This sermon was shared at Lincoln Korean, Dunbar Presbyterian, and Auburn Presbyterian Churches for Christ the King Sunday on
November 22, 2015.
A recording is available here.
I am a member of a local organization and I’m on a committee to help plan a large community event this coming spring. We have had meetings where we gather to discuss logistics, assign tasks to various committee members, and answer any questions that may have arisen in the time since our previous meetings. At our most recent meeting we had some “outsiders” show up to participate in the event planning, and most of us were confused as to their presence. The committee members didn’t quite know why they were at the meeting, and the visitors also didn’t quite understand why they had been invited. A recurring question kept being asked during the evening: “Why are you here?”
When we arrive at the text in John chapter 18 this morning, Pilate has just returned from asking Jesus’ accusers about the charge against him. We know from the historical record that Pilate was a brutal man. He is impatient with Jesus after his encounter with the Sanhedrin early in the morning. Pilate has already brushed off any involvement in the punishment of Christ, yet he now stands again before the one accused of “doing evil” and portraying himself as a king. Pilate told the Jews to take Jesus away and deal with him themselves, but they have returned Jesus to the governor for punishment. When Pilate and Jesus are alone together the conversation ensues where the accused manipulates the situation against the accuser. Ultimately, Pilate looks at Christ and asks him why he is there. I imagine in this scene a very exasperated ruler and an equally annoyed prisoner. Okay. Really, why are you here? And why are you here again?? Didn’t I already get rid of you once?
The Fourth Evangelist, John, likes to play with words and showcase irony in his gospel. “Jesus’ trial before Pilate is the theological and dramatic climax of the story of Jesus’ hour.” The Gospel writer does a masterful job of crafting an outline of the story that includes just enough breaks, and is therefore split in just the right places so that the story calls into query Pilate’s authority as a judge and the decision maker for Christ’s sentencing. When Pilate begins his interrogation of Jesus, he receives questions as answers in response. Jesus’ words “question whether Pilate can act on his own, or only in response to others. In addition, Jesus’ question signals the direction the rest of the trial will take, because he turns the tables on Pilate and positions himself as the interrogator.” The Fourth Evangelist seeks to make the reader aware that this encounter becomes a battle for authority, with Pilate on the losing side of the clash.
We experience Jesus’ life and ministry presented as imagery of a trial. Through the metaphor, the world sees the truth of God in Jesus and is asked to respond as Pilate must respond. For John’s gospel, Jesus is on trial for his life, but more importantly, “the world is on trial for its life. The world thinks it is judging Jesus, but in reality, Jesus is judging it, and he judges the world by both what he says and does and by who he is.” By asking questions of Pilate, Christ is asking the entire world to vocalize their decisions about the reign of Christ and the kingdom of God.
Christ is naming his purpose for life and ministry, but we are uncertain of our desires to claim him as our King. In John’s gospel, the phrase “the Jews” is not an ethnic demographic designation; rather the term represents the whole of the kosmos, the world. “The Jews” is a phrase that represents the entire world’s resistance to the manifestation of God in Jesus. Therefore, when Pilate questions his categorization as a Jew, he is showing that he does belong with all who reject God in Jesus. Christ, however, does not waver on his purpose for ministry during the entirety of the trial. When given the chance to speak for himself, he chooses to speak for God in a way that assesses the conviction and faithfulness of God’s people. Jesus continues to demand that his life and ministry are not of anything we could produce, or coronate here on earth. God has sent Jesus to earth to live among God’s people to testify to the truth and ultimately to be tried and put to death for that very same truth. Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life. Through Christ we have access to God and fellowship with the Holy Spirit and communion with the saints.
37Pilate 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.
Recently, a young woman made a decision to protect another young woman that would change the fate of her sports team. At a field hockey tournament, where the winning team would advance to the semi-finals and hopefully eventually the finals, the goalie of one team essentially lost the game for her team when an opponent fell down and was in danger of serious injury. The goal keeper attempted to notify the referee so that play could be stopped, but was unsuccessful, so when she saw the player in danger, she left her post in order to protect the opponent. In doing so, her team lost the match and was eliminated from tournament play.
“The [University of] Virginia field hockey team, seeded 4th in the ACC, fell to top-seeded Syracuse …[by a score of] 3-2 in overtime in the ACC Tournament Semifinals over the weekend. The [Syracuse] Orange would go on to lose to North Carolina in the finals, while the …[Virginia team was] stuck watching from the stands at the tournament hosted at Turf Field in Charlottesville. But Newsplex reported on the background behind the game-winning Syracuse score that beat the Cavaliers. A [Syracuse] Orange player went down, injured, just in front of the goal. Field hockey is dangerous, what with the athletes running around swinging heavy sticks and knocking around a giant ball. So UVA goalkeeper Becca Holden stepped out of position to use her pads to protect the injured player. The ref didn’t blow the play dead as she should have, and the [Syracuse] Orange knocked in a goal into the empty net.”
In an interview, Becca Holden was asked what she would do if a similar situation happens in front of her cage again, the junior says she wouldn’t do anything differently. “I don’t think that I would, because I didn’t even think in the situation,” she explained. “It was just how I reacted to what was going on around me.” Holden’s coach, Michele Madison, also commented: “I don’t think it phased her. It’s just what you do, and I don’t think she questioned it,” said Madison. “We didn’t even discuss it because that’s what you do. You have to go down with human kindness, and I can go down with an act of human kindness.”
The followers of Christ know the answer to Pilate’s queries. We know that Christ is, in fact, a king, and we know the reason that Pilate must be the final judge in the sentencing. We know that this is all part of the prophecies fulfilled. We know the story as well Becca Holden knew her response would be to care for the injured player over stopping a game-winning goal. Unfortunately, however, too often when faced with the need to make a decision, even a life-altering one, we begin to ask questions instead of responding out of knowledge. We act as if we are unsure of why we are even invited to the committee meeting. Sometimes we even protest aloud like Pilate, when we offer that we are not “one of the Jews,” and we insist that we do not reject Christ. And, while we may not outright reject Christ, we struggle with our ability to be unwavering in our responses. Although we know the purpose of Christ’s ministries and the answers to Pilate’s inquiries, we sometimes respond automatically and out of fear for the consequences of our declaration.
For the purpose of death, Christ was born. For the purpose of truth, Christ lived. For the purpose of salvation, Christ was tried. For the purpose of reconciling God’s people to God, Christ was crucified. For the purpose of everlasting life, Christ died. Jesus is also the light of the world, whose very advent into the world is the moment of judgment and division. As we enter into this Advent season next week, we must stand firm in the knowledge that Christ knew his ministry and mission, entering it willingly for the purpose of our salvation so that we might live in truth. The Fourth Evangelist laid out for Christ’s followers the pattern of Christ’s life and death from the first word of the Gospel until the last. Similarly, God laid out a pattern for our life in perpetual relationship, glory, peace, hope, love, and joy with God from the very first movement of Creation. And God rectified our sins, sanctified our lives, and re-united us with God for all eternity from the very first breath of his son, our Savior King, Jesus Christ.
John 1:1 reminds us the purpose of Christ’s life was a ministry of reconciliation: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
John 12:46-49 lets us know that Christ knew why he was here: “46I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in the darkness. 47I do not judge anyone who hears my words and does not keep them, for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. 48The one who rejects me and does not receive my word has a judge; on the last day the word that I have spoken will serve as judge, 49for I have not spoken on my own, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment about what to say and what to speak.”
And finally, John 18:37, Christ reminds us to remain strong in our knowledge and belief: “37Pilate 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.’”
Hear Christ’s voice.
For this purpose, Christ was born, lived, died and reigns eternal.
For this very purpose, friends.
In the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit: Amen.
 John, New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, pg. 913.
 Ibid, pg. 916.
 Ibid, pg. 930.