Jesus Christ - Suffered Under Pontius Pilate, Was Crucified, Dead and Buried
Sunday December 21, 2008 -
“We believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth: And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; He descended into hades; the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead. We believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of the saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen”
This creed follows a beautiful and thoughtful order. Having just spent weeks studying the miraculous conception of Jesus, we are immediately and appropriately brought face to face with why Jesus was incarnate in the flesh. In other words, the birth of Jesus leads to the assignment of Jesus. There’s a divinely appointed reason behind the coming of God the Son into this fallen world. And, strange as it may seem to some, the whole plan of Jesus’ life finds its culmination and fulfillment, not in His teaching, or in His miracles, but in His death.
I have one more comment by way of introduction: Look again at the creed. With all the references to God the Father, Almighty, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, judgement, forgiveness, the Resurrection and eternal life, there is something almost odd and out of place. What is Pontius Pilate’s name doing in this creed? How in the world does he qualify to get in here? Not only was he not a hero. He wasn’t even Godly!
I’ll tell you why he’s in there. He links Christianity to secular history. And that’s important because you and I don’t live like angels in heaven. We live with sinners on earth. And that’s where Jesus came. He came to earth. And He came to earth for sinners - sinners like you and me and Pontius Pilate. In other words, the central core of truth regarding Christ and the Christian faith are out there in the open. They are a matter of public record. The truth claims of Christianity are planted in the public domain. You don’t even have to be a follower of Jesus to check them out.
This is very important. When Hindus, or Shirley Maclaine push the doctrine of reincarnation or the accounts of previous lives, you have to go out on a limb (the fitting title of one of Maclaine’s books) and decide whether or not you will accept those claims. But the life, death, Resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ are not mystical events or spiritual concepts. Either they happened or they didn’t. We must never think of these as being spiritual truths or mystical concepts. Their historical character is what makes their truth claim valid and open to investigation.
Pilate is linked to Jesus Christ in the creed. Pilate was governor over Judea from A.D. 26 to A.D. 36. Anyone can check those facts out. You don’t have to be a Christian. That’s when the trial of Jesus took place. That’s when the events in the gospels dealing with the words and activities of Jesus took place. We’re dealing with real people and real events.
1) IN THE MIND OF THE WRITERS OF THE NEW TESTAMENT THE DEATH OF JESUS CHRIST WAS THE CENTRAL FEATURE OF THE STORY OF CHRISTIANITY
If we simply start with an open, unbiased survey the facts will bear this out. 30% of Matthew, 37% of Mark, 31% of Luke and a whopping 41% of John deal with the last week of Jesus’ life leading up to His death on the cross. In the words of P.T. Forsyth, “You simply do not understand Christ until you understand His cross”
So the church set out to make sure people understood, not primarily the teaching of Christ, which amazingly isn’t reiterated all that frequently in the epistles, but the death of Christ: 1 Corinthians 1:23 - “....but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles....”
2) THE MEANING OF CHRIST’S DEATH
Given the sheer bulk of attention given to the cross by the gospel writers, and given the priority of explanation given to the cross by the church’s first missionaries, it was obviously viewed as having great significance for the whole world:
a) The cross of Jesus Christ was a planned event. By that I mean we must never think of the death of Jesus on the cross merely as an unfortunate turn of events due to fanaticism, religious misunderstanding, or political pressure. True, on the human side of things, all those factors played a part in the unfolding of the death of Jesus.
But the Bible teaches that there was a deeper developing of events that were invisible to the naked eye, and without these being taken into account, the cross of Jesus will never be properly understood: Acts 2:22-23 - “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—  this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.”
Peter didn’t want to leave any doubt in the minds of his listeners. God planned all the events they had recently seen surrounding the death of Jesus on the cross: Acts 13:26-29 - “Brothers, sons of the family of Abraham, and those among you who fear God, to us has been sent the message of this salvation.  For those who live in Jerusalem and their rulers, because they did not recognize him nor understand the utterances of the prophets, which are read every Sabbath, fulfilled them by condemning him.  And though they found in him no guilt worthy of death, they asked Pilate to have him executed.  And when they had carried out all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb.”
Again, these are highly significant words. Paul says exactly the same thing about the death of Jesus that Peter said. This is the unanimous testimony of the early church. So where did they get this idea? They got it from Jesus Himself: John 10:17-18 - “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father."
(See also Matthew 26:52-54, and the fascinating account in Luke 9: 29-31.)