Ecce homo. “Behold the man!” Ecco homo is the Latin translation of our text in John chapter 19 as Pontius Pilate presented Jesus to the Jews after our Lord had been scourged, and adorned with a crown of thorns and a purple robe.
During the fifteenth and sixteen centuries this scene of Jesus being presented to the crowed became a prominent artistic theme in western Europe and it is identified by the name “Ecce homo.” This artistic trend accompanied a strong focus on the passion of our Lord and his sufferings that developed during this time. All the great artists of the period provided a painting of this scene such as Tintoretto, Titian, Rubens and Dürer.
Ecce homo. “Behold the man!” There are few events in the passion of our Lord that more clearly capture the paradox of Jesus’ suffering and death for us. Jesus appears in utter humiliation and weakness. And yet in this way, the saving glory of Christ is revealed.
The account of our Lord’s Passion in the Gospel of John allows us to see quite clearly the dynamics that were at work as the Jewish leaders sought to put Jesus to death. Ultimately, their reason for wanting to kill Jesus was a religious one. We hear them tell Pilate in our text, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God.”
In the course of Jesus’ ministry this assertion involved two different aspects. First, “Son of God” identified the one who was the Messiah – the Christ. In John’s Gospel there is continual debate about whether Jesus can be the Christ. Second, Jesus stated that his relation to the Father went beyond what any human being could claim. He said to his opponents at the beginning of Holy Week, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”
But while their motivation was religious, the Jewish leaders had to use political arguments in order to get Jesus killed. The Romans allowed the Jews to run many of their own affairs. However, they did not allow the Jews to execute people. This right belonged only to the Romans.
It is for this reason that the Jews show up at Pilates’s headquarters. John tells us, “They themselves did not enter the governor's headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover.” Instead, Pilate was forced to go outside o meet them as he asked, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” The Jewish leaders responded with the evasive answer, “If this man were not doing evil, we would not have delivered him over to you.” So Pilate told them to judge him by their own law. And then the Jews had to admit, “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death.”
The Jewish leaders wanted Jesus dead. And if they were going do it legally, the Romans would have to do it for them. But this was about more than just the workings of Jewish life under Roman rule. John tells us, “This was to fulfill the word that Jesus had spoken to show by what kind of death he was going to die.” Jesus had said that he would die by crucifixion. At the beginning of Holy Week he announced, “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” John tells us, “He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.” Our Lord said that he would die by crucifixion – the most humiliating and shameful death known in the world of that time. He had come to defeat the devil, but he would do so in way that did not look like victory.
Pilate soon realized that the Jewish leaders were using him. When he asked Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?”, Jesus replied, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”
The Roman governor went back outside to the Jews and told them, "I find no guilt in him.” As far as Pilate was concerned, Jesus was a delusional fool who certainly offended the Jewish leaders, but this was no justification for Pilate to execute him. So the governor tried to find a way out of the situation by offering to release Jesus as part of the Passover custom. But instead of Jesus, the Jewish leaders and those with them shouted that they wanted the robber Barabbas instead.
So Pilate went back inside and gave Jesus over to the Roman soldiers. The flogged Jesus – they whipped him. Then they had some fun as they twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and put a purple robe on him. They dressed him up like foolish looking king and mocked him saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!,” as they struck him with their hands.
Then Pilate went out again and said to the Jews, "See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him." He brought Jesus out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe and said to them: "Behold the man!"
Ecce home. Behold the man! Pilate set before them a joke. It’s very unlikely that Pilate was trying to gain sympathy from the Jews. Instead he was trying to illustrate the absurdity of the idea that Jesus posed some kind of threat. Indirectly, he was mocking the Jews and the fact that they were so concerned about this man Jesus.
Ecce home. Behold the man! Of course, this man is not just a mere man. He is the Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity. He is the One of whom John wrote in the first chapter, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” He is true God and true man, for John tells us, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
The Son of God had entered into the world in the incarnation. He did this because of the darkness of Satan and sin. Our Lord said, “I have come as Light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me will not remain in darkness.” The darkness was the slavery of sin and death which ruled us. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” He had come as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He had come to give us life – eternal life with God that cannot be stopped by death. Jesus declared, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”
Jesus Christ had come to do all these things. He had been sent by the Father And yet: Ecce homo. Behold the man! Jesus stands there mocked and humiliated. He stands there in weakness and shame. And this pathetic scene is just the preparation for what awaits. The Jewish leaders maneuvered Pilate into a corner by working the political angle. We hear them say in our text, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar's friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.” Denying the true King of all sent by God, they declared, “We have no king but Caesar.” Outmaneuvered by the Jewish leaders, Pilate had Jesus crucified.
Stripped of his clothing and nailed to a cross, Jesus was lifted up in weakness and shame. Yet this weakness and shame was actually the revelation of God’s incredible love for us. It was the revelation of God’s saving glory in Christ. Jesus said at the beginning of Holy Week, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
Jesus was on the cross. But he was there because this was the will of the Father to save us. On the previous evening Jesus told the disciples, “I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.” Jesus Christ’s death on the cross was the will of the Father. It was the will of the Father for the world. It was the will of the Father for you. John chapter three says, “For God loved the world in this way, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
The shame and weakness of the cross was the revelation of God’s saving glory in Christ, because it was the means by which he took away our sins and gave us forgiveness. As Jesus was about to die he said, “It is finished.” By his death our Lord had completed the mission given to him by the Father. He had fulfilled the Father’s will. In Revelation the apostle John tells of how he heard Christ acclaimed by those around the throne of God as they said, “you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.”
Jesus’ death in our place has freed us from the slavery of sin. Our Lord laid down his life in the midst of the shame and weakness of the cross because this was the Father’s will to reveal his love for us. This was the way that Christ’s glory was revealed.
But it is also not the end. Tonight we focus upon Jesus’ death. We hear Jesus cry, “It is finished,” and know that he has completed the work of freeing us from sin. However, Jesus had also said, “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.” At the end of our text we hear of how Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus asked for the body of Jesus and buried it in a tomb. But Jesus had come to bring life – eternal life – and his body would not remain there.