Thursday, March 14, 2002

Matthew 27:19

"Mrs Pilate's Dream"
March 2002
Cornerstone Covenant Church

“Just then, as Pilate was sitting in the judgment seat, his wife sent him this message: ‘Leave that innocent man alone, because I had a terrible nightmare about him last night.’”

As many times as I’ve read through Matthew I’ve never really given much attention to this little cameo appearance of Mrs. Pilate.

It’s just never really impinged upon my conciousness – until this week.

So I started doing a little research on Matthew 27:19 and I found that most commentators pretty much gloss over it. And in my Internet search through the sermon archives I couldn’t find a single sermon preached on it.

I searched through the Early Church fathers and again found but a few passing references.

I’m not saying no one has ever preached on this passage – just that it doesn’t happen very often.

Now, of course, it’s not that big of a verse and certainly the flow of the story doesn’t pivot on it.

But that makes me wonder, why did Matthew include it in his gospel in the first place? None of the other gospel writers tell us about Pilate’s wife’s dream and her message asking her husband to spare Jesus.

Why is that this verse is here? And what is God saying to us through it?

I started putting together some possible explanations.


If Pilate had released Jesus, as his wife requested, his place in history would be completely different. But he only listens half-way. When she says to him “Have nothing to do with him he is innocent,” what does Pilate do?

He releases the criminal Barabbas instead. And then he washes his hands before the crowd, as a sign that he is innocent of Jesus’ blood. He bows to the pressure of the crowd and turns Jesus over for execution.

Out of one side of his mouth he says – “I’m innocent. I’ve got nothing to do with this.”

But out of the other side, he being the only man who could sign the death warrant, does so.

Pilate is a slime-ball. We know that from many other sources, too. His cruelty and political shenanigans eventually leads to his recall to Rome – where he commits suicide under suspicious circumstances.

But it would have all been different if he had listened to his wife.

By the way, have you noticed how often the women do the right thing in the New Testament and their men are buffoonish?

Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, has no trouble with her old age pregnancy but her husband Zechariah can’t believe the angel who is telling him about it. And he becomes temporarily mute.

At the crucifixion of Jesus the disciples scatter and abandon him but the women hang tight at the foot of the cross.

The words of faith and insight often roll off the lips of women in the New Testament. And such is the case here with Pilate’s wife.

If only he had listened to her.

Now, having said all that, I really don’t think that, at least here in Matthew 27, the gospel writer is extolling the virtues of wise wives. It might be true that men should listen to their wives but that doesn’t fit well into the flow of the story here.


And Mrs. Pilate had a dozy of a nightmare. She ays: “I have suffered much today because of him.”

This wasn’t one of those dreams where you wake up, get a drink of water, crawl back into bed and forget it. “I have suffered much...”

In the ancient world people often received divine messages in their dreams.

Job 33:14-18 says–“But God speaks again and again, though people do not recognize it. He speaks in dreams, in visions of the night when deep sleep falls on people as they lie in bed. He whispers in their ear and terrifies them with his warning. He causes them to change their minds; he keeps them from pride. He keeps them from the grave, from crossing over the river of death.”

In Matthew 1, Joseph the fiancé of the Virgin Mary, has a dream where an angel tells him about the baby.

In Matthew 2 the Magi are warned in a dream to return home without visiting King Herod. Also in Matthew 2 an angel appears to Joseph in a dream and tells him that he should take his wife and the baby Jesus and flee to Egypt. Dreams were often used to communicate divine truth.

And maybe they still are today. Although our minds are so cluttered that we perhaps miss a lot of what happens while we sleep.

I once had a dream about a friend whom I hadn’t seen in years. And it was so shocking and so strong that I jolted up at 3 in the morning convinced that God was calling on me to pray for her. Which I did.

So the next day I called a mutual friend who lived in the same city as this woman. I asked how she was. And he said that she was in terrible trouble.

Pregnant and unmarried, everything was falling apart in her life. She was depressed.

I don’t know if she was having a particularly bad night. But I believe that God spoke to me in the dream that night to get me to pray for her.

Now, fortunately, not everything that happens in our dreams is of divine origins. I had a dream two nights ago that was a bit bizarre. I was trying to take a short-cut to get somewhere and ended up crawling over a fire truck – a ladder truck. And I accidently hit a lever that sent the ladder up into the air. I was trying to get this ladder back down again and at the same time I was trying to be inconspicuous. It was pretty funny.

Not all dreams are messages from God. But there are times. And perhaps, just perhaps, Matthew is trying to convince us to pay attention to our dreams.

Although, to the ancient readers that was an unnecessary message. It was a given that God sometimes speaks through dreams. And besides, the dream itself doesn’t appear to be the point of the story.

Well, how about this? MATTHEW INCLUDED THE ACCOUNT IN 27:19 TO SHOW THAT NOT ALL ROMANS WERE CLUELESS. Remember, Matthew’s early readers were Jewish.

Matthew is the most Jewish of the 4 gospel accounts. And he is presenting the gospel is such a way that it resonates with Jewish readers. And there were tensions between the Jewish and non-Jewish Christians in the early church. We know that.

But here is a report of a non-Jewish woman – actually a very non-Jewish woman – the wife of the Roman governor! Speaking up on behalf of the Jewish Messiah – an unlikely ally.

Tradition has it that this whole episode so rattled poor Claudia Procla (that’s what her proper name was) – Claudia Procla - although we just know her as Mrs. Pilate. Claudia Procla was so rattled by this whole episode that she went on to become a mature, convinced, and convincing follower of Jesus!

The Eastern Orthodox churches even recognize her as among the spiritually elite saints. I don’t know exactly what happened to her. But indeed she was one of the Roman voices who figured Jesus out.

Another is in verse 54, also in chapter 27, as Jesus dies, the Roman centurion declares “Truly this was the Son of God.”

Everyone else seems to be missing the point but you have a couple of Romans who get it. And, of course, Matthew is begging his readers to ask, if some of the big bad evil Romans get it, why don’t you Jewish people understand?

Or even more personally, am I getting it? If I were there, would I be declaring the innocence of Jesus? Would I be able to stand up and say, “truly this was the Son of God?”

So, yes, Matthew includes this little vignette about Pilate’s wife so that we can see that all the Romans were not all clueless.

But there is still more to it than that. Look closely at what the governor’s wife says when she tries to warn Pilate to have nothing to do with the execution of Jesus.

“Leave that innocent man alone...”, she says.

Some of the translations render this as righteous man or just man -- all of which is pointing to Jesus’ innocence. This was a no-brainer, as far as Mrs. Pilate was concerned.

There was no way that anyone could call this anything but a railroad job.

The charges were false. Jesus had committed no crime. If anything, he was a righteous and innocent man – who was about to die.

Do you get that same terrible feeling that I get when they find out that an innocent person has been imprisoned?

Kevin Green spent 16 years in a California prison for a murder he didn’t commit. He was freed, not because of his repeated claims of innocence, but because of a DNA database at California’s Department of Justice lab in Berkeley and new technology for analyzing DNA samples.

How many other innocent people sit in jail or have been executed–based on faulty evidence. The very idea of this happening is infuriating.

Jesus was innocent. An innocent Messiah was about to die. And Matthew wants to convey some of the same sense to his readers. Although I’m not sure furry is the best word.

Matthew wants us to see the injustice so that we can get a sense of the sacrifice. MATTHEW INCLUDES THE STORY OF MRS PILATE TO REINFORCE IN OUR MINDS THE INNOCENCE OF OUR SAVIOR. (Key point)

This is what the prophet speaks of in Isaiah 53:7, “He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led as a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth. From prison and trial they led him away to his death. But who among the people realized that he was dying for their sins—that he was suffering their punishment? He had done no wrong, and he never deceived anyone.”

And it’s his innocence that the apostles speak of when they say in 1 Peter 3:18, “Christ also suffered when he died for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but he died for sinners that he might bring us safely home to God.”

He was innocent, righteous, just – and he died for us so that we might be reconciled to God.

Really. In simple basic terms this is what the cross is about. This is what Jesus is about. The innocent Savior taking on the sins of the world so that we might be free of them and their consequence.

And this is why Mrs. Pilate shows up in the story – she is a unique witness to the way that God worked out our salvation – using his own innocent Son.

I wonder what would have happened if Pilate had actually listened to his wife and had nothing to do with sending the innocent Jesus to the cross.

What if...?

But really the point of the story is that he didn’t – and ironically by ignoring his wife and through his participation in the crucifixion – salvation was accomplished.

And part of becoming a mature, convinced, and convincing follower of Jesus is recognizing that Jesus was the innocent sacrifice that not only took away the sins of the world – but took away my sins.

Because of his innocence, I become innocent, for when we begin to trust Christ, who he is, starts to remake us into his image. In our unity with him we become innocent – even though by all accounts we should be counted as guilty. By all accounts Jesus should be counted as innocent but he was treated as guilty.

We are guilty but because of him we are made innocent–just–righteous people.

This is God’s doing in our lives and I would invite you to open your life to what God has done and is doing through Christ Jesus.

Perhaps you’ve never really received Christ as your innocent Savior. You’ve heard the story – maybe a thousand times! But you’ve never actually acted on what you’ve heard. You’ve never started putting your trust in him.

I invite you to start doing that even at this moment.

In a minute we’re going to pray and in the silence of that time simply tell God that you’re thankful for the innocent sacrifice that was made on your behalf and that you are trusting him to take charge of your life and to remake it into his innocent image.

Perhaps, though, you’ve done this and you’re finding that it’s a rough go -- maybe a lot of stop and go... stop and go...

As you’ve been reminded of the innocence of Christ Jesus I would encourage you to renew your commitment to following him. As a matter of fact that would be a good idea – whether things are going well or not so well – renew your commitment to the innocent Savior – the one who died for you that you might live.

Let’s pray:


Dear Jesus –

Innocent Savior. You died on the cross on our behalf. And that you chose to do this is beyond our comprehension. We are so unfocused and self-centered that we don’t even think much about what you’ve done for us. So we are grateful for Holy Week – that reminder that keeps popping up and calling us back to the cross. So here we are – and we are making decisions this morning. Some of us are deciding that we want to begin living for you. And some of us are renewing our commitment to you. This is good. And we seek your blessing. Take that which is simply a desire – a decision on our part – and flesh it out so that it actually begins to take root and work out in our lives. It is with gratitude that we come before you. Amen.

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