Revelation 1:4b-8, John 18:33-37
In the name of the Father, the Son and The Holy Spirit, Amen
Our gospel today is in the middle of the action after Jesus was arrested and hours before his crucifixion. He has already been interviewed by the chief priest Annas and transported bound to a further chief priest Caiaphas. Significant as Annas and Caiaphas are – they can do no more at this point, they are effectively powerless to do anything to Jesus much as they wanted to. They have to hand him over to where worldly power was held, in this instance to Pilate (the Roman Governor of the area).
Just before our reading starts – the chief priests had handed him over, they had remained outside Pilate’s headquarters. The chief priests had not really said clearly to Pilate what their problem was with Jesus either… Just ‘If this man were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you.’ They had also acknowledged their powerlessness to do anything about it. ‘We are not permitted to put anyone to death.’
Back inside the building we then get the rather strange conversation between Jesus and Pilate. The chief priest were not there even because they were afraid that just going into Pilate’s headquarters would make then unclean. Then they would be unable to partake in the Passover celebrations. Even at this most pivotal point – when they really needed to get Pilate to do what they wanted him to do, their purity mattered more to them than anything else. Can we see moments in ourselves when the priorities get out of balance like this? The power system at this time was crumbly and crumbling – that is not what Christ’s kingship and kingdom is all about!
So back to the conversation between Pilate and Jesus. I suspect this is one where Pilate did not understand the magnitude and gravity of what Jesus said. Pilate tried three times to find out who Jesus is – First by asking Are you the King of the Jews? And secondly by asking really directly ‘What have you done?’ And thirdly So you are a King? Jesus answers to each of these questions add layers of complexity.
To Are you the King of the Jews? Jesus counters with his own questions, wanting to know what is at the heart of Pilate’s question. Is he acting for himself or is he just doing other’s bidding? Jesus is clearly looking at where the power really resides.
The answer to the second question ‘What have you done?’ is all the more mysterious. Jesus saying he has a kingdom even if it is not from this world. This implies as we know is the case that Jesus is a King beyond our worldly understanding. He then makes a point about what his followers would be doing if they were from this world. He asserts they would be fighting his corner. As it is they have fallen away. Even Peter, who is nearby has just denied him three times. His followers are powerless to put up any defence at this point. Jesus is not a leader of an army, or the Messiah as the Jewish people of his day had wanted to overthrow the Romans. He is also effectively saying to Pilate – I am not a personal threat to peace and the stability of your governance! But I doubt Pilate understood that.
Understanding Jesus’ kingdom beyond and within us is important. It is beyond us because he is not limited to our linear worldly experience of life and time. It is within us, because we are living in his kingdom now because of the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling in our hearts. Won for us by Jesus’ love for us, love that is cross-shaped.
To the third question So you are a King? Jesus is more direct. Saying he was born to be a King. Many of the carols we will hopefully be singing in a few weeks, herald his birth as the new born King.
He then says something very interesting about truth. First that he is to testify to the truth. This truth being that Jesus embodies the eternal kingdom of God, which, while experienced in the world, does not originate in it and is not bound by it either. The truth that Jesus testifies to transcends the confines of time and culture once and for all. This is in marked contrast to the cultural and political truth of the Roman Empire, represented in this scene by Pilate.
Our society is in a real mess with political truth and we do seem to have lost sight of the need for truth, truths and truthfulness. It can be very difficult to get to the truth in the way we go about things. As Christians our truth needs to be founded in Jesus and his saving love for us and we need to be particularly diligent as Jesus says in this passage, and listen to his voice carefully.
The second thing he says about the truth is Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice. This can be difficult and challenging. Much of what Jesus taught us turns value systems and approaches upside down and inside out. The value of questioning ourselves – as to what would Jesus do – can be a very useful question in any given situation. It would often illicit an answer that is quite other but should always be loving, inspired by the loving heart of God for us. What has been done in Jesus, his kingship of us and his kingdom around us? Everything around us testifies to the truth of God and everyone who belongs and lives in that truth listens to God’s voice through the power of the spirit that lives in us. This goes on – no matter how much the world and society around us tries to distance itself. We are living definitively and definitely inhabiting God’s kingdom on earth.
The earth around us sings God’s praise. The love we experience in one another sings God’s praise. The inspiration in our hearts to be as God wants us to be, sings God’s praise and makes us a kingdom beyond this world and pointing to the next. The kingdom is still here, wholly and completely. We have so many other things that appear attractive today, which are just like the emperor’s new clothes. We seem to be in danger even in our lives of clouding out the real balance and the greatness of what we have in Jesus. We need to live in Jesus’ kingdom now.
We need to live in the kingdom with Jesus’ kingdom values and be honest where power for us resides. Power is not ours to choose to wield as we wish. We are NOT in control of this world or the next, but loved and cherished by the God of this kingdom who gave us so much in his son Jesus. We are here to live in his kingdom and to testify to the truth he brought us and to follow his guidance in our lives through listening to his voice.
Real power in the kingdom of God is entirely that which Jesus has brought us – which is not from this world; This Kingdom both transcends (goes over and above) and subverts our earthly understanding of power. The coming of Jesus – the start of the story (which we will turn to again shortly) completely changed the power balance and the priorities for always and for ever.
My question for us in response to all of this, this morning, as we mark this feast of Christ the King revolves around power and where the real power lies in our lives. This really boils down to whether Christ is the King of our lives. Do we show in our lives the central role of truth speaking and truth hearing that his kingdom brings? Power can be very seductive and enticing and wrapped up in all kinds of fancy trappings that can make it look attractive, desirable and necessary even when it is leading us astray. As with all human existence we have choices on how we use the power we have to live for ourselves, or to live for God .
Today let’s take stock and where necessary take action and make sure Christ is the King of our lives and not anything else. That our priority is hearing and speaking the truth that Christ is King and living in his kingdom and not one of our own making. Amen
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995
Kingdom living © ROOTS for Churches Ltd (www.rootsontheweb.com) 2002-2021. Reproduced with permission.