Seward United Methodist Church
Tuesday, August 14, 2018
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A Kingdom Not of This World

 

Revelation 1:4b-8 and John 18:28-37

 Of the four Gospels, it is John who gives us the most detailed account of Jesus’ trial before Pontius Pilate.   It fits with John’s theological emphasis on Jesus as king.  We especially see that emphasis of John in the Book of the Revelation, which we heard a little from earlier.  

 What does it mean to say Jesus is king?  Kingship is not really a familiar concept to us anymore.  Few nations are now ruled by kings.  We haven’t had one for 240 years now, and we’re not clamoring to change that.  So what does it mean for Christians to say Jesus is our king?  We’ll get to that.  

 But first, let’s talk a little bit about the account of Jesus’ trial in John’s Gospel.  It begins with a reference to his trial before Caiaphas.  Caiaphas was the High Priest at the time of Jesus’ death, and hence he was a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish High Council, which was made up of 70 men, elders and important members of priestly families.  They put Jesus on trial in the middle of the night, which was against their own code of conduct.  But such was their hatred of Jesus that they broke their own rules to “railroad” him to a guilty verdict.  

 In their minds, Jesus was a blasphemer, claiming to be God, which was a crime punishable by death.  The problem is that they did not have the right to carry out capital punishment, at least not in general.  Rome reserved the “ius gladii,” right of the sword, the right to carry out death penalties.  The one exception was that the Jews could execute Gentiles who broke the laws of the Temple, but they could not charge Jesus with that.  So they needed another charge against him.  Rome would not care if Jesus was a blasphemer.  Rome was a polytheistic society; they believed in many gods.  They wouldn’t care if Jesus claimed to be God.  So they accused Jesus of claiming to be a king, which was a crime of treason against the Empire, and treason was punishable by death.  Now in Roman law, there were no “public prosecutors.”  A charge had to be brought against someone by a private accusation.  

 At daybreak, they took Jesus to Pilate.  And they brought a large crowd of their supporters with them, because they knew Pilate would not want to anger a large crowd and run the risk of another riot during the Passover.    

 The irony of the situation is that they would not go into Pilate’s fortress, the Praetorium.  If they went in, they would be guilty of ritual impurity, and they didn’t want

that during the Passover festival.  Of course, even as they were worried about ritual impurity, they were conspiring to make false accusations against an innocent man to have him killed.  It’s like Jesus said of them, they were careful to observe the smallest parts of their own tradition even as they ignored the most important parts of God’s Law:  Mercy and justice.  But it is the nature of hatred that when we hate someone, we lose all sense of proportionality.  We don’t consider what is appropriate in our anger.  

 They want Pilate to put Jesus to death.  Who is this man Pilate?  We read he is the governor, but what does that mean?  

 For the answer, we have to go back a bit in history.  When Jesus was born, Judea and the surrounding regions were all ruled by King Herod the Great, who was a vassal, an “inferior” king in the Roman Empire.  After Herod died, with Rome’s consent, his territory was split into four parts to be ruled by four of his sons.  His youngest son, Archelaus, was made the ruler of Judea, Samaria, and Idumea, the land to the south of Judea.  But Archelaus was a terrible ruler.  Within a few years, he was removed from office and Rome intervened.  

 Judea, Samaria, and Idumea became the Roman province of Palestine.  Rome had two kinds of provinces.  One kind was under the authority of the Roman Senate.  The other kind was under the direct rule of the Emperor.  Palestine became an imperial province, under the direct rule of the Emperor, through his designated procurator, which was Pilate from 26 to 35 AD.  

 At the start, Pilate had a powerful ally in Rome who would take care of him.  But his chief ally fell out of favor with Emperor Tiberius a couple years before Jesus’ death.  So Pilate was “treading on eggshells.”  He’d already had some problems.  He had raided the Temple treasury for his own project, which people didn’t appreciate.  He had offended the Jewish religious sensibilities through his use of “graven images” of the emperor.  He had brutally repressed any kind of civil unrest, killing hundreds.  And within two years, he would be recalled to Rome and removed from office for his failures.  Given his already troubled rule, Pilate certainly would not want a report to get back to Rome that he had given any leeway to a man who claimed to be a king.  The Jewish authorities threatened Pilate by saying “If you let this man go, you are no friend to Caesar!”  

 Pilate was in a no-win situation.  If he did not execute Jesus, he would offend the religious and civil authorities of Judea.  If he did, then he would be a part of the death of a popular traveling preacher and miracle worker.  So he wants to get out of this situation:  “Take him away and judge him by your own laws.”  

 “We can’t, only Rome can put him to death.”  This fulfilled Jesus’ prediction about his death.  Jesus foretold he would be “lifted up” from the earth, crucified.  If the Jews had done it on their own, they would have stoned him to death.  

 So Pilate asks Jesus, “Are you a king?”  

 Jesus answers with a question:  “Is that your own thought, or simply what others have said?”

 Pilate derisively asks, “Am I a Jew?”  This was Pilate’s chief failing as a ruler. He didn’t care about the people he governed.  He hated the Jews and had no respect for them or their customs.  

 It makes the contrast between Jesus and Pilate so much sharper.  Pilate only cared what would keep the peace so that he could keep his job.  He only really cared about himself.  By contrast, Jesus had immeasurable love for his people, for the citizens of his kingdom.  Pilate would kill his people to keep his own power.  Jesus relinquished his power and died for the good of his people.  He is clearly not a typical king.  

 Jesus goes on, “My kingdom is not of this world.”  Jesus’ kingdom is not a kingdom in the normal sense.  It has no geographical boundaries.  It needs no military to defend it.  It is a spiritual kingdom, not physical.  

 But I think there’s more to this.  You see, in the New Testament, the word “world” meant more than just the physical earth.  It was also referred to a mindset, a way of thinking and living that had no place for God or eternity or anything beyond the physical and material.  As it was once explained to me, “the world” is “practical atheism,” living as if there is no God.  

 Jesus is king of a people who do not measure life or think about life in the way of the world.  We have different criteria when we think about everything.  As I was preparing for this sermon, I went back over the last month or so of our worship services and looked at those sermons and looked at the questions that were raised in them.  Questions like:  What do we trust will last?  How do we view our use of money?  How do

we look at death?  What is sin?  What is the measurement of greatness?  What do we love most of all?  Our answers to each of those questions are going to be very different if we live under the reign of Jesus or if we live by the ways of the world.  

 Pilate says, “Okay, so you are a king then?”  

 And Jesus answers, “I am a king.  I was born for that purpose.  And I came to bring truth to the world.”  

 At this point, Pilate dismisses Jesus.  He probably thinks Jesus is some kind of philosopher.  Some philosophers spoke about how they would be ideal kings, because they were wise and knew the truth.  And while Pilate has no use for philosophers or for the truth, he also does not fear them.  Jesus is nothing to Pilate.  

 We know him to be more.  He is our king.  And we are the people of his kingdom.  It changes how we think about the world.  It gives us our identity.   

 In Revelation, John says that we are a kingdom of priests.  Priests are people who help to reconcile other people to God.  That is our identity.  We reconcile people to God through sharing the good news of Jesus.  We have an identity.  And we have a purpose.  And there is a goal, a direction, for our lives.  When we say Jesus is king, it defines who we are, what we do, and where we are going.

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