“Here is your king!” Pilate said. He was tired. Working against the Jews had worn him out. But they had won; you could see it already. Pilate hadn’t found any real reason to crucify Jesus. He’d even had him bloodied to garner some sympathy, but no… The Jews were adamant and accusing finally that Pilate would not be King Caesar’s friend if he released King Jesus. So, conceding defeat, Pilate presented Jesus – purple robe and purple bruises, scarlet blood and thorny crown – “Here is your king!” And then Pilate sent away Christ the King for crucifixion.
When Jesus stands there before the crowd, when Pilate puts him on display – he means the Jews to see him – hopes they will be shamed by this “king”. Before that final moment, the apostle John says to us, “Here is your king!” He presents to us Christ the King conversing with Pilate, and when we see him we want to recognize one thing: this king rules according to the truth and it’s out of this world.
That is the trouble, of course… Truth is, Jesus’ rule, his not-this-world kingship was the kind the Jews didn’t want. They wanted a kingship of the human world – approval for their rule-keeping Judaism and acclaim for Israel under Messiah’s war banner. So to be rid of what they despised, the Jews twisted Jesus’ disappointing kingship and represented it as everything they normally would have loved – “He claims to be a king; tells us not to obey Caesar! He must die!” And, therefore, Pilate had to investigate whether Jesus should die. Had Jesus turned out to be a zealot king, it would have made things simpler for Pilate. Would have unmade this crucifixion catch-22: please the Jews, murder this innocent, and hate yourself for it in the morning; exonerate this rabbi, risk rabid rabbi rebellion, and hate yourself for it in the morning. But when asked if he was the King of the Jews, Jesus gave him the otherworldly answer (v.36), “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” And therefore it seems Jesus was the kind of king Pilate just didn’t care about. In v.38, when confronted with the truth, Pilate’s notorious question, “What is truth?” really sounds more like dismissal or despair than desire to know more. Even when he knew Jesus was innocent, Pilate was finally interested only in moving this king to the right place on the chess board so he could win with the Jews, win in the world.
It’s hard sometimes to receive this King as he is. He isn’t from here and he doesn’t operate like here, but here we are. We live in a physical world and we are always achieving or not and it would seem that our relationship with God should be that way too – by how well we perform, so good our relationship. And we know so many nice people who perform so well – kind, good, caring, intelligent, talented – and it would seem that there ought to be much truth in this world, a rather wide-scope of it would be helpful. But he says devastating things like that “all our righteous acts (the really good ones) are like filthy rags (not dirty laundry but the kind you look at and go, “Ughh, garbage!”).” Enough to make you plain not want this kind of King. We often experience no good ends that make us wonder whether might might help bring personal prosperity and better lives. But Jesus stands there, awaiting our acceptance and expecting our approval, and his face is a bruise – cuts one would stitch, his hair matted with blood, sweat – he’s weak and then he dies. And he says deflating truths like that his disciples would fight to help him win in the world if he were a king from here (because he’s not, they don’t – not even now, not in any worldly way with weapons or wealth or words can you win for him). Often exactly because of this otherworldly Jesus, there are these no-win moments in life – witness to his way (because he says, “I am the way – and nobody else – to God”) and know you may walk your way alone once again, don’t witness and deny him, King of all things; flee temptation and miss the good feeling, give in and have guilt. And with Pilate we wonder whether an otherworldly king is of no worldly good, we’ve so many worldly troubles. And it’s like Jesus doubles down on all that when he says further, “Because I am King, I was born and entered the world so that I could witness to the truth.” King come to rule for an idea?
Now look away from all that – all that concern for ourselves and for this world – how things will feel and how we can cope and how we can win – and look again at Jesus. Here is your King. The kind who will be seen like Daniel did – riding the clouds, walking into God’s radiant presence, ruling with authority and power over rulers, people, nations, and for everlasting…and yet here he takes calmly the questions of a governor who hasn’t the spine to stand up for the innocent. He is abused by vile soldiers, he is put away by self-serving priests, he is innocent and he dies guilty as death-row for people who have not done good. John is saying the same thing here with a picture of Jesus on trial as he will say at the end in Revelation and in each of his letters – truth, the reality of life, is inextricably bound up with Jesus. But the truth where Jesus reigns is that there is grace (undeserved love) and peace (freedom from the guilt of sins and assurance about the direction of life). And that’s because Jesus is what John will call him, “the ruler of the kings of the earth,” “the firstborn from the dead (when he rises to life),” and “the faithful witness (to the truth).” The truth he witnesses to, silently going to humiliating death, is that “he loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and [allowed us] to serve his God and Father.” Truth from God that for the world to connect with him meaningfully he was willing to sacrifice his own Son that by faith in his work sinners might be everything he wants…out of this world…
Today is the last Sunday of the church year and soon we’ll approach Christmas and something else out of this world will arrive: Star Wars. In truth, Star Wars doesn’t hold a candle to the blazing glory of Christmas, but it can remind us of how things are with King Jesus. One of the most memorable Star Wars moments is when the character Han Solo is about to be encased in carbonite (frozen solid) and Princess Leia tells him as the guards tear them apart, “I love you,” and he responds, “I know…” Did you know that that memorable scene wasn’t written that way? According to the script, Harrison Ford was supposed to say, “I love you, too.” It turns out, during filming that line just wasn’t working and finally, the director told Harrison Ford to go ahead and “do what felt right.” And so the line many know and love. To quote an online article, “The reason the line didn’t feel right? Harrison Ford knew his character. He knew what the rogue smuggler Han Solo sounded like. And ‘I love you, too’ wasn’t it.”
Christ the King has one of the most memorable lines in the universe universe: “I have come to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” You know the truth of life – how your sins have been paid by Jesus’ blood, how by baptism you were washed and made new, how you aren’t of this world anymore either but you are on Jesus’ side. And you listen to him. Here is your King. You know what your King is like – his character – the truth of love from God that is out of this world. So you know what to say – whether fleeing from temptation, or trusting in his work, or testifying to the truth – in these and more you proclaim him Christ, the King, and say with John, “to him be glory and power forever and ever! Amen.”