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Text: John 19:1-16

From then on Pilate sought to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar's friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.”

Pilate had sought several times to release Jesus. Several times he proclaimed, “I find no guilt in this man.” His wife had sent him a message, saying "Don't have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him."

He offered Barabbas to be released, thinking they’d take the bait. After, he thought, who would want a dangerous murderer running around? But they didn’t go for it. They chose Barabbas to go free, and their shrill cries became louder yet “crucify him,” they yelled. Now Pilate was frustrated, and annoyed, “Take him yourselves, and crucify him!” he yells back.

The Scriptures say, after his conversation with Jesus in the Palace, he continued to find ways to release him. Pilate was clearly conflicted. Tiberius demanded peace and order. The Jews wanted blood. And Pilate didn’t want to make waves in the empire. He had a lot to lose, after all. He was governor – had a nice place at Herod’s palace.   

But then the Jews pulled out their trump card. They cried out, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend.” If you read closely, this is what did it for Pilate. It was good to be a friend of Caesar. It meant safety, riches, comfort, privilege, and certainly great wealth. Nobody wanted to be a Brutus.

So when the Jews cry out that Pilate is no friend of Caesar they really threatening him now. You are no friend of Caesar. That accusation sealed the deal for Pilate. When he heard those words he brought Jesus out and handed Him to the Jews to be crucified.

The bottom line, is that Pilate chose friendship with Caesar over friendship with Christ.

To Pilate, Caesar is very well the whole empire. Caesar is to him, is the whole world. Without Caesar, Pilate is nothing. A man is rags. That wasn’t a risk Pilate was willing to take.

What will it be for you? Caesar, the world, and all its goodies. Are these the highest good? Or are you, ready, willing, risking all for Christ.

What occupies your thoughts? What are your daydreams? What are you fears?  In what or whom do you trust? What do you love?

Holy Scripture teaches us in first John: Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1 Jn. 2:15-17).

Hear the word of St. James: You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God (Js. 4:4).

Listen to Jesus who taught his disciples, saying “You cannot serve God and mammon.” Mammom is the world, money, and passing allurements, which so easily entice our hearts and enslave us. What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his own soul?

When you’re a kid it’s common to be asked “Who is your best friend.” When you’re a little older, or in high school, your mother would warn you, “Beware of the company you keep.” You’ve also been reminded that you’ll be judged by the company you keep.

So tonight, I ask you, “what sort of company have you been keeping.” Or I ask you, simply, “who is your best friend?”   

How hard have you been trying to please Caesar? You are so focused on receiving the approval of this world, and your peers, but what about friendship with God? You have obsessed about being in the right company, with the in-group – the popular crowd. The crowd that is good looking and upwardly mobile. But how much have you considered, walking with the saints, and keeping in the company of angels.

The truth is, your friendship with Caesar - your friendship with this world, its comforts, has gotten out of hand. Your ambitions, your appetites, the things that have become most important to you. By what you’ve done and by what you’ve left undone, the truth is, you’ve blended in with the crowd.

You fear losing Caesar more than you fear losing Christ. If all your thoughts could be known. If all your deeds could be exposed -if your life were an open book for all to see - there would be one chapter and one verse. One creed only: “No king but Caesar!”

Repent. Caesar is a poor friend. If you give him too much of yourself, you’ll only gain a guilty conscience, and live in bondage to your worst fears and anxieties. What shall it profit a man if he’s Caesar friend but forfeits his own soul.

So, who is your best friend? What sort of company are you keeping? As our mothers taught us, ‘we’re judged by the company we keep.’

But while your friendship for God has failed, just look at his friendship toward you. See him beaten and spat upon. Whipped and scorned. Look at him wearing a crown of thorns, a purple robe over his bloody flesh. Look at him silent, bearing your faithlessness and your sinful lust of this world.

Behold the man! A man who will not cower before Caesar, and powers and principalities. A man who will not compromise himself or capitulate. A man who will gladly obey the Father’s will to save you.

Behold your King, a friend of sinners, prostitutes, liars and cheats. A king who suffers and dies even for fair-weather friends and backsliding disciples. A king who suffers and dies for the likes of you.     

Repent and be glad and glory in His cross. For in Jesus is an inheritance, and a palace, and a kingdom which Caesar could never imagine.  

Caesar, all of them, are long dead and buried and this world too will pass away. But Christ is not dead. He walked out of the tomb bringing life and immortality. He was raised up for your justification – that you would be forgiven, reconciled, and declared to be friends of God.

So what sort of company will you keep? How about with the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit? How about keeping company with one another in this congregation? How about forgiving one another richly as Christ has forgiven you.

And who is your best friend? Well, maybe, “what a friend we have in Jesus” isn’t too bad, after all. In the name of Jesus. Amen.