Christ the King
Elizabeth M. Deibert
November 25, 2012
Black Friday gets bigger every year. Now starting on Thursday evening and extending through to Cyber Monday, it is taking on a cultural magnitude, such that people are beginning to religiously plan their Thanksgiving celebration around keeping a Black Friday schedule, so we can feverishly purchase gifts, many of which we do not need.
In the church on this last Sunday before Advent, we focus on another Black Friday, a Friday we call Good. This other Friday was not about getting stuff, but a Friday about giving it all away. God Incarnate giving up life itself in order to endure death with us and for us, bringing us with him to eternal life. In the middle of the night on the eve of that first Black Friday, crowds were gathered, not to see what kinds of financial bargains they could secure, but they see what kind of political bargains they could secure for criminals about to be crucified.
Pontius Pilate, consummate political leader seems to want to rescue Jesus, but he cannot muster faith enough to overcome his fears – fears for his personal success, fears about what people would think of him. So instead of following his spiritual instinct, he follows the crowd and has Jesus crucified. Listen to one of his conversations with Jesus.
33 Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him,
"Are you the King of the Jews?"
34 Jesus answered, "Do you ask this on your own,
or did others tell you about me?"
35 Pilate replied, "I am not a Jew, am I?
Your own nation and the chief priests
have handed you over to me. What have you done?"
36 Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not from this world.
If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting
to keep me from being handed over to the Jews.
But as it is, my kingdom is not from here."
37 Pilate asked him, "So you are a king?"
Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king.
For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.
Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice."
38 Pilate asked him, "What is truth?"
After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them,
"I find no case against him.
There’s all kind of dissonance on this last Sunday of the church year, Christ the King Sunday, whether we call it Christ the King or Reign of Christ, the point is the same. This Jesus is not like any other King. He is the opposite. Think about it. In just a few weeks, we will be singing about a little baby, “Joy to the World, the Lord is come. Let earth receive her King.” “King of kings. And Lord of Lords, Alleluia! Alleluia! And he shall reign forever and ever.” But this King is the same one who stands before Pilate and exercises little power, except the power of truth. His kingdom is not from here, he says. Pilate deals in power of politics. Jesus speaks of the power of truth.
This is the first of three scenes, in which Pilate is truly trying to find a way to save Jesus. He wants to let him off. Pilate seems to know that there is something to the truth of this man. He inquires.
But Jesus does not seem to be interested in his own release but in the release of others by his message of truth and life of love. Jesus, the one who by all reasoning should be afraid, seems full of faith.
The ancient creeds got something right when they remembered Mary and Pontius Pilate almost in the same breath. Though “king” is male, the word is important because Jesus turned that word on its head. This king is in handcuffs, standing before Pontius Pilate who has the power to condemn him to death or set him free. This Sunday honors Jesus Christ as King, but soon the religious leaders will shout, “We have no king but the emperor!” There is great tension on this day and in this text because of this different kind of king. (Barbara Lundblad, A Different Kind of King, http://odysseynetworks.org/news/onscripture-the-bible-john-18-33-37-page-2)
And there is dissonance and tension for us. We live in a world that is eager to enthrone Kings of Entertainment, Wealth, Technology, and Worldly Power. We have Elvis, King of Rock and Roll. Michael Jordan, the King of Basketball. Mike Tyson, King of Boxing. Steve Jobs, the King of I-stuff. Gates and Buffett vying for King of Wealth. We work to maintain our status as a country as Sovereign over the world.
And we have King of Kings, Jesus, battling for nothing but truth and life.
Pilate wants to know. He needs to know because “king” is a political term, and Pilate is a political person. In this chapter, he keeps going back and forth between the Praetorium and the crowds outside. He moves from questioning Jesus inside City Hall to appeasing Jesus’ accusers outside. Unfortunately, in John’s gospel those accusers are always called “the Jews” – as though Jesus wasn’t Jewish, as though all the Jews were to blame for killing Jesus.
Years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, animosity toward Jewish people infected John’s gospel with language that accused all Jews of condemning Jesus. There were some Jews who opposed Jesus and some who followed him. There were some who collaborated with the Roman authorities – like Christian bishops appointed by the Nazi regime.
Today we must repudiate every claim that Jews were responsible for Jesus’ death. Pilate needed to know: “Are you the king of the Jews?” If so, you’re guilty of treason because the emperor in Rome is the king of everyone everywhere, including the Jews.
“What is truth?”“What is truth?” Pilate asked, and the question is left hanging in the air. Was he being sarcastic or was he searching for answers nobody else had given him? The answer was not a philosophical proof or a creedal proposition. Truth was the person standing in silence before Pilate….“And the Word became flesh and lived among us…full of grace and truth” So opens the Gospel of John. (John 1: 14). (Barbara Lundblad, A Different Kind of King, http://odysseynetworks.org/news/onscripture-the-bible-john-18-33-37-page-2)
Dissonance. Eternal Word colliding with earthly flesh. We hear dissonance in the beginning and now near the end of Jesus’ life. The truth is a person, the Word made flesh.
Pilate, like each of us, has to decide which motivates more – is it faith, inexplicable, in this person, Jesus, calling us to do foolish things, to spend time with powerless people, loving and caring to the end of our lives? Or are we motivated by fear? Fear that we will be rejected, lose our credibility and our power in the world, if we live according to the values of this Jesus? Is it that fear that keeps you from discussing faith with friends, from inviting friends to church? Will you appear foolish? Do you want to follow the crowds who are staying home on Sundays, filling their days with television and shopping?What we celebrate today is that Jesus’ reign has broken into this world, never to be removed or defeated. We do not celebrate a King who rules like a politician to preserve his power, but a King to gives himself for the sake of empowering others. The reign of Christ is not just in heaven, but right here, in this world of ours. Your spirit has somehow been captured by this King of Kings and Lord of Lords, this Jesus whose reign is different from any other power we have known. In the presence of this King, willing to take on weakness for our strengthening, can we hold on to faith, not fear.
We all have a little Pilate in us. We want to trust Jesus Christ, but we wonder if he will put us at too much risk. Can we cultivate faith, not fear, to live according to Christ’s value and Christ’s kingdom, to trust that Jesus is sovereign, even when it seems the powers and values of this world are consuming everything. The difference is one of attitude of worldview. Do you want to live in Pilate’s world or Jesus’ world? They are the same world, but they are very different ways of living. The challenge is to move beyond the curious “What is truth?” but to live according to the every bit of the truth which has been revealed to you in Christ Jesus the King of all Creation.