Pilate entered into the judgment hall again, and called Jesus, and said unto him, Art thou the King of the Jews? Jesus answered him, Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it thee of me? Pilate answered, Am I a Jew? Thine own nation and the chief priests have delivered thee unto me: what hast thou done? Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence. Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
As I mentioned to you earlier, today is the feast of Christ the King.
This day is one of the newest feasts on the Christian calendar, having come to us in the latter part of the second decade of the 20th century. It came about because of a strange and deadly event.
The strange thing happened in October of 1917. The Russian government which had been a long-standing monarchy fell to what became Soviet communism. The Soviets had a very perverse and deadly philosophy that said that there was no God. That God existed, as Karl Marx had said, as an “opiate for the people.” And that the promise of heaven was something that had been invented simply to keep people happy and docile as they worked their way through the world for the benefit of the elite. It was, shall we say, the ultimate class-warfare argument.
Shortly after that, in 1925, Pope Pius XI created the feast of Christ the King and placed the feast on the very last Sunday in October. He placed it there for a simple reason: He wanted to make a final and definitive statement that, all appearances to the contrary, that Christ was the Lord of all things, both in heaven and on earth and under the earth. That all things ultimately stand under the authority of Jesus Christ, the second Person of the divine Godhead.
So on Christ the King we bring the season of Trinity almost to a dead stop. We put away our green vestments, bring out the royal gold, and celebrate this day to remind ourselves, especially to remind ourselves as Christians, Who is really in charge.
You know, things are not always what they seem. David Copperfield can make an elephant seem to disappear. He can make a building seem to disappear. However, elephants and buildings do not disappear because of a parlor trick.
When my wife and I were on a cruise, there was a magician who could take a deck of cards and he could make these cards do things that were statistically impossible. It was such an incredible trick, that I even wanted to sit as close to him as I could to see how it was done. The reason why? Things are not always what they seem.
Magicians create illusions. They blur the distinction between reality and illusion. They make you think that what is real is actually the opposite.
Now in the case of our Gospel reading today, we have the reverse. In this case the illusion is the starting point. Jesus stands before Pilate and appears to be weak and helpless and Pilate appears to hold all the cards. But that, my brothers and sisters, that is the illusion
Now any reasonable person in this situation seeing Jesus before Pilate, would have to say that Jesus was not the one with the power. After all, he had been taken captive by the Jews and Herod’s soldiers. He had been beaten and was probably a bloody pulp.And he was brought before Pontius Pilate, who was the Roman governor of the whole province.
Think about that for a minute.
It’s hard for us to realize just how powerful the Romans were. They controlled everything and their governors had the power to give life or demand death, whatever they wanted. A Roman governor could just do this on a whim: “Put that guy to death. Let’s go have lunch.”
It was that simple for them.
What is it that Pilate, standing there before this beaten man, says to Jesus? He says, “So, then, are you a king?”
“Are you a king?”
You can almost hear the sarcasm dripping from his voice. “Are you, this bloody man in front of me, this little carpenter from Nazareth, are you saying to me that you are a king of the Jews?”
Any reasonable person in Jesus’ position would have said, “No, my Lord, I’m no king. This is all a mistake. Please let me go. Please don’t kill me. Torture me, if you want, but just let me live.”
But Jesus, standing before Pilate, says something very different. What he says essentially is this: “No. I’m not a king of the Jews. But I am a King. My kingdom is not of this earth. And if my kingdom were of this earth then my people and my soldiers would be here fighting for me. My kingdom is of far more than this earth.”
Saint Paul tells us about Jesus and his kingdom in our Epistle. He says that Jesus, this same Jesus who stands bloodied before Pilate, “…is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature. For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in the earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him and for him: and he is before all things, and by him all things consist.”
Later on, in his epistle to the Philippians, Saint Paul describes the kingship of Christ in terms that make clear Jesus’ confrontation with Pontius Pilate. Saint Paul says, “Though he was in the form of God, Jesus Christ did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
What a powerful statement.
What an incredible thing that the Word of God, that the Logos of God, who by his very speaking brought the heavens and the earth into existence. Who by his very speaking brought man and woman out of the dust. By his very thought knew each and every one of us by name before we were even in the womb. That this very Word becomes one of us, taking the form of slave. That this very Word of God is willing to humble himself to stand bloodied before a Roman governor, before a Roman governor who owes the fact of his very existence to this same humble and beaten man.
Why does Jesus, our Lord and King, the One through whom all things were created, why does He humble himself to accept even death, death on a cross?
He does it to set us free from our sins.
His kingdom is not of this world. His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom. His kingdom is not restricted by geography, it is not restricted by time, it is not restricted by rulers, it is over all things from everlasting to everlasting.
Maybe this is a good time in our national history to think about the kingship of Jesus Christ. As we go into an election to decide our nation’s next leader, maybe this is a good time to gain some true perspective and ask ourselves: Who is really in charge? Who do I, as a Christian, really serve and honor as my Lord?
Maybe it’s time to understand that the real challenge which confronts every person and every nation is: When will we bow the knee to Jesus and acknowledge him as our sovereign Lord? Will we do it now, while we live and have the ability to give our will to him in all freedom? Or will we do it later, when we are forced to our knees to acknowledge him as our Judge?
To whom do we owe our allegiance? Do we owe our allegiance to something that is bound by this time and this place? Or do we owe our hearts to that One, who is God and who comes from God, who is Jesus Christ our King, and who exists to set us free from sin now and for all time.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.