The Truth of Jesus Transforms Sinners Into Sons – John 18:28-40

The Truth of Jesus Transforms Sinners Into Sons

Nick Esch, 9/23/2018 Cornerstone Baptist Church

Context

Remember the context of our passage; our passage takes place during the weeklong Jewish celebration of Passover, where the Jews remembered and thanked God for how He passed over them in the 10thplague, and delivered them from slavery. They celebrated by gathering together in Jerusalem and feasting all week… Jesus just took His disciples to the upper room, where they ate a Passover meal together—the last Supper. Afterward He taught them and prepared them for what was coming. And now what He was seeking to prepare them for is here.

Judas has betrayed Him, and now He’s been arrested, and has already went through one trial before the High Priest. And now he’s heading to Pilate… Pilate didn’t like the Jews, and the Jews didn’t like him… In fact they had bumped heads so many times that the Roman rulers over Pilate were fed up with him and his leadership, and he knows it… He knows that if the Jews do something to draw attention, like a protest, or an uprising, especially if he does something to cause it, he’s done for… And so, the Jews looking for a Roman official to do their bidding take Jesus to Pilate…

John 18:28–40

In verse 28 we’re told, “Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters. It was early morning. They themselves did not enter the governor’s headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover.” You see, the Jews know if they want anything official to happen to Jesus they have to deliver Him up to Rome. And officially, what they want to happen, as we’ll see, is for Rome to crucify Him. They’ve already led Him through an unjust trial before the High Priest, and now they’re taking Him to Pilate for a speedy execution… They’re not really following God’s Law or Roman Law in the way they’re doing things; but they aren’t concern with that; their only concern is to get rid of Jesus…

Now, here we see a sad case of irony… In the midst of the Jews seeking to execute the Son of God, they are worried about defiling themselves by entering into Pilate’s headquarters… They’re so careful to avoid becoming ceremonially unclean because they want to eat the Passover, yet at the same time they are committing injustice and seeking to put Jesus—the true Passover—to death… There was a Jewish law about not going into certain places with Gentiles and the like, and if you did you were defiled for a time and could not partake in certain feasts and other things… But the very One who takes away all our defilements, the One who makes the unclean clean, the One who takes away our sin, the true Passover Lamb that saves us from death in a much greater way than what happened in the Exodus and the first Passover, is standing before them, yet they miss it… They miss Jesus, and in missing Him they miss everything…

Friends, religion, or Christianity that focuses merely on outward form and ceremony is worthless… You see, these Jews sought to give service to God, but their heart was far from Him, and that is worthless… That’s why they missed Jesus altogether; and if we miss Jesus, everything we do is ultimately worthless… They were so caught up in ritual and outward appearance that they missed Jesus… God does not desire mere outward performance; we are called, first and foremost, to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength… If we don’t love and trust Jesus, we’re wasting our lives… Even if we go to church and do good works, without Jesus it’s all a waste of time… James said that faith without works is dead; well likewise, works without faith is dead… At the heart of what faith is is loving and trusting Jesus; but these men were seeking to put Him to death… They thought they could make or keep themselves clean without Jesus; in fact they were trying to get rid of Jesus altogether… But, seemingly holy external behavior, without a heart that is gripped by grace and in love with Jesus is hypocrisy—it’s worthless…

Friends, may we beware of falling into this same way of life… So many live and think exactly like this… They think they have no need for Jesus; that if they just do the right things it will be good enough… But that simply isn’t the case. Our God is a loving God; and as such He doesn’t desire that we merely do what He says, but that we love Him and delight in Him… God wants our glad-hearted obedience that is fueled by love… Have you ever considered that? Have you ever honestly asked yourself if you love Jesus? Friends, we can’t rightly live for God unless we love Jesus…

In and of ourselves we can’t live for God at all… Regardless of what the world may think, we can’t be good enough, in and of ourselves, to please God… We all sin and fall short of being good enough… So, we need a Savior… We need Jesus… And though I think most in the church would agree with that, I wonder how often we live just as the Jewish leaders do here… How often do we seek to go about our lives without Jesus? We don’t study God’s Word and pray desperately like we should… Instead we live as if we are self-sufficient… How often do we think and live as though we could earn God’s favor? On our good days we think to ourselves, “God must be so proud of me… I’m an awesome Christian…” And on our bad days we think, “God could never love me… Or, if He loves me, He definitely doesn’t like me…” But friends, this is not how Christianity works… As Jerry Bridges once pointed out, “Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace. And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God’s grace…” And God’s grace comes to us in a person: in the person and work of Jesus Christ… And He’s the One who earns God’s favor for us…

So beware of going about life without Jesus… Seek to know Him and love Him, and let that love drive your life… Whether in the church or out of the church, life lived without Jesus is lived in vain… You can fill your life with religious activity; you can go to church every time the doors are open; you can even read your Bible and pray every day; you can live a morally upright life; but, if you don’t really love and trust Jesus, though it may seem as though you seek to honor God with your life, your heart is far from Him… And that’s exactly how these Jews were; they were focused on the external to the neglect of the internal…

From here we see Pilate meet them outside, since they couldn’t go in, and he asks them what the accusations against Jesus are… Now Pilate had to of had some knowledge of the charges against Jesus because some of his soldiers helped arrest Him; so it seems as though he’s giving the Jews a hard time for what they’re trying to do to Jesus… They respond in frustration saying that Jesus is guilty of doing evil… So Pilate tells them to take Jesus and judge Him according to Jewish Law… And then they make their plan clear… They tell Pilate that it isn’t lawful for them to put anyone to death… The Jews could do many things in their own courts, but according to Roman law they could not put anyone to death… Now that isn’t to say that they always followed Rome’s laws; after all, in Acts they stone Stephen to death… But the Jews had a plan; that’s why they bring Jesus to Pilate to have Him executed… And their plan, along with God’s plan is what we get a glimpse of next…

In verse 32 we’re told that, “This was to fulfill the word that Jesus had spoken to show by what kind of death he was going to die.” Throughout the Gospel of John Jesus has been saying that He would be lifted up and be killed; as in, lifted up on a cross… And it was really only the Romans that executed people by crucifixion… So Jesus’ words are being fulfilled here; but that’s not all… Throughout the Old Testament similar things were laid out. In Deuteronomy 21 God’s Word says that everyone who hangs on a tree is cursed; as in cursed by God… And that’s why the Jewish High Priest wants Rome to execute Jesus; he was hoping that the Jewish people would see that Jesus was cursed by God, and therefore should not be trusted… But God was doing something far better than the Jews here… Peter and Paul point out that Jesus Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree; Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” (1 Peter 2:24, Galatians 3:13)…

This is truly remarkable when you think about it… Around 1,400 years before the cross, God’s Word laid out how Jesus was going to die… There are prophecies throughout God’s Word about the death of Christ, and Jesus Himself foretold what kind of death He was going to die; that He would be lifted up upon an old rugged cross; that He would hang on a Roman tree and take the curse due sinners like you and me upon Himself… And instead of that pushing people away from Jesus like the High Priest hoped, it’s actually what draws us in… It’s on the cross that we see amazing grace… We don’t look at Jesus on the cross and think, “Why would I follow someone like that…” No! We look at Jesus, and by God’s grace our hearts cry out, “How can I not follow Someone like that? Someone who loves me that much!!! That He gave Himself for me!!!”

You see, the idea behind being cursed is kind of the opposite of being blessed. For instance, in Aaron’s Blessing in Numbers 6:24-26, that I usual recite as our benediction each week, it says, “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace…” Well, in contrast, to be cursed is to not be blessed and kept by God, but to be forsaken by God… Instead of God’s grace and face shining upon you, His wrath is poured out upon you… And in the place of peace and God’s countenance, is judgment, torment, and darkness… And this is the curse that is due every sinner, that’s due us… And this is the curse that Jesus took upon Himself on the cross… And God made sure that everything that needed to happen for Jesus to be crucified on a Roman cross happened, that His Word would be fulfilled, and His people would be saved… How remarkable is that?…

What we see here is not only that God is amazingly gracious, but also that God is sovereign over everything… He’s sovereign over these Jewish leaders who want Jesus dead; and He’s sovereign over Pilate and the whole of Rome; and He’s sovereign over everything else… That doesn’t take away from the wretchedness of the sin happening here… It just means that God is sovereign even over the worst of sinners committing the worst of sins… After all, this was God’s plan prophesied in God’s Word, for God’s Son to save God’s people… The Son of God dies to save sinners at the hands of sinners—the very worst of sinners… I mean, it doesn’t get much worst than murdering the Son of God… But, what man meant for evil God meant for good—the greatest good: the salvation of people from every nation and generation… So, even though God cannot and will not sin, here He ordains and allows sin in order to accomplish His will for His people…

If this bothers you, understand that it bothers God a lot more… What I mean is, no one’s heart broke more over the death of Jesus than God’s; yet at the same time in Isaiah 53:10 we’re told that it was indeed the will of the LORD to crush Him… So, this isn’t a cause for confusion or anger, but for great joy… God allows what He hates to accomplish what He loves… No doubt, God hates to see Jesus suffer, but He loves to save sinners… He ordains what He hates to accomplish what He loves… This applies here, and it likewise applies to our lives… God works all things together for good for those who love Him (Romans 8:28)… No matter how hard the situation may seem; no matter how much suffering we may go through; God is actively working His will in and through our lives, for our good and His glory… Sometimes God ordains unbelievable pain in our lives, but He doesn’t inflict pain for no reason… God’s not like a maniac with a knife, He’s like a surgeon with a scalpel… Sometimes He wounds us, but it’s ultimately for our good… Whatever our God ordains is right, no matter how hard it may seem… That’s true of everything in our life, even our death…

But these men who want Jesus dead are far too focused on what they’re doing to see what God is doing here… From here Pilate begins to question Jesus. He wants to know if Jesus is a threat to Rome, so he asks Him if He is the King of the Jews… But Jesus responds by asking him a question. He wants to know if he’s asking for himself, or on behalf of the Jews… You see, it looks like Jesus is on trial before Pilate, but really Pilate and the whole world is on trial before Jesus… But Pilate responds in arrogance and basically says, “I’m not a Jew… Why would I care about such things? It’s your people who brought you here; tell me why… What did you do?” And then Jesus affirms that He is indeed a King, but that His Kingdom is not of this world… In other words, His Kingdom is not a military threat to Rome… But it is very much a Kingdom; in fact, even more so than Rome. Jesus’ Kingdom is forever… Rome, that was once one of the greatest powers in the world is now a bunch of ruins… And that’s how it is with every earthly kingdom… But not so with Jesus; Jesus is a real King, over a real Kingdom, that will last forever… But it’s a heavenly Kingdom, not of this world…

He tells Pilate that, and then in verse 37 Jesus says, “For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” What’s meant by truth here is God’s self disclosure in His Son, who is the truth… In other words, Jesus, who is God the Son, reveals who God is and what He’s like by coming to earth and taking on flesh, being born of the virgin Mary, and living the perfect God-glorifying life that we are called to live, and as we’ll soon see in John, also dying the wrath and curse absorbing death that we deserve to die on our cross, and getting up from the grave on the third day, conquering sin, Satan, and death for all who will turn from their sin and trust in Him… He does all this to bring into His Kingdom all who will bow the knee to Him and recognize Him as King… That’s the truth that He witnesses to… In Mark 1:15 He said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” And this exactly what Pilate should have done… That’s what we all must do… And that’s what all who are of the truth, or on the side of truth will do… We must center our lives, not around the kingdoms of this world, but around Jesus and His eternal Kingdom… We must forsake all and live for Jesus with reckless abandon… As the last line of that famous hymn by Martin Luther says, “Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also. The body they may kill; God’s truth abideth still… His Kingdom is forever…” But that’s not how Pilate responds…

In verse 38 Pilate says to Jesus, “What is truth?” He, like the Jews in our passage, seems to miss who Jesus is completely… Jesus is the life and the truth and the way… The truth is standing in front of Pilate witnessing to him, but he doesn’t see it… He seems to not believe in truth at all, so he definitely doesn’t believe that Jesus is the truth… Yet, in another of case of sad irony, after saying this he goes to the Jews and says, “I find no guilt in him.” The man who doesn’t believe in truth just proclaimed the truth to the Jews… There is no guilt in Jesus… He was born—He took on flesh, and was like us in every way, yet without sin… He is the guiltless One…

In verse 39 Pilate actually tries to get them to let Jesus go. He says, “you have a custom that I should release one man for you at the Passover. So do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?” That last part didn’t help the matter; but, even if he didn’t say that it wouldn’t have made a difference… Their minds were made up… They didn’t care if Pilate found fault in Him or not… They wanted Jesus dead… Pilate thought He was putting Jesus on trial, but the Jews just wanted him to carry out a sentence; they had already decided that Jesus was guilty… But really, Pilate and the Jews are the ones on trial; as I said earlier, Pilate and the whole world is on trial before Jesus…

As Pilate was going back and forth between talking to the Jews and talking to Jesus, it was like he was having to decide what he was going to choose: the world or Jesus… And though he tries to release Jesus, and tries to keep the peace, he still clearly has made his choice… He and the Jews both have their minds made up, and in standing against Jesus here, they are not simply condemning Jesus to die, but themselves… The wages of sin is death… It was not Jesus who was on trial, but them; and they have been found guilty… They will not listen to reason… They will not look at the evidence… Their minds are made up… And in seeking to condemn Jesus they condemn themselves…

Pilate offers to set one man free, and he suggests Jesus; but in their sinful insanity they cry out in verse 40, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” And John tells us that Barabbas was a robber. Actually, the word also means a violent terrorist or insurrectionist; which is ironic, because that’s what they were accusing Jesus of… This passage is just filled with irony… And in God’s sovereignty, there’s one last bit of irony here as well… The name Barabbas means: son of the father… So, think about that: Jesus, who is the true Son of the Father is forsaken by the Jews for Barabbas, who though his name means the son of the father, is really anything but… Jesus is accused of being an insurrectionist—that’s why Pilate asked him if he was a king; he wanted to know if he was a threat to Roman rule, if he was an indeed an insurrectionist—but He’s not guilty… Yet Barabbas is an insurrectionist; he couldn’t get any guiltier; but he’s set free and Jesus is killed…

Do you see what God’s Word is telling us here? Again, Barabbas is a name that means son of the father… And instead of him, the true Son of the Father died, so that robbers and insurrections like Barabbas, so that sinners like you and me could become true sons of the Father… That’s what happens in and through the gospel… Because Jesus lived and died in our place, and rose again in power, by grace through faith in Him we are adopted into the family of God… If we respond to Jesus, not like Pilate or the Jews, but by repenting and believing the gospel we are brought into the Kingdom of God… And to be in the Kingdom of God is to be a child of God… We are made coheirs with Christ, because, as Romans 8:15 tells us, we have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” And what’s amazing is that even Pilate and the Jews can get in on this… In fact Jesus prays that they would… As He’s being nailed to the cross He prays, “Father forgive them… For they know not what they do…” And this is what all we’re seeing as John lays this out for us… This whole chapter is woven together perfectly to show us the sinfulness of the world and the amazing sovereign grace of King Jesus…

Conclusion

You see, God doesn’t want us to be mere slaves; He doesn’t want us to seek to modify our behavior without a heart of love for Jesus… No… God is a loving God who wants us in His family… He wants us to love Him and live for Him as children of God… He isn’t about mere behavior modification, but gospel transformation… And through the gospel, through the person and work of Jesus, sinners like us are transformed into sons of the Father… By nature we are just like the Jews here, we are just like Pilate, and we’re just like Barabbas… But Jesus changes all of that…

In and of ourselves we are guilty, cursed, and wasting our lives…But Jesus, who is the guiltless one, took our guilt upon Himself, and took our curse upon Himself, and went to our cross… Jesus loved us and gave Himself for us; He laid down His life for us so that we would not waste our lives… For all who will turn from their sin and trust in Him, He makes us sons of the Father… All who are of the truth are forgiven, redeemed, saved, and adopted… So, ask yourself, are you on the side of truth? Is your heart gripped by grace and in love with Jesus? Friends, that’s the only way our hearts should be in view of this great, loving, and gracious God… So, let’s pray and ask God to transform our hearts…