Our Evangelist gives yet another narrative from the life of Jesus, continuing the story from our previous reading/sermon passage. I must admit from the beginning, I had no idea how this might preach when I started studying this passage on Monday. In fact, I struggled with this...and even considered seeking a different passage for this Sunday. But, I stayed with it, certain that God would be faithful as always to help me find something, some nugget, to share with our congregation.
In this unfolding story in John 18, Jesus is now brought before the occupying powers—the Romans who govern Judea.
v.28-32 – The irony and pain of these verses boggles the mind. The Jewish ‘religious leaders’ take Jesus to Pilate...because their faith prohibits them from executing Jesus. How convenient! “Well, we can’t do it because it’s against our faith—let’s find someone who can!” And, they don’t even go inside the palace because they would become unclean and unable to sit for Passover—a celebration of God’s freedom for the Jews from a pagan, foreign power. (Oh, the irony....) Pilate doesn’t want to mess with this. I’m sure he thinks there are bigger fish to fry.
v.33-38a – Here we find that interesting conversation between Pilate and Jesus. Have you read it without the surrounding commentary? It’s rather odd:
Pilate: “Are you the king of the Jews?”
Jesus: “Is that your own idea, or did others talk to you about me?”
Pilate: “Am I a Jew? Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”
Jesus: “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
Pilate: “You are a king, then!”
Jesus: “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
Pilate: “What is truth?”
Two overarching themes come out of this conversation—“kingdom” and “truth.” If those were the things important to Jesus, they better be important to us.
Kingdom: As far as the Jewish leaders and Pilate are concerned, there are two kingdoms—for the Jews, the legitimate kingdom of Judea; for the Pilate, the legitimate kingdom of Rome. That’s it. Jesus indicates there is another kingdom...the very kingdom that he has been preaching since the beginning of his ministry, a kingdom that is not from ‘here’ but “from another place.” Interestingly (or oddly), Jesus mentions this kingdom only three (3) times in the whole Gospel of John—here and in his conversation with Nick in John 3. That’s it. I may need to step outside of John for my sermon and remind our people that Jesus came proclaiming this kingdom from the beginning—Matt. 3:2, Mark 1:15, Luke 4:43. In fact, Matthew and Luke are saturated with this kingdom-talk; many of the parables recorded in those Gospels are kingdom-parables. Always, this kingdom of God, of Heaven, is different from the earthly kingdoms; it is ‘other’—invisible, with relatively up-side-down values and perspectives, etc.
Truth: The statement in our passage differs from many other self-statements of Jesus. This almost reads like the thesis I teach my English student at the college: “...the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth.” Nowhere else that I can recall does Jesus express his reason for being so directly, clearly and succinctly than here. Of course, Pilate questions even the idea of truth. Of course, our clever modernists and postmodernists of the last 60 years think they are the first ones to question truth. I guess the writer of Ecclesiastes got it right: What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. (1:9)
“Truth” appears in the Gospel of John 23 times...and in the epistles of John 19 times—42 mentions. In Matthew, Mark and Luke, a combined total of 4 times. In the writings of Paul, a combined total of 43 times. Yes, ‘truth’ is important to John. Perhaps because of his interaction with those influenced by Greek thought? Perhaps out of his own search for truth? What we do know is that he heard “truth” in Jesus a lot.
Our own culture has lost its mooring with regard to truth. We hear about ‘fake news.’ We hear people talk about ‘your truth and my truth.’ We don’t know what to believe any more, it seems. We can pick our own flavor of truth by selecting a news network that simply agrees with our own way of seeing the world. And which one is right? Which one has the truth? I have a feeling they are all missing the truth. The truth, in the end, lies in Jesus—his word, his life, his teaching.
Truth? There is another kingdom still today—something beyond the United States of America, beyond los Estados Unidos de Mexico (recall, I live on the US/Mexico border....) When we look at that other kingdom, we do see a different way of living that is crazy generous, that loves enemies, that welcomes strangers, that calls us to earn so we can share with others, that calls us to embrace ambitions of kindness, goodness instead of wealth and power, that forgives and moves on, that accepts the social outcasts as equals, that steps aside and allows the other to take first place.
Do you want to know more about this kingdom and about truth? “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” Again, the message is, listen to Jesus. Do you know what he says?
v.38b-40 ~ Pilate tries; he really does. He sees the injustice of this situation, but his goal is keeping the peace, not necessarily executing justice. He lets the Jewish crowd decide. Barabbas (trans., ironically, son of the father) is freed and Jesus remains. But, that seems to have been the plan all along.
And so, we are one step closer to the cross, an instrument of death and torture that this Jesus-kingdom transforms into a symbol of life and forgiveness...but that’s another story.
(Go HERE to read my intro to this series.)