Pontius Pilate Still Washing His Hands

As we draw closer to Easter this year I thought I would take a short break from my journey through Genesis to share a study that I recently did to provide my own pastor with a little research. While he did not use much of it, if any at all, I thoroughly enjoyed the study myself as I got to dig into the WORD again a little deeper. That is one of the great joys of my life. I love to study the Scriptures. And so for my devotional today, I thought that I would just share this study as it deals with some of the events leading up to the Resurrection.

From the time we are little to the time we are grown we are always instructed to wash our hands. As a youngster every time you turn around your mother is telling you to wash your hands before you do this or wash your hands after you do that. You can’t go a day without having to wash your hands. It doesn’t get any easier when you get older either. Everywhere you look, there is a sign somewhere that says, please wash your hands. You visit a hospital and you’re told to wash your hands before visiting a patient, you come home and your wife gently reminds you to wash your hands. It is no wonder that when we get old the skin on our hands is so thin. They say that the older you get the less elastin you have in your skin, but I think we know the real reason.

Recently I visited a local coffee shop and went to use the restroom, as I exited the restroom there was a sign on the wall that read,

Employees must wash hands before leaving…If an employee is not available please wash your own hands!

But seriously there is a lot of good that comes from washing your hands. Cleanliness, is after all, next to godliness right (1 Whatever 3:16). Unlike that verse which isn’t a verse at all, there are some idioms that we use today that do come from the Bible. And since we are on the topic, let’s take a look at one of them.

Have you ever heard the expression, “washing your hands of something or someone?” Well, this idiom actually does come from the Bible. The phrase when used in our vernacular means that we desire to no longer have anything to do with something or someone. For example, if you were to help someone time and time again and they were to keep going back to doing the same thing even after you helped them you might say the 490th time they do it, “I am washing my hands of them!” Now if they do it 489 times you ought to continue helping them because we read in Matthew 18 verses 21-22

[Mat 18:21 NKJV] Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”

[Mat 18:22 NKJV] Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.

If you do the math that is 490 times, after that you are free to wash your hands of them. No your not! That is not what the Bible is saying. But I digress.

Seriously though, when we hear the term washing our hands of something or someone, we don’t have to go too far from the verses I just read to find the etymology of that phrase. So, make a right-hand turn in your Bibles and open up to Matthew chapter 27

Now, to provide you with a backdrop for context, in the chapter leading up to this, Judas had betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver, Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane after struggling in prayer with the LORD to the point that Bible tells us He was literally sweating blood. After, being arrested he was subjected to a miscarriage of justice after being taken to one illegal trial after another. In fact, Jesus faced six trials in less than one full day, three of which were religious, and three that were legal. With this as the backdrop, we come to Matthew chapter 27.

Matthew Chapter 27 verse 1…

[Mat 27:1 NKJV] When morning came, all the chief priests and elders of the people plotted against Jesus to put Him to death.

[Mat 27:2 NKJV] And when they had bound Him, they led Him away and delivered Him to Pontius Pilate the governor.

Skipping down to verse 11, the drama continues as Jesus is led before the governor, Pontious Pilate.

[Mat 27:11 NKJV] Now Jesus stood before the governor. And the governor asked Him, saying, “Are You the King of the Jews?” Jesus said to him, “[It is as] you say.”

[Mat 27:12 NKJV] And while He was being accused by the chief priests and elders, He answered nothing.

[Mat 27:13 NKJV] Then Pilate said to Him, “Do You not hear how many things they testify against You?”

[Mat 27:14 NKJV] But He answered him not one word, so that the governor marveled greatly.

[Mat 27:15 NKJV] Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to releasing to the multitude one prisoner whom they wished.

[Mat 27:16 NKJV] And at that time they had a notorious prisoner called Barabbas.

[Mat 27:17 NKJV] Therefore, when they had gathered together, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release to you? Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?”

[Mat 27:18 NKJV] For he knew that they had handed Him over because of envy.

[Mat 27:19 NKJV] While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent to him, saying, “Have nothing to do with that just Man, for I have suffered many things today in a dream because of Him.”

[Mat 27:20 NKJV] But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitudes that they should ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus.

[Mat 27:21 NKJV] The governor answered and said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” They said, “Barabbas!”

[Mat 27:22 NKJV] Pilate said to them, “What then shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” [They] all said to him, “Let Him be crucified!”

[Mat 27:23 NKJV] Then the governor said, “Why, what evil has He done?” But they cried out all the more, saying, “Let Him be crucified!”

[Mat 27:24 NKJV] When Pilate saw that he could not prevail at all, but rather [that] a tumult was rising, he took water and washed [his] hands before the multitude, saying, “I am innocent of the blood of this just Person. You see [to it].”

[Mat 27:25 NKJV] And all the people answered and said, “His blood [be] on us and on our children.”

[Mat 27:26 NKJV] Then he released Barabbas to them; and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered [Him] to be crucified.

And so this is where we get this idea of washing our hands of something or someone. Pilate made this symbolic gesture that for all intents and purposes cleared him of any wrongdoing, but was Pilate truly innocent of the murder of Jesus Christ? Now, before we begin casting judgment upon the governor, could we be just as guilty of doing the same thing in our own lives?

But before we go there, let’s take a little journey through the Bible and it won’t take long for us to discover that mankind has a propensity to “pass the buck,” if you will, which incidentally is another common idiom we use that finds its origins in the Bible in a roundabout way coming from the French expression bouc Ă©missaire, meaning “scapegoat”, whereby passing the bouc is equivalent to passing the blame or onus. The terms boucĂ©missaire and scapegoat both originate from an Old Testament (Lev. 16:6–10) reference to an animal that was ritually made to carry the burden of sins, after which the “buck” was sent or “passed into the wilderness to expiate them.

Considering that Jesus was the ultimate “scapegoat” that carried the burden of our sins, I think it is quite a fitting for this study.

But well before there ever was a Pontious Pilate, men have washed their hands of sinfulness thinking that their denial of the wrongdoing is sufficient to absolve them of the crime.

How about this one

[Gen 3:12 NKJV] Then the man said, “The woman whom You gave [to be] with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.”

[Gen 3:13 NKJV] And the LORD God said to the woman, “What [is] this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

Adam and Eve both washed their hands of the situation by placing the blame of sin upon the Serpent. The reality is that while Satan indeed tempted them, they were culpable for their own actions.

Turning to the right in our Bibles to Genesis chapter 4 we read beginning in verse 8

[Gen 4:8 NKJV] Now Cain talked with Abel his brother; and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him.

[Gen 4:9 NKJV] Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where [is] Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know. [Am] I my brother’s keeper?”

Cain washed his hands of his brother Able but was none-the-less, guilty of murder, the first in the history of humankind.

In the next book of the Bible, we read…

[Exo 32:22 NKJV] So Aaron said, “Do not let the anger of my lord become hot. You know the people, that they [are set] on evil.

[Exo 32:23 NKJV] “For they said to me, ‘Make us gods that shall go before us; [as for] this Moses, the man who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’

[Exo 32:24 NKJV] “And I said to them, ‘Whoever has any gold, let them break [it] off.’ So they gave [it] to me, and I cast it into the fire, and this calf came out.”

Suuuuurrrreee it did Aaron.

Aaron was trying to wash his hands of the deeds of the people, but that did not make him any less guilty of his duties while Moses was away.

If you do a study on the life of David you’ll soon discover another instance where King Saul washed his hands of his responsibility.

[1Sa 15:14 NKJV] But Samuel said, “What then [is] this bleating of the sheep in my ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?”

[1Sa 15:15 NKJV] And Saul said, “They have brought them from the Amalekites; for the people spared the best of the sheep and the oxen, to sacrifice to the LORD your God; and the rest we have utterly destroyed.”

Saul was commanded by the LORD to utterly destroy the Amalekites, the men, women, young and old alike, and even their livestock. Saul was derelict of duty and washed his hands putting the blame on the people for not destroying everything and even made the lame excuse of using the best of the sheep and oxen for sacrifice. Nice try Saul. And we know what happened to him. God stripped away his kingdom.

But these examples are not limited to the Old Testament. In fact, we read of an account in the Book of Luke where there is a man injured on the side of the road and in Luke chapter 10 and verse 31 we read…

[Luk 10:31 NKJV] “Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.

This was a holy man! He washed his hands of someone when it was in his power to do otherwise.

There are countless other examples we could give, but time does not permit. I hope you see the point though. Humans have this proclivity to wash their hands of things when it is expedient for them to do so. But we are exhorted in Proverbs 3:27

[Pro 3:27 NKJV] Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, When it is in the power of your hand to do [so].

Certainly, it was in Pilates power to not withhold good from Jesus, and if it was due to anyone, Jesus definitely fit the bill.

But wait, Pilate was a Roman, a pagan, certainly, he is not held to the same standard as the believer. While it is true, he was not a believer, he like every other person who has ever lived will stand and give an account for what they did with the knowledge of Christ.

We read in Romans 1:20

[Rom 1:20 NKJV] For since the creation of the world His invisible [attributes] are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, [even] His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse,

So whether or not Pontius Pilate was a believer or not is irrelevant, we are all without excuse when it comes to the knowing the LORD. But to make matters worse for Pilate is that here, standing before him is God incarnate and he allows the God of the universe to be turned over to sinful man for execution. Or did he?

The soteriological argument would be that Pilate was merely a tool used to accomplish what was necessary for salvation to occur. That is, Jesus must necessarily die in order that we might have eternal life. And so from this perspective, Pilate was merely a pawn in the grand scheme of things. But does that logic not also give an excuse for Judas, mankind, the devil himself for that matter? Not at all. We are all accountable for our sins. But praise is to God that Jesus took our sins upon the cross making propitiation for us before a holy and just God who requires perfection. It is what we do with this truth that determines our eternal destiny. Pilate was just another in the human race that had a choice to make. Still, some might argue that Pilate did everything in his power, after recognizing that Jesus was not at fault for any crime. It is true that he argued a case for Christ, but it was certainly not as noble of an effort as Lee Stroble (who wrote the best seller A CASE FOR CHRIST) by any stretch.

Stil, we find in Luke’s account that Pilate decides that a scourging would be sufficient to satiate Jesus’ detractors

[Luk 23:13 NKJV] Then Pilate, when he had called together the chief priests, the rulers, and the people,
[Luk 23:14 NKJV] said to them, “You have brought this Man to me, as one who misleads the people. And indeed, having examined [Him] in your presence, I have found no fault in this Man concerning those things of which you accuse Him;
[Luk 23:15 NKJV] “no, neither did Herod, for I sent you back to him; and indeed nothing deserving of death has been done by Him.
[Luk 23:16 NKJV] “I will therefore chastise Him and release [Him]”
[Luk 23:17 NKJV] (for it was necessary for him to release one to them at the feast).
[Luk 23:18 NKJV] And they all cried out at once, saying, “Away with this [Man], and release to us Barabbas”–

Yet, the mobs cried out all the more for Jesus to be crucified. Still, Pilate protests and determines that Jesus was not deserving of the death penalty. Luke continues in verse 22…

[Luk 23:22 NKJV] Then he said to them the third time, “Why, what evil has He done? I have found no reason for death in Him. I will therefore chastise Him and let [Him] go.”

We read in the other synoptic Gospels, namely Matthew, an interesting note that would do all men well to consider. We read in Matthew 27:19

[Mat 27:19 NKJV] While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent to him, saying, “Have nothing to do with that just Man, for I have suffered many things today in a dream because of Him.”

Guys, when your wife tells you something it would do you well to pay attention. We may be able to get away with saying, “Well, if Eve had not eaten the forbidden fruit…”, but our wives can always come back with, “And if Pilate would have only listened to his wife…” All joking aside, we do see that this was something that Pilate was forced to wrestle with.

The beauty of the Gospels is that we can view evidence from different angles. Each Gospel offers us clues that help us to see the bigger picture. It would be like witnessing an accident at a four-way stop. At each stop sign, there would be a witness who saw something completely unique from their perspective. Such is the case with John’s Gospel. We read in John 18:38 the discourse between Jesus and Pilate. Pilate is trying to get to the bottom of the issue and comes to Jesus

[Jhn 18:33 NKJV] Then Pilate entered the Praetorium again, called Jesus, and said to Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?”
[Jhn 18:34 NKJV] Jesus answered him, “Are you speaking for yourself about this, or did others tell you this concerning Me?”
[Jhn 18:35 NKJV] Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered You to me. What have You done?”
[Jhn 18:36 NKJV] Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.”
[Jhn 18:37 NKJV] Pilate therefore said to Him, “Are You a king then?” Jesus answered, “You say [rightly] that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”
[Jhn 18:38 NKJV] 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 fault in Him at all.

I find this interesting because here we have an authority speaking to the Authority about truth when the Truth was standing right in front of him. And while Pilate may not have known who it was who was really standing before him, we do know this about authorities; they are supposed to govern in such a way that they protect the innocent and prevent miscarriages of justice. It would seem that Pilate was faithful to this cause by not making a rash decision without first getting all of the facts. But things are not always as they seem. The truth is Pilate found himself in a very precarious situation. If he were to simply scourge Jesus and let Him go, the religious leaders would accuse him of treason against the Emperor, for they claimed that Jesus and His followers threatened to usurp the authority of Rome by hostile aggression. If he turned Jesus over to be crucified, he would quell the riotous religious leaders but would face resistance from the opposing faction and his own conscience.

Sadly, Pilate ignored his conscience, disregarded the counsel of his wife, chose political expediency over justice, was derelict in his duty and followed the crowd instead of the Creator. Even if you are not a believer, this is the kind of literature that inspired the great Shakespearian Tragedies. And so was Pilate guilty of sin. Absolutely. Even Jesus convicts him of sin where we read Johns account in chapter 19:10-11

[Jhn 19:10 NKJV] Then Pilate said to Him, “Are You not speaking to me? Do You not know that I have power to crucify You, and power to release You?”

[Jhn 19:11 NKJV] Jesus answered, “You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above. Therefore the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.”

This would imply that while the religious leaders bore the greater sin, Pilate still sinned.

And so it would be easy for us to point our fingers at Pilate and wash our own hands of his actions, but the reality is that we all tend to wash our hands of the blood of Christ. In fact, whenever I sin, I am reminded of that piercing sound of hammer and nail as I drive the spikes into my own Saviors wrists and feet.

So, how do we wash our hands of the blood of Christ?

For some, it is not acting when it is in your power to act. Instead of being the good Samaritan, you cross to the other side of the road like the priest did.

For some it is not speaking up when doing so might bring justice to a situation.

It was Dietrich Bonhoeffer who said, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

If there are any fans of the band RUSH here, you will appreciate this one. “If you choose not to decide you still have made a choice” –Free Will (Getty Lee).  Indecision in paramount situations can be equivalent to washing your hands of a matter.

What about using your voice when it comes to voting. We live in the greatest country in the world where we have the privilege and duty of voting based on our highly held moral beliefs. When we wash our hands of voting we are essentially saying “I absolve myself of what happens next.” The stark reality is that when we do not exercise this privilege, we turn over our moral authority to those who would see it altogether snuffed out.

We can wash our hands of Jesus by failing to acknowledge Him before others. We may confess that Jesus is LORD in our hearts, but we can still deny Him and reject Him before others. If it can happen to Peter, who walked with Jesus isn’t it possible that it could happen to us as well? We live in a culture that is, quite frankly, hostile to religion, but even more so to Christianity. Some view Christians as inept followers of fairy tales, or worse; bigoted, stupid, and harmful. This can lead to us being fearful of speaking about Jesus in public forums. To that, I would remind you of what Jesus said in Matthew 10:32-33

[Mat 10:32 NKJV] “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven.

[Mat 10:33 NKJV] “But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.

We can wash our hands of Jesus by living in hypocrisy. In Titus chapter 1, we read:

[Tit 1:16 NKJV] They profess to know God, but in works they deny [Him], being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good works.

When we profess to be believers, there is an expected change that comes as we are indwelled by the Holy Spirit, but if our lives look as if nothing has changed then there is an obvious disconnect. We deny Christ with our lustful desires, our pride, and our disobedience.

We can wash our hands of Jesus by being unloving towards others. We read in John 15:17, Jesus speaking, says:

[Jhn 15:17 NKJV] “These things I command you, that you love one another.

When we fail to show the love of Christ in others we are essentially casting aside the One who is love.

We can wash our hands of Jesus by not fulfilling the calling that He has placed on our lives. We read in the preceding verse, John 15:16

[Jhn 15:16 NKJV] “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and [that] your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you.

By denying our responsibility to go and bear fruit that is lasting we are washing our hands and absolving ourselves of duty, just like Pilate did.

We can wash our hands of Jesus when we engage in activities that we know are not in alignment with our faith. We find in 1 Corinthians 15:33…

[1Co 15:33 NKJV] Do not be deceived: “Evil company corrupts good habits.”

When we get around people who do not share our biblical convictions and engage in worldly pursuits we can get so caught up in the web that we find ourselves in a backslidden state, pitcher in hand, eager even to wash Christ’s blood from our hands.

In short, we are not too far away from doing the very same things that earned Pontius Pilate his most notable role on the stage of history. Our lives are a representation of Christ in us. When we fail to live according to Scriptures we are in danger of washing our hands of Christ. The world is looking at us, scrutinizing our every move, and ready at a moments notice to point their fingers and say, “Aha, I thought you were a Christian.” It would do us well not wash our hands of Christ publically or in private for that matter.

Will we blow it, will we sin, will we fall short of the glory of God? Most likely. But do we honor Jesus for expediency or do we honor Him with our lives because we love him? That is the difference between the believer and Pilate. And while Pilate had the authority of a Roman Governor, we have the Authority of Christ Himself. What we do before men will have lasting ramifications. To illustrate this point and in closing, I want to share the intro to one of my favorite Christian songs from the band D.C. Talk. At the beginning of the song What If I Stumble, the voice-over says,

The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today
Is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips
Then walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle.
That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.

As an American culture, we wash our hands frequently for hygienic purposes. So as often as you wash your own hands take a moment to ask yourself, “Is how I am living today washing my hands of the blood of Christ?” Hopefully, the answer is no. Hopefully, the clear water that flows from the tap will serve to remind you of how pure the washing of the water of the WORD is in your life.

Prayer: LORD forgive me when I wash my hands of You. I do this when I sin, and every time I get convicted. Forgive me for my stubbornness LORD. I thank You for all that You have done for me. And as we draw nearer to the day we celebrate Your victory over death, I pray that You would bring to mind the great price that You paid for me and how You alone covered my sin and gave me a hope for salvation. LORD help me to be a good witness and a living testimony of Your great grace and mercy. I love You LORD and praise Your name. It is in that name that I pray. –Amen

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