“This morning I would like to suggest to you that our gospel reading is one of the hardest texts for us to understand. Not just because of the subtleties of the conversation between Jesus and Pilate, or even because Jesus raises that universal issue of truth to which Pilate will right after our reading ask Jesus, ‘What is truth?’ No, this reading is hard because as 21st century Americans, we have no experience of someone being our king.”
“He Made Us To Be a Kingdom”: A Sermon for Christ the King Sunday
by Pastor Bob
November 20, 2011
Text: John 18:33-37
Jesus before Pilate
Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
“Is that your own idea,”Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”
“Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”
Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
“You are a king, then!” said Pilate.
Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
–This morning I would like to suggest to you that our gospel reading is one of the hardest texts for us to understand.
–Not just because of the subtleties of the conversation between Jesus and Pilate.
–Or even because Jesus raises that universal issue of truth to which Pilate will right after our reading ask Jesus, “What is truth?”
–No, this reading is hard because as 21st century Americans, we have no experience of someone being our king.
–It is hard to relate to this. It is unintuitive to us.
–In our world—particularly in our world of California, where even the Terminator can be governor—there is no place for a king.
–Kings are figureheads of some other country.
–A by-product of an earlier time.
–A main character in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.
–They wear elaborate clothes; fight huge battles; preside over stately functions; sit on thrones.
–They wave their hands in certain ways.
–And, above all, they inherit their kingdoms.
–So how do we make sense of Jesus as King when Pilate declares him King of the Jews?
–First of all, by the world’s standards, Jesus does not make a very convincing king.
–He is born in a barn and sleeps in a cattle trough.
–His family has no wealth and no prestige.
–His hometown of Nazareth is considered so unimportant it prompts one Biblical writer to proclaim, “What good can come out of Nazareth?”
–So when someone calls Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth, you can imagine them not just saying “Jesus of Nazareth” but (in a negative tone) “Jesus of Nazareth.”
–This is why Pontius Pilate, the Roman ruler of the region, is taunting Jesus with his language of kingship.
–Jesus does not act, dress, or resemble any kind of king that Pilate has experienced before.
–Kings are not poor.
–Kings do not associate with beggars and sick people.
–Kings do not run around the country with a tax collector and a bunch of fishermen.
–Jesus, by any stretch of the imagination does not act like any king the world has known.
–And for good reason.
–The gospel story of Jesus Christ is not the making of a King, but it is the in-breaking of a Kingdom.
–Jesus did not come into the world to be king, but rather to bring in God’s kingdom.
–We hear this in the first words of Jesus’ public ministry:
“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near;repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mark 1:15)
–They echo the same words of John the Baptist.
–“Repent, for the kingdom of God has come near.”
–Jesus is very careful throughout his ministry to declare that it is God’s Kingdom that is being brought in.
–He does not say, “My kingdom is here, let’s celebrate me as king.”
–Everything the Jesus says and does reflects his desire for the Kingdom of God to be fulfilled.
–And he does this in a most peculiar way.
–Instead of storming in with angel troops and declaring martial law.
–Jesus arrives alone to become one of us.
–To grow up with the same temptations and struggles.
–And to ultimately die a shameful and tortuous death.
–No, he is not seeking to be king.
–He is seeking a kingdom.
–Now, for all the ridicule and scorn that we heap upon the religious leaders of this time, I think we minimize just how astute the religious leaders and the Roman rulers were.
–It wasn’t that they knew that Jesus was the Son of God, but they knew that Jesus was a powerful person.
–They knew that Jesus was trying to bring in a kingdom that would change their world.
–They didn’t know it was God’s kingdom.
–But they did know that this kingdom was gaining support among the masses.
–That this kingdom challenged the religious authority of not only the local religious leaders, but of the Temple worship itself: the sacred worship established by Moses and Aaron and passed on from generation to generation.
–Though the particular gospel text for today does not mention it, there is another Jesus in Pilate’s custody.
–Ironically, Pilate held not only Jesus of Nazareth, but Jesus Barabbas.
–A convicted criminal who was most likely part of the Jewish underground trying to overthrow Roman rule.
–In other words, Jesus Barabbas or as we simply call him, Barabbas, was an insurrectionist, or, from a Roman perspective, a terrorist.
–If we put this together, we recognize an astonishing thing.
–The religious leaders and the masses were more afraid of Jesus of Nazareth than Jesus Barabbas.
–Though Barabbas was a criminal who had perhaps killed people, Jesus Christ was something far more dangerous.
–He was bringing in a kingdom.
–The irony of those who shouted “Crucify, crucify him!” was that by killing Jesus Christ, the in-breaking kingdom was fulfilled …
–Three days later, Christ rose from the dead.
–And now our lives have been forever changed.
–Because we are a part of that in-breaking kingdom of God.
–And if there is something I want you to take away with you this morning it is this: You are part of this kingdom.
–2000 years ago, Pontius Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth?”
–Today, we know the better question is “Who is truth?”
–To which we answer, in faith, that Jesus is truth.
–The truth, the life, and the way.
–The one whose kingdom shall have no end.
–The one who gave everything so that we could be a part of this truth, a part of this kingdom.
–It is true that these days we do not call anyone our king.
–But our hearts do proclaim a kingdom.
–A kingdom where love is the reigning power
–A kingdom where life, and not death, is lifted up
–A kingdom where God’s son is proclaimed
–And a kingdom in which we are all God’s priests—the priesthood of all believers.
–We hear these words of hope and truth proclaimed in the book of Revelation:
To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever.
Look! He is coming with the clouds;
every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him;
and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail.
So it is to be.
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.