Pastor Dale E. Austin John 18:33 – 37
As we wind up each year on the church calendar – and today is the final Sunday on that particular calendar – we generally turn to a consideration of Jesus as king. To some extent, this is quite ironic, because Jesus never referred to himself as a king. The closest that he ever came was in his parable of the final judgment in the 25th chapter of Matthew. There, he refers to “the king” separating the sheep from the goats and addressing each group. Nowhere else does he refer to himself as a king. The only other time when others apply that title to him is in John’s account of the entry into Jerusalem. Even there, though, it is not Jesus or his disciples but the crowds who hail him as their king. In the other gospels, he is the Son of David.
In spite of this, when Jesus is hauled before the tribunal and sent to Pilate, he is accused of claiming to be the King of the Jews. It never happened. The charge is totally fabricated. It has no basis in fact. But it leads to all sorts of confusion and anger, which was probably what his opponents wanted in the first place.
Pilate is confused. Jesus understands that his “kingdom” is not a geographical or political domain. If that had been the case, then his followers would rise up and protect him. No – his is a religious kingdom. Well, Pilate couldn’t care less about that aspect of the kingdom. All he’s interested in is the politics and any potential threat to his own position. Jesus is no threat to him.
Jesus’ words serve to underscore the spiritual nature of his kingdom. The disciples still don’t understand. And Pilate – well, Pilate is totally lost, completely failing to grasp Jesus’ meaning. But in their defense, we might ask ourselves if we truly understand him any more clearly today. I suspect that, for the most part, we really don’t.
First, we still tend to speak of Jesus’ kingdom is terms of time and place. Granted, it’s just natural for us to use such imagery, speaking of when the kingdom comes and where God chooses to establish it. To us, it is still a physical reality which awaits establishment. We haven’t yet grasped the realization that this kingdom is found in the rule of God in the hearts of his people. Not ruling over our physical lives, but over our beliefs, our desires and our actions as we live that faith every day as subjects of this divine king. That’s where Jesus reigns, not over some physical or political territory.
Second, if we insist that Jesus is our king, then why don’t we pay more attention to his words? Why do we ignore him so often? You know all that stuff that he said about turning the other cheek, going the second mile, loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us? He meant all of it! And yet we see so much these days of people who insist they are followers of Christ who ignore all of that, instead encouraging fear, anger and even hatred toward others. This shows in their desire to close the borders of our country, to tell little children and their mothers that they aren’t welcome here simply because of where they came from or what their faith is. This shows in their insistence that our security will be compromised. Never mind that out of the hundreds of thousands of refugees we’ve welcomed into this country in the past couple of decades, not one has been involved in any act of domestic terrorism. In fact, since the Oklahoma City bombing, with the single exception of 9/11, every single act of domestic terrorism has been committed by American citizens, many claiming to be Christians. We are in far great danger from our own people than from these refugees whom we would exclude.
Jesus’ way is the way of love, mercy, compassion, and – yes – even forgiveness, as difficult as that can be sometimes.
But we hear so little of these. Instead, we hear isolationism, fear, anger, retribution, revenge, bigotry, and so much more – and so often supposedly in the name of Jesus.
The Jesus we believe in would never be a king over such. Those aren’t his ways. When we surrender to such ways, we have abandoned our king; we’ve turned our backs on him, despite our protests to the contrary. He no longer holds our primary allegiance. But if Jesus is to be our king, then he must.
A lot of what we hear in the current social discourse boils down to little more than selfish greed being used to justify bigotry and fear-mongering. God has blessed this land in so many ways. It’s appropriate that we should stop, at least periodically, to offer our gratitude and thanks. Unfortunately, more and more people seem less and less inclined to share those blessings with others.
How many people will gather at their tables this week giving thanks for their blessings, while quietly offering another prayer of thanks that they don’t have to share these gifts with foreigners, strangers or refugees?
If Jesus is truly to be our King, we should be willing and even eager to share. IF Jesus is King.