The Truth About Jesus The King
a sermon based on John 18:33-37
by Rev. Thomas Hall
Today is Christ the King Sunday. All
todays lessons carry images that speak of the kingship of God. Today, in the liturgy
of the Church, Christians around the world focus on Jesus as the King, as the goal of
human history. In our first lesson, for instance, Davids final words are Gods
beginning words that God will keep a long-standing promise to send Israel the ideal King.
The Psalmist reminds Israel about our part in keeping the Covenant. And in our
epistle lesson we pole vault all the way to the end of history just in time to see this
King returning amid shouts and choruses. So this is King Jesus day! But what about our
Gospel lesson? Whos responsible for selecting John 18 anyway? Seems to be
inappropriate; dampens the festivities. In our Gospel lesson, instead of coronation and
toasts, we see Jesus beaten up and standing trial. I could have found a better, more
upbeat text than that for Christ the King Sunday!
With the help of Fredrick Buechner, let me sketch our Gospel lesson in a bit more
contemporary clothes. So allow yourself a little room for imagination this morning and see
a man who stands in front of the desk with his hands tied behind his back. You can see
that he has been roughed up a little. His upper lip is absurdly puffed out and one eye is
swollen shut. He looks unwashed and smells foul. His feet are bare-big, flat peasant feet,
although the man himself is not big. There is something almost comic about the way he
stands there, bent slightly forward because of the way his hands are tied and goggling
down at the floor through his one good eye as if he is looking for something he has lost-a
button off his shirt or a buck somebody slipped him for a cup of coffee. If there were
just the two of them, Pilate thinks, he would give him his bus fare and send him back to
the sticks where he came from, but the guards are watching, and on the wall the official
portrait of Tiberius Caesar is watching, the fat, powdered face, the toothy imperial
smile, so he goes through the formalities.
"So, youre the man, the king of the Jews," Pilate says.
The man says, "Its not this world Im king of," but his accent is
so thick that Pilate hardly gets it, the accent together with what they have done to his
upper lip. As if he has a mouth full of stones, he says, "Ive come to bear
witness to the truth," and at that thte procurator of Judea takes such a deep drag on
his filter tip that his head swims and for a moment hes afraid he may faint.
He pushes back from the desk and crosses his legs. There is the papery rustle of wings
as the pigeon flutters off the sill and floats down toward the cobbles. Standing by the
door, the guards arent paying much attention. One of them is picking his nose, the
other staring up at the ceiling. Cigarette smoke drifts over the surface of the desk-the
picture of his wife when she still had her looks, the onyx box from Caesar, the clay
plaque with the imprint of his first sons hand on it, made while he was still a
child in nursery school. Pilate squints at the make through the smoke and asks hi
He asks it half because he would give as much as even his life to hear the answer and
half because he believes there is no answer and would give a good deal to hear that too
because it would mean just one thing less to have to worry about. He says, "What is
truth?" and by way of an answer, the man with the split lip doesnt say a
blessed thing. Or else his not saying anything, that is the blessed thing. You could hear
a pin drop in the big, high-ceilinged room with Tiberius grinning down from the wall like
a pumpkin, that one cigarette a little unsteady between the procurators yellowed
Well, thats the Gospel lesson for the day. Christ the King. John shows us a
setting that offends us-Jesus is a bedraggled, half-naked Jew, back still bloodied from a
nasty whipping standing before the Roman authority. Some soldiers in mock, have forced a
crown of thorns down upon his head. And now the question: "Are you King?"
So why this passage in John 18? What is it about this trial that makes it the best
portrayal of Christ as King? Could it be the way he handles the situation-the stress and
pressure and all? That certainly makes him kingly. He doesnt panic and he
doesnt cower to save his skin. He is in a stressful situation, yet without coming
unglued. How would you have handled that kind of a situation?
In one of our evening adult study groups, we have explored the ways members of the
group react to stressful situations. Quite varied responses. Some of us like to talk it
out, give vent to our frustrations, some of us like to take a hike to work off the steam,
another liked to go out and hit the mall with her credit card, while another preferred
pray and meditation. Other options-when all else failed-was to yell, sigh, chew nails and
But to see a man courageously in the presence of his enemies yet without cowering is
inspiring. I think this is a perfect image of Christ as King because he turns the table on
Pilate. He is the king and Pilate is in the batters box:
Are you the king of the Jews?
Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me? Are you
actually speaking for yourself, or as usual, have others told you what to speak?
[Pilate regrouping] Am I a Jew?
My kingship is not of your world.
So are you really a king?
You are the one who keeps saying that I am king.
Pilate tries to be in control. He keeps raving about his power, but he has very little.
He thinks he is in charge, but I think this Jew is in charge. When Jesus says that his
kingdom is "not of this world," he isnt talking about heaven or some other
time. He means now, that his kingdom, unlike that of Pilate or Caiaphas is not dependent
upon the methods and means of Caesars world. Jesus calls the shots, not because he
has some certificate from Rome, but because he is true royalty.
In complete contrast to the trial going on inside the courtroom, did you notice the
informal trial going on outside Pilates hall?
"Youre one of his disciples, arent you?"
"Are you kidding? Him?"
"But I remember you, sure youre the one who tried to defend Jesus."
"Listen, youve got the wrong guy here; Ive never laid eyes on
Peter is us-I wonder if sometimes we think that its just too darn dangerous to
tell the truth. Thats apparently what happened in the White House a number years
ago; truth was a commodity that needed positioning and posturing and reshaping. It was
seen as just too dangerous. Out there in the darkness slippage is happening-all the
disciples courage, resolve, and determination begin to lose ground. Peter finally
denies the truth of Jesus a final time and that under oath. But on the inside the one who
is supposed to be on trial is asking the questions, is in control. What a contrast!
Outside in the darkness, the followers of Jesus are being questioned about the truth of
their lives and their world is falling apart, coming unraveled.
The Gospel that is truth is good news, but in our lesson this morning, the good news is
silence first. That silences is filled with news-the evening news, television new,
newspaper news-just news. The truth can be stated propositionally; the two plus two type
What is truth? Truth is that eight year old Nasra was out walking with his mother and
both were hit by a sniper; the mother lived, her son died. What is truth? Truth is a bunch
of answers that help us pass the test; multiple choice, true/false items. Guesswork. But
in Johns gospel, truth wears a capital T; it is a question answered by silence.
Jesus never gets around to answering Pilates question. Just silence-you can hear a
pin drop. No answer is necessary.
Truth is a Life. A person who in himself contains Truth that moves us beyond
propositions, words, and facts toward a King. Before this Truth we can only stand in
silence, because his gaze beholds us, judges us, sees us through and through. He knows the
truth about us, our aspirations, our secrets, our attitudes. And there is silence.
Jesus does not give a truth to Pilate; he doesnt talk about the theology of
salvation; he simply stands there as the embodiment of Truth. An answer does come, but
still not with words, but in an Act of love. Faith and Truth will meet in a Roman
execution. There, God stretches out his Truth before the world. Those who come to that
Truth will find truth and life and love.
So we live our lives as if Christ the King Sunday holds reign every day. Boldly declare
as truth what exists only in the imaginations of others: Christ is King. Go forth then,
proclaiming the Good News that Christ is King; use words if necessary. Amen.