A brief overview for Sunday School teachers and Bible study leaders, of Lifeway’s “Explore the Bible” lesson of John 18:28-40 for Sunday, May 7, 2023 with the title: “I Find No Fault.”
A video version of this overview is available on YouTube at:
INTRO: “Has there been a courtroom trial in your lifetime that was very memorable to you?”
One of the most famous trials in American history was the trial of Bruno Hauptmann for the kidnapping and murder of aviator Charles Lindberg’s 20-month-old baby in 1935. There were huge headlines about it in the paper every day, and the whole country was focused on it.
(For many in our generation it was the O.J. Simpson trial: that whole thing was imprinted on our memories, from the live tv coverage of the chase of his Broncho on the highway, to the updates of the trial that highlighted the news every evening.)
When you and your group have discussed that for a bit, then say: Today we are going to look at the supposed “trial” of Jesus before the Jews and the Roman authorities in John 18.
Last week we saw when Jesus was betrayed by Judas and arrested, and Peter tried to defend Him with the sword, and Jesus told him to put it up, that He had to drink the cup the Father had given Him. So :12 says they arrested Him and took Him to the Jewish authorities (Annas & Caiaphas) who interrogate Jesus briefly, and in :15-27 Peter denies Jesus 3 times. Now they are sending Jesus to the Roman civil authorities, which is where our passage picks up in John 18:28:
I. “Legalistic Justification”
II. A Kingdom Not Of This World
III. Objective Truth
IV. The Guiltless Sacrifice
I. “Legalistic Justification”
The passage opens with Jesus being taken to Pilate by the Jews. But :28 shows their hypocrisy/legalism: “they themselves did not enter into the Praetorium so that they would not be defiled, but might eat the Passover” (The Praetorium was the Roman governor’s official residence in Jerusalem.)
Is there anything “odd”/out of place about this? Here they were, about to condemn an innocent man to death, but heaven forbid they go into the Gentile Praetorium, because that would leave them ceremonially “unclean,” and they couldn’t eat the Passover!
It reminds me of Matthew 23:23, where Jesus tells the scribes & Pharisees, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, for you tithe mint and dill and cumin, but have neglected the weightier provisions of the Law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. But these are the things you should have practiced, without neglecting the others.”
You see what He was saying to them: they TITHE every mint leaf, every cumin seed — but they don’t practice “justice, mercy, and faithfulness.
If you were going to pick as the most important: (maybe write justice, mercy, etc on one side of the board, and tithing mint leave on the other, which would you say is most important? EVERYONE would say justice, etc.)
Yet this is a common thing. People often seek to “justify” or “balance” out thier blatant disobedience to God in one area of their life, by being “overzealous” and nit-picky in other, insignificant areas.
EXAMPLE: I am reading a book on the 1920s called Anything Goes. It talks about one of the main characters of that era, the gangster Al Capone. Capone was involved in multiple murders, racketeering, illegal alcohol, prostitution — but he tried to “make up for it” by giving candy to children, paying people’s hospital bills (sometimes the people HE had had hurt!) And other “good deeds.” Now, which was more important: giving candy to children, or not murdering people? Of course not murdering people is more important! But he felt like it made him a much better person by doing this.
I know people in my own experience, and you/your group can probably think of some too, who do this same kind of thing: they try to “balance out” or “justify” their blatant disobedience to God in important areas of their life, by (supposedly) “making up for it” by being very nit-picky and legalistic in other, much-less-important areas of their lives.
— For example: they can’t forgive themselves for some great sin in their past, so they (either consciously or unconsciously) try to “make up for it” by being VERY particular about tithing, and other “religious practices.”
Let’s make sure we don’t do that. If you have a sin in your life, trust the GOSPEL of Jesus to forgive you — you can’t make up for it by being legalistic in other areas of your life. (You might want to review the Gospel at this point)
II. A Kingdom Not Of This World
:36 “My kingdom is not of this world”
Last week we looked at how when Jesus was arrested, Peter took out his sword and cut off Malchus’ ear. Jesus told him to put up the sword. The principle being that His servants do not take up the sword to advance His kingdom. If you covered that last week, you might take some time this week to review that — and see how Jesus re-emphasises that here: His servants are NOT fighting, because His kingdom is NOT of this world.
If you didn’t spend some time on this last week, I’d definitely do it now. (And if you didn’t watch last week’s overview, you may want to go back and look at that. It makes an important point: the Lord’s people are NOT to attempt to spread His word by the sword/military means/force. His Kingdom is to spread by FAITH, not compulsion.
And after we’ve discussed/reviewed this point, then I would ask this question:
??? If we are NOT to take up the sword to spread His kingdom by force, how ARE we to spread His kingdom??? What specifically can we do?
(— PRAY +x II Cor. 10:3-4 “we do not war according to the flesh …”
— WITNESS He gave us the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20
— SERVE/GO ON MISSION Acts 1:8, etc.
Then in :37 because Jesus has been talking about how His kingdom is not of this world, Pilate asks Him: “So you ARE a king?”
Jesus answers him: “You say that I am a king …”. Now, this may or may not sound to your class like this is an affirmative answer. It may almost sound to us today like He is being evasive. He is not. When Jesus says “YOU SAY,” this is an idiom (a special expression in their language) which is similar to our expression “you said it!” Like if someone asks you: “You didn’t get to go to the Astros game last night did you?” You might answer: “You said it!” Which means: “YES!” THAT is what “You have said it” meant to them.
We see another example of it in Matthew 26, the Bible elaborates on Jesus’ trial with the Jews some more. The high priest asks Him: “I adjure You by the Living God, that You tell me whether You are Christ, the Son of God.” And Jesus said to him in :64, “You have said it yourself.” And :65 says the high priest tore his robes and said “He has blasphemed …”. WHY was he so upset? Because Jesus had said “YES.” “You have said it” means “YES”! (AND by the way, this goes against those who falsely claim that Jesus never Himself claimed to be God, or the Son of God. He absolutely did!)
So understand (and make sure your group understands) that Jesus is not being “evasive” here; He is positively saying, “YES!” He IS a king. It’s just that His kingdom is different from the kingdoms of this world.
Which could lead to some further discussion/elaboration on this point:
??? What are some ways we could let the way the kingdoms of this world rule/view success, influence the church and our work in the world???
(Some ways might be:
— to consider land, physical buildings, and money, as the mark of our success. These things can be used by God’s people, but “the kingdom of God” is not our church property! The kingdom of God is in HEARTS. We need to stay focused on this.
FOR EXAMPLE: years ago when I was young pastor I led a church to build new building. Years later I saw where that church was absorbed into another that didn’t necessarily share my goals. At first I had the thought: all my work at that church was wasted. But then some time later I read on Facebook where a young man I had discipled at that church was still reading His Bible daily, and was sharing it with others. And I thought: NO: your time at that church was NOT wasted. It’s just that the measure of your success was NOT the BUILDING; the measure of your success was what God did in HEARTS!
His kingdom is not of this world. We need to remember this principle. Let’s provide the land and buildings, and be good stewards of the money the Lord provides us as a church — but let’s never measure our success by it. His Kingdom is not of this world, and our success in His work is not meausured by mere physical/outward measures, but by what He is doing in HEARTS.
III. Objective Truth
So Jesus says to Pilate in :37, “You say that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”
Then Pilate says to Him in :38 “What is truth?”
??? Have you ever heard anyone answer like this to something you’re saying: “yeah, what is truth?”
THIS IS A HUGE POINT HERE: there is a whole stream of thinking, that there is no such thing in the world as objective truth.
Robert Caro has written one of the best biographies ever, on Lyndon Baines Johnson. He has spent 40 years researching and publishing Johnson’s biography, which is 4 volumes so far — he’s 87 now and we’re awaiting Volume FIVE before he dies! While finishing that he wrote another book about his work, called “Working” and in it he says: “… I am aware that there is no Truth, no objective truth, no single truth, no truth simple or unsimple, either; no verity, eternal or otherwise; no Truth about anything …”. (p. 112)
Sadly, Caro’s viewpooint is a very popular one these days: that there is no real, objective truth. Something may be “true for you” or “true for me” but not true for everyone. You’ll hear people say things like: “He’s speaking his truth”, or “that’s my truth” etc. Some people may be sincere in that viewpoint; I don’t know. Others are only using it as a copout: it’s an easy way to avoid responsibility for the truth.
Pilate was basically using this as an excuse: “What is truth?” In other words, “Ah, we can’t really know the truth, so that excuses me from responsibility.”
(It’s kind of like when the Samaritan Woman was talking with Jesus about whether they should worship in Jerusalem or on Mt. Gerazim in Samaria, and she said: “When Messiah comes, He will make all things known to us.” This was really an OUT: “Well, we can’t know now; ‘one day’ we’ll know when Messiah comes.” It’s just like Pilate: “What is truth? We can’t really know!”
??? You might ask your group, why do you think people like to use this kind of statement???
(Some answers could include: if there’s no real “truth,” then they may feel like they are not responsible for it.
One of our youth teachers was witnessing to a young lady, and she told him she hoped she might be good enough to get into heaven. He asked her, would you like to know what the Bible really says about that? She said no. Because I’m afraid I won’t like the answer. She didn’t want to know the truth; she felt like if she didn’t know the truth she wasn’t accountable for it.
But after you’ve finished that point, then I’d ask: ??? Does anyone remember how Jesus responded to the Samaritan Woman?
(“I who speak to you am He!”) Jesus IS the Messiah.
AND THAT IS THE ANSWER TO PILATE’S QUESTION ALSO: HE IS THE TRUTH! “I am the Way, the TRUTH, and the Life …”.
There IS objective truth in this world. There is scientific truth; there is mathematical truth — and just like there is truth in these areas, there is truth in the spiritual realm as well. To say “your truth is your truth and my truth is my truth” is just another way to say there is no truth at all! But the Bible is here to say there IS truth. We saw a couple of weeks ago in John 17 where Jesus prayed “Your word is truth.” And He HIMSELF is the truth. There IS objective truth. And this is something our people really need to be reminded of in our world today, where objective truth is constantly being doubted.
IV. The Guiltless Sacrifice
After all that, Pilate goes back to the Jews and says in :38 “I find no guilt in Him.”
This is a significant statement. He found no guilt in Jesus.
Going back to Matthew 26, the Bible says that when Jesus was on trial, :59 = “Now the chief priests and the Council (the Sanhedrin, the Jewish religious leaders) kept trying to obtain false testimony against Jesus, so that they might put Him to death.” But :60 says, “They did not find any, even though many false witnesses came forward.”
This is all important, because Jesus HAD to be a guiltless sacrifice, in order to be able to pay for our sins on the cross.
We shared a couple of weeks ago on Easter Sunday, where British historian Arnold Toynbee wrote: “If only they could have found the body of that Jew, Christianity crumbles into ruins.”
That was true.
But THIS is also true: if only they found ONE SIN in Jesus, THAT would have crumbled Christianity into ruins also!
??? WHY IS THAT??? WHY could Jesus have had no sin?
(— Because His sinlessness was one proof that He was perfect God
— AND because He had to be a perfect sacrifice for our sins
+x Leviticus 23:12 and many other Old Testament passages said that the sacrifice had to be “a lamb without blemish.”
I Peter 1:19 says our salvation was bought: “with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.”
He HAD to be a spotless sacrifice, to be able to die for us on the cross.
So Pilate said Jesus was innocent, and offered to release Him. But the Jews answered: :40 “Not this Man, but Barabbas.”
??? What do we see about Barabbas here???
(“Now Barabbas was a robber.” He was guilty. He was a sinner.
The word “robber” here means “stealing out in the open, often with violence.” It is the word used in Luke 10 of the men who robbed and beat the man on the Jericho road and left him for dead. THIS is who Jesus was traded for!
SO DON’T MISS THE PICTURE HERE: THE SINLESS JESUS IS TRADED FOR THE SINFUL BARABBAS!
??? What’s this a picture of???
(It’s a picture of what Jesus did for US TOO!)
There is a very real sense in which we are ALL Barabbas:
— We are ALL sinners, guilty, we deserved to be condemned
— But the guiltless Jesus was taken in OUR place, just like He was given for HIM!
God gave us a picture here, in the release of the guilty prisoner, in exchange for the innocent Jesus, of what would happen for EACH of us in salvation: the innocent Jesus was given in our place, who are guilty sinners.
That’s the gospel right there: SUBSTITUTIONARY ATONEMENT.
(Write these two words on the board, and talk about each one:
— “Substitutionary” = “in the place of”/a substitute
— “Atonement” = payment for wrong
Jesus, who had done no wrong, took the place of us who HAVE done wrong, and made the payment for our sins.
When the first President Bush was growing up, his father Prescott Bush had a friend by the name of Henry Neil Mallon, who was the head of a big company. Mallon endeared himself to the George (who was nicknamed “Poppy”) and his brother Pressy one day while they were playing baseball outside the Bush home. A wild ball went astray and smashed a car windshield, bringing father Prescott Bush roaring out of the house. Mallon saved the day. Saying that he, not one of the boys, had thrown the offending ball.” (Jon Meacham, Destiny and Power, p. 77) He, who was innocent, took the blame for the boys, who were guilty.
On a far, far greater scale, that is what Jesus did for us. Mr. Mallon saved the Bush boys that day, from the temporal wrath that was due them for their transgression. But Jesus saved us from the eternal wrath that was due to us for all of our sins.
If you haven’t done it already, you might close the class by reviewing the gospel, and give your member the opportunity to pray and receive Christ if they never have before. I don’t think you have to do that every week, but I think it’s good to do from time time — and especially if the Lord impresses your heart that someone there that day, may need it!
— If you’ll type your email in the “Follow Blog via Email” blank on my blog, WordPress will automatically send you next week’s message, and you won’t have to search for it.
— And if you write something in the Comments below, I’ll be sure to pray for your and your group by name this week.
Per my licensing agreement with Lifeway:
– These weekly lessons are based on content from Explore the Bible Adult Resources. The presentation is my own and has not been reviewed by Lifeway.
– Lifeway resources are available at: goExploretheBible.com and: goexplorethebible.com/adults-training
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Pastor Shawn, your lesson helps are always so HELPFUL to me as I prepare the lesson for Sunday. I like your questions for the group and your applications and examples.
I do pray that God will heal and restore you completely this week as you continue to serve Him.
awesome thank you
Thank you so much
You are very welcome Brenda; praying for you for this weekend!
I love your explanation of the Scripture. Your examples and experiences make it easier to teach and explain.
Thank you for letting me know that they are helpful to you Patti! And know that I am praying for you as you explain the word to your group this Sunday!
Thank you Pastor Shawn for your great lesson reviews, they are all very insightful.
Thank you so much Ron. I am glad that they are helpful to you. And I praying for you this week!
I am so enjoying weekly traveling the Word with you! Thank you so much! Praying for your restored health also.
I struggle with the questions in Explore the Bible series. Many do not make sense to me. Your sermon clarified the main points to extract from the Bible study. Very helpful! Thank you.