John 18:33-37 – Worship Christ the King

14th century painting of Jesus standing before Pilate by Italian artist Duccio di Buoninsegna

Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

“Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”

Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

“You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” (New International Version)

In Christianity, to worship God means we praise the person and work of Christ and are also spiritually formed through that adoration. Christ the King Sunday focuses our worship on Jesus Christ’s reign over the entire world. It is a proclamation that everything and everyone in all creation is subservient to King Jesus. Furthermore, it is an invitation to actively enjoy Christ’s gracious and benevolent rule over us.

Jesus came to this earth to bring connection and intimacy to God and humanity. We all have relationships in which we want to be closer.

  • A parent might be dissatisfied, and sad, that one of their children is estranged from them, because they want intimacy.
  • A spouse may want to have a more relationally intimate marriage, having been distant for too many years.
  • A teenagers or twenty-something might want to get closer to that special someone. 
  • A friend might be keeping their distance. And although you have conversations with them, they only let you in so far.

We want to go deeper, and it isn’t happening because the other party is not willing.

In this we reflect the image of God within us because God feels that same longing and desire to move deeper and closer to us. The Lord desires intimacy, yet we might keep treating him like he is some untouchable monarch like Queen Elizabeth – as if there is no chance of really getting close, and we wonder if there is any real power there to make a difference. 

However, God is not a ruling figurehead, and does not want a casual superficial relationship with us. Christ’s kingship moves closer to people, not further away. Everything Jesus did on this earth was to bring people closer to God because God wants a personal and familiar relationship with us. 

Jesus does not want us estranged from God, and he has gone to the greatest lengths possible to make that close relationship possible and real through the cross, resurrection, ascension, and a kingly reign which is near to us. The kingdom of God, with Jesus as King, is a kingdom of closeness and fellowship with the divine.

Christ the King Sunday appropriately challenges us to consider what it means to say that Jesus Christ is the Lord of our life. Jesus Christ, as our Lord and King, means much more than God calling the shots and issuing commands; it means Christ uses his lordship to satisfy his longing to be with us.

Our Gospel lesson for today plunges us into an event we associate with Holy Week. Christ has been arrested by the conniving of his enemies. Since the religious authorities could not put anyone to death, they bring Jesus to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, in the hope he will do their dirty work for them. 

Jesus condemned to death, painting by the Benedictine Sisters of Turvey Abbey

The scene takes place early in the morning at Pilate’s palace. Pilate doesn’t like the Jewish authorities because they put a dent in his career plans through their constant complaints about him to his supervisors in Rome. For purely political reasons, Pilate decides he will satisfy their demand and interview this Jesus who they claim is an enemy of Rome.

The prisoner, Jesus of Nazareth, is brought to Pilate. He is a mess. Christ’s clothes are stained with dirt and blood. His face is bruised and haggard. He has not slept all night. Pilate has heard of Jesus, and so he’s curious to make a personal evaluation of him. Jesus looks nothing like a king to Pilate.

Pilate, in contrast, looks the image of a worldly leader with his power suit on and all the strength of Rome behind him. He hardly has time for this sideshow, this pathetic presentation of leadership in front of him. Jesus looks like nothing more than a kingly wannabe. There is nothing from Christ’s outward appearance that gives any impression he is qualified to be a leader of anybody. We can almost picture Pilate rolling his eyes, saying “so you are the King of the Jews?”

What follows is a strange, convoluted conversation about kingship and truth with a contrast between this world and a world to come. Repeatedly, Jesus makes it clear his kingdom is not of this world. Two thousand years have passed since that dialogue between Jesus and Pilate, yet the same issue remains.

The issue is this: Jesus is calling all of us to follow him – to put his Kingdom first in our lives. In Pilate, we have a symbol of worldly power, which is arbitrary, unprincipled, self-serving, and brutal. Pilate knows the right thing to do but chooses the path of least resistance. He caves to the political pressure, denying the truth which is right under his prominent Roman nose.

Earthly power seeks its own ends. It wants to hold onto control and call the shots. Conversely, Christ’s kingly power is used to serve, to wash feet and meet needs, to move closer to people. Earthly kingdoms use violence to conquer and maintain order and control its subjects. In stark contrast, Christ’s kingdom uses love to transform and unify people around Jesus so that the subjects are with the king and enjoy his rule and reign.

Christ’s kingdom is not of this world. It is counter-cultural and counter-intuitive to how every other leadership structure works on earth. It is an upside-down kingdom that seems like it won’t work or make sense: The way up is down; to be great is not to work for a high position, suck up to the boss, and climb the ladder of wealth and success. Rather, it is to embrace humility and be a servant.

In God’s kingdom, the way to pursue truth is not in forming original ideas and expressing opinions but is found in a person. Truth-seeking disciples will listen to this one voice of Jesus, and filter-out all others. It is a voice calling for submission to his lordship, and to do so because it brings us into an intimate relationship with God.

The Light of the World, by English artist William Holman Hunt, 1852

The message of our crucified Savior reigning as King in our lives is not that, having suffered for us, Jesus will somehow keep us from facing difficult times. Instead, Jesus faced a horrible death so that our own tough times can triumph with God’s power to save us and move deeper into our lives. God’s presence and promise is what sustains us, not the avoidance of suffering. Christ as our King means God is with us.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are almost upon us. This season demonstrates a contrast between two kingdoms. The kingdom of this world calls on us to demonstrate our worth and gain meaningful relationship through grabbing control and obtaining stuff. The pressure in seeking the perfect gift at the perfect price in the hope that if we can bag it, wrap it, and get it under the tree, then we will be perfect, and the perfect family Christmas will happen, and relationships will be great, and everyone will act like I want. Right!?

In contrast, the kingdom Jesus describes assures us we don’t have to prove our worth through endless accomplishments and generous gifts. We don’t need to have the perfect Christmas experience to gain our deepest relational needs. Because, in our baptism, we have been accepted; we are sons and daughters of the living God; and we do not need to achieve greatness through financially and emotionally bleeding ourselves.

In his conversation with Pilate, Jesus said: “My kingdom is not of this world.” When Christians say Jesus Christ is our King, we acknowledge we are his subjects and that we march to the beat of a different drum. The heart of this relationship is our dependence on Jesus who came that we might have life and have it in abundance.

On this Sunday, followers of Jesus Christ boldly state our confidence that, at the end of time, Jesus will come again as King and Ruler of all. 

Blessed are those who see the truth by faith and not by sight. Blessed are those who say “Jesus is the King and the Lord of Life” without rolling their eyes or with a selfish agenda but with a sincere conviction that they belong to Jesus and want to be ever closer to him who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Almighty God, everlasting heavenly Father, you break the power of evil and make all things new in your Son Jesus Christ, the King of the universe. Our confidence is firmly in you, Lord Jesus, knowing you will redeem all things and make all things new. 

We affirm that our security is not in personal abilities, clever plans, or lucrative jobs; our security is in you alone. Your creation still groans with the pain of living in a fallen world. But you have conquered sin through your love, and it is to your love we rely upon. May all things in heaven and on earth recognize the glory of your kingly rule and never cease to praise you. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

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