Pilate was stuck between a rock and a hard place. Golgotha and Caesar demanded a sacrifice. He stood before an innocent man whom the crowd wanted executed. He had him beaten hoping to appease his voters. They were not satisfied. They were going to go to his superior. He would lose his job and probably more after Caesar hears that he let some fellow claim to be King.
He figured it out. He would baptized himself clean of the deed. He baptized his hands and under his command, the governor of Jerusalem, apostle of Caesar, he declared himself innocent. Water and Word, so he thought. He felt good immediately afterward. He let an innocent man die but made it clear he didn’t approve. Well, he could have done something, but he found the perfect solution, justification, atonement, rationalization. He felt fine for a moment. He went to bed feeling guilty and ashamed. Fool’s gold, that baptism.
Have you ever baptized yourself? You couldn’t wiggle out of that mistake. You baptize your brain justifying your behavior so you could have a clean conscience. You baptized yourself with your clever words and maybe instead of water, a good deed or a kind word. Voila, you’re innocent. Have you ever been stuck between a rock and a hard place? Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Have you ever needed a scapegoat that you could ride out on?
Every religion practices self baptism with all sorts of things and all sorts of words. Every philosophy and worldview does verbal gymnastics to justify this and justify that. That baby would grow up poor and miserable, so I talked my girlfriend into aborting it. I can’t stop this wave of desires, so I’ll baptize them and with my words call evil good. I want my cake and eat it too. I won’t forgive that jerk because he needs to be taught a lesson. I’m justified in not loving my enemy. I’m justified in telling some white lies to get ahead. I’m justified in looking at that porn site because I’m not that bad overall.
Our increasingly puritanical and religious culture baptizes its sins regularly in rituals of virtue signaling, public confessions and scarlet letters, silencing critics and finding scapegoats who make us look good.
Cleaning our hands. Declaring ourselves innocent. Shoving our guilt to the back of our skull. Self baptism by our own authority and with our own waters.
The chief priests threw Judas’ money back at him when Judas came to be baptized. Baptize yourself. They baptized themselves of their evil, like Pilate, believing they were now clean by their own silly ritual and powerless words.
If only Pilate knew that he didn’t have to wash his hands clean and that his words really didn’t have any authority at all.
If only Pilate knew that the one whom he had touched, like the priests gripping the head of the scapegoat, was going to carry his sins like a beast of burden up upon a rock and a hard place and kill them and bury them.
If only Pilate knew that Jesus came to baptize him! With water and a more authoritative word, Jesus casts out demons, makes sinners clean, washes away the deepest and dirtiest of sins for free!
Friend, lay down your bucket of water. Stop offering excuses, rationalizations, justifications. You are guilty. But that’s OK. I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.