Luke 23:14-15 “You brought this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death.”
There was a rebellion going on here, but it was not being led by the man on trial. Jesus was the rightful ruler of this people’s souls. He deserved their allegiance as the one who would fight their battles against sin and Satan. His rule could lead them to God and to heaven. His rule would only make these people better subjects to Caesar, better citizens of the nation in which they lived.
If Jesus was “rebelling” against anything, it was against the tyranny of people believing, “I’m basically a good person who can save myself. With a little better education, a little better set of principles to live by, I can do the job.” That guiding principle inspired Jesus’ enemies. They were rebelling against the one who had inspired Isaiah to write, “All our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” They rebelled against the one whose words Moses recorded: “…every inclination of man’s heart is evil from childhood.” Jesus’ accusers were leading a rebellion against the one who leads us to see we are all sinners who desperately need to be saved.
The rebellion continues today. Everyone from TV preachers, to pop psychologists, to New Age Spiritualists, to motivational speakers is preaching, “We are all basically good people. With just a few adjustments you can save yourself. Maybe you can even learn those insights from Jesus.” Sometimes I begin to believe them. Call me what you will, I am not basically a good person. You can call me talented. You can call me friendly. You can call me good looking. I am still a rebel who doesn’t want to believe my sins are so bad they deserve hell. I don’t want to believe I am such a hopeless case that I can do no spiritual good on my own. You’re such a rebel, too. But Jesus? There was no basis for the charge of rebellion against him.
Pontius Pilate could tell that much. He had examined the case against Jesus closely and could see that he had committed no crime. It was easy to conclude, “…he has done nothing to deserve death.”
That is the good news in this story of Jesus’ trial. Tucked away in this terrible injustice committed against our Savior is this comforting truth: there was no basis for the calls for his death. He was perfect within and without. This means that the requirements for our salvation were met on two counts.
First, God’s law demands an active life of love. If you are submitting your resume to apply for a job, the employer is looking for more than a person who refrained from pilfering the company supplies, defying company policies, or sleeping on the job in the past. He is interested in someone who has made a positive contribution. When we are applying for heaven, God is looking for more than a clean record. He wants a record filled with acts of love for our neighbor and for his kingdom.
Since Jesus is our substitute, his perfect life of love fills out our resume this way. His life free from sin, with nothing worthy of death, makes our own record of love perfect and complete. In Romans 5 Paul says, “…through the obedience of the one man (Jesus), the many will be made righteous.” Pilate’s words drive this truth home for us.
Then we are assured that Jesus died the kind of death that we need. Though he did nothing to deserve death, hours later Jesus was breathing his last on the cross. He died not because he deserved death, but because we did. And since Jesus did not need to die for his own sins, his innocent death has the power to wipe the sinful stains from our records and present us to God as his own, holy children.
Criminal charges can leave lingering doubts about the character of the accused. The complete lack of merit in the charges against Jesus was clear even to heathen rulers. Such utter innocence gives us confidence to plead his life and death when we stand in God’s court.