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The Jesus Effect, Week 2 — The “Split Decision” Sermon Rewind

Yesterday’s message:

  • Centered around the most famously insignificant governor of all time, Pontius Pilate;
  • Open and closed with anecdotes involving funerals;
  • Took a title from a relatively obscure Steve Winwood song while also referencing Lynrd Skynrd and Pink Floyd;
  • Landed at this bottom line: When it comes to Jesus, indecision is the worst decision of them all.

——————————————————————————-

Some
time ago, I was involved in hosting a really sad funeral here.  The man who had died was only distantly
connected here, he had died suddenly & tragically, and his wife of only a
couple of months was quite literally in shock throughout.  The service itself involved a lot of moving
parts and there were all kinds of competing voices for who gets to do what and
say what as we remembered this man. 
Finally, on the day of the service, we’re starting in an hour or so, this
beleaguered wife told me that one more person had put in more request just that
morning to have a role in the service, and she concluded by saying, “I cannot make another decision on
this.  You decide yes or no on this
one.  I am all out of decisions.”

            You may know what that’s like.  Where there are either no good options or TOO
MANY GOOD ONES and the responsibility of making a decision is so very
heavy.  Especially if you’ve already made
a bunch of weighty decision, and each decision you made ensured that certain
people were unhappy.  I know there have
been many times here when, while meeting with leadership over some vexing
problem or dilemma, my insides were crying out, “Can I step out of the room, get a drink of water, and come back in and
you all have decided?  I’m just out of
decisions and I’d like for you all to give a guy a break!” 

            You’ve had that.  Some of you, when younger, it was Do I take HIM or HIM?  Or is it HER or HER?  Goodness, I bet for some of you THAT kind
of decision was last week.  Or last
night!  And then there’s THIS SCHOOL or
THAT SCHOOL.  This coach or that
coach.  This house, that house.  Southwest Charlotte or Fort Mill or Lake
Wylie?  And don’t forget Belmont!  Even IS IT GONNA BE GOOD SHEPHERD OR ELE ….
Well, NOT Good Shepherd?  So what do you
do when you don’t know what to do, when you can’t make up your mind, when
you’re out of decisions?

            And so in this series we’re looking
at the effect that Jesus had on the people he encountered in Scripture.  Particularly those he ran into in the last
days of his life.  What did they do?  How did they respond?  What was the Jesus Effect on these random
people who didn’t ask for but nevertheless received supporting parts in the
defining drama of human history?  Among
the most interesting of all these is Pontius Pilate who is the most famous
insignificant governor in the history of the human race.  The best known no name ever.  Why? 
One line in the Creed – suffered
under Pontius Pilate.
  So Jesus
suffered “under” PP, but what did PP himself do as a result of Jesus?

            Here’s the scenario.  The religious leaders have already found
guilty of blasphemy – claiming to be God – and it is a capital offense  The problem is that the religious leaders in
the Roman Empire don’t have legal authority to pass a death sentence.  So they gots to get the government
involved.  That’s where Pilate comes
in.  He’s not Jewish, but Roman, not a
religious leader but a civil one.  Pilate, will you do our dirty work for
us?  Will you DECIDE?
  And in Matthew’s hands what follows is full
of twists, turns, eye rolls, and the kind of insights that make you see
Pilate’s not the last one to have his particular kind of Jesus effect.

            Look at 27:11:

11
Meanwhile Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you
the king of the Jews?”

“You
have said so,” Jesus replied.

 What’s behind the “meanwhile”?  What has come just before?  Poor Judas and his betrayal and suicide.  So betrayal hovers all around this
story.  But Pilate cuts to the
chase:  ARE YOU KING OF THE JEWS?  It’s interesting the Jesus doesn’t exactly
dignify the question with an answer, which as you’ll see in a moment is
something PP is going to need to get used to. 
Look next at 26:12-14:

12
When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer. 13
Then Pilate asked him, “Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against
you?” 14 But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge—to the great
amazement of the governor.

Huh!  No answer again! 

            Then it gets even more intriguing in
26:15-18:

15
Now it was the governor’s custom at the festival to release a prisoner chosen
by the crowd. 16 At that time they had a well-known prisoner whose name was
Jesus[a] Barabbas. 17 So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which
one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called
the Messiah?” 18 For he knew it was out of self-interest that they had handed
Jesus over to him.

Which
Jesus (which was a relatively common first name)?  Jesus Son Of Abbas or Jesus Son Of God?  Jesus Criminal or Jesus Christ?  And notice that these are more questions that
hang in the air, sort of unanswered.  You
think he’d get the message!  And verse 18
– talk about irony.  He knew that had
handed Jesus TO HIM out of self interest … as you’ll see, he is fixin’ to
return the favor.

            Then another twist, and Matthew is
the only biographer who includes this nugget in 25:19: 19 While Pilate was sitting on
the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: “Don’t have anything to do
with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream
because of him.”

So:
is he gonna listen to her or to the quickly animating crowd?  Guys, that’s a decision that really should be
no decision.  But maybe we just have the
benefit of a couple of thousand years of hindsight!

            And then look at 27:20-23:

20
But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and
to have Jesus executed.

21
“Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” asked the governor.

“Barabbas,”
they answered.

22
“What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Pilate asked.

They
all answered, “Crucify him!”

23
“Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate.

But
they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”

Finally
they answer at least one question! 
Barabbas!  And a second one:
Crucify him!  But the third one they
DON’T answer.  What did he do?  WE DON’T
CARE!  CRUCIFY HIM!! And you KNOW, don’t
you, that these are some of the same people who had five days earlier cried out
“Hosannah!” when Jesus entered the city. Some people. 

            So with the crowd ratcheting up its
intensity on the one hand and his wife whispering in his ear on the other, what
Pilate does next is just classic.  Look
at 27:24a:

24
When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was
starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd.

Ah!  Performance art!  Look at me! The victim here!  I am washing my hands of this, of him, of
you, and maybe, just maybe, of my wife. 
Then his words in 27:24b: “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he
said. “It is your responsibility!” 
 I AM INNOCENT (No you’re not!)  IT IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY (No it’s not!)  Lie, lie, lie.  Hey PP, your irresponsibility just became
someone else’s responsibility!  Which
they did in 27:25-26:  25
All the people answered, “His blood is on us and on our children!” 26 Then he
released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be
crucified.

YOU
CAN’T DECIDE, PP?  WE’LL DECIDE FOR
YOU!  WE’LL KILL HIM DEAD. 

            And you get to the end of the scene
and you realize with a thud that the effect of Jesus on Pontius Pilate was to
dither.  To waffle.  To evade. 
To hesitate. To flip flop, in the finest “I voted for the war before I
voted against it” kind of moment.  And
history has long tried to decide whether or not Pilate is a villain.  And honestly I say he’s not.  He’s not a villain.  He’s something worse.  He’s a shame. 
Because here’s the deal:  When
it comes to Jesus, indecision is the worst decision of them all.
 

            What I’m thinking of is a bit like
the actor Hugh Jackman (AV).  Now Julie
says he is, like, REALLY handsome, but I don’t see what all the fuss is
about.  Anyway, after being raised in a church
setting he has forged his own spiritual path which he summarized this way:  “Its
basic philosophy is that Buddha and Krishna and Jesus were at a dinner table
together they wouldn’t be arguing.  There
is an essential truth.  And we are all
limitless.” 
(AV)  Hey, I don’t think they’d
be arguing, either.  But only one would
be reigning and two would be worshipping. He’s not a member of committee
sharing leadership.  He is Lord of all.  When it comes to Jesus, indecision is the
worst decision of them all.
 

            Or it’s like this photo of a street
with a stripe in the middle separating the two directions:  AV. 
You know what happens if you stand in the middle, straddling that line,
don’t you?  You get hit by traffic from
both sides!  When it comes to Jesus,
indecision is the worst decision of them all.
 

            Or it’s like a tie in sports. What
do they call it?  Like kissing your
_____________.  Right!  Satisfying to exactly no one.  This is why most sports that USED to have
ties have gone to elaborate overtime schemes to make sure there is a decision,
one way or another.  When it comes to Jesus,
indecision is the worst decision of them all. 

            I’m telling you all this because I
know that a lot of you here like Jesus, usually like him better than
church.  But despite the fact that you
like him, you’re not all there.  You
haven’t decided.  Jesus is something you
do when you come here on occasion.  He’s
not someone you are when you wake up every morning.  You’re still deciding.  Or delaying. 
Some of you just want to have a few more months or a few more years of good
times, not realizing that what you’re getting is hollowing you out from the
inside.  You’re chasing the counterfeit
and acting like it’s real.  Every wild
oat you sow, young people, will one day grow into thorns.  REFRAIN

            And then some of you, a lot of you,
are like that old song when it comes to Jesus: comfortably numb.  Blasé. 
It’s really been like an inoculation. 
You know what they do in an inoculation, don’t you?  They give you just a little bit of the
disease that guarantees you never get the real thing.  For a lot of you, a weekly (or monthly or
quarterly or annual!) trip to church has been that inoculation … you got just
enough of him to guarantee that you don’t get the real thing.  Bleh. 
Because so many people have found it easier to disengage than to dig
in.  To trust what you’ve heard about
Jesus or think of Jesus rather that exploring and inviting him. The scary thing
is that I believe he would prefer our contempt to our complacency  REFRAIN.

            And the scarier thing is that if you
don’t decide about Jesus, someone else will decide for you. That’s what
happened with Pilate!  He couldn’t decide
what to do with Jesus and so the crowd did it for him! For you, it could be
that philosophy professor at college – who never had to make a payroll or turn
a profit and has had three wives but has convinced you he is way smarter than
Jesus or Paul or the rest.  It could be
that actor or actress you see on TV and for some reason you think their uncanny
ability to play someone else on film makes them an expert on matters of
religion.  Or even that parent who you so
deeply respect – or truly fear? – and they’ve made their way in life without
Jesus OR religion, thank you very much.  And
others have left you thinking he is either irrelevant or a relic in a museum or
hosting an imaginary dinner party of religious equals.  And none of that is true because all of the
others stayed dead.  Jesus didn’t.  REF and I don’t want your Jesus irresponsibility
to become someone else’s responsibility.

            And then, and then, a lot of you
HAVE decided.  And you’re just realizing
today that the Jesus decision – where you say, “Yes, you can have my life, not as accessory or add on but as the whole
outfit, the center of it all!”
– is a decision that in so many ways asks
for a daily re-up.  A daily
re-commitment.  A daily reinforcement of
a long ago decision.  Are you going to dig into Scripture?  Are you going to pray?  Are you going to share your faith?  Are you going to respond to that call you’re
sensing to ministry?  To the mission
field?  Are you going to give? To resist
temptation?  To go to a meeting? 
Gulp. 
Listen:  it’s never not worth
it.  I didn’t say easy.  Just worth it. REF.

            Because your decision … is already
swallowed up by the fact that he decided FOR YOU a long time ago.  He endured the cross.  He vanquished the grave.  That was his decision for you and about
you.  What did Pilate ask him?  Are you the King?  Yes … and there is no other.

            It’s all like what happened – at a
funeral, incidentally – with a preacher and his wife: 

I
went to a funeral where the preacher pounded on the pulpit and looked over at
the casket.  He would say, “It’s too late
for Joe.  He might have wanted to get his
life together.  He might have wanted to
spend more time with his family.  It’s
too late for him, but it’s not too late for you.  You still can decide.  You are still alive.  It’s not too late.  Today is a day of decision.”

        Then the preacher told how a Greyhound
bus had run into a funeral procession once on the way to the cemetery, and that
could happen today.  He said, “You should
decide today.  Today is the day to get
your life together.  It’s too late for
Joe, but it’s not too late for you.” 

        I was so angry at that preacher.  One the way home, I told my wife, “Have you
ever seen anything as manipulative and as insensitive to that poor family?  I found it disgusting.”  She said, “I’ve never heard anything like it.  It was manipulative.  It was disgusting.  I was insensitive.  Worst of all … it was also true.”

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