Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, Pontius Pilate stands accused of obstruction of justice. Though he was merely a puppet ruler in Judea doing the will of the Emperor, Pilate, when faced with the case of Jesus of Nazareth, chose to let the Jewish leaders execute Jesus even though he had concluded that Jesus was innocent of any crime. Pilate chose to preserve himself, rather than carry out his duty to do what was just. He was a coward in the face of blatant lies and injustice. I know that you will come to the obvious conclusion that the man on trial here tonight should be convicted.
     Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, for a legal system to be effective, those who would petition the court or bring their concerns before it must be able to have complete confidence in those appointed to serve. After all, who would want to come before a court that did not have the integrity to come to an accurate and just conclusion about a case? Character and trust are the bedrock on which legal systems are built, that no matter who the persons are on either side of the case, whether rich or poor. The facts of the case, the truth of the matter, will determine the outcome. Justice is blind, so they say. 
     But what happens when an officer of the court openly and knowingly stands in the way of the just rendering of a verdict? There is a term for that—obstruction of justice—and it is a crime. The man on trial today is in exactly this position. We’re familiar with Pontius Pilate. After all, we say his name each time we confess the Apostles’ Creed! We say that Jesus was “crucified under Pontius Pilate.” Pilate never wanted to be in Judea. He was stationed at this desert outpost against his will and had made a mess of things. Higher authorities had their eye on him. He needed to have his thumb on any issues, and quash them before they rose to a more dangerous level. 
      The Jewish leaders, the Sanhedrin, bring Jesus to Pilate. They claim that Pilate needs to do something about Jesus, because they do not have the legal right to execute him under Roman law. We have heard the charges that were brought against Jesus. We have heard Pilate explicitly state that he found no fault in Jesus. He was not guilty of anything! Pilate hears the facts of the case and renders a verdict. But how do the Jews respond? If Pilate does not give the verdict they want, then he is no friend of Caesar. They could go over his head, and make sure it’s his head that’s dealt with severely! 
      So, what does Pilate do? He asks the question we have all asked at times: “What is truth?” Is there a definitive, objective truth? If there is, then he must follow it. To make sure that’s the final word. But if not, if truth is what he or others say it is, then he has an opportunity to save himself. In a cowardly act of self-preservation, Pilate chooses his comfortable position and his reputation over what he knows to be the truth. As the prisoner who is the Way, the Truth and the Life stands before him, the Roman governor does not choose to carry out the justice. He does not follow the truth. By denying the truth and rendering a dishonest verdict, Pilate obstructs justice! Jesus should have been allowed to walk away. There was no reason to execute him! 
      But much like each of you, ladies and gentlemen, Pilate tries to find a way out of doing what is right and just. How many times in your life have you come to this place, sat in those pews, heard God’s Word, confessed your faith and received God’s good gifts? But the moment you’re confronted with a person who holds different beliefs or questions your faith in Jesus, you back down, choosing the comfort of your good reputation rather than the truth of God’s Word. You’d rather try to save yourself from embarrassment than stand up for the one who saved you by his death! How many times have you thought to yourself, “Well, I know God tells me this behavior is wrong, but is that really true? The Bible is pretty old, after all. God surely did not mean it to be true forever. I mean, we’re the enlightened ones!” When we start asking questions like this, judging the truth of God’s Word against our own feelings and culture, whom do we sound like? We sound like the same one who asked Eve in the Garden of Eden, “Did God really tell you that you shouldn’t eat from this tree?”
      When you think and speak and act like that, you act as if that person in front of you isn’t worth hearing about the most important part of your life. Jesus wants you to confess him as Lord before others, but instead you treat yourself more highly and hesitate to confess his name. You know what it is to obstruct justice, and I’m sure you can identify it in Pilate, because you’re already skilled at it yourself. 
Thank you, your honor. Nothing further. 
     You’ve all heard the phrase, “Stuck between a rock and a hard place.” It describes those inevitably difficult moments in life when you seem backed into a corner by two things. With negative consequences on both sides of a decision, you’re stuck, immobilized by the situation. Maybe your child has a soccer game or school performance, but as a single parent you’re forced to be even more dedicated at work to earn the promotion that will provide for your family. So, there’s no way to skip the big meeting happening at the same time without leaving a bad impression. Maybe that friend with whom you have repeatedly rescheduled a coffee date is beginning to wonder if you’re just blowing them off when you call and say you’ve got a flat tire and you are sitting at the repair shop and need to cancel again. Maybe the electric bill is overdue, but the water has already been shut off again, and you can only choose one to pay until your next payday. These are the situations of life in which we find ourselves. Ordinary people are often faced with decisions that have negative implications on all sides.
      For Pilate, the defendant here today, having Jesus brought to him was the last thing he needed or wanted. He knew well that he’d made mistakes and wasn’t necessarily on the good side of the emperor at that time. Being in charge of the Roman court system in Judea was no easy task, especially when the people of Judea couldn’t get along with each other. They always seemed to be arguing about some religious issue, some fine point or other related to Jewish law. 
      So, from a legal perspective, when Jesus came before Pilate, it was fairly cut and dried. Pilate was certainly intrigued by the claims made for and against Jesus. This was certainly something you didn’t see every day, a man claiming to be King of the Jews, much less any kind of king! There is only one king, and his name is Caesar; even the Jews know this. So, you see, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, there really was no easy solution to the problem. Pilate knew even from the facts of the situation that Jesus wasn’t guilty of anything. But when the Jewish leaders were unhappy with Pilate’s initial declaration of Jesus’ innocence, they knew exactly what to do. They applied pressure exactly where it would force a reaction from Pilate, his need to preserve his job—and his life. I’ll be the first to admit that this is the reality of the case. Pilate was faced with the choice between one man’s guilt or innocence and a certain revolt that would certainly lead to the loss of his own job, if not his life! At a certain point, it just becomes a decision about what is best for the greatest number of people, including himself. So, he washed his hands, and gave orders that Jesus was to be crucified.
      Fortunately for you and me, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, this same idea is the central reason that Jesus was brought to Pilate in the first place. These are the same thoughts and ideas Jesus surely must have had. He saw your sin and your need for a Savior. He was there when you shied away from speaking the truth of God’s Word to those who need to hear it. He knows those deep, dark places you pretend you’re not hiding in your life. 
But the difference between Jesus, Pilate and you is that Jesus doesn’t stand in the way of justice being done. Instead, Jesus gives himself up as the sacrifice, allowing justice to be done through him. Jesus endures the false accusations, the ridicule and scourging and the sentence of death for one reason—so that the divine ledger might be wiped clean once and for all. Because of Jesus, the book that once contained all of your sins written in ink that can’t be erased was washed away, covered by the innocent blood of Jesus. Jesus faced that same “rock and hard place” decision and those same emotions all the way to the cross. He felt that immobilizing weight. But he allowed himself to be nailed to another hard place, the cross, where he bled and died to wipe your slate clean. Think back on each of those times you’ve failed to act justly as God desires you to, and then remember the blood of Jesus. The love of Jesus that flows from the cross covers a multitude of sins. You have obstructed justice, but in Jesus, divine justice was fully satisfied. Jesus suffered the penalty of death in your place. He fulfilled all righteousness. He rose from the dead, and that means that you walk, free and clear. You are not guilty. Thank you, your honor, nothing further.
Friends of Jesus, hear these words: It is for your sins that Jesus stood before Pilate and allowed himself to be convicted, sent to the slaughter like an innocent lamb. He suffered the penalty of death in your place and rose in triumph from the dead. In Jesus’ name, this is the final verdict: You have been declared not guilty. You have been forgiven for the sake of Jesus. He has taken your punishment upon himself. Jesus has fulfilled all righteousness that you might be set free.  
Let’s pray:
You are the Way, the Truth and the Life, O Lord, but so often we forget that and we stand in the way of your Truth. Help us to claim you as our King, not hiding your presence from others or washing our hands of our association with you. Give us the grace to announce to the world that you are truly the sinless Son of God who took on our sins that we might be saved. We who once were guilty are now made innocent by your blood. Let your righteousness reign in our hearts and lives forever. Amen.
From the “Convicted Worship Series for Lent,” Written by Ben Berteau of Creative Communications for the Parish, St. Louis, 2019, used with permission for Divine Redeemer Lutheran’s Lenten Series.