Let’s now turn in our Bibles to John chapter 18. John 18. We’ll start our reading in verse 28. It’s also printed in your bulletins if you want to follow along there.
Last week we read from John chapter 6 where it says in verse 15, “Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.” The crowd had seen the sign. They had seen the miracle that Jesus had turned the five loaves of bread and the two fish into an amount that they all could eat until their fill and then they still had plenty left over. And now they wanted to make Jesus king. If you remember what Gary Sinclair said last week, it was because they wanted Jesus as king on their own terms, it was because of that that Jesus withdrew from them and went up on the mountain. They were looking for Jesus to be king because He had filled their bellies, because He had given them what they wanted. They were living for the food that perishes and they saw Jesus as the way to give them, the person that could give them what they wanted, as the king who could give it to them.
Fast forward thirteen chapters to John chapter 18. Jesus will be king only on His own terms and He will be king, He is a king of a kingdom that does not match the expectations of the crowd. And so the crowd rejected Him. We find just before the passage that we’ll read that a band of soldiers, their captain, and the officers of the Jews had Jesus arrested and bound and it was that same group of Jewish officials that we find in this chapter that lead Jesus from the house of Caiaphas, the high priest, and they take Him to the governor’s headquarters, to Pontius Pilate. In the course of these thirteen chapters, Jesus has gone from the crowd favorite, from the people’s choice to be king, to now being the one who is the target of their hatred and their animosity. And because of that, Jesus now stands before Pontius Pilate. He stands before the one who holds the power of the sword or who, in this case, holds the power of the cross to send Jesus to His death.
So before we read this passage, this section of Scripture, let’s pray that God would help us to recognize Jesus as the King that He is and that we would trust Him as our true hope. Let’s pray.
Father, we thank You for Your Word. We thank You that it is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, cutting to the division of soul and spirit, bone and marrow. We ask that You would do Your work by Your Word, through Your Spirit in our hearts that we would see Jesus, that we would exalt Him in our hearts and in our lives as we trust in Him and live for Him, and would You give us hope – the hope of the resurrection, the hope of the kingdom that will never end. Speak Lord, for Your servants listen. We pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.
John 18, starting in verse 28:
“Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters. It was early morning. They themselves did not enter the governor’s headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover. So Pilate went outside to them and said, ‘What accusation do you bring against this man?’ They answered him, ‘If this man were not doing evil, we would not have delivered him over to you.’ Pilate said to them, ‘Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.’ The Jews said to him, ‘It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death.’ This was to fulfill the word that Jesus had spoken to show by what kind of death he was going to die.
So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ Jesus answered, ‘Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?’ Pilate answered, ‘Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?’ Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.’ Then Pilate said to him, ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world – to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.’ Pilate said to him, ‘What is truth?’”
The grass withers and the flowers fall but the Word of our God endures forever.
The Apostles’ Creed is one of the oldest summaries of Christian beliefs and we’ve said it together many times as a confession of our faith. “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son,” and on it goes. And if we were to say all of the rest of the Apostles’ Creed we would find that there are three people that are named in that creed – Jesus, Mary and Pontius Pilate. We don’t really think about it very much, do we, but it’s really surprising that in the history of the Church and through the centuries as we confess the core beliefs of our faith that every time we say the Apostles’ Creed we remember the name of Pontius Pilate, that Jesus “suffered under Pontius Pilate.”
Well these verses in John chapter 18 tell us about the first encounter between Jesus and Pontius Pilate. This is a historic moment. This is the Word made flesh, the Son of God, Jesus Christ, face to face with the Roman governor over the territory of Judea. And the first thing we’ll see from this passage this morning is the conflict between Rome and Judea. One writer says that the office of the Roman governor in the first century AD “was the most prominent and the most distinctive expression of the dominion of Rome over the land and the people of the Jews.” Rome was one of the most impressive empires and civilizations in the history of the world. At some point in their empire, their dominion spread all the way as far north as England. There were things that Rome brought to England that when they disappear, when they stepped back from England around AD 400, that there were advancements they had introduced to Britain, such as running water, that would not appear again there for around 1,000 years.
Rome was truly one of the worlds of history’s great nations and Rome had established its rule over Judea in 64 BC. Pilate here was the fifth governor of the territory of Judea. As governor, Pilate had oversight over building projects. He had the authority to mint coin and to impose taxes. And most significantly for the concerns of our passage, he had the authority to exact the death penalty. He had the authority to put criminals to death by crucifixion. So in verse 28, the Jewish officers bring Jesus to Pilate in the early morning hours. And notice their attitude. Notice the attitude of the Jewish officials to Pilate. They keep their distance from him, don’t they? It says that they didn’t want to defile themselves, they didn’t want to go into the governor’s headquarters so that they would be defiled. You see, Pilate, as a Gentile, was unclean to them. According to Jewish tradition, if they had gone into a Gentile home they would have been considered ceremonially unclean. They wouldn’t have been able to eat the Passover if they had done that.
And so Pilate, in all of his authority, he really is considered beneath the Jews in their mind. He’s held in contempt by them. It’s not even necessary for them to give an answer to the charge that they bring against Jesus. You’ll notice that when he asks, Pilate asks what accusation they had brought, they respond as if they were annoyed. It wasn’t even worth their time to spell it out. They say, “If He had done no evil, would we have even brought Him to you?” They really just want Pilate to carry out their dirty work. They want Pilate to do what their law did not allow them to do, and that is, to put Jesus to death. Apparently, the Romans had, at some point, revoked the right of the Jewish council, the Sanhedrin, to carry out the death penalty. And Pilate was the one who had the authority to send Jesus to the cross.
Beginning in verse 33, Jesus is brought in. He’s brought in to stand before this one who can send Him to the cross, to stand before Pilate and to be questioned before him. And so from this encounter between Pilate and the Jews, now we see an encounter between Pilate and Jesus. And obviously at some point Pilate had been told, or he had received the charge that Jesus had made a claim to kingship, because notice, what is the first question that he asks of Jesus? He says to Jesus in verse 33, “Are You the king of the Jews?” Now the commentators tell us that if the Jews had brought a charge to Pilate, a charge of blasphemy or a charge that had something to do with their own law, it wouldn’t have held much weight in Pilate’s court, and so what they’re doing is they bring a charge of treason – that He’s making a stake to the throne; He’s a threat to Caesar, to the emperor. And while that may be true, Pilate doesn’t even appear to be slightly concerned about it. He doesn’t appear in any way to be threatened by Jesus. We see it with both the Jewish officials and with Jesus. Pilate doesn’t think that this case falls under his jurisdiction at all. He tells the Jews to go and to take Him and “just Him by your own law.” When he asks Jesus if He’s king, he says, “Are You king of the Jews?” You see, that’s not much to him, especially when you consider the Roman Empire and how impressive and how dominant it was.
Then we see that when Jesus asks Pilate who had told him that, who had said this kind of thing to him, Pilate says, “Am I a Jew?” In other words, Pilate doesn’t think this has anything to do with him. And by the time that he finishes questioning Jesus, he doesn’t even seem to appear to want to know the answers to his questions. “What is truth?” he says in verse 38, not that he really wants to know. That’s just his way of dismissing what Jesus had said and of ending this interaction and moving on from there. If we were to read on further in this section, verse 38, even at the end of verse 38 Jesus is done with Pilate, Pilate goes outside, he tells the Jews that he had found no fault in Jesus. Later on he says to them, “Behold your king. Shall I crucify your king?” Even the inscription on the cross – you remember that Pilate put on there. It said, “Jesus of Nazareth. King of the Jews.” When the chief priest said to him, “You shouldn’t say that. You should say, ‘He said He is king of the Jews.’” What did Pilate say? He says, “What I have written, I have written.” Pilate is reluctant to condemn Jesus. Really, he just seems indifferent to who Jesus is. He seems indifferent to the facts. He seems indifferent to the charges that are brought against Jesus.
I was initially drawn to this passage this week because of the prominence of the two central figures, of Jesus and Pilate. It has the feeling of one of those pictures that you see in history books of prominent figures throughout history that have come together. You can think about Roosevelt and Churchill and Stalin, or Reagan and Gorbachev, or Bill Clinton when he’s with Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin. These are prominent figures brought together face to face. But really Pilate doesn’t view Jesus that way at all. Jesus is a nobody to him. At this point, Jesus doesn’t even have any followers. He has no army and the people, the claim that He is King of the Jews, the very people who He is claiming to be king over, are the ones who are delivering up to Pilate to be killed. Pilate is completely unthreatened by Jesus. The irony is, of course, that 2,000 years later we would never have heard of Pontius Pilate if it wasn’t for his encounter with Jesus. Pilate thinks nothing of Jesus, and yet we would know nothing of Pilate if it weren’t for Jesus.
But whatever the case, the truth is, if this were just an encounter similar to those between presidents and prime ministers, it really wouldn’t be that significant in the big scheme of things. It would really be just another story of a jostling between different powers of this world, the story that we are all too familiar with in the unfolding of history. You see, what makes this passage significant is that it is not a clash between Rome and Judea; it’s a clash between the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world. That’s the main point of this passage. That’s the main point of this message. There is a bigger story here than just a matter of Roman jurisdiction over the territory of Judea.
And throughout this passage the key figures representing Rome and the Jews, they do things, they say things that they don’t even recognize the significance of what they’re doing and the significance of what they’re saying. In the first place, you’ll notice – what is the first concern of the Jews as they bring Jesus to Pilate? It’s that they will keep the Passover. We notice something about the Passover in these verses. They’re concerned not to be defiled. They want to eat the Passover, to continue to celebrate it throughout that week. Now the Passover, as you know, was the yearly celebration that the Jews celebrated to commemorate, to celebrate their release from slavery in Egypt – that they had been protected from death, they had been protected from the judgement on the firstborn of the Egyptians. And now, it’s in their desire to keep the Passover that they are delivering to Pilate the One to whom the Passover pointed. They are delivering to Pilate the fulfillment of the Passover. They had bound the One that could set them free from their bondage to sin. They are delivering to death the One who could deliver them from death. You see, Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Of His own flesh and blood He had said to His disciples, “This is My body which is given for you. This is My blood which is shed for you.” He is the Passover meal. He is the One to celebrate. But the Jews miss it. They don’t see Jesus for who He is and so they hand Him over to Pilate.
And then we see, from the Passover, we see a reference to the cross. Pilate was the one who could issue and who could carry out an order of crucifixion. And when the Jews said that it wasn’t lawful for them to put anyone to death, John tells us in verse 32, “This was to fulfill the word Jesus had spoken to show what kind of death He was going to die.” Back in John chapter 12, Jesus said that He would be lifted up; He would be lifted up from the earth and He would draw all peoples to Himself, and that He was speaking of His death. He was speaking of being lifted up on the cross. The cross, it was painful and it was brutal and it was shameful. For the Jewish mind it was decisive proof of the curse of God. “Cursed is anyone who hangs on a tree.” Surely if Jesus was placed on a cross that would end all hopes or all thoughts of Him being the Messiah or the Son of God or any sort of King or whatever He had said about Himself. But you see, it was the cross where Jesus took the curse. He bore the shame and ultimately He defeated sin and death by His own death and by His resurrection. It was through the cross, not that discredited Jesus, not that finished Him off; it was through the cross that vindicated Him. It was by the cross that He is demonstrated without a doubt that He is the Messiah, He is the promised Savior. He’s just not the one and He’s not the kind of Savior that the people were expecting.
The Suffering Servant
We see the Passover and the cross. We also see in this passage the suffering Servant. Pilate says to Jesus in verse 35, “Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me.” Remember what John said back in his prologue; John chapter 1 – that “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. He came to His own and His own did not receive Him.” Jesus is the One who was stricken, smitten and afflicted. He was despised and rejected by men. He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, yet He opened not His mouth. Here is the one in this passage, the stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. He’s humbled Himself. He’s made Himself of no reputation. There’s no way that this man could be any sort of threat. There’s no way that He can make any claim to greatness, someone with such weakness and such humiliation and such rejection. But Jesus is the suffering Servant, you see, and He is the One who made Himself like us in every way, but without sin. God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty. He’s chosen the base things, the things which are despised, the things that are not, to bring to nothing the things that are. So Jesus comes with such weakness and humiliation and He comes willingly.
He comes according to the plan of God. We see in this passage the covenant at work, that when Pilate asks Jesus if He is the King of the Jews and he says to Him, “What have you done?” Jesus says, “If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would have been fighting that I might not be delivered over to the Jews.” In other words, Jesus could have called on His servants in order to avoid arrest and to avoid going to the cross. And of course you remember what Peter did. Peter, in the garden, when Jesus was being arrested, Peter had drawn his sword and cut off the ear of the chief priest’s servant, Malchus. Jesus said, “Put your sword away because I’m going to drink the cup that My Father has given Me to drink.” But when He talks about His servants, could He be talking not about His disciples but the host of angels in heaven who would come to His defense, who would keep His foot from being stricken? But that’s not what Jesus does because Jesus had set His face to go to Jerusalem. He was determined to go just as it was written about Him. He was determined to go just as He had promised before the foundation of the world. He laid down His life, of His own accord, so that He might take it up again. Jesus sacrificed Himself willingly. He did it for the joy that was set before Him. He did it because of the great love with which He loved us, that great covenant love. It was out of that love that He submitted Himself willingly to go to the cross.
And we also see that He did it to bear witness to the truth. So there’s Passover, cross, suffering Servant, covenant, and truth. “Everyone who is of the truth listens to My voice,” verse 37 says. Just as the Jews, because of their concern for the Passover, had missed the point of the Passover, here is Pilate when he says, he asks the question, “What is truth?” he misses the One who is the truth. “I am the way, the truth and the life,” Jesus says. He is the glory of the Father, the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth; the true revelation of God, the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises, the guarantee of the covenant. And what He’s saying to Pilate here is perfectly consistent with what we find in the plan of God’s salvation throughout Scripture – and that is that salvation is not limited to one people. But God’s grace is wider than that. His mercy is wider than that. It extends to all who are of the truth, all who listen to Jesus’ voice and come to Him – to Jew and to Gentile, to man and woman, boy and girl, to people of every nation, tribe, language and tongue.
So is He is a king?” Pilate asks. A king? Yes, He’s a king, and He’s a king of a kingdom that is not of this world. He is the promised son of David who sits on the throne forever. Daniel tells us in the book of Daniel, “His kingdom shall never be destroyed and it shall break in pieces and consume all other kingdoms and it shall stand forever.” One day, “every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” “Behold, your king,” Pilate will say later, as he sends Jesus to be crucified. “Behold, your king,” writes John in the book of Revelation. “On the throne is One, a lamb as though it had been slain, and He is the Lord of lords and the King of kings and those who are with Him are called chosen and faithful.”
What kind of kingdom is Jesus over? He’s over a kingdom that is not of this world. It’s a kingdom of grace and truth. It’s a kingdom that has the whole host of heaven and the angels as His disposal. And yet He comes in weakness. He comes in rejection. He comes in suffering and sacrifice through the cross and with resurrection power. Here is the Passover Lamb, the One who was slain, who was on the throne, and He shall reign forever and ever. You see, when we view this passage through the lens of worldly kingdoms, through Rome and Judea, through Pilate and the Jews, there’s really nothing all that significant in the big picture there. It’s just the usual abuse of power and indifference to the truth that we find with the rise and fall of nations and kingdoms in the flow of history. But when we see the real conflict, when we see the clash between the kingdoms of the world and the kingdom of God, this passage has eternal significance. This passage shows to us, “Where is our true hope?” Because when we view our own lives, when we view our own lives through the lens of a nation or of a particular political party, it’s really not that significant in the big picture. Is it?
Yesterday we celebrated the 244th birthday of our country. At some point, this country will celebrate its last birthday, just as you and I will celebrate a last birthday, unless Jesus comes first. We don’t know when that time will be and maybe it’s not the most enjoyable thing to talk about right when we’ve celebrated a birthday, but it shouldn’t be unsettling to us. It should not be unsettling to those of us who have placed our faith in Jesus Christ and who are now members of the kingdom of God, because that kingdom is a kingdom not of this world. It’s a kingdom that will never end. And that’s what allows us to live with hope, even in difficult days, even in challenging times. That’s what allows us to contribute in positive ways to the world around us and to be a blessing to those who are in the kingdom of this world, a fading kingdom, a kingdom that is temporary.
One commentator says this about those who are waiting the consummation of Christ’s kingdom. He says, “We need to take seriously our duty to pursue the blessing of the earthly communities in which we find ourselves, and yet, on the other hand, we must remember that whatever improvements we may legitimately make in our society, we are still looking for the establishment of a kingdom which is heavenly and will not be here in fullness until Christ returns.” Ed reminded us a couple of weeks ago that there is a bigger battle going on around us, a bigger battle going on in our hearts, a spiritual battle – to take up the armor of God. Well there’s also a bigger kingdom to live for and there’s a greater King to serve, greater than anything that we find in the kingdoms and nations of this world. That’s the conflict as well that’s going on in all of our hearts – the conflict to live for the kingdom of God, to live for Christ the King versus living for the kingdoms of this world and the things that this world can offer.
What does it look like, what does it look like to live for the kingdom of God, to live for Christ? Well it looks like living according to the things that we find here in this passage. It means living in weakness and humility. It means living with sacrifice and self-denial, taking up our cross and following Christ, being committed to the truth, being committed to submit to Him and obey Him, our risen and our victorious King Jesus, and living by the power, the resurrection power of the Holy Spirit. It’s a completely radical and a countercultural way to live.
There was a poem that I heard recited once called – it was written about a hundred years ago – it’s called “One Solitary Life.” This is what it says. It says:
“He was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another obscure village. He never wrote a book, he never held an office, he never went to college, he never traveled more than 200 miles from the place he was born. He did none of the things usually associated with greatness. He had no credentials but himself. His friends ran away, one of them denied him, he was turned over to his enemies and went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves. While dying, his executioners gambled for his clothing, the only property he had on earth. When he was dead, he was laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend. Nineteen centuries have come and gone, twenty centuries have come and gone. All the armies that ever marched, all the navies that have ever sailed, all the parliaments that have ever sat, all the kings that have ever reigned put together have not affected man as powerfully as that one solitary life.”
You see, the risen Christ is that one life. It’s His humiliation and it’s His victory that He now stands over Pilate and He stands over the Jewish officials and He stands over Rome and Judea and every other nation and party because their dominion has come and gone or will come and go one day. But Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world and it will never end. It’s our charge today, our call today, first, is to trust in that King if you haven’t done so, to rest under His dominion of grace and truth. And if you have done that, if you have trusted in our King Jesus, then we are called to live today, each day, as members of that kingdom, in weakness and humility and dependence upon Him and dependence upon the power of the Holy Spirit and to be a witness to the world around us of where our true hope is found. Our hope is found in nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. Let’s pray.
Our Father, we bow before You. We look to You for our help, for grace, for strength, for courage, for boldness, for sacrifice and submission, for self-denial. Father, we cannot do any of those things on our own accord. We are stubborn and we are too often committed to our own ways and obsessed with the things of this world. Would You rip those things away from us, help us to see Christ in all of His glory, in all of His power, in all of His beauty and His dominion, and help us to rejoice. Help us to live with hope. That is our hope, a certain hope, a hope that nothing can take away, that nothing can shake. Would You help that hope to be, allow that hope to be evident to all who see us and know us. We pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.
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