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The Truth About Jesus The King

by Rev. Thomas Hall
based on John 18:33-37

Today is Christ the King Sunday. All today’s 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, David’s final words are God’s 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 Convenant.  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? Who’s 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, you’re the man, the king of the Jews," Pilate says.

The man says, "It’s not this world I’m 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, "I’ve 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 he’s 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 aren’t 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 son’s hand on it, made while he was still a child in nursery school. Pilate squints at the make through the smoke and asks hi question.

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 doesn’t 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 procurator’s yellowed fingertips.

Well, that’s 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 doesn’t panic and he doesn’t 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 eat.

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 batter’s 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 isn’t 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 Caesar’s 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 Pilate’s hall?

"You’re one of his disciples, aren’t you?"

"Are you kidding? Him?"

"But I remember you, sure you’re the one who tried to defend Jesus."

"Listen, you’ve got the wrong guy here; I’ve never laid eyes on him."


Peter is us-I wonder if sometimes we think that it’s just too darn dangerous to tell the truth. That’s 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 of questions.

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 John’s gospel, truth wears a capital T; it is a question answered by silence. Jesus never gets around to answering Pilate’s 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 doesn’t talk about the theology of soteriology; 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.