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.”
It’s funny how much bargaining has made its way into our basic mentality. I’m not, of course, talking about the concept of haggling for prices in the marketplace—that belongs to a different culture than my own. No, I’m talking about the concept of bargaining for atonement.
Think about it. If you know that you are about to do something wrong or hurtful, don’t you come up with things you might say or do to somehow make yourself right or at least OK? Don’t you rearrange your words in your mind, find the reason behind your actions that excuses you, or perhaps even think of a few good deeds that you will do to counterbalance the bad? This is pretty standard fare for the human mind.
Here’s the problem: Bargaining does not work. We see that with Pilate in the verse above. Pilate had discovered that Jesus was innocent of any crime. He knew that the Jews had handed Jesus over out of envy and fear. Pilate knew that Jesus was not threat to lead a lawless rebellion. Yet, when the crowd got rowdy, Pilate went ahead and allowed them to condemn Jesus to a death that Jesus did not deserve.
Watch Pilate bargain with his conscience. He washes his hands and declares himself to be innocent of Jesus’ blood. Well, Pilate, good for you. Good that you can just pronounce your actions OK and make that true. But wait, did he make his actions OK? Of course he didn’t Pilate was cowardly. He refused to stand for what was right. He was warned by his wife not to harm Jesus. Yet, when Pilate feared a loss of public opinion and perhaps public stability, Pilate caved. Yet, as he caved, Pilate tried to say that is actions were OK simply because he displayed his disgust at what was happening.
The truth of the matter is that God is our ultimate Judge. We cannot tell God how he will deal with us. We cannot tell God, “This will all be fine so long as I give some extra money.” No, God will not be bought by our actions. Neither will God be swayed by our moral compass. If we say something is OK just because we say so, we assume that we have the same right as God to declare right and wrong. This is simply untrue. We do not have the right to declare our actions innocent or acceptable. It is before the King we either stand or fall. It is before the Lord that our actions are laid bare. We have no right to tell God that we will do X and our actions will become acceptable. He is the one we serve; and he determines the rightness or wrongness of all that we think and do.
No, you can’t bargain with God. You can’t tell him how things ought to be handled when it comes to moral judgment. The better way, the only way, is to surrender to the Lordship of God. Cry out to Jesus for mercy. Yield yourself to his judgment. Then you will not need to go through any false hand-washing ceremonies in order to make yourself feel righteous when really nothing has changed.