The Greater Sin

John 19:11
Jesus answered, Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin.

We can all understand that some sins are more heinous than others. For example, stealing a packet of chewing gum from the corner shop is less of a sin than killing somebody. Both are wrong, but when such perpetrators appear before the magistrate, one should rightly receive a harsher punishment than the other.

So it is with God too. Some sins in His sight are greater than others. So there will be degrees of punishment in hell fire:

Matthew 10:15 
Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city.

An earthly magistrate has the difficult task of trying to fit the punishment to the crime, taking into account all necessary mitigating circumstances. He can only do his best on the evidence brought before him. But God is perfectly just. He doesn’t merely go on external evidence alone. He can see the hearts and minds and motives behind everything we do.

So, not only are we going to be judged for every idle word we speak:

Matthew 12:36 

But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.

 But we’ll be judged for every one of our thoughts too:

Hebrews 4:13 
Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.

Men don’t want to believe in an all-seeing, all-powerful God. It frightens them. But aren’t we glad that He can see everything and is perfectly just?

Genesis 18:25 
Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?

God’s judgments at the end of time will be right judgments. Just think what it would be like if an earthly judge made the decision about our eternal punishment. Even if an earthly judge did his best, he couldn’t see the thoughts of our hearts, and in any case, earthly judges wouldn’t judge justly, because of the corruption of their own hearts. 

For centuries, the Roman Catholic Church thought it was the dispenser of the keys of the kingdom of heaven on earth. They really thought they had the awesome power to open and close the doors of heaven to men. And they would say that they could back that claim up from the Bible:

Matthew 16:18-19 
And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

John 20:21-23 
Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.

How are we to understand passages like these? Do men really have such awesome power to include or exclude others from heaven? And dish out punishments in hell? Of course not.

Mark 2:7 
Who can forgive sins but God only?

 All men can do is cast people out of their own little organisation which they call church. They have no jurisdiction in eternity:

Matthew 10:28 
And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

We have examples of this in Scripture:

1 Corinthians 5:4-5 
In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

1 Timothy 1:20 
Of whom is Hymenaeus and Alexander; whom I have delivered unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme.

We sometimes have to exclude people from church privileges. And, as we see in both examples, we should only do that for the sole purpose of seeking their repentance so that they can eventually be restored to the fellowship. These people were giving the church a bad name. So they have to be excluded for a time, otherwise the witness of the church is compromised.

But men can, and do, abuse this idea of church discipline. Many good people have been unjustly cast out of a church. Maybe you know a few. How about the man born blind in John 9? His parents were too scared to confess Christ in case they were cast out of the synagogue:

John 9:22 
These words spake his parents, because they feared the Jews: for the Jews had agreed already, that if any man did confess that he was Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue.

But the man born blind had no such qualms. He realised that, after all, he was only being cast out of a mere visible organisation run by men:

John 9:33-34 
If this man were not of God, he could do nothing. They answered and said unto him, Thou wast altogether born in sins, and dost thou teach us? And they cast him out.

And many bad people have managed to get themselves promoted into very high places in the church. Like Caiaphas. From the earliest time of Christ’s public ministry, he and his fellow chief priests wanted to get rid of Christ:

Luke 6:11 
And they were filled with madness; and communed one with another what they might do to Jesus.

John 5:16 
And therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus, and sought to slay him, because he had done these things on the sabbath day.

And especially after Lazarus was raised from the dead, he was even more determined to kill Him, even inadvertently prophesying about Him:

John 11:47-53 
Then gathered the chief priests and the Pharisees a council, and said, What do we? for this man doeth many miracles. If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation. And one of them, named Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year, said unto them, Ye know nothing at all, Nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not. And this spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation; And not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad. Then from that day forth they took counsel together for to put him to death.

 The religious authorities of Christ’s day hated Him because they were losing their control over the people. But how is it that these religious leaders had such control in the first place? They had an uncanny power of persuasion over them. Caiaphas the high priest, in particular, controlled the religious authorities, who in turn controlled the people. Only when Christ came along and refreshingly taught the truth, did people start to realise what had been happening:

Matthew 7:29 
For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.

But that made Caiaphas even more determined to use his influence. He didn’t have the authority to put anyone to death, so he persuaded his fellow council members to have Christ sent to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, who had. But Pilate could find no fault in Christ. So he should have released Him. He had full authority from Rome to do so:

John 19:10 
Then saith Pilate unto him, Speakest thou not unto me? knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee? 

And, what’s more, this authority had been given to him by God:

John 19:11(a) 
Jesus answered, Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above....

All those in authority, good and bad, have been put there by God, and have the power of the sword to execute justice:

Romans 13:1,4 
Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.... For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.

So, why didn’t Pilate release Him? Christ continued:

John 19:11(b) 
....therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin. 

Pilate knew Christ was innocent, yet still had him put to death regardless. We’re even told:

John 19:12(a) 
And from thenceforth Pilate sought to release him....

Why is it said here he only “sought” to release Christ? He’d just said that he had full authority to release Him. He didn’t need to seek anything.

John 19:12(b) 
....but the Jews cried out, saying, If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar's friend: whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar. 

Pilate gave in to the mob. That was his sin. 

John 19:16 
Then delivered he him therefore unto them to be crucified. And they took Jesus, and led him away.

But Caiaphas’s sin was greater. By persuading the council, then persuading the mob, he eventually managed to persuade Pilate to do exactly what he wanted, even against Pilate’s better judgment. The power of persuasion, the ability to coerce and control others, is a far, far greater sin than someone abusing a God-given authority by putting an innocent man to death, even One who was the Son of God. Let’s never be taken in by controlling men.

So then, we see that there are degrees of sin.

All men are without excuse for their sin:

Romans 1:18-20 
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:

But those who have heard about Jesus Christ are even more without excuse if they don’t respond to His call:

Luke 12:47-48 
And that servant, which knew his lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.

Those who are teachers in the church are even more so:

James 3:1 
My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.

And those who try to deliberately, knowingly mislead the Lord’s people get the hottest place of all in hell fire;

Matthew 18:6 
But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.

Whereabouts are we on this spectrum? We will be on it somewhere, because we’re all born with a self-centred nature, which is in the sight of God sinful. And we can’t escape the judgment to come by ourselves.

But God hasn’t left us in that predicament. God is not only perfectly just, but He is also perfectly merciful. And for that we must be even more thankful. We all deserve hell fire for ever, so none of us could complain if God passes us by and we end up there. But if we receive His salvation, it is of sheer mercy alone, and nothing we deserve:

Romans 9:15-16 
For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.

And He is merciful to a number no man can number:

Revelation 7:9 
After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands....

But that doesn’t mean He just lets them off. God forbid! He sent His Son into the world to take the punishment due to His people upon Himself. So not only is God perfectly just - due punishment is still meted out - but He is also merciful, by punishing their sin in His own Son instead, so they can go free:

Romans 3:26 
To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.

So, how do we avail ourselves of this mercy? 

Acts 16:31 

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.

Come to Jesus Christ. Call upon Him. Pray to Him. He is the only one who can save us from the punishment we deserve. But we must believe and trust in Him. There is no other way of escape.