THE TRAGEDY OF A LACK OF LEADERSHIP
By Mark E. Hardgrove, Ph.D.
Text: John 18:28-19:22, Read John 18:28-33
28 Then they led Jesus from Caiaphas to the Praetorium, and it was early morning. But they themselves did not go into the Praetorium, lest they should be defiled, but that they might eat the Passover. 29 Pilate then went out to them and said, "What accusation do you bring against this Man?"
30 They answered and said to him, "If He were not an evildoer, we would not have delivered Him up to you."
31 Then Pilate said to them, "You take Him and judge Him according to your law."
Therefore the Jews said to him, "It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death," 32 that the saying of Jesus might be fulfilled which He spoke, signifying by what death He would die.
33 Then Pilate entered the Praetorium again, called Jesus, and said to Him, "Are You the King of the Jews?"
This Memorial Day weekend, we have been reminded of the great sacrifice of human life in the cause of political and personal freedom and liberty. In our text we read of the trial and suffering of Jesus at the hands of the Romans and the Jews. Jesus, of course, stands as the superlative example of sacrifice by one who was securing freedom and liberty for others. Ultimately, the freedom and liberty Jesus obtained for us is spiritual freedom from sin and liberty from the demands of the Mosaic Law. Jesus said, “If the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (Jn 8:36). Likewise, the apostle Paul said, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Cor 3:17).
Spiritual freedom and liberty are ours through Christ and through the Holy Spirit and regardless of what happens in the political realm, what laws legislatures pass, or decisions of Supreme Court justices, because of what Christ did at Calvary we are free, free indeed. Even if Christianity were outlawed and we were beaten and thrown into the innermost parts of the prison, even there we would pray, praise the Lord, and sing our songs, because no matter what they take from me, they can’t take away my spiritual liberty. Handcuffs and iron bars cannot imprison the human spirit and even if our physical or political freedom is stripped away, it still remains that if the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.
So in Christ we have a powerful example of what it means to lay down one’s life for another, to give the ultimate sacrifice in service for others. But there is another important player in this drama. If Jesus is the ultimate example of giving one’s self for the benefit of others, Pilate is the ultimate example of one saving himself by sacrificing others.
When considering the great leaders of the United States Military, men like MacArthur, Patten, and Eisenhower, we find men who were willing to get down in the trenches with their troops and were willing to put their own life on the line. In fact, when considering the topic of leadership we often turn to examples of great military leaders and victories won on the field of battle. In Pilate we find another military man, but he stands through time and eternity as antitype of true leadership. So I want us to focus
on Pilate in our text and look at Pilate’s tragic lack of leadership in a time of crisis.
I) PILATE PASSED THE BUCK
You will notice throughout this account that Pilate didn’t want to make a decision. He tried to pass the buck, tried to pass the difficult decision on to someone else, tried to make it someone else’s responsibility. President Harry Truman had a plaque on his desk that said, “The Buck Stops Here.” Great leaders take responsibility for the crises that occur on their watch. But instead, Pilate says in verse 31, “You take Him and judge Him according to your law.” He was the Roman praetorian prefect, this was his decision, but he didn’t want to make it. This was a political hot potato for Pilate. He was afraid of a Jewish uprising because it would mean that Roman authorities would come to investigate and it might even mean that he would be removed from his prestigious job as the prefect of the region of Judea.
Pilate was just wishing this would go away, but there will always be issues in life that we are going to have to deal with and tough decisions that we are going to have to make. When it happens on your watch you can’t blame the person who was before you and you can’t just leave it for the person who is going to follow you. Real leaders, great leaders, step up and say, “This is my responsibility and I’m going to deal with it.” Pilate didn’t want to do it. He kept trying to pass it on to someone else, but you can only pass it on so long until reality comes full circle and the failure of leadership lands in the leader’s lap.
II) PILATE ATTEMPTED TO PLACATE THE PEOPLE
Notice that Pilate interviews Jesus and concludes that Jesus hasn’t done anything worthy of death. In verse 38 he says, “I find no fault in Him at all.” In other words, “Not only do I not find anything worthy of death, I don’t find any fault, nothing worthy even of arrest.” If Pilate had been a leader with courage he would have done the right thing, sent the people home, released Jesus, and provided armed guards for His protection. If the facts lead to one overwhelming conclusion, then a leader has the courage to make the right decision.
But not Pilate. Instead, Pilate tried to placate, or to pacify the people. Pilate said, in verse 39, “You have a custom that I should release someone to you at the Passover. Do you therefore want me to release to you the King of the Jews?” He was asking them to release Jesus. He was trying to make them feel as though they were being benevolent in applying their custom to release someone at Passover.
Three times Pilate comes back to the people and says, “I find no fault in Him,” and yet instead of letting Jesus go, Pilate attempts to pacify the people. He even has Jesus beaten and mocked to try to get the people to relent in their desire to put Jesus to death, but they would have none of it. They wanted Jesus killed and killed in the most painful manner imaginable.
Too often leaders will try to avoid the difficult decisions by trying to placate. They try to appease rather than put their foot down and say, “This is the right thing to do, and I’m going to make the decision and do it.” The people we lead may not always understand it. Remember, the leader sees the big picture. The leader understand the greater implications of the decisions that are being made and simply trying to placate and appease everyone while trying to avoid the decision only results in no decision being made and in the end nobody is happy and nothing is accomplished and problem doesn’t go away.
III) PILATE ENGAGED IN POSTURING
Continuing in chapter 19 we see that Pilate has Jesus tortured, but he says, “I find no fault in Him.” Again, Pilate is trying to placate the people, but for the angry mob, torture isn’t enough. They cry out, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” Then once more Pilate passes the buck and says in verse 6, “You take Him and crucify Him, for I find no fault in Him.” Notice the self-contradiction of Pilate’s words. He says, “You crucify Him, for I find no fault in Him.”
What is Pilate doing here? He’s posturing. He doesn’t want to do anything, but he wants it to look like he has. This is a photo op. This is like when politicians haven’t done anything to solve the problem, but they want pictures taken of them looking like they’re concerned, or that they’re doing something. But posturing is not leading. I can have a picture taken of me sitting at the president’s desk, but that doesn’t make me the president.
So Pilate stands in his military uniform with a beaten and bloodied Jesus and attempts to satisfy the people by looking like he has taken charge and has punished Jesus. But even as he stands there with Jesus bleeding and crowned with thorns, Pilate says again, “I find no fault in Him.” Oh the tragic lack of leadership on display that terrible day.
IV) PILATE’S FALSE PERCEPTION OF POWER
In verse 10 Pilate tries to interview Jesus further, but Jesus doesn’t answer. Pilate said, “Are you not speaking to me? Do You not know that I have power to crucify you, and power to release You?” Real leaders are not intoxicated with their position. They don’t push themselves around with a false perception of power and authority. Instead, some of the greatest leaders in history were marked by their humility and by an awareness of the awesome weight of responsibility that was theirs to carry.
Notice the irony as a mere man speaks of his own power standing in the presence of the Creator of the Universe. Jesus said, “You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above.” In other words, “If this wasn’t the plan of God for the salvation of humanity you couldn’t do a thing.” In John 10:18 Jesus told His disciples, “No one takes [my life] from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father.”
Most petty leaders, leaders like Ah-ma-din-ejab of Iran or Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, have a false sense of power. The true power of leadership is not in the position one holds, but in the courage to make the right decisions, at the right time, for the right reasons. And these times and seasons, rights and reasons, are found in the heart of God, not in the hand of man.
V) PILATE SUCCUMBED TO POLITICAL EXPEDIENCY
Pilate sought to release Jesus, but the people finally pulled the ace out of their sleeve and appealed to Pilate’s self-interest. They said, “If you let this Man go, you are not Caesar’s friend. Whoever makes himself a king speaks against Caesar.” The Jews didn’t care about Caesar, but they knew that Pilate did, so they appealed to his fear and his self-preservation and it worked. Pilate turned Jesus over to the mob.
Verse 16 says, “Then he delivered Him to them to be crucified. Then they took Jesus and led Him away. 17 And He, bearing His cross, went out to a place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha, 18 where they crucified Him, and two others with Him, one on either side, and Jesus in the center. “
Ultimately, Pilate did not stand on principle but gave in to political expediency. He did what was in his own interest. Justice and truth and right and wrong took a backseat to Pilate’s political ambitions and he sent an innocent man to the cross to appease an angry mob.
Too often leaders make decision based solely on what is in his or her interest, and not what is the greater good. They may begin by passing the buck and placating and posturing, but petty leaders will eventually do and decide based upon what is best for him or her and not what is best for the country, or the state, or the city, or the church, or the family, or the marriage. We live during a time of a dearth of leaders. We need leaders now more than we’ve ever needed them, but they are few and far between. The scripture says, “When the leaders lead and the people follow, praise the Lord!” (Jud. 5:2, NKJV, paraphrased).
History tells us that none of Pilate’s passing the buck, placating, posturing, perception of power, or political expediency gained him any advantage as a leader. In fact, history tells us that Pilate was a failure as a leader. Not long after he surrendered Jesus to the Jews to be crucified, Pilate was removed from his position by Rome. The Early Church historian Eusebius quoted sources that said Pilate was removed from his position during the reign of Caligula (AD 37–41), was exiled to Gaul, and eventually committed suicide there in Vienne.
Pilate is the antitype of a good leader. Instead of passing the buck, a true leader will be prepared to make the difficult decisions. Instead of placating the people, a true leader will dare to stand on core values. Instead of posturing, a true leader will be real and be transparent with no hidden agendas. Instead of moving with the illusion of power by virtue of a position, a true leader will recognize that their strength comes from the Lord. And finally, instead of making decisions for the sake of political expediency, a true leader will make every decision based upon principle, indeed, upon Christian principles.
When you look at this account you see that Pilate did his best to take the easy way out. But leadership isn’t easy. Often it requires going against the current to do what is right and the willingness to stand upon those decisions regardless of what it costs us personally or politically. As we have seen in America over the past several years, perhaps decades, there is a need for leadership. On Wall Street, in the boardrooms, in government, in schools, in churches, on county boards, and in homes, we need leaders with Christian core values, leaders who will stand on principle, and we need leaders who will not posture, placate, or pass the buck. We live in a world where many follow Pilate’s pattern but few who exemplify the character of Christ.
We need leaders. Not just someone to fill an office, or hold a position, we need leaders. We need leaders like the apostle Paul who followed the example of Christ and said, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” Leaders, like Paul, who are willing to spend and be spent even though the more they love, the less they are loved. God needs you to be a leader in the community, a light shining in the darkness, a voice of reason in a world gone mad. Are you ready for that? If He calls you, will you follow? God is looking for someone to stand in the gap. Someone who will say, “Here am I Lord, send me.”