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.”
Who are you? That’s a great question. Who are we? I know you’ve heard me say this before, but I don’t like to be labeled. I like running, but I don’t want to just be known as a runner. I want to be healthy. I’m a spouse, parent, friend, etc…but I want to also be known as a someone that cares, is open, loves well, is inconsistent at times, but always willing to go deeper in who I am with others and with myself. Same thing about being a pastor. Love it. And, quite honestly, being at Fleming Road UCC has rekindled my love and deepened my call of being a pastor. But, I want to be known for deeper things as well…a friend first as Christ was/is a friend.
You can go down the line: politics, theology, associations, etc. I want to be something more than the things that I may engage in…I think we all do.
This morning’s gospel lesson is about getting to the truth of who we are.
It is also full of drama. The writer in John is attempting to tell a beautiful story about “truth”. In our culture today, people are always talking about biblical truth. It’s interesting to me on how many things people say is biblical truth, while others say the exact opposite as biblical truth. It’s one of those dead end arguments, if you say something is biblically true, it’s like you are trying to shut down an argument.
But, the writer of John is trying cut through the distractions and point to Truth. I’d say truth with a capital “T”. A truth that isn’t convenient, but is deep and lasting, and requires courage to live into. A truth that has much more to about relational reality than facts or figures.
The dramatic fashioning of the story is interesting. The actors in this drama leading to Jesus’ crucifixion have all left the stage, except for Mary Magdalene, the disciples, the religious rulers, the mobs, all have left and its just Jesus and roman governor, Pilate.
Pilate is intrigued by Jesus. He has some doubts on Jesus’ guilt. He is not resolute and he wants to be practical, but he’s curious and he’s searching for an answer. Jesus was just before a mob demanding his crucifixion. I’d imagine that the crowd there that day was filled with tension, fear, anxiety. They were under roman rule, they were enslaved to a religious system that was propping itself up by they’re going along with the system. They did not want to give up on what they had lived under because it was familiar and they could not see beyond to what Jesus exemplified.
The religious leaders also needed a distraction to maintain power. Jesus was challenging their system, their way of living, and they needed to show the crowds they were still in charge.
They all needed a scapegoat if you will, someone to blame their issues on, someone that they could punish for their own sin. And, Jesus seemed like a good one to scapegoat.
Yet, they could not kill Jesus without Roman approval. But, Pilate wasn’t convinced. He wanted to appease the religious leaders in Jerusalem, and he also did not want civil unrest. So, he pushed the pause button and questioned Jesus in private.
He starts with some probing questions, “ are you the king of the Jews”. The “you” in Greek is emphatic, are YOU the king of the Jews. Jesus is also curious; he wants to know if Jesus is being prompted to ask or if it’s his own question. Jesus asks, is this your idea? Pilate responds, that it’s his own people who have betrayed Jesus, and wants to know what it is he’s done.
Then Jesus talks about his kingdom. His kingdom is not of this world. The kingdom of this world is about power, prestige, hierarchy, status, enslavement of the masses, and fearful individualism where the focus is on some type of survival, scarcity of resources that pushes one towards selfishness and violence.
Yet, Jesus’ kingdom is not about any of those things, its power comes from humility, confidence, and service. It is non-hierarchal, relational, and collaborative. It frees up everyone from slavery to whatever is keeping them from growing towards a deeper truth of who they really are. It is not based on fear or anxiety but brings peace, presence, and abundance. It gives us loving community and friendships with others, and it is marked by non-violence.
Jesus goes on to say that he has come into the world. That’s a huge statement. Jesus is saying that he was, before he was even born. He existed before he came to us in a feeding trough, a manger somewhere near Bethlehem. And that he came to testify to the Truth. And, the Truth is embodied in the humanity and the divinity of Jesus. Jesus says that he is the truth and the truth will set us free elsewhere in scripture.
We so often want to say we believe in the Bible as Jesus followers, but we don’t believe in a book, we believe in the God that is revealed to us through Jesus that is described in the Bible. Nathan Hamm says this:
The Word of God is “living & active”
because the Word of God is Jesus.
Books don’t live & act. People do.
The Word didn’t become a book.
The Word became flesh.
This Jesus came into the world to testify to the truth, to testify that there is a better way to live and find our being. Friends, as we go into the world around us, as we listen to our neighbors, we will find God active, we will find so many things that will point us towards a loving God. And we will grow.
We often ask the question, how will we survive and grow as a church?
If we have any chance of growing closer to God, of seeing our church not only survive, but thrive, then we have an opportunity, just like Pilate, to ask Jesus what is truth. But, unlike Pilate, we can have courage to live on the side of truth, to know the Jesus that embodies truth and to follow his example of going into the world and finding the places and people where God is at work and invite them into our fellowship, even as we join them in friendship in the world that we live in.
If we can dare to risk this, we will move from death into the resurrection, life filled with Jesus, filled with Truth.
May it be so with us.