The conversation between and Jesus and Pilate, which is written in John 18:33-37, allows John to proclaim in his Gospel that Jesus is a king with a divine authority. Jesus was accused of plotting to overthrow the government, and he was being questioned by Pilate. This gave Jesus a chance to tell his side of the story. Jesus argues that his kingdom is founded on truth. This is in contrast to earthly kingdoms which are founded on power.
In fact, Pilate’s “kingdom” was based on power. In his mind, truth was what the powerful said it was-and the same is often true today. Jesus offered Pilate the same choice he offers us today-advance your status on earth or walk in the light of truth. The choice we make will determine which kingdom we will serve-God or man.
Jesus saw the world differently that the way the world sees the world. He defied logic by the way he lived and by what he taught. He taught that truth is the cornerstone of healthy relationships and strong communities. If something or someone claims to be truth and has violent intentions or acts in a coercive manner, then it is not truth. Truth may be attacked but it cannot be harmed. It is not “of this world”. This is how the gospels speak of truth, and this is why John’s Gospel calls Jesus “the true and living way”.
Healthy relationships require confidence that both partners will tell the truth. We have to trust that individuals will do what they promise to do. Unfortunately, this is not always the case, especially with politicians. We often manipulate the truth to serve to serve our purposes-both by what we say and what we don’t say. In contrast, Jesus always speaks the truth.
It is hard for us to know what truth is in today’s world. To make matters worse, it is also hard for us to know who to trust. There are few honest heroes anymore. Just look at former Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong. He had fame and fortune, but he lost it all because he chose to win by using illegal, unethical means. There are few authority figures anymore. Everyone seems to have his or her own agenda. Truth is essential to life. It is essential to a successful marriage. Society needs integrity in order to survive. Think of the terror that would exist if police officers were thugs. What would happen if pharmacists were to dilute our prescription drugs in order to sell contraband out the back door?
We must remember that we are citizens of another realm, with a different ruler and a different rule. When it comes to spiritual things, truth is Christ. We leave behind anything else that has power over us. We follow the one who gives us a freedom that no political power can grant. This kingdom is one where Jesus will rule over our lives and the new heaven and the new earth.
One day Jesus will return to earth to set up his kingdom-one where he will rule firmly and deal justly with sinners. Until then, his kingdom focuses on redeeming the hearts of the lost. So what does it mean to say Christ is the King of this world? It means that this is an unfinished world. There is unfinished business because the world is made up of unfinished people. Even when we are at our best, we are not all that Christ intends for us to be. Christ came into this unfinished world and made the ultimate sacrifice for us. He has commissioned us to be in his army to see that this unfinished world becomes the kingdom over which he will reign forever.
Our gospel text focuses on part two of the dialogue between Pilate and Jesus. When Pilate asked Jesus if he was the king of the Jews, it was a political question. If Jesus presented himself to the people he was a rebel in Pilate’s eyes and needed to be dealt with accordingly. Jesus was a king, and indeed he is still a king. He is a king who has come to judge all earthly kings and kingdoms. He is the king of heaven and earth. He is full of grace and truth. He is our champion. He fights our battles for us. He leads us to victory over Satan and sin. He sets us up to lead his kingdom on earth until he returns. His kingdom occurs when we freely choose to serve him. This is in contrast to a worldly kingdom where power is obtained by self-centeredness and self-esteem. To love God is to become humble by paying the price of leaving people free to be who they will be.
Jesus does not wink at our sins. Paul reminds us in Romans 1:18-32 that even now Jesus is now pouring out his wrath against those who think they can make better sense of their lives than he can. As his ambassadors on earth, we have a duty to live consistently by our Christian faith and speak against anything and everything that is contrary to it.
This text is about the clash between the earthly kingdom and the heavenly kingdom. We have to choose which kingdom we will serve, but we must remember that if we choose to serve an earthly kingdom, we will lose the struggle, because just like Christ was victorious over death, he will be victorious on earth when he returns to set up his kingdom. Jesus was a king, but he was not a typical king. He was a servant king. The symbol of his kingdom is the cross. Jesus takes the worst we have to offer-and the worst form of torture imaginable-and changes it into life and hope.
The challenge of the kingdom is for each of us:
- To let God be God…in us
- To let God be God…in our church
- To let God be God…in our neighbourhoods
- To let God be God…in our lives, our families and in our world
In order to find meaning, peace and purpose in our lives, we must keep asking ourselves, “What is Jesus telling me to do with my life?” When we do ask and listen for the answer, then we are experiencing the power of his kingdom in our lives.
It is the duty of us as Christians to represent Jesus here on earth. The church does best when it imitates Jesus who had no place to lay his head and who brought sight to the blind, helped the lame to walk, cleansed the lepers, made the deaf hear, raised the dead and brought good news to the poor. Just as Jesus’ power was in the cross, so the church’s most effective witness is in service and sacrifice to people in need. It is not in political connections, spectacular connections or great architecture.
When we are in Christ’s presence, we should feel a sense of humility. Christ is our friend and our big brother, but we can’t appreciate Christ’s friendship and Christ’s role as our big brother unless we acknowledge that he is our Sovereign, our Saviour and our Lord.
In John 18:37, the themes of John’s Gospel are restated-incarnation, glory, truth. John’s Gospel is more concerned with Jesus’ origin than his birth story. Although he was born of the Virgin Mary, the greater reality is that he came from God. He came from a great king, and he is a great king. He came into this world to show us a new kind of king. His was the power of love, not the power of the sword. He came to rule not from a throne, but from the cross. He came not on a great horse, but on a donkey. He came not catering to the powerful but catering to the poor and the less fortunate. He chose his inner circle not from the powerful, but from the lowly and the meek. He calls us to be just like him. He calls us to take command and wield authority like he did. He has called us to give instead of take. He calls us to love instead of judging others. He calls us to care instead of ignoring the plight of the less fortunate.
The truth to which Jesus testifies is the truth of the cross. Every since the dawn of Christianity it has seemed strange that a man would become king by dying on the cross. Paul called it the foolishness of the cross, but Jesus called it the truth.
I’m going to close my sermon this morning with a story from World War II. Sportsman and best-selling author Pat Williams, in his book The Paradox of Power, tells about one man who deserved to bear the name Christian. In fact, that was his name, Christian X, king of Denmark during World War II. The people of Denmark remember him the way any of us would want to be remembered, as a person of character, courage, and principle. Every morning, King Christian rode without bodyguards in an open carriage through the streets of Copenhagen. He trusted his people and wanted them to feel free to come up to him, greet him, and shake his hand. In 1940 Nazi Germany invaded Denmark. Like so many other European nations, this small Scandinavian country was quickly conquered. But the spirit of the Danish people and their king proved unquenchable. Even after the Nazis had taken control of the nation, King Christian X continued his morning carriage rides. He boldly led his people in a quiet but courageous resistance movement. On one occasion, the king noticed a Nazi flag flying over a public building in Copenhagen. He went to the German commandant and asked that the flag be removed. “The flag flies,” the commandant replied, “because I ordered it flown. Request denied.” “I demand that it come down,” said the king. “If you do not have it removed, a Danish soldier will go and remove it.” “Then he will be shot,” said the commandant. “I don’t think so,” said King Christian, “for I shall be that soldier.” The flag was removed.
On another occasion, the order came from the Nazis that all Jews were to identify themselves by wearing armbands with the yellow Star of David. King Christian said that one Danish person was exactly the same as the next one. So the King donned the first Star of David, and let it be known that he expected every loyal Dane would do the same. The next day in Copenhagen, almost the entire population wore armbands showing the Star of David. The Danes saved 90% of their Jewish population.
Later, the Nazis decided that all eight thousand Jews in Denmark would be rounded up and sent to concentration camps in central Europe. A German diplomat with a troubled conscience secretly informed King Christian of the Nazi plans. So the king organized a resistance effort that smuggled 7,500 Jews to Sweden within a single two-week period. The remaining five hundred Jews were rounded up by the Nazis and sent to an internment ghetto in Czechoslovakia. King Christian interceded on their behalf and all but fifty-one survived their treatment at the hands of the Nazis.
King Christian paid a price for his bold courage. The Nazis imprisoned him from 1943 until the fall of the Third Reich in 1945. An old man in his seventies, imprisonment was hard on his health. He died two years after his release, but he willingly paid the price for truth, as did other World War II heroes such as Corrie ten Boom. If people like King Christian, Corrie ten Boom and Jesus can willingly pay the price for what they believe in-namely, the truth-shouldn’t we as Christians also be willing to pay the price, especially when we are called by Christ to fight for the truth? After all, he is the final authority and power in the universe. Christ is King!
- Swindoll, Charles R.: Swindoll’s New Testament Insights on John (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan; 2010)
- Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible, NASV (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.; 2009)
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- Dr. Philip W. McLarty, “What is Truth?” Retrieved from www.sermonwriter.com
- The Rev. Dr. Wiley Stevens, “Thanksgiving in Three Tenses”. Retrieved from www.day1.org
- Lectionary Homiletics, Oct./Nov. 2012 (St. Paul, MN: Luther Seminary)
- Exegesis for John 18:33-37. Retrieved from www.sermonwriter.org.
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- Steven E. Albertin, “Having the Last Word”. Retrieved from www.esermons.com
- John Shearman’s Lectionary Resource, Year B, Season after Pentecost, Reign of Christ. Retrieved from www.lectionary.seemslikegod.org/archives/year-b-season-after-pentecost-the-reign-of-christ.html
- Roland McGregor, UMC, McGregorPage #886, Pentecost 25, 11/25/12. Retrieved from www.mcgregorpage.org
- Daniel B. Clendenin, PhD, “Yes, I am a King”: The Anti-Politics of Christ the King. Retrieved from www.journeywithjesus.net