Do You Know Who I Am?
Have you ever read a passage of scripture and had it come so alive to you that it felt like you were watching the scene unfold on a movie screen? John chapters 18 and 19, where Jesus interacts with Pilate, has grabbed a hold of my heart this Lenten season. I’ve read these verses many times over the years, but this reading felt different - this time I got caught up in the tension of the dialogue and the drama of the scene, and I felt, as I lingered in the story, that God had something to say to me in these verses. My heart felt all stirred up while I read and reread their conversations. What do you want me to see, Lord? What am I missing? The message didn’t come all at once. Clarity and understanding slowly unfolded while I was driving in the car and cooking dinner and folding laundry. The Lord showed me something new, and as you spend time in these passages leading up to Easter, perhaps these thoughts will stir your heart as well.
Stop right here and read John 18:33-19:16.
Can’t you just see Pilate sitting behind a desk, piled high with paperwork (or scrolls) and busily attending to this new and urgent matter that had developed overnight? I envision him already overwhelmed by the weight of his responsibilities and jaded from the years of hypocrisy and deceit within the government when Jesus is brought before him. Of course, these details are all conjecture, but for some reason I am moved by the humanity of Pilate. He became for me in this reading more than a character in a long-ago story. He was a real man, with a real job and a real family and real pressures.
After looking carefully at their dialogue, here is the gem that the Lord brought to my mind - Pilate and Jesus are asking the same three questions:
Who are you?
Do you understand the situation?
Do you know who I am?
Pilate is focused on the task at hand. He just wants to get the details straight, get the paperwork filed, and move on with his day. He is trying to appease an angry mob, and yet, it seems he still feels some obligation to uphold justice and hand down an accurate verdict. “Are you the King of the Jews?” he questions. He wants a label for Jesus. “Are you a king, or aren’t you?” Jesus seems to side-step the question with His response, but really He is asking Pilate, “Who are you? Are you a person who believes I am the King, or is that just something you’ve heard?” This is reminiscent of the question he asked Peter several chapters back - “Who do you say that I am?”.
With increasing pressure from the Jewish mob, Pilate continues to question Jesus. “Where are you from?” Jesus does not honor this question with a response. So Pilate says to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” In other words, “Don’t you understand what’s happening here?!? Don’t you know that I’m your only hope of salvation?!? You’ve got to give me something to work with!”
At first glance, Jesus’ answers seem strange. I think the disconnect in this conversation lies in perspective. Pilate is focused on the here-and-now, and Jesus, as always, has eternity in mind. It makes me sort of chuckle and cringe that Pilate, in his pride, would try and explain the reality of the situation to the Creator of the universe! At various points in their dialogue, it seems like Pilate is saying “I don’t think you understand your situation. Let me explain it to you.” And Jesus, in His kindness, is saying the same thing. “My kingdom is not of this world. You would have no authority over me if it had not been given to you. I am a King, yes, but I’m not interested in your kingdom. I’m building something bigger. I know who you are, Pilate. Do you know who I AM?”
My heart breaks as I read these verses. I can imagine Pilate and Jesus looking at one another while Pilate considers and decides. I feel the heavy turmoil in the room - the tension between belief and fear. I am moved by my Savior, who even in His last moments on earth is reaching out to this lost soul. “Dear Pilate, don’t you know I’m your only hope of salvation?” And yet Pilate sits on his judgement seat and judges our True Judge falsely. I believe his heart was telling him that Jesus was the Christ, as evidenced by the plaque he had inscribed for the cross, but in the end the voices of the mob prevailed. The accounts in Matthew and Luke let us know that the Jewish leaders were threatening Pilate’s career and family and allegiance to Caesar, and in the end believing Jesus was just too costly.
Who are you, dear friend? What stories are playing out in your life right now? Likely you do not understand every plot twist, but do you have enough faith to believe that there is more to your story than meets the eye? Could today be about more than just today? Could your life be about more than just you? Or do you find yourself, like Pilate, explaining the situation to the Lord and counseling Him about how to make it right?
And do you know Jesus? Who do you say that He is?
Consider carefully. Judge wisely.
For the way that we answer these questions will become the most defining characteristic of our lives.
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