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Christ the King Sunday Sermon (Year B) — John 18:33-37

November 22, 2009

November 22, 2009 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

Then Pilate said to Jesus: “So You are a king?” Jesus answered: “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to My voice.”

Pilate’s incredulous question is based upon what he had seen with his own eyes and what others had said about Jesus. The Sanhedrin had turned Jesus over to Pilate, seeking to have Him put to death. They had judged Jesus to be a blasphemer, deserving of death for making Himself out to be God. But such religious matters did not concern the Roman authorities.

In his interrogation, Pilate asks Jesus whether He is “the King of the Jews.” To that question, Jesus replies: “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about Me?” The implication is clear: Jesus’ accusers had reported to Pilate that Jesus had claimed to be the rightful heir to Israel’s throne. This is why Pilate answers: “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered You over to me. What have You done?” Any claim made by an Israelite to be the true monarch was Pilate’s concern.

What is it that Jesus had done to lead to charges of rebellion? Throughout His ministry, He had made mention of a kingdom of heaven and a kingdom of God coming near. He had prophesied about the Temple’s destruction, as well as clearing the Temple of all its merchants. Jesus had convinced people to leave behind family and jobs to follow Him. He had used Messianic titles to speak about Himself and the crowds had responded very positively to that, especially on Palm Sunday. Jesus’ criticisms of Herod and Pilate were duly noted.

But when Jesus stands before the Roman procurator, there isn’t a hint of rebellion. There really isn’t any hint of a royal presence, either. No, everything appears to be just the opposite. Hear again what Jesus says to Pilate’s question, “What have You done?” Jesus said: “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But My kingdom is not of this world.” Jesus’ reply leads to Pilate’s puzzled response: “So You are a king?” Nothing about that claim makes sense to his mind. And so, as John’s Gospel records further, Pilate declares to those who had accused Jesus: “I find no guilt in Him.”

The reaction that Pilate had to the whole business of Jesus’ being a king is how the world also reacts. Jesus’ words are true: “My kingdom is not of this world.” Because His kingdom isn’t of this world, all the earthly ways of measuring its greatness, evaluating its effect, judging its operations, and identifying its citizens don’t work. They fail to see what is there, because the earthly signs of Jesus’ kingdom are either missing or unsensible. His kingdom is hidden.

But just what is Jesus’ kingdom like? It doesn’t have geopolitical boundaries. It doesn’t possess much strength. It’s constantly under threat, as people on earth do not agree with Jesus’ teaching and His principles for life. But while the kingdom of heaven is assailed, its citizens do not wage war against earthly powers. And the truly confounding thing for the world is that Jesus’ kingdom is established and expanded through means that do not carry great earthly force. And yet, it is successful.

In the opening verses to the record of his revelation, the Apostle John writes about how Jesus’ kingdom came to be. Framed in doxological language, John’s words declare: “To Him who has freed us from our sins by His blood and made us a kingdom, priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever.” In that statement of praise, the work of Jesus is cited: Jesus acts to establish a dominion by loving people, freeing them from their sins by dying for them, and turning them into His subjects. This is not a nation-building agenda for political leaders to follow, but it is successful for the Son of God.

Jesus’ kingdom is established by means of His crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. As the merits of these acts are given to sinners by receiving Jesus’ Word, they are forgiven and are made to be Jesus’ servants. But that type of kingdom-building doesn’t fit the expectations of this world. Confronted with this way of thinking, Pilate responds in disbelief: “So You are a king?” Pilate’s words summarize his ideas about Jesus: “Let me get this straight. You are a king. But Your kingdom isn’t of this world, Your servants don’t defend You, and they are made Your subjects by hearing Your truth. That is just plain odd. You are certainly no threatening rebel.”

But what Pilate and the world do not see, do not experience, do not comprehend is real. The hiddenness of Jesus’ kingdom is what throws them. What they sense and understand cannot reveal to their hearts and minds what is truly present. Jesus appears weak and insignificant. His teaching about selflessly loving one another, trusting in a great future while experiencing hatred from others, being willing to forsake the perks and benefits of this world in order to follow a disciplined way of life—it all seems so foolish. But for those who are born from above by the truth of Jesus, those who listen to His voice and follow it, Jesus’ kingdom is seen.

As Jesus stood before Pilate’s judgment seat, He appeared to be only a rustic Galilean craftsman who happened to be a good communicator. But listen to the description of the Incarnate Son of God that the prophet Daniel gives: “I saw in the night visions, and behold with the clouds of heaven came One like a Son of Man, and He came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him; His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.” Quite a contrast!

Led by the Holy Spirit who works through the voice of Jesus, you know what is hidden behind His humbleness. You know the truth about Jesus’ identity. That truth includes the fact that He had to take on human nature in order to die for you. That is how Jesus “loved [you] and freed [you] from [your] sins by His blood and made [you] a kingdom, priests to His God and Father.” To do so, Jesus had to appear in great humility, undergoing the false accusations of the Sanhedrin and the unscrupulous judicial abuses of Pilate’s court. But such humility, such hiding of His identity from earthly eyes, doesn’t change who Jesus is. Rather, it confirms it.

The same Jesus described by Daniel is the same Jesus who stood before Pilate. As He offers His life for the life of the world, He fulfills His Father’s will. Though seemingly weak in His suffering and crucifixion, Jesus engages in a conquest over sin, death, and Satan for you. Jesus’ sacrifice allows Him to take possession of a kingdom, to take you as His people. Doing so, Jesus extends the Father’s care to you. As Jesus rises from death and ascends to heaven, He is rewarded by His Father, the Ancient of Days.

Ascending in glory and receiving an everlasting dominion and an indestructible kingdom is as much a part of Jesus’ identity as His earthly humility. Being of the same substance of the Father, holding a holiness like the Ancient of Days, is as much a part of who Jesus is as His being truly human, born of the Virgin Mary. So who stands before Pilate? Not just a simple Galilean craftsman with a golden tongue who dazzles people with His talk, but “the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.” The Sanhedrin falsely accuse the Lord God they claim to believe in; Pilate issues a corrupt ruling against the Judge of the Living and the Dead. But it must be so, so that Jesus might make you His kingdom.

What is promised, however, is that this hiddenness will come to an end. So John writes: “Behold, He is coming with the clouds and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of Him.” Everything true about Jesus’ identity will be revealed for all to see. All will be made to say: “So You are a king.” But those who were wrong about Jesus’ identity during their earthly lives will lament their error.

But for you, the Day of Christ’s Return will be a day of great joy. He has made you His subjects. You know the truth about Jesus hidden from earthly eyes. For you have listened to His voice and believed His trustworthy decrees. And so you shall be honored by Christ the King, your King and Lord. Even so, Lord Jesus, quickly come!

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.


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