Like the rest of the chapters in Matthew’s Passion Week narrative, we could focus in on a variety of aspects of chapter 27. I’m choosing to look at the character Pilate this year. Pilate is a character who is present in all four gospels, and in Matthew he is mentioned 12 times, all in chapter 27. Matthew is the only gospel writer who mentions Pilate’s wife, and the hand-washing scene. All four gospels show that Pilate was convinced of Jesus’ innocence, but he yielded to the Jewish leaders and gave approval for His crucifixion.
As we look at Matthew’s gospel account, we see Pilate as a man caught in the middle. More than that, we see a man who wanted to stay in the middle. The dream and warning that came through his wife pushed him to the edge, resulting in his hand-washing and proclamation of innocence. While the Jews hungered for the blood of Christ, Pilate sought to step back and “stay out of it.” As Christ was sent to the cross, it seems Pilate’s goal was to fade away unnoticed in the incident. The rest of the scenes in this chapter show Pilate completely passive, agreeing to whatever he is asked in short order (vv. 57-66).
History tells us a bit about Pilate, but what I’ve been thinking through all week is the question: “Why does Matthew include this character in his narrative?” Sure, it’s historical; it is part of the actual facts of what took place. But why include the scene of Pilate’s wife? Why include the hand-washing? Why include these snapshots that the other gospels are silent on? Matthew, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (as he writes Scripture), was developing the character of Pilate for a specific purpose.
I did my best this week to get inside the head of Pilate. What I found when I got there (from the text inMatthew 27) was a man who felt he was innocent. He emphasized that his hands were clean, he clearly felt comfortable as the Jews took credit for the blood of Christ (v. 25), and he seemingly did everything he could to stay at arms-length-distance in the event. He was an “innocent bystander” in his own mind.
I know many Pilates. I’m sure you do as well. In some ways perhaps this “Pilate mentality” creeps into all of our lives at one time or another. It’s the mentality that takes the FACT of the death of Jesus on the cross, the blood that He spilled for our sin, and stands back unaffected and unmoved. It’s the mindset that leads us to act like we’re innocent in the matter. It’s the familiarity with the story that leads us to the thought that the death of Christ on the cross doesn’t make that much of a difference for us. This mentality loses verses like2 Corinthians 5:21:
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Pilate looks at that and says “For my sake? Not necessary…I’m innocent. That blood is not on my hands.” The sad fact for Pilate, or anyone who lives there with him, is that if His blood isn’t on you then your sin still is. Jesus died for the guilty. What matters is whether you realize you are or not. The cross of Christ is real, your life and my life begin to change when we recognize the fact that His scars are actually ours.