Monday, May 29, 2017
"My Kingdom" Sermon: John 18:25-40
May 28, 2017, Second Reformed Church
Peter, John, and Jesus are in the High Priest’s house. And we may remember, we said that the house would have been rooms surrounding a central courtyard through which one would pass to get from room to room.
John and Jesus are in Annas’ home, and Jesus is being interrogated by him. Jesus respectfully reminds Annas that the Law does not compel a suspect to give evidence against himself, so Jesus tells Annas to find witnesses.
Meanwhile, Peter is out in the courtyard, and a young girl asks Peter if he is a disciple of Jesus, and he denies it vigorously – beginning to fulfill Jesus’ prophecy: “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times” (John 13:38, ESV). And we saw that it is easy to sin, even though the devil is a defeated foe, and we do not have to sin, because God lives within us and has promised a way of escape.
Annas is unable to get what he wants from Jesus, so he sends Him across the courtyard to the room where Caiaphas is waiting with the full Sanhedrin to try Jesus.
The guards take Jesus to Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin for trial. This trial is not recorded by John, because Matthew, Mark, and Luke, all record it. But it is worth taking a moment to see it in context because we see:
First, Jesus is God, the Savior.
“Then those who had seized Jesus led him to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders had gathered. And Peter was following him at a distance, as far as the courtyard of the high priest, and going inside he sat with the guards to see the end. Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death, but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward and said, ‘This man said, “I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days.”’ And the high priest stood up and said, ‘Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?’ But Jesus remained silent. And the high priest said to him, ‘I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.’ Then the high priest tore his robes and said, ‘He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy. What is your judgment?’ They answered, ‘He deserves death.’ Then they spit in his face and struck him. And some slapped him, saying, ‘Prophesy to us, you Christ! Who is it that struck you?’” (Matthew 26:57-68, ESV).
Jesus is brought before the Sanhedrin, as they scramble to find two witnesses who can even half agree on something Jesus did or said that could be considered a crime – and they find two who testify that Jesus said He would destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days – which we know was not about the physical Temple, but about Jesus’ physical resurrection. And Jesus does not answer the charge – remember – He didn’t have to – He could plead the fifth, as it were.
So, Caiaphas pulls his ace in the hole – the one thing that would get a faithful Jew to break his silence is to be asked a question beginning with: “I adjure you by the living God” – for the sake of God, under the witness and judgement of God – and the High Priest asks Him, “Are You the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior – are You God, the Incarnate Son – God in the flesh?”
And Jesus responds with expressions that are dramatic and clear to the Sanhedrin. Jesus says, in our vernacular, “What you said is absolutely true: I am the promised Savior, and you will see Me seated on My throne, the throne of God.”
Caiaphas responds dramatically, tears his clothes, proclaims that Jesus is a blasphemer, and calls for the judgement of the Sanhedrin – capital punishment – death. All of which proceedings are illegal according to Jewish Law.
We continue to see Jesus claim to be the Savior and God over and over again in the Gospels. If He is not, then He is a blasphemer, and we are all dead in our sins. But He is God and Savior, and all of this is necessary for our salvation and the Glory of God.
Now, they must go to Governor Pilate, because the Jews were under Roman occupation and were not allowed to carry out capital punishment.
As Jesus passes through the courtyard, we read:
“Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. So they said to him, ‘You also are not one of his disciples, are you?’ He denied it and said, ‘I am not.’ One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, ‘Did I not see you in the garden with him?’ Peter again denied it, and at once a rooster crowed.”
Luke adds an additional detail:
“And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, ‘Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.’ And he went out and wept bitterly” (Luke 22:61-62, ESV).
Peter denies Jesus three times, just as Jesus prophesied, and Jesus looks at him as the rooster crows, and Peter is utterly destroyed. His guilt is overwhelming, and he runs from the house of the High Priest, weeping.
Thankfully, we know that Peter is restored in John 21 – he even becomes a leader in the Church. Lord willing, we will look at that is some weeks.
For now, let us remember that we can be forgiven for every sin except the sin of unbelief. As John writes, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (I John 2:1-2, ESV).
Don’t sin. Call on God to deliver you from temptation. Take the way of escape He provides. And when you do sin, go to Jesus quickly, because He has paid the debt for that sin – each and every one of our sins – and He will restore us with the Father.
Now, they take Jesus to Governor Pilate to secure Jesus’ death. They meet with Pilate at his headquarters – given the timeline – probably at his office in the Temple, not at his palace.
And we see, second, Jesus is king.
“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. 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.”
The Pharisees and Sadducees make Pilate come out to them so they do not become ceremonially unclean – especially during this holy season. In their hypocrisy, they are afraid to be around Gentiles – non-Jews – in case they become unclean, but they have no problem with putting an Innocent Man to death… They are concerned that everything looks right, but are unconcerned that their hearts are dead. Jesus condemns them for cleaning the outside of the tomb and being unmoved by the rotting corpse within.
Pilate asks the Jews what the charge is against Jesus, and the Jews respond, “We’re the Sanhedrin – the highest ruling body of the Jews – don’t you think we have already tried this Man and found Him guilty – you don’t need to know the facts of the case or the evidence against Him.”
So Pilate turns the tables and tells them that they should put Him to death if they have already decided that is what should be done. And the Jews reluctantly admit that their hands are tied – they are not legally allowed to put Jesus to death – Rome has to put Jesus to death. And so, Jesus’ prophecy is fulfilled:
“See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day” (Matthew 20:18-19, ESV).
Luke tells us that the Jews claim that Jesus commits three crimes: He perverts the nation. He forbids the Jews to pay taxes to Rome. And He claims to be King. (Cf., Luke 23).
As evil as a man as Pilate is said to have been, he is not about to put a Man to death simply on the word of the Jews – he wants reasons – evidence – to justify putting Jesus to death, so he interrogates Jesus in a private trial:
“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?’”
The first two crimes the Jews mention are not worth considering by Pilate, but if Jesus claims to be king – that could be a problem he has to deal with, so he asks Jesus if He is the King of the Jews. And we notice that Jesus doesn’t answer him here. Why?
Jesus wants to clarify His answer, so He does not answer, “yes,” by which Pilate would think that Jesus means that He is king of the earthly Kingdom of Israel, nor does He answer, “no,” because Jesus is, indeed, a king. Instead He asks Pilate about his motivation, and Pilate wonders how Jesus could be King of the Jews if His own people were seeking His death.
“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?’”
“Yes, I am a king. But I am not king over any specific physical landlocked kingdom in this fallen, sinful world. If I was, my followers would have fought and kept Me from being delivered to the Jews.”
Jesus is a king. But He is not merely king over the physical nation of Israel as any earthly king would be king. If He was a king like any other king, His followers would fight for Him – the armies would come out and fight to keep Jesus from being taken from them and killed.
This world can never truly fulfill us. This world will never make us right. This world will never satisfy us. This world will never give us the peace we long for. Apart from Jesus, we are adrift – and we may be able to fool ourselves into believing everything is alright, but if we wake up, we understand we have been delusional.
“Yes, I am a king. But My Kingdom is not based in the political machinations of this world; My Kingdom is not of this world. My Kingdom is distinct from the kingships in this fallen creation.”
Pilate interrupts to confirm, “So You are a king?”
“Yes, I am a king. My birth and My purpose for coming into this world – for Incarnating – for God taking on human flesh – a real human person – and uniting with him – is to bear witness to the Truth. And everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”
We are reminded of another time that the Jews try to kill Jesus, but were unable – and Jesus explains why they did not believe:
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one.” (John 10:27-30, ESV).
If we put these together, what is Jesus’ bearing witness to the Truth? What is His birth and purpose about?
If we put these together, we can only conclude that Jesus came to be the Truth and tell the Truth, and provide the Truth for all those who will believe. God became a human being to live and die and physically rise, and ascend for our salvation and to the Glory of God. The Truth is the Gospel. The Truth is what God did to make a people right with Himself. The Truth is that God redeemed a people for Himself and gave them to His Son, and all those He gave to His Son – throughout time and space – hear the Truth – the Gospel – and receive it and believe and repent and follow after Jesus eternally.
Jesus is the Sovereign King and God over all of Creation. And it is only through Him that we are made right with God. That is the Truth.
But what if someone is not one of the sheep? What if someone is not one of those who hear Jesus’ voice and listen?
At this time in history, the Romans worship many gods, but there is real skepticism about them – whether they really exist and whether or not they really matter in day to day living. There is a relativism that said everything is true and nothing matters. It is very much like twenty-first century America.
I saw a comic recently that had two characters in it – the one was saying that there is no absolute truth, everything is relative, what you believe is equally true to what I believe, there is no right or wrong. So the second character punches the first character in the face and steals his wallet. In the last panel, the first character is calling the police. Why? Because there is absolute truth, not everything is relative, two conflicting “truths” cannot both be equally true, and there are things that are right and things that are wrong.
Pilate responds to all Jesus says with the famous line, “What is truth?” Which might well describe the atmosphere of America in our day.
What we don’t know is how Pilate said this line – what he really meant by it.
Given what we know of the time and Pilate, himself, the commentator, John Calvin, may well be right in reading his comment as being sarcastic. Calvin says one reason he believes it is sarcastic is that Pilate leaves immediately – he does not continue the conversation or wait for an answer from Jesus.
What Pilate does believe is that Jesus is innocent. He believes the Jews want Jesus dead out of jealousy so Pilate tries to free Jesus. He looks to a tradition that Rome would release a prisoner at Passover in symbolic respect of the season of celebrating Israel’s release from slavery in Egypt.
“After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, ‘I find no guilt in him. But you have a custom that I should release one man for you at the Passover. So do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?’ They cried out again, ‘Not this man, but Barabbas!’ Now Barabbas was a robber.”
Pilate fails to release Jesus, the King of the Jews, and releases Barabbas.
Luke tells us a little more:
“So Pilate decided that their demand should be granted. He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, for whom they asked, but he delivered Jesus over to their will” (Luke 23:24-25, ESV).
Pilate is so sure of himself that he offers to release a prisoner: Barabbas – a thief, a murderer, someone who had attempted to overthrow Rome – a terrorist, or, the misguided rabbi, Jesus. “Shall I release a terrorist back into your midst, or this harmless rabbi?”
Pilate is surely disgusted in the result of his gambit.
And Pilate and the Jews come under the condemnation of God, as Solomon wrote, “He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the LORD” (Proverbs 17:15, ESV).
The Jews come one step closer to having Jesus put to death, and Jesus clearly explains that He is God and King over His Kingdom – the Kingdom of all those who believe savingly in Him.
If you believe in the Truth – if you have received Jesus and His salvation, then you are at peace in this world, knowing that your God and King is Sovereign, bringing all things to pass according to His Will, and the day is coming, when all things will be restored, and we shall dwell in the Glory of God.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for the witness of Your Son, even as He went through suffering beyond what we can conceive. Help us not to be confused, but to know that Jesus is God the Savior, and He is our reigning King – our Sovereign Forever, through Whom we have salvation and a future. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.