Ocean Springs, Mississippi

Christ the King: Jesus Meets Pilate

Sermon on John 18:33-37

So, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it’s still election season around here. You know, the rest of the country has moved on…they’ve got non-stop Christmas at this point. But now, anytime I turn on the TV, actually, anytime I open up my computer, there is some sort of ad, reminding me that we’re in electoral overtime here in Mississippi. And for the first time in, I don’t know how long, the eyes of the nation are on this state. And hey, there’s actually a little suspense about what may happen on Tuesday.

But, at the same time, I sense that a lot of people are tired of it all. Vote ‘em out, keep ‘em in…I doesn’t really matter in the end. I think part of this is a symptom of something bigger going on in this country. That is, the overwhelming weight we put on our political ups and downs. The tribalism that has seemed to infect all the big decisions that we make. The feeling that one side is the side of good and the other side is the side of bad.

And look, I’m not going to downplay things. Elections are important. This one is important, the direction that we are taking as a state, a nation, a world…that’s important. But if we begin to conflate the outcome of elections with God’s will—or maybe the kingdom of this world with the Kingdom of God. Well, then we’re in trouble.

Today, we see a perfect example of the collision of the secular political world with the religious—humanity meets divine. Pilate meets Jesus. It is Jesus’ trial. It’s the trial that will ultimately end in Jesus’ execution.

And here we see Pilate, an agent of Rome, the stand-in for the emperor, trying to come to grips with just who Jesus is.

You know, let’s take a minute to feel a little sorry for Pilate. I mean, he’s this government bureaucrat send out way into the sticks in Judea of all places. I mean it’s kind of like being sent to some outpost in Fairbanks, Alaska or something like that. But he figures if he bides his time and keeps his head down, he might get a promotion to some more desirable location, maybe a Greek island or something like that.

But the people around him are annoying. Very high maintenance, always stirring up trouble, never really into the whole Rome thing. And then in comes the wandering preacher of Nazareth. The one who’s big mouth has made him an enemy of just about everyone.

But Jesus isn’t quite the firebrand that Pilate was expecting.

He’s confused, he doesn’t quite know how to handle it. Who are you Jesus? Are you a king? Are you the king of the Jews? Pilate can’t understand Jesus’ power because Jesus’ power doesn’t look like power. It’s not political power. He can’t push through legislation. He can’t muster up armies. There are no appropriations or political favors to be had.

It’s weakness, it’s emptying. Jesus does not look powerful in the least. Particularly here, stripped and threatened, soon he’ll be beaten and humiliated. But here’s the thing: Pilate doesn’t know it, but he’s not in control here.

Pilate may think he has the upper hand, but he’s being controlled by the powers of this world, the ones that will demand more and more. He doesn’t want to execute Jesus, but pretty soon he will have no choice.

And so we have two visions of power: Pilate— brutal and blunt, but frustrated, limited, finite. And Jesus—mysterious, vulnerable, confusing, but ultimately powerful. It’s a reflection of God’s own power…something that we can’t quite grasp, we can’t quite understand. And that’s hard to take.

We want that kind of power. We want our leaders to have that kind of power. So we’re always looking for that transcendental leader—that king of our hearts—who will give us this sense of meaning, whose words will inspire and fill us with pride, who will solve all our problems and give us everything that we’ve dreamed of and desire. Greatness, prestige, respect.

But sooner or later, those great leaders will fall short. They won’t deliver to our expectations. And we see them like Pilate—an empty shell, flailing around, grasping at straws—anything really to take back control.

And this isn’t something unique to this time or place. This isn’t a uniquely American thing. It happens all the time. Through out history. The Bible is filled with rulers and kings who thought they could have it all—who could stand toe to toe with God—only to find out the hard way that they can’t. They don’t understand the mysterious power that Jesus shows us.

I suppose the question before us is do we understand that power? Are we looking for it in the right places? Do we place that power—that is, the power of Jesus—in the center of our lives? Do we place our allegiance, our trust in the king of love and grace, sacrifice and service?

Jesus isn’t on the ballot. We don’t have to choose or vote, because he has already chosen us. When he’s confronted by Pilate he replies, “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice”

That is us, we belong to the truth. We place our trust in that mysterious power of Jesus. The weak becomes powerful, the last become the first, death becomes life. That is something no person, no politician, no representative or governor or president or king can provide. It is only Jesus who can do this.

He is the one who welcomes us in, who makes us citizens of his kingdom. Jesus, the king of our hearts, the king of our lives, the king of our world. The Alpha and the Omega. The beginning and the end.