Daybreak. It's one of my favorite times of the day. I love to be lazily sipping my coffee and watching the sun come up. The sunrise is always a reminder to me that God is bigger than I am and that He is much more beautiful and magnificent than I can fathom. There is a stunning stillness in nature right before dawn. The animals are silent and the only sounds come from the whistle of the wind through the trees. It is an almost magical moment in time.
2000 years ago, during this magical hour, Jesus was on trial. Reading John's account this morning in chapter 18 and 19, I am struck by some very critical moments. After Jesus' arrest, he is taken to the Jewish religious leader. Late at night, he is questioned about his ministry and his motives. The priest is trying to kill Jesus, but he needs evidence to prevent outcries from the masses. Reading Jesus' responses this morning intrigued me. I guess the intrigue is that I realized that Jesus was not trying to defend himself, he was trying to get convicted so that he could pay the price for my sin. He is also very careful to speak honestly and candidly. For example in John 18:23, Jesus says, "If I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?" The beatings and torture were designed to destroy his resolve and his morale, but instead Jesus simply questions their motives. Out loud. Religious leaders were not often questioned publicly. Wounded pride leads to burning, indignant anger, and that leads to murder.
At dawn, Jesus stood before the Roman governor Pilate. Pilate was a mediocre official, stationed far from Rome in Jerusalem. His name, but for this event, would be long forgotten. There is irony in this event. As the Jewish leaders are unjustly accusing an innocent man, physically abusing him, they will not go into the Roman palace because it would make them unclean for Passover. They did not realize, could not even comprehend, that their uncleanliness had nothing to do with which building they were standing in. Their uncleanliness had to do with the actions that were coming from dirty hearts.
Pilate brought Jesus alone into the palace to question him. Pilate cannot find grounds to crucify Jesus, but doesn't want to incite a riot. Jesus is very careful with his words with Pilate. It might have been easier for Jesus to convince Pilate to free him, than to convince him to crucify him.
So as the sun was rising, as color splashed the sky, Pilate cannot convince the Jews to set Jesus free. He had Jesus beaten, tortured, and publicly mocked and humiliated, hoping to fulfill the bloodlust of the the crowd, to no avail. He is finally placed in a position of having to kill an innocent man to keep the peace. A greater man would have set Jesus free no matter what the masses wanted, but Pilate was not a great man. He was simply a man trying to govern a people that were not his own, and he turned over a man he fully believed to be innocent to be crucified.
This morning as color gently creeps across the clouds, I am reminded that Jesus once endured an awful dawn. As His father painted a masterpiece across the sky, mankind - his own creation, made the decision to kill him rather than worship him. Jesus endured the agony, the pain, and the humiliation because he loved me too much not to give me eternity.
That's mind boggling. Yes, Jesus came to save the world. But in very practical and personal terms, Jesus came to pay the price for my sin. He met with Pilate at dawn and carefully selected his words so that he would not be freed, because he needed to die that day. He needed to die, so that I could live.
In John's account of the last supper, Jesus says words that have great meaning in light of his upcoming crucifixion. "Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that he would lay down his life for his friends." John 15:12-13
Jesus very literally demonstrated love that morning. He laid down the respect he deserved, his worth of worship, and his mighty power - so that he could lay down his life for his friends. God of the universe, demonstrating love to mankind. Wow.