On the day of our Lord’s passion, his long-term followers mostly abandoned him. One denied he even knew him, and another had handed him over to his accusers. So, Jesus faced his severe test alone before Jewish and Roman authorities. Even with his disciples scattered and his great ordeal still ahead, Jesus still impacted the lives of every person he met. Here are two men who did not foresee an appointment with destiny that day.
By modern standards, Pontius Pilate was a cruel and violent governor. In fact, that is precisely how the Jewish writers Josephus and Philo described him. By Roman standards, though, he was just a middle management administrator doing what Caesar expected: Manage this furthest outpost of the empire with a firm hand and keep the taxes flowing back to Rome.
He commanded an under-strength legion of soldiers who no more wanted to be policemen in a country who hated them than Pilate wanted this assignment. A simple project of building an aqueduct for Jerusalem using temple funds had caused a riot of over 10,000 Jews and had resulted in hundreds of crucifixions. The Jews seethed in anger and the Romans stewed in frustration.
Into this powder keg of tension comes the Sanhedrin with a capital crime case. They want a popular, but controversial teacher put to death for blasphemy and treason. The charges are clearly trumped up. What does Pilate care about Jewish teaching? It is just a bunch of crazy people arguing about a ridiculous invisible god.
But the Sanhedrin helps keep the peace. And complaints about his harsh punishments were piling up in Rome. And, frankly, what is one more dead Jew?
Pilate looked that teacher in the eye and listened to him say, “I was born to bear witness to the truth”. That could have been a turning point in Pilate’s life, if his reply, “and what is the truth?” had been sincere. But his soul was buried under too many layers of materialism to recognize truth when it was literally staring him in the face.
In contrast to Pilate, another hardened soul looked over at the man crucified beside him. Two criminals facing Roman justice dying horribly for their crimes. One chose insults and cynicism. The other saw hope, and he threw his small faith toward that hope. “Remember me”, he said to Jesus on his cross, “when you come onto your kingdom”. Against every reasonable expectation, his life changed from despair to joy. By the end that day he was in paradise with his new Lord.
We never know when an appointment with God will intersect our path. Will we be so insulated with the demands of the world or the catastrophe of our choices that we do not see Truth when he looks at us? Or will we recognize the moment and cast our destiny upon him?