Matthew 27:24-31 (ESV)

24 So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” 25 And all the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” 26 Then he released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified. 27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before him. 28 And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29 and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 30 And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. 31 And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him.

Pilate couldn’t believe that the crowd begged for Barabbas instead of Jesus. His plan to have Jesus released backfired, and a notorious criminal was freed as a result. Now that the crowd was riled up, there was no going back. Pilate was frustrated, and in protest, he washed his hands, declaring to the crowd, “I am innocent of this man’s blood.” Washing the hands was actually a Jewish custom used to demonstrate innocence. Pilate realized that Jesus was about to be unjustly murdered, and he did not want to be liable for Jesus’ execution. The crowd, however, had a completely different response. In fact, they willingly accepted full responsibility for Jesus’ death upon themselves and their children (v. 25). They clearly did not see Jesus as innocent. The religious leaders successfully infuriated the crowd and convinced them that the claims Jesus made about himself were worthy of his murder. The crowd must have been ecstatic at this point. They forced Pilate to release a murderer and they dictated that Jesus be crucified. They felt totally in control, powerful, and gladly took responsibility for their choices.

Even though Pilate “washed his hands,” in the end, he was the one who had the legal authority to either release or execute Jesus. Pilate knew Jesus was innocent, but he stood by and allowed him to be murdered anyway. Washing his hands was a cop-out. He should have stood up to the mob and said, “No.” But Pilate feared the crowd’s reaction and the potential loss of his honored position if he let things get out of control. So to keep the peace, and his job, Pilate allowed Jesus to die. We can do the same thing when we get caught up in wrong thinking like Pilate did. We can feel that if we say we don’t want any part of something, then we are off the hook. But if we have the power to stop injustice and we do nothing, we are guilty. Search your heart today. Is there anything you are allowing because you don’t want to “rock the boat” and upset people? Are you afraid you will suffer loss if you speak up for someone who is being mistreated? Take a stand today and say, “No more” to the wrongdoing around you. You may not be popular as a result, but remember, pleasing God always takes priority over pleasing man.