Luke: Before Herod and Pilate

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on October 16, 2011

Luke 23:6-25

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The Lord’s Day Morning

October 16, 2011

“Before Herod and Pilate”

Luke 23:6-25

The Reverend Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III

If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to Luke chapter 23.
We’re going to be looking at verses 6 to 25 together.
I would invite you, as you’re turning there, to look immediately prior to
this section that we’re going to read, and then just a little bit after it.
You’ll notice that the passage is going to begin with the words, “When
Pilate heard this,” which should make you wonder, “What is it that Pilate heard
that led him to do what he does in the rest of that sentence and brief

And if you’ll look back just a couple of verses, you’ll see what it is that he
heard. In verse 5 of Luke 23 you
read that the body of the Sanhedrin who had brought Jesus before Pilate and
asked him to condemn him, after Pilate had said in verse 4, “I find not guilt in
this Man,” they had responded with these words — “He stirs up the people
teaching all over Judea starting from Galilee.”
And when they say that, an idea pops into Pilate’s mind.
Pilate doesn’t want to condemn Him and he hears that He has been teaching
in Galilee and you’re going to see in this passage he’s going to say, “Is this
Man a Galilean? If He’s a Galilean,
that’s part of Herod’s jurisdiction.
Maybe I can send Him to Herod and Herod will get me out of a fix by ruling on
this in a different way and I can settle down these folks that are upset in
front of me.” So that’s the
precursor to the passage that we’re reading today.

Now, after this passage, if you’ll look down to verse 33, the next thing that
happens immediately after the passage we’re going to read is that Simon is going
to carry Jesus’ cross. So beginning
in verse 33, we have Luke’s account of the crucifixion.
Luke has told us what he told us in Luke 23:1-5 so that we will know the
charges that were brought against Jesus, why it was that the religious leaders
of His people wanted Him to be put to death.
They charged Him with fomenting rebellion, they charged Him with
forbidding the people to give taxes to Caesar, and they charged Him with being a
Messianic King who was making a political claim against Rome, all of which were
false, and all of which, in this passage, Pilate will declare to be false.
But Luke wants you to see precisely what were the charges against Jesus.
But in the passage we’re going to read today, he not only wants you to
see that, he wants you to see that the religious and political authorities, that
the Roman authorities and the authorities over Galilee and Judea, those who had
political responsibility for the government of the people, declared that Jesus
was not guilty of these things.

And so as we read this passage today, I’d like you to be on the lookout for two
or three things. I want you to look at
what these passages tell us about the innocence of Jesus, I want you to be on
the lookout of what this passage teaches us of the rejection of Jesus, and I’d
like you to be on the lookout for what this passage teaches us about the
substitution of Jesus. Well let’s
pray before we read God’s Word.

Heavenly Father, this is Your Word and we ask that You would open our eyes to
behold wonderful things in Your Word because this Word especially is preparing
us for an understanding of the cross which is at the very center of salvation.
So give us ears to hear, eyes to see, hearts to understand and to receive
and believe and act upon Your truth.
In Jesus’ name, amen.

This is the Word of God, hear it, beginning in Luke 23:6:

“When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the Man was a Galilean.
And when he learned that He belonged to Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent Him
over to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time. When Herod saw Jesus,
he was very glad for he had long desired to see Him, because he had heard about
Him, and he was hoping to see some sign done by Him.
So he questioned Him at some length, but He made no answer.
The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing Him.
And Herod with his soldiers treated Him with contempt and mocked Him.
Then, arraying Him in splendid clothing, he sent Him back to Pilate.
And Herod and Pilate became friends with each other that very day, for
before this they had been at enmity with each other.

Pilate then called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people, and
said to them, ‘You brought me this Man as one who was misleading the people. And
after examining Him before you, behold, I did not find this Man guilty of any of
your charges against Him. Neither
did Herod, for he sent Him back to us.
Look, nothing deserving death has been done by Him.
I will therefore punish and release Him.’

But they all cried out together, ‘Away with this Man, and release to us
Barabbas’ — a man who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection started in
the city and for murder. Pilate
addressed them once more, desiring to release Jesus, but they kept shouting,
‘Crucify, crucify Him!’ A third time
he said to them, ‘Why, what evil has He done?
I have found in Him no guilt deserving death. I will therefore punish and
release Him.’ But they were urgent,
demanding with loud cries that He should be crucified.
And their voices prevailed.
So Pilate decided that their demand should be granted.
He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and
murder, for whom they asked, but he delivered Jesus over to their will.”

Amen, and thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant Word.
May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.

Luke is going to begin to describe for us the crucifixion of Jesus in just a
matter of a few verses, and when he does, he wants a question to be on our minds
and he’s setting us up for that in this passage that we’re reading right now.
And the question is this — Why is Jesus on the cross?
Why is Jesus being crucified?
Charges have been brought against Him but the charges have proven untrue, so why
does He end up on the cross? How
does He get there? What’s He doing
there? Why is Jesus on the cross?
Why is Jesus being crucified?
It is vital for us to understand that.
It is vital for us to understand that for our salvation.
It’s vital for us to understand that for our assurance of God’s
acceptance of us and Luke wants us to be focused on that question.
He’s preparing us for it.


And the very first thing that he wants to tell us is that Jesus is on the cross,
He’s going to go to the cross, not because He is guilty, for He is in fact not
guilty. The very first thing that
Luke wants us to see in this passage is that Jesus is innocent.
He is pointing us in this passage to the innocence of Jesus.
Now he’s already started doing that, if you look back in verse 4 of
chapter 23, Pilate has already said after his initial examination, both to the
chief priests and to the crowds that had gathered, he’s already said, “I find no
guilt in this Man,” but they did not like that answer.
And so he sends Him to Herod and Jesus won’t answer a word to Herod and
so Herod mistreats Him and then dresses Him up to mock Him, perhaps in clothes
that look like a king would wear, and sends Him back to Pilate again.
And Pilate, for a second time, says to the chief priests and to the
crowds that are there, not only this time does he say, “I find no guilt in this
Man,” he says, “I’ve examined Him according to each of the three charges you
brought against Him and I do not find any truth in any of the charges that you
have brought against Him, and therefore I’m going to punish Him and release

And by the way, isn’t that the most interesting judgment you’ve ever heard from
a judge? He’s completely innocent of
all the charges, therefore I’m going to punish Him and release Him.
Now this is an appeasement you understand. He’s thinking, “Okay, I can
appease the mob by beating Him up a little bit and then I’ll release Him and
that way I’ll keep Him from being killed.”
And the Romans did this.
There is an account of a Roman soldier in Jerusalem burning a scroll.
You know what happens when Korans are burned today?
There are certain people around the world that get very angry about that
and they burn things down and the protest in the streets and they threaten
people. Well, when you burned
scrolls in Jerusalem and you were a Gentile occupant of the land doing it, it
did not make the natives very happy.
And there was a call for reprisal against that Roman soldier that did it.
And Pilate put him to death for burning a scroll, not because Pilate
cared a thing about the Word of God, not because he had any religious scruples
at all, but in order to do what? In
order to keep the peace. “I’ll just
have the soldier put to death and that will keep the peace.”
And that is exactly what’s going on here.
He’s saying, “This Man is entirely innocent of the charges you’ve brought
against Him, He does not deserve to die, so here’s what I propose to do.
I propose to beat Him up a little bit and then release Him.”
And he hoped that that would appease the crowd.

But the crowd responds, “No! That’s
not enough! He has to die!”
And so Luke, notice again, after Pilate has said this, he, a third time
says, look at verse 22, “I have found no guilt in Him deserving death.”
Now Luke has told you this three times and he has shown you both Herod
and Pilate declaring Jesus not guilty so that you will understand when Jesus is
on the cross He is not there because He deserves to be there; He is not there
because He is guilty of some crime; He is not there because He is not innocent.
In fact, He has been declared innocent by the highest political
governmental leaders in His land.
They have declared Him not guilty.
So when you’re asking yourself the question, “Why is Jesus on the cross?” the
answer is not “Because He’s guilty,” for in fact He is not guilty.
He is innocent. And so the
first thing that Luke wants us to understand is the innocence of Jesus.
When He goes to the cross, He goes to the cross not because He is guilty
of a crime.


But the second thing that Luke wants you to see in this passage is the rejection
of Jesus. And in the backdrop of
this rejection we hear the words of Isaiah 53.
The rejection of Jesus by His own people is pointed out in numerous
places in the New Testament. The
first chapter of the gospel of John is one of our favorite chapters in the
Bible. It has those beautiful words,
“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God
and nothing was made apart from Him.”
But the first chapter of John also contains the words, “He came to His
own and His own received Him not.”
The rejection of Jesus the Messiah by His own people is emphasized in various
places in the gospels and in the rest of the New Testament and Luke emphasizes
it here. When Pilate, the pagan
Gentile, declares Jesus to be not guilty, look at verse 10.
While Herod is questioning Jesus and Jesus is not answering, the chief
priests and scribes are by Him, “vehemently accusing Him.”
When Pilate declares Him to be not guilty, verse 18, “They all cry
together, ‘Away with this Man and release to us Barabbas.’”

And so there is a rejection of Jesus and it’s a very ironic rejection, isn’t it?
The man charge that they brought to Pilate — you remember, when they
tried Jesus at night and then at their early morning meeting, the focus was on
His blasphemy, right? They said, “He
claims to be the Messiah; that’s blasphemy, therefore, He deserves to be
punished.” But that’s not what they
emphasize to Pilate. Because Pilate
is a Roman political figure, he could care less about what theJews believed.
All he cares about is things being under control in Palestine.
And so what do they emphasize to Pilate?
They emphasize that He is a rebel against Roman rule, He is treasonous;
He is trying to lead an insurrection and He’s a dangerous man.
But look who they ask to be released.
They want a man who had already been tried and convicted and sentenced to
death for insurrection in Jerusalem and murder!
They want him released but they want Jesus put to death.
This is the rejection of Him by the chief priests and the rulers and the

And then again in verse 20, when Pilate again addresses them saying, “I want to
release Jesus,” they respond, “Crucify, crucify Him!”
And when he speaks a third time in verse 22 saying that he finds Him
innocent, in verse 23 they say they “demand with loud cries that He should be
crucified.” So Luke is showing you
the rejection of Jesus by the people.
And of course my friends this is in fulfillment of the Scriptures.

Turn with me to Isaiah 53. In Isaiah
53 beginning in verse 3, six hundred years before Jesus was tried and crucified,
Isaiah says this about the Suffering Servant — he’s speaking of the Servant
being despised and rejected and forsaken.
Isaiah 53 beginning in verse 3:

“He was despised and forsaken of men; a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with
grief; and like one from whom men hid their face, He was despised, and we did
not esteem Him. Surely our griefs He
Himself bore and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken,
smitten of God, and afflicted. And
He was pierced through for our transgressions; He was crushed for our
iniquities; the chastening of our well being fell upon Him, and by His scourging
we are healed. All of us like sheep
have gone astray; each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has called
the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.

He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; like a
lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its
shearers, so He did not open His mouth.”

Isaiah is emphasizing the rejection of the Suffering Servant by the very people
who needed the forgiveness that He came to provide.
And Luke is telling you that this indeed happened.
And so he points not only to the innocence of Jesus, but he points to the
rejection of Jesus.


And then he points to the substitution of Jesus, and you even see this hinted at
at the end of the passage. In verse
18, the mob, the chief priests and the religious leaders and the crowd that was
with Him, cry out and say, “Away with Jesus!
Release to us Barabbas!” And
so you have the picture of Jesus, who has been falsely accused of insurrection,
being called to crucifixion while Barabbas, who has been rightly accused and
convicted and sentenced for insurrection, being set free.
And in that you have a little picture, you have an analogy, of the
substitution of Jesus Christ. And I
love what J.C. Ryle has to say about this passage.
Listen to his words:

“We observe in this passage the remarkable circumstances connected with the
release of Barabbas. We are told
that Pilate released Barabbas, the man in prison for insurrection and murder,
but he delivered Jesus over to them to do as they wished.
Two people were before him and he released one of the two.
The one was a sinner against God and man, a malefactor stained with many
crimes. The other was the holy,
harmless, and undefiled Son of God in whom there was no fault at all, and yet
Pilate condemned the innocent prisoner and he acquits the guilty.
He orders Barabbas to be set free and he delivers Jesus to be crucified.

There is a deep meaning underneath these circumstances before us and we must not
fail to observe it. The whole
transaction is a lively emblem of that wondrous exchange that takes place
between Christ and the sinner. When
a sinner is justified in the sight of God, Christ has been made sin for us who
knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.
Christ, the innocent, has been reckoned guilty before God that we, the
guilty, might be reckoned innocent and be set free from condemnation. If we are
true Christians, let us daily lean our souls on the comfortable thought that
Christ has really been our substitute and has been punished in our stead.
Let us freely confess that like Barabbas, we deserve death, judgment, and
hell. But let us cling firmly to the
glorious truth that a sinless Savior has suffered in our stead and that
believing in Him the guilty may go free.”

Now this theme of what Jesus is doing in His substitution is one that Luke has
been building up for some time. And
as you know, Luke wrote the book of Acts as the sequel to the gospel of Luke.
And if you’ll turn with me to Acts chapter 2 and Acts chapter 4, you’ll
see two places in which Luke emphasizes what is going on with Jesus as our
substitute on the cross. And
interestingly, in both of these places, Luke draws attention to the fact that
the chief priests and the religious leaders, Herod, Pilate, and the mob, all
were guilty of calling for Jesus’ wrongful death but that ultimately Jesus was
not their victim. He was not on the
cross because they were in charge, He was on the cross because God was in
charge, because of God’s design for our salvation.
And listen to Peter.
Remember, we’re just read in the few verses previous to this, that Peter, in the
courtyard, didn’t even have the courage to admit that he knew Jesus.
Now, after the resurrection, Peter stands up at Pentecost in front of a
crowd of thousands of Jews and he says this in Acts 2:22 — “Men of Israel,
listen to these words: Jesus the
Nazarene, a Man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which
God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know, this Man
delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a
cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.”

Now is that not a remarkable statement?
Luke has just told us in verse 25 of Luke 23 that Pilate delivered Jesus
up into the will of the chief priests and the people, but Luke, in Acts 2:23
says it was God who delivered Him up.
It was by His predetermined plan and foreknowledge that He was delivered
up. But then he still turns and he
says, “And you nailed Him to the cross by the hands of sinful men.
You’re responsible, you’re culpable, you’re guilty, but this was part of
God’s plan.” Part of God’s plan to
do what? To provide a substitute to
die for our sins, a substitute who lived a life that we cannot live and to die a
death that we deserve to die so that we might become the righteousness of God in

Turn forward to Acts chapter 4. The
same thing is happening. The early
church is praying, Peter and John are in prison, and when they are released they
go back to their companions and they report what had happened and when the
Christians hear it they begin to pray in verse 24 of Acts 4 and here’s what they
pray: “O Lord, it is You who made
the heaven and the sea and all that’s in them, and by the Holy Spirit, through
the mouth of our father David, Your servant, You said, ‘Why do the Gentiles rage
and the people devise futile things?
The kings of the earth took their stand and the rulers were gathered together
against the Lord and against His Christ.’”
Look at verse 27 — “For truly in this city there were gathered together
against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You did anoint, both Herod and Pontius
Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your
hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.”

Do you hear what Luke is saying?
Jesus is not on the cross because He’s guilty.
Everybody else is guilty — Herod’s guilty, Pilate’s guilty, the chief
priests are guilty, the people are guilty — everybody else is guilty but Jesus
is not guilty. What is He on the
cross for? Because He fell into the
hands as a victim of His enemies and was handed over to them by Pilate?
No. He was there, listen to
what he says in verse 28, to do “whatever God’s hand and God’s purpose
predestined to occur.” And what was
that? To be a substitute for His
people. He was there to be a
sin-bearer. He was there to bear the
punishment and the guilt that we deserve so that all who look to Him and trust
in Him alone for salvation as He is offered in the Gospel are set free.
We, like Barabbas, deserved the sentence of death, but if we look by
faith to Christ, we are set free in a deeper and more profound way than Barabbas
was set free.

And my friends, this is absolutely vital to the Christian life.
It’s vital to the Christian life because it’s at the heart of the Gospel
to understand that Jesus on the cross is our sinless substitute, but it is also
vital to our assurance. You know, in
this room there are hundreds and hundreds of people who wrestle on a daily basis
with the issue of acceptance, of feeling accepted.
Some of you in this room don’t feel accepted.
Some of you have been accepted but you resent the way you’ve had to go
about being accepted. The issue of
acceptance is a huge issue. One of
the things that the truth of the cross says is — your acceptance has not been
conditioned by God on something in you.
Your acceptance is based on Jesus and that’s why you need never fear not
being accepted by God because your acceptance is based on Jesus, not on
something in you. And that’s vital
for living the Christian life, to understand your acceptance with God on the
basis of what Jesus has done. It
opens a new world in your living of the Christian life and in your relating to
your heavenly Father to know that your acceptance is not conditioned upon you
not messing up the next time you mess up but that a Savior has already died for
every sin that you’ve ever committed, are committing, or ever will commit and
that you have been accepted in the Beloved.
It makes all the difference.
But there are so many of us who struggle to believe that and to really
experience that and Luke wants you to understand that.
When you look at the cross and you ask the question, “Why are You there,
Jesus?” part of the answer is because He’s your substitute so that you might be
accepted by God in Him.

Let’s pray.

Our Lord and our God, the Gospel is the greatest news ever in the history of the
world, and yet because some of us have grown up hearing it all of our lives, we
are insufficiently awed by it and insufficiently grateful for it and
consequently, insufficiently helped and encouraged by it.
Still others of us, perhaps even in this room, have just never had the
message come home to our heart.
Lord, if You come home to us in this hour, in this day, today for the first
time, bring every heart that You’ve already touched into a full, safe, and
confidence in Jesus Christ as He’s offered in the Gospel.
For those of us who’ve already embraced Christ by faith, albeit
imperfectly, grow us in our understanding of Him as our substitute and make our
faith to be strong in Him and change our lives this way, O God.
We pray in Jesus’ name, amen.

Now let’s sing about this. John
Newton loved to dwell on this particular truth and if you’ll take your hymnals
out and turn to number 186, John Newton puts the words in your mouth that you
need to sing back to God in gratitude for this.

We, alas, forget too often what a friend we have above.
Here’s what He says to us.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

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