Christ the King, Proper B
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
John 18:33-37 Sermon
November 25, 2012
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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
239 "Come Thou Almighty King"
339 "All Hail The Power Of Jesus' Name"
657 "Beautiful Saviour, King Of Creation"
341 "Crown Him With Many Crowns"
TEXT (vs. 37): “Jesus answered, 'My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.'"
I'm a native Nebraskan, which I'm sure is of no surprise to most of you. I am fairly well acquainted with the state's history, I know a lot of the state's geography including where towns and highways are, and I know a fair bit of Nebraska trivia. And of course, I'm a fan of Nebraska football. I'm proud to be a "Husker." I am this way because this is where I grew up, and it is where I have spent the largest share of my adult years.
It wasn't until I moved to Minnesota in 1982 to go to school that I really noticed some of the cultural differences between people. One of the first people I met was a man by the name of Dean Zemple, who was a year ahead of me in school, and is currently a Missouri Synod pastor in Sullivan, Wisconsin. Dean grew up in the small farming community of Hortonville, Wisconsin, which is not too far from Appleton. When Dean found out where I was from, the first question out of his mouth was, "Hey, what is it with you guys and Nebraska football?" He couldn't figure out how people could get that excited and enthusiastic about college football. He could understand people getting enthusiastic about pro football. Being from Wisconsin, he is a huge Green Bay Packer fan. That's what he was used to. But he never experienced that same level of enthusiasm with Badger fans. It was something totally new and different for him.
So we had a lot of conversations about football. We both enjoy the game and we liked talking about it, but it was from two entirely different perspectives. One time Dean even took me to Lambeau field for a Packers game, and I'll never forget the experience. Green Bay is a city less than half the size of Lincoln, and Lambeau field is a fair bit smaller than Memorial Stadium. Even so, it is still all very impressive, especially when you see the loyal Packer fans with their "cheese heads." They're every bit as loyal and enthusiastic as Nebraska fans, but it is a completely different atmosphere. That's the difference between college and professional football. I never did have the opportunity to reciprocate and take him to a Husker game so he could experience the difference like I did.
So what does it mean to be from a particular location? How does that particular place shape and form us? How does it get into our bones, down to our very core so it is always a part of us? Irrespective of where we go in life, I know that Dean Zemple will always be a Wisconsonian and a Packer fan; and I will always be a Nebraskan and a Husker fan. That's been true for me every place I have lived. The place where we grew up will always say something about who we are.
Jesus also knew the implications of that question. Throughout John's Gospel, people were always concerned about where Jesus was from, because they were concerned about whom he was.
If we look at John chapter 1, listen to the dialogue between Philip and Nathanael in verses 43-46: "43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, 'Follow me.' 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, 'We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.'46 Nathanael said to him, 'Can anything good come out of Nazareth?' Philip said to him, 'Come and see.'"
Now I don't know what kind of reputation the Nazarenes had, because the Bible doesn't tell us much. But it would appear that Nazareth wasn't too highly regarded, perhaps because of its insignificance. Maybe the people were known for their stubbornness and being hard-hearted, because the Bible records that Jesus was rejected in his hometown of Nazareth.
But now we read what Matthew says in chapter 2, verse 23: "And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene." From this, it would appear that Nathanael was not familiar with the Biblical prophecy, but was rather basing his judgment upon the common perception the general population had of the Nazarenes. Today, we would call that "profiling."
In our text for today, this question has come up again. But now it is at the end of Jesus' life, and Jesus is standing before Pontius Pilate. So Pilate asks him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" Essentially, Pilate was trying to get to the real heart of the matter, which was to discover the truth. We know that Jesus came to testify to the truth, which was God's divine truth. So throughout their discourse, the only real answer Pilate gets from Jesus is, "My kingdom is not from the world."
This was a problem, because Jesus and Pontius Pilate were from two entirely different places with completely different perspectives. Pilate was of the world, and he knew things only from a worldly perspective. However, Jesus was not just another guy from Nazareth; he was begotten of his father from the very beginning. So he spoke from a heavenly perspective.
The Apostle Paul knew what this was like. He warns the Christians at Corinth about it in 1 Corinthians, chapter 2 verse 14: "The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned."
It's little wonder then why Pilate was confused when Jesus talked about "my kingdom." Remember that Pilate answered, "Oh, so you are a king then!" In a worldly sense, this could have been construed as Jesus threatening to overthrow the government. But of course that had nothing to do with God's kingdom.
If we look at what was happening leading up to this point, we find the Jewish Sanhedrin, or the ruling counsel taking offense at Jesus and his ministry. Jesus made the claim to be true God, the promised Messiah of the Old Testament, and of course this infuriated the Sanhedrin.
They were indeed looking for a Messiah who would be king, but they were looking for something different. They wanted someone who would re-establish the kingdom of Israel, and put things back into Jewish control. They were expecting a king who would establish a theocracy like it was so many years ago. They wanted a king that would give them a type of earthly deliverance and victory.
Jesus was obviously not that type of Messiah or king. His deliverance and reign would be spiritual, and not something akin to fighting and winning earthly wars. And for him to claim that he was true God, well this just didn’t fit in with their preconceived notions.
This was the main objection of the Jews; however for the Roman government to put him on trial and sentence him, there would have to be a charge against Jesus that would be a crime against them. So the Jews introduced the charge that Jesus claimed to be a king. And for the Romans, claiming to be a king was usurping the authority of the Roman government and ultimately Caesar himself.
Pilate of course knew that Jesus was no threat to the government. The crown of thorns placed on Jesus’ head was done in mockery of his claim to be king. The purple robe placed on him was most likely an old royal blue king’s robe that was faded and worn out, another form of mockery.
As we look at this, there are several perspectives coming into view. The Romans were looking at things from one perspective; the Jews were looking at things another way, and then there was the right way. If the Pharisees had paid attention to what Jesus had said, they would have known the answer. Listen to what is recorded in Luke chapter 17 verses 22-23: 20 Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, [Jesus] answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, 21 nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”
Jesus came to this earth to establish his kingdom amongst us. This is a kingdom that we enter through faith alone. Some entered through Baptism, through water and the Word. Others came in later through the reading, preaching, and hearing of the Word. This kingdom is the kingdom of true believers in Christ, who reigns over us with love, mercy, and compassion. He tenderly invites sinners to come to him through faith alone. Matthew chapter 11, verses 28-30 speak special words of comfort to us: "28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." Those are the words of a king who not only loves and cares for us, but who willingly and gladly gave his very life so we could enjoy our life in his kingdom.
The sinful influences in our life will attempt to pull us away from our gracious King. The kingdom of this world will divert our attention, and even tempt us to establish little kingdoms of our own where we are our own lord and master. But we need to heed Jesus' warning in Matthew chapter 7, verses 13-14: "13 Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few."
There's only one way that leads into God's kingdom, and that is through faith alone in Jesus Christ our Saviour. He has removed our sins from us, and given us new life. He has made the way as simple as possible for us to be part of that kingdom. Many will try to find other ways and work their way into that kingdom, but they won't be able to get in. Only Jesus, and nobody else, has guaranteed our citizenship in that kingdom. Joshua chapter 24 verse 15 records some good words for God's citizens to remember: "...choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD."
Where are you from? Well, when we are members of God's kingdom and his family, we share a common heritage. We are all born into that kingdom through faith alone.
When we think of different lifestyles and backgrounds, all we need to do is look at the Apostles that Jesus called. Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John were all fishermen by trade. Matthew was a tax collector. Paul was a Pharisee and a tent maker. The evangelist Luke was a physician. There were wide varieties of backgrounds amongst Jesus' disciples.
The best reason for this is explained by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians, chapter 9, verse 22: "I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some." God's kingdom is made up of all kinds of people from all sorts of backgrounds. Therefore as his citizens, we work to bring his kingdom to as many as we possibly can.
At the beginning, I told you about my friend Dean Zemple, the Missouri Synod pastor in Sullivan, Wisconsin. He wrote me an Email some time back, telling me about someone in the LCMS District Office in Milwaukee who hails from Nebraska. He said that this man is as much of a Husker football nut as I am. Then he asked the question, "What do you people do, feed this stuff to your babies with their milk?"
Dean and I are from different backgrounds. We both are known by where we're from. It's our roots. Where we're from is what molds us and shapes us. It's something that we'll always carry with us, regardless of where we go.
Where I met Dean and his wife Kim and their family was not in Wisconsin or Nebraska. It was in Minnesota. We were there because we were both members of the same kingdom under the leadership of the same King, Jesus Christ. We were there to train to be full time servants of our one and only King. We attended the same church, we heard the same sermons, and we communed together at the same altar. Our different backgrounds shaped us as individuals; but our faith united us as brothers.
Jesus wants to unite all people in one common faith, regardless of earthly heritage or background. It doesn't matter if you are a Husker fan, or a Packer fan, or a Badger fan, or a Sooner fan, or a Hawkeye fan. It's the same Jesus, the same forgiveness, the same kingdom, the same Gospel, and the same faith for everyone.
Pontius Pilate asked the question of Jesus, "What is the truth?" Jesus said that he came to bear witness to the truth, and that those who would listen to him was somebody who followed the truth. Just remember the words of Jesus in John chapter 14, verse 6: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." The only way into God's kingdom is through faith in Jesus our Saviour. Nothing else will work.
Our various backgrounds make us unique individuals. Our earthly heritage has shaped us and molded us, and it will always be a part of us. But our common faith unites us in Jesus Christ; who is our Saviour, our Lord, and our King.