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Why did Jesus remain silent?

(Written by Pastor Tim Redfield)

Matthew 27:11-26 – Meanwhile Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

“Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied.

12 When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer. 13 Then Pilate asked him, “Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?” 14 But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge—to the great amazement of the governor.

15 Now it was the governor’s custom at the Feast to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. 16 At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Barabbas. 17 So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” 18 For he knew it was out of envy that they had handed Jesus over to him.

19 While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.”

20 But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.

21 “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” asked the governor.

“Barabbas,” they answered.

22 “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called Christ?” Pilate asked.

They all answered, “Crucify him!”

23 “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate.

But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”

24 When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!”

25 All the people answered, “Let his blood be on us and on our children!”

26 Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.


Before we look at this trial before Pilate, it is interesting to look at the events that happened at the beginning of chapter 27. At the end of chapter 26, we see Peter wrestling with his guilt because he had denied knowing Jesus. Peter wept bitterly because of his sin. Then in chapter 27 we see Judas dealing with his guilty conscience. Judas realized that his betrayal was going to lead to the execution of Jesus. Because of that, Judas was seized with remorse. He realized his wickedness. He tried to return the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and elders. He confessed, “I have sinned, for I have betrayed innocent blood” (Matthew 27:4).

The chief priests and the elders did absolutely nothing to help him with his guilt. They led him into his sin and then when he felt the guilt of his sin they gave him no solution. They tell him, “What is that to us? That’s your responsibility.” Rather than pointing Judas in the right direction, rather than pointing Judas back to God, they pointed him back to himself. But that was absolutely no comfort for Judas. He had no hope when he looked to himself for the solution. He could only see his wickedness and he thought that there was no possible way that he could be forgiven. That was what led him to hang himself. The Jewish leaders were creating all kinds of problems because they thought that it was man’s responsibility to deal with his own sins.

That was a huge part of the reason that the Jews put Jesus on trial and turned him over to Pilate. The Jews wanted to be responsible for making themselves holy before God and that was contrary to Jesus’ message. Jesus told them that they could not be holy on their own because they were too sinful. Jesus told them that they needed him to be their Savior. They despised him for that message. Jesus was the only one who was completely innocent. But the Jewish leaders didn’t want to hear it. So they did everything they could to get Pilate to put Jesus to death. They had to tell lies about Jesus in order to try to get Pilate to put him to death. They claimed that Jesus was subverting the nation and opposed to paying taxes to Caesar.

Pilate saw right through their lies. Pilate knew that Jesus hadn’t done anything deserving the death penalty. Pilate even tried to get Jesus to defend himself against the accusations. Pilate was just about begging Jesus simply to give him a little bit of testimony so that Pilate can use that to set Jesus free. He was amazed that Jesus made no reply to these accusations because an innocent man was not defending himself. This is unheard of when it comes to a criminal trial. An innocent man ought to be passionately making his case as to why he should go free. However, Jesus did not defend himself.

Pilate still wanted to set Jesus free so he gave the crowd the option of releasing one prisoner. This was the usual custom at the time of the Passover. Pilate thought that he could outsmart the Jewish leaders. He knew that they were simply jealous of the fact that so many people were following Jesus. He thought that perhaps the majority of the people would speak up to set Jesus free. Pilate failed to recognize how much influence the Jewish religious leaders had over the crowd. Pilate thought that it would be logical for the crowd to pick Jesus over the terrible murderous Barabbas. But that did not happen, the Jewish leaders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas.

Pilate eventually gave in to the will of the crowd. He didn’t understand it but he also didn’t want the crowd to rebel against him. He understood that he might lose his position as Governor if he was unable to keep the citizens happy and in line. Before he handed Jesus over, he tried to make it clear to the crowd that he was not responsible for the death of Jesus. He washed his hands and said that he was innocent of Jesus’ blood. Even though he said that, he was not truly innocent. Pilate could have set Jesus free, but he didn’t. Pilate has just as much guilt in this whole event as everyone else – the Jewish leaders, Judas Iscariot, and even the crowd that demanded the crucifixion – they were all guilty.

All the people who were guilty were the ones who spoke during the trial. Jesus – the innocent one – did not speak. Think about that. Think about how we, especially when we are confronted by our sin, speak up in defense of our sin. Pilate tried to defend himself by washing himself clean. But he was still guilty. How often don’t we do something similar? We claim that our actions were excusable. Because someone harmed us, it was ok that we retaliated. Because someone else told a lie about us, we think that we can seek revenge. We go along with the crowd and we say that we are free from guilt because we weren’t the ones who physically carried out the actual action of the sin.

When the law condemns us over our sin, we try to look for a way out. Judas thought that he could return the money and thus be rid of his guilt. Do we ever do something similar? Maybe we can make up for our sin by doing something nice for the person that we harmed. Perhaps they will forgive us if we get them a nice present. We try to take responsibility for our sins. The crowd asked for the blood of Jesus to be on them and on their children. We sometimes try to sooth our own guilty conscience by punishing ourselves for our sins. We make ourselves work extra hard or come to church even more so that our guilt will go away.

Rather than trying to excuse our sin or make up for our sin through good actions, we ought to fall silent under the condemnation of the law. When you think about it, you see that is what Jesus did for us.

Jesus could have defended himself. He could have spoken up and cleared up all this false testimony that was being brought against him. He wasn’t 100% silent. He did speak a few times to Pilate about certain things. But when it came to speaking about the charges against him, Jesus didn’t say a word. He didn’t want to be set free. He wanted to endure this punishment. He remained silent for all the times that we have spoken defiantly to defend ourselves when it comes to our sins. He did the opposite of what you would expect from an innocent person. He offered no testimony because he needed to suffer.

Because he remained silent, Pilate was not able to release him. Because he remained silent, Pilate eventually gave the order to have him sentenced to death. Pilate had him viciously flogged. Pilate thought the flogging might create sympathy for Jesus and lead the crowd to release him. But that didn’t work. Jesus was then brought back before the crowd and they still demanded his crucifixion. From a human perspective it seems so sad that this innocent man was tortured and crucified in this way. But the heart of faith understands that it had to happen this way. There was no other way for us to be saved. Because of our sin, Jesus had to die.

It is interesting that Pilate’s wife understood that Jesus was innocent. We know very little about Pilate’s wife. It is unlikely that she was a follower of Jesus. We are not even sure how the message of Jesus’ innocence was communicated to her. She simply mentioned that she suffered a great deal in a dream because of Jesus. We would have to think that somehow God communicated this message to her but we can’t say more than that. The remarkable thing about this is that it is just one more testimony that verifies that Jesus had done nothing wrong. It is also noteworthy because it is one more piece of evidence which shows Pilate’s guilt. He was warned that Jesus was innocent and he still allowed him to be crucified.

In the Gospel of John, we have an interesting dialogue between Jesus and Pilate just before Pilate allows the crucifixion to happen. When Jesus is refusing to speak, Pilate says, “Do you refuse to speak to me? Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” To that Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above.” This is a significant comment because it reminds all of us that Jesus was in control of this entire situation. Pilate saw a man who was innocent but for some reason was not saying anything. Pilate didn’t understand. Jesus was looking at the big picture. Jesus was considering all of us and all of our needs. He stayed silent so that he could take our sins to the cross.

We are greatly blessed because Jesus remained silent. Now we are blessed with a faith which humbly acknowledges our sinfulness. Rather than trying to excuse our sins or defend our sins, we fall silent before the law. We hang our head in shame at our many sins. We admit that we have sinned against God in our thoughts, words, and actions. We are unworthy to stand in the presence of a holy God. However, Jesus comes to us and lifts us up. He points our eyes to his cross. He embraces us with his loving arms and leads us to see that he silently suffered terrible punishment in our place.

We are given the greatest blessings. We don’t have to be responsible for making up for our own sins. Jesus paid the price that was necessary. Rather than being overwhelmed with guilt, we are set free from the burden of the law. Christ’s innocence has become ours. We are perfectly free to follow our Lord Jesus. We have nothing to say in our defense. Jesus made the only defense that was necessary. His defense was to say nothing. Through his silence we have been blessed with forgiveness and life.

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