Last Sunday after Pentecost Year B -Christ the King Sunday

John 18:33-37
Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the
King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you
about me?” 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?” 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.”
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.”

Sermon
In today’s Gospel, we heard about Jesus
being cross-examined by Pilate. i
But the Gospel reading misses some important back story.
Do you remember that the night Jesus was captured,
by the Temple leaders, and Roman soldiers,
he had stayed up late?
While his men slept, Jesus was praying to his Father,
ii
Asking God to find some other way.
Like anyone Jesus didn’t want to die on a cross.
Jesus was the Son of God. But, he was also very, very human.
Jesus must have been exhausted,
When he was presented to Pilate, for legal examination.
A lot was at stake!
Both the Kingdom of God and Jesus’ earthly life.
It seems like the Temple leaders saw Jesus as a major threat.
But he was pretty much a nothing burger to the Romans.
I mean, unless they thought he could stir up trouble,
in the politically unstable region of 1st century Palestine.

So the Leaders made a big effort to paint Jesus,
as a troublemaker.
Jesus could have explained to Pilate that the meant no harm,
That he was way out of his league.
Just a confused carpenter from the Nazareth Dustbowl.
But he didn’t, because he wasn’t.
Jesus knew exactly what he was doing,
Why he was doing it and where he was going.
He has seen humiliation, pain and death before.
The cross was not a new thing.
Jesus knew exactly what he was going,
But, Jesus went there anyway.
Imagine poor Pilate. Governor of the worst part of the Empire.
A million things on his mind. Overwhelmed.
And then those Jewish Temple meatheads,
bring him some ragamuffin Jewish guy.
What first seemed like a minor league interruption?
in the busy workday of a guy trying to keep his job,
and probably his job, if not his head,
turned out to change the world.

But Pilate didn’t know that. He didn’t have a clue.
Pilate knew that if Jesus caused trouble with the Temple,
The spies would report that to Rome and that
The heavy hand of Tiberius Caesar,
the adopted son of Caesar Augustus, and great nephew
of Julius Cesar, would come crashing down. iii
And yet, it looks like Jesus sort of caught Pilate’s eye.
Pilate, who eventually caved into the Jewish leaders,
was interested in Jesus.
He asked Jesus, twice, whether he was a King:
“Are you the King of the Jews?” Pilate asked.
Jesus didn’t look like a King or act like a King.
All he had to say to save his neck was, “No”.
But he didn’t.
In fact, Jesus didn’t give a straight answer.
So, Pilate rephrased. He asked Jesus another way,
“So you are a king?”

I think that Pilate really wanted to know if Jesus was a King.
Wouldn’t you, if you were Pilate? iv
Jesus was definitely an intriguing person.
Jesus knew that, if he claimed a worldly Kingdom,
he’d have to be killed. That was Roman law.
But he didn’t.
I really think Pilate was trying to give Jesus a fair break.
But Jesus answered Pilate:
“You say that I am a king.
But, my kingdom is not from this world.”
Jesus admitted that he had a Kingdom, somewhere,
And any kind of Kingdom, and any kind of King,
Was a threat. So, Jesus deliberately closed his case.
He signed his own death warrant.
But listen closely:
When Pilate said, “So, you are a king?”
Jesus said,
“My kingdom is not of this world”
and he added,
“I came into the world, to testify to the truth.” v

What is truth? The Greek isn’t clear, really.
Did Jesus mean “Truth”, with a capital “T”?
like the Truth about life or the secrets of the universe?
Or did Jesus mean “truth” with a small T, like
“you’ve got your truths and I’ve got mine,
and who really gives a damn?”
Was Jesus talking about the absolute Truth?
that never changes, or the relative “truth”,
that we all live with today, and call good enough?
Pilate was a politician. A real world guy.
You’d think that Pilate could care less,
about what some bedraggled, harmless Jewish carpenter
thought about Truth.
He’d no time to worry about philosophy and day dreams.
But Pilate was interested in Truth!
And 2000 years later, so are we!
Maybe, right until the whole Truth thing came up,
Pilate was thinking, “Let this harmless lunatic go.”

Maybe Pilate was ready to send Jesus back out to the world,
So Pilate could get back to planning how to fix the
plumbing, and the streets and ERCOT,
And pay for the next fundraising party.
Or whatever they did in those days.
Today’s Gospel doesn’t tell us that Pilate told the Temple guys,
“I’ve got no problem with Jesus. Not guilty”.
But he did say that.
I imagine his tone was sarcastic,
along the lines of, “What is your problem?”
But, in the end, Pilate caved, as he was fated to do.
Poor Pilate. I feel sorry for the guy.
And Jesus went to the cross. Voluntarily.
Because God had a plan. And God still does.
Today’s question is simple: “What is Truth”?
My Greek books tell me that, at least in Jesus’ time,
the concept of Truth vi was already broadly understood.
The word included both factual literal “truth”
— was the light red or was it green?

And it included “Truth” with a capital T,
where we are speaking about matters of the heart,
and something that we know is real,
even if we can’t draw it, or buy it or sell it or put it in a box.
Jesus said to Pilate, “I am testifying to the Truth”.
And he said, “I am the Truth”.
Both times he was talking about Truth with a capital T.
Translated into plain American English, Jesus said to Pilate,
“I’m not false, I’m not misleading.
I’m not fake, or phony or uncertain.”
“What you see is what you get.
And what you see is the Son of God.”
That’s really the whole Christian message. That’s Jesus.
“What you see is what you get”.
And you don’t need anything else.
That’s Truth — with a capital T.
And what do we see in Jesus?
We see a man who loved life as much as anyone else.

We see a man who, like anyone else, then and now, knew the
Price of pushing the system and the authorities too far.
But Jesus did it anyway.
We see a man who, like anyone, else asked his Dad for help,
even though he knew he was going to have to go it alone.
We see a man who put love first. Who said “Yes”!
When he really, really, wanted to say “No”.
When it comes to Jesus
“What you see if what you get”.
Complete selfless authenticity. Others come first.
And that is how Jesus asks us to carry on our lives.
Complete selfless authenticity.
What does that look like to you?
What is Jesus calling us to be?
What is Jesus calling you to be?
What is Jesus calling me to be?
Ask yourself those questions.
Whoever you are, wherever you are.

You’ll get an answer … and it may not be what you’re hoping…
but remember this:
Jesus said “Yes”, when he really, really wanted to say “No”.
-AMEN

i This is part two of what folks often call Jesus’ “Passion”. The Scriptures establish that Jesus was
there alone, when he prayed, because even though he asked Peter, John and James, to stay awake
they did not. There are stylistic differences in the prayers attributed to Jesus in the Garden, and
we don’t know who, if any was an eyewitness witness. Perhaps John, who traditionally wrote
John 17, is the most likely witness, but then the prayer was very long and detailed, and there was
no scribe. So it would have to have been written from memory, 30 years or more after the fact.
Part 1 was the Garden, where he wept tears of blood, and prays “Righteous Father, though the
world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me.”
ii “Let this cup pass from me”. He also prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be
taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done” (Matthew 26:39, 42).
iii And we thought out politics were awkward!
iv Pilate was apparently appointed by Tiberius Caesar, the adopted son of Caesar
Augustus in 26 AD. He kept the job until 37 AD. What a job! For reasons not clearly
established he was recalled to Rome, but the emperor dies, and after that we really don’t
have a clear outcome for Pilate, other than that he died in 37 AD.
v Today’s reading cuts out Pilate’s response, to Jesus’ statement about Truth. But what
Jesus said really matters … a lot. Can you imagine the smirk on Pilate’s face when he
said, to Jesus, “Ok, smart guy. What is truth?”
vi STRONGS NT 227: ἀληθής