THE REV. ROBERTO DESANDOLI
Reign of Christ
2 Samuel 23: 1-7
Revelation 1: 4b-8
John 18: 33-38
Christ the King
33 Then Pilate entered the headquarters[a] again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” 35 Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” 37 Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” 38 Pilate asked him, “What is truth?”
“What is truth?” a crucial question that could have set both Pontius Pilate and Jesus free but instead condemned both men: one to the cross, and one to much worse.
“What is truth?” well, it depends who’s asking.
For Jesus’ disciples and earliest followers the answer would be Jesus the Christ Himself, Jesus the King; Jesus “the way, the truth, and the life”.
But for Pilate, and for so many of us today, the question may be asked with authority, with the authority of a man with the weight of the Roman army behind him but it actually reveals a deep lack of authority.
It is in this cracked veneer of authority, in this figure of Pontius Pilate, that we find our way into this story, and perhaps discover even some sympathy for the Roman leader.
Pilate receives both us and Jesus into the story in a characteristically direct and Roman way:
Pilate cuts straight to the chase with Jesus:
“Are you the King of the Jews?”
Knowing why He had been arrested and in-front of what kind of man He now stood, Jesus cut to the chase Himself:
“Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?”
Jesus asks Pilate, in other words, “Well, just how much of your own work have you actually done? Who have you been listening to? Have you believed the chief priests and Temple authorities who have handed me over to you or have you been speaking with the people? Maybe even the people who follow in my way and truth and life?”
Bible commentators speak about this scene between Jesus and Pilate as the two figures; the Rabbi and the Roman “sizing each other up,” of trying to figure out just who the other is.
Pilate wants to find out just what kind of lone Rabbi could possibly be stirring up so much trouble for him and his army in Judea.
Jesus—in his task of sizing up the Pontius—wants to find out what kind of man Pontius Pilate really is, or more properly, to give Pilate the chance to show Jesus that he is not just a stuffed uniform.
You see, if Pilate were just a stuffed Roman uniform, a man with a breastplate and a helmet but no mind of his own, Pilate would not be all that interested in who Jesus was or why he was causing such trouble in Roman-occupied Judea.
Pilate’s job is to control rebellion, to quell unrest, not to ask theological questions.
Pilate could send Christ to prison or the cross and be done with it, but he doesn’t.
Standing before Jesus Christ, before God-made-flesh, before the one who is to become the Alpha and the Omega, Pilate cannot help but ask: are you really the King of the Jews?
Points for asking, but asking from a safe distance is really not the same thing as asking with a humble heart.
The problem, for Pilate and for all us who have in-the-past, do-now, or will-one-day struggle with this question, is that there’s no way to ask this question from a distance.
One cannot simply ask their Christian friend, or their neighborhood Minister, or even Jesus Himself whether Jesus Christ really is Jesus Christ from across the room in a way that will convince them of the answer.
I say to you all this very moment that “Yes, Christ really is King” but even that will not change your heart if you do not ask Christ in your own heart.
Christ cannot answer you if you don’t ask Him humbly yourself.
And on that day, in those Roman headquarters, Jesus found out that Pilate was simply not prepared to do that.
Pilate asked him, “So are you a king?”
Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
Pilate asked him, “What is truth?”
One wonders if Pilate would have been better off not asking questions to which he didn’t really want to know the answer.
Pilate asks Jesus if He is indeed a king and Jesus answers that He is not only a king but the keeper and source of THE TRUTH.
Left with no rhetorical escape hatch, with no way to save face, or press the question without bending his knee to Christ the King, Pilate shows his limited courage. “Well…What is truth?”
As you all know, we are today living in an era of unprecedented Pilate-like-ness.
An era where, when met with Truth that makes us uncomfortable, or Truth that would cause us to lose face, or Truth that would require us to bend our knee to the authority of God, we—as a culture—are very fond of Pilate’s question:
“Well, what is Truth?”
“My truth doesn’t have to listen to your truth”
“Your truth is just ‘fake news’”
Or to quote the wisdom of Jeff Bridges’ The Dude: your truth is “Just, like, your opinion man”
Since October 2nd, the world has watched as world leaders from Saudi Arabia, the United States, and, sadly, Canada have made an absolute mockery of the word “truth”.
From that date to today the “truth” has changed dozens of times as the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi has transformed from an unfortunate kidnapping, to a rogue killing, to a Saudi-royalty ordained killing.
Over that same time, statements from American and Canadian leaders have steadily cooled from steaming hot, to hot, to lukewarm, to room temperature as promises were made and broken about whether the events of October 2nd would justify a reduction in arms sales to the kind of regime that would literally butcher a journalist.
What is truth in 2018?
Sadly, it is whatever we want it to be.
Every so often I find myself in conversation with a friend, or a congregant, or even a stranger at the coffee shop that goes something like this:
“Why does the church still talk about Jesus as ‘Lord’ or Jesus as ‘King’? Isn’t that kind of language holding us back from reaching people who no longer want to be ruled by kings?”
I am always delighted by these questions. Not only because I have so many of them myself but also because I believe strongly that the Christian tradition is an argument about the tradition. That by asking these questions, we participate in what it means to be the Christian church.
As for the question itself, I don’t shy away. In my faith in God, I believe that Christ was, is, and will be King whether we crown Him or not. I believe Christ is the only true King and Head of not only the Church but also history, the world, and the universe.
To call Christ King is not to compare Him unfavorably to the brutality and injustice of the Kings of this world but it is to remove the debris from the word and to use it in its only proper way.
Christ is the only True King.
Sadly, many false kings and prophets have-and-will insist that their kingship or authority is derived from His, but only Christ Himself wears the true crown and sits on the true throne.
The other thing I would suggest, if this question of Christ’s Kingship rests uneasily in your heart, is to consider what kind of crown and what kind of throne you imagine His to be.
Though stories like King Arthur, the Lord of the Rings, and Game of Thrones have captivated our imaginations, we ought not to think of our King, Jesus the Christ, as one who sits on a throne of gold, steel, or bone, carrying a sword in his hand.
Our King undoes this kind of kingship through His humility and self-sacrifice.
Christ sits on the glorious Throne of Heaven, but He got there by surrendering himself to the cross and the nails of sin.
Christ may wear the crown of all creation, but he received it by accepting the painful and humiliating Crown of Thorns.
This is why Christ’s Kingship is true. This is why Christ’s truth is trustworthy.
It is because, unlike the myriad kingships and (small t) truths of this world, Christ’s Truth is unfailingly set toward justice, even when its human representatives make a mess of it.
So far, we have looked at Christ’s Kingship from the assumption that Christ really is King, but how do we reconcile the fact that we do live in a world where truth is a choice, and until we choose Christ (or more accurately, begin the practise of choosing Christ each and every day), it remains a choice between many?
Why should we settle on just one option?
Why should we settle on just one King?
Well, the best reason is because there is freedom in choosing Christ as King. In allowing your heart to respond to what Christ has already done for you.
Returning to Jesus’ conversation with Pilate, let us again ask why Pilate was unable to choose God when God was standing right in front of him.
If Pilate could not find faith with Jesus the Christ in the room, what chance do any of us have?
Let us not give up so easily.
Pontius Pilate, though not a stuffed uniform, was still set under the empire of Rome. Rome was not only his employer, his master, but also his worldview and his identity as well.
In such a worldview in such an identity, not so different from our modern world, the truth cannot set a person free on its own.
The success or failure of a conquering army is not determined by whether or not they are justified in their actions, but by whether or not they have the power to win the campaign. Truth is not so important when might makes right.
The success or failure of a skilled politician is not determined by whether or not they are faithful and true in their promises and actions. All that matters is whether they can wield political capital to their advantage. Truth be damned.
Or consider even a man on trial for murder. The court can only set an innocent man free if his lawyers are able to muster the evidence and build the case.
And we too live by these rules. The rule of might makes right, the rule of politics, the rule of law.
Every once in a while, we hear on the news the story of a convict who is set free from prison after being there for 20 or 30 years, thanks to the presentation of new evidence. We modern people, we modern Romans, may feel empathy for the convict, we may even be outraged that the person was falsely imprisoned, but we do not go out into the streets to demand a regime change.
We tolerate a degree of injustice, a degree of untruth in our kingdoms.
For the same reason, we do not demand real changes of regime in Regina or Ottawa or in the Global Politik. To do so would be to risk having “our team” or “our party” or “ourselves” lose in these arenas. We don’t have time to focus on the “truth” when we are too busy trying to win at broken games.
If we can agree that we do not have real freedom in our world then why are we so afraid to choose Christ?
As an example of how we become captivated by “un-truthful” ways of living, Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias gives this story as an example:
There were once two siblings, about 5 or 6 years old, a boy and a girl.
The boy’s prized possession was a sack of beautiful marbles that his sister was also very fond of.
Now the girl also had something that he desired; some delicious and brightly-coloured candy.
Seeing that each was interested in the other’s possessions, they began to negotiate a trade. But the boy, still being fond of his marbles, decided to trick his sister. He snuck away and hid the most beautiful and interesting of his marbles under his pillow and then he went to make the trade with his sister.
That night, though he had everything his little heart wanted; both his prized marbles and the newly-acquired candy, his soul was restless. He tossed and turned with unease all night.
Finally, he named his discomfort out loud: “I wonder if she gave me all of her candy.”
“What is freedom?”
“What is honesty?”
“What is self-sacrifice?”
“What is truth?”
“What is Kingship?”
Friends, any discussion of Christ’s Kingship would be incomplete if we did not acknowledge the way that such claims to this kingship have been abused by human actors over the course of history.
To be clear and frank: people have done awful things in the name of Christ, not only yesterday but today as well.
Abuse still exists in the global church, corruption, greed, malice, hatred, insensitivity; the Christian church is far more sinful than the one it claims to represent here on earth.
We do not give a “truthful” witness to the Gospel if we do not acknowledge that the church has been as sinful as any human institution through time.
So, what do we do?
When I first arrived at the Vancouver School of Theology in 2013, this reality and this question weighed very heavily on my mind.
“How do we proclaim Christ as King given the evils that people have done with that statement on their lips?”
“How do we go on being the church when the church has made so many mistakes?”
“How do we know we will get it right this time?”
I remember clearly the pastoral answer I received from a truly Graceful and Christ-like man: Rev. Dr. Stephen Farris.
He said, “It’s not our job, as pastors, as elders, as Christians, to tell people that the pain they received at the hands of the church didn’t happen…it’s our job to suffer with them, because that’s what Christ—the true King of the church–would have done.”
A short time after his conversation with Pilate in his headquarters, Jesus was sentenced to death on the cross.
On Good Friday he was fitted: with nails for his throne and with thorns for his crown.
As a final insult, “INRI” was carved onto the top of the cross, meaning “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”
The Bible tells us that as he underwent these injustices, these pains, and these insults, he prayed for those who put him there:
“Forgive them Father, they know not what they do”
And among those He named in His passionate prayers must have been the name Pontius Pilate, one who in a less broken world might have been able to ask Jesus to teach Him the way, the truth, and the life.
And even though Rome meant to destroy Christ and His followers by showing them that might is greater than truth, they did not succeed, and we remain to witness to the reality of Christ’s truth.
To witness to the reality of Christ’s Kingship.