Two things are contrasted in John 18: the gravity of Jesus and the levity of Pilate. “Gravity” means weight. Levity means “weightlessness” (as in “levitate”). Here we see Jesus on his way to the cross, showing the utmost gravity, but Pilate dismisses it as some light and irrelevant claim: “What is truth?” he asks flippantly (John 18:38).
“What is truth?” Nothing could be more foolish than this response. Truth is standing in front of him. Truth is what Jesus is dying to establish. It is not a luxury that you dismiss and get around to later!
But for Pilate, truth carries no gravity. It is not a heavy thing to him. Even when Pilate is convinced of Jesus’ innocence, he will not act on it. He defers, “washing his hands of the matter,” saying in essence, “It is too costly to render an opinion right now.” His opinions about Jesus’ innocence are irrelevant because his convictions on the matter—guilty or innocent—lack the gravity to change his course.
Yet everything about Jesus cries out for gravity. Even Pilate, who desperately wanted to avoid taking the situation seriously, could not help but feel some fear (19:8). He must have heard of Jesus’ power—especially the night before, when with a word Jesus knocked down a host of soldiers, and when he reattached a man’s severed ear to his head (John 18:6, Luke 22:51). And why would Jesus refuse to defend himself? Why would he willingly and silently endure the beating, when he could speak up and clear himself?
The wounds of Christ scream out for a verdict. But Pilate lacks the courage to decide for or against Jesus. He does not want to join in the crucifixion, but he will not stand up to defend Jesus either. He just defers, postpones the decision, pushes it off to the side. It was not unbelief that sent Pilate to hell, but indifference.
Who is Pilate today? He is the one who refuses to decisively act on the Lordship of Jesus. Some people follow after Pilate when they come to church occasionally, trying to be a good person, but refuse to be fully devoted disciples of Jesus. “That’s for later,” they think, “Right now marriage/my career is more important.” If this is you, make no mistake: Pilate represents you.
There’s another kind of Pilate today, a group of people who describe themselves as “apatheists.” When asked about God’s existence, theists say “Yes,” atheists say “No,” agnostics say, “I don’t know.” But apatheists respond with, “Who cares?”
But every once in a while, something will rattle them, like Pilate gets rattled. Maybe it’s the surreal feeling at a funeral, or a moment of fear when they realize how fragile life is. Maybe it’s seeing the power of Jesus on display in the life of a friend. The situation cries out for gravity, screams for a verdict. But like Pilate, many sweep it away with levity. And in the end, as Blaise Pascal said, it is not unbelief that keeps people from Jesus, but indifference.
How can so many ignore the gravity of this question? To shrug it off and say, “who cares?” is—eternally speaking—absolutely insane. Jesus is not to be taken lightly. As Charles Spurgeon once said:
“Trifle not with Christ, whose hands and feet were nailed to the accursed tree for sinners such as you. Trifle not with his precious blood, for that is your only hope of redemption. Trifle not with the Holy Spirit, for if he should leave you to perish, your case would be hopeless. Trifle not with the gospel; what would the lost in hell not give to hear another proclamation of mercy! The devil does not trifle; he is very earnestly seeking your destruction. God and Christ and the Holy Spirit are not trifling with you, and [I am] not trifling with you either.”