“So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves” (Matt 27:24).
Pilate tried to get Jesus off the hook. He used everything in his power to show the chief priests and the crowd Jesus’ innocence. He failed. But he saw relief—for himself anyway. Washing his hands, he declared himself innocent of Jesus’s blood. Pilate absolved himself of Jesus’s forthcoming death using a little water and some words. Pilate baptized himself.
With troubled consciences, we act like Pilate. We seek refuge and relief in our words and actions. We try harder to right everything we’ve done wrong. And when we fail, we try to stand at the font, sprinkle water on our heads, and hope to declare ourselves forgiven by our mediocre efforts. We try to baptize ourselves.
Washing in Pilate’s baptism fails to cleanse any unrighteousness. It only whitewashes our exterior, and temporarily at best. Guilt remains in spite of self-justifying pronouncements. Garments stay stained despite self-righteous deeds (Isa 64:4). We can’t see to it ourselves.
Like Pilate, we stand wearing blinders, looking down at our dirty hands. We fail to see Jesus standing next to us. We fail to hear his words. We miss Christ condemned, mocked, and beaten for us, who took our alms of greed and wickedness (Mark 7:1-23) to the cross in exchange for his righteousness.
Jesus says, “Give me your sins, and behold everything is clean for you” (Luke 11:39-41). Be cleaned by the waters attached to my works “having been buried with [me] in baptism, in which you were also raised with [me] through the powerful working of God, who raised [me] from the dead. And you, who were bead in your trespasses… God made alive together with [me], having forgiven all [your] trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against [you] with its legal demands. This [I] set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Col 2:12-14).
He says, “Be washed in the waters attached to my name.” “For these words, ‘In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,’ mean the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are baptizing you” (Philip Melanchthon. Commonplaces: Loci Communes 1521. 171).
Heavenly Father, thank you for sending your Son to take on that which we cannot see to ourselves: our unrighteousness and giving us his righteousness in return. Amen.