adobe Stock)
Noel Piepgrass is pastor at Exeter Valley Church which meets at the Veterans Memorial Building.

In our church, we’ve been studying the end of Jesus’s life as depicted in the Gospel of Matthew. In one particularly prominent passage (Matthew 27:11-26), Jesus winds up in front of the Roman Governor Pilate who must decide his fate. All four Gospel authors include this scene, which demonstrates a reluctant Pilate sentencing an innocent Jesus to crucifixion. Perhaps the most perplexing aspect of this scene is Jesus’ unwillingness to defend himself against the false accusations levied against him. This posture raises the question, why does Jesus submit himself to the authority of the leaders that carry out his crucifixion and what can we learn from his example?

I believe that one of the things that we learn in this story is that the Kingdom of God, as demonstrated by Jesus’ life, is not of this world. The implication is that the Kingdom of God does not rely upon the action of any world government, in fact, it transcends world government. This is what I believe the prophet Isaiah means when he says the “government will rest upon his (Jesus’) shoulders.” God’s purposes in the life of Jesus are accomplished through the misguided actions of a pagan governor. We are reminded that God’s will uses government, not the other way around. In an election year, it might be as good of a time as any, to ground ourselves in the reality of this truth, and its implications for our lives. Based on Christ’s example, how ought we conduct ourselves in the political sphere and in submission to the governmental authorities he has placed over us?

First of all, we learn that we need to rightly order our kingdoms. Jesus taught that we must give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but to God what is God’s. What belongs to our government is obedience to laws and ordinances such as speed limits, property laws, and stop signs. We submit ourselves in this way for the common good and out of our ultimate submission to Christ.

However, there are times when a pagan government will mandate behavior that violates our higher allegiance to God. One of the best examples of this in scripture is found in the life of the prophet Daniel who served the pagan King of Babylon with excellence until that King demanded his subjects worship him as God. Daniel would not worship this King, so he continued to pray to Yahweh, even though it eventually landed him in the Lion’s den. From the example of Daniel we learn that we must pick our battles. We should give our allegiance to our government unless it asks us to violate God’s law because our ultimate allegiance is to God and not to man.

Finally, the thing we learn from the story of Jesus and his interaction with Pilate is that we have hope even in situations that seem hopeless. When things are happening in our world that do not align with our convictions it is discouraging but I would offer you this consolation. Nothing could be worse than a government killing the Savior of the World, yet, God used the death of Jesus to conquer death and make resurrection life possible for all who have put their faith in Him. Hear this, the most significant event in the history of humankind came about as a result of the wicked actions of a pagan governor. At his crucifixion, the Jesus movement must

have looked like a failure, but the God who causes all things to work together for the good of those who love him had other plans! God turns death into life. God can use any political figure to bring about his ultimate good. Though in this world there may be trouble, take heart, God has overcome the world.

Noel Piepgrass is pastor at Exeter Valley Church which meets at the Veterans Memorial Building. Prays Together is a rotating faith-based commentary and advice column among the pastors, and guest laypeople, of area churches. 

This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Sun-Gazette newspaper.

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