Here is a sermon from the archives for Christ the King/Reign of Christ. It calls the church to let the truth test us. It mentions the Gulf of Tonkin incident that was part of the history of the Vietnam War, but I can’t help thinking about the runup to the War in Iraq and the question of whether there really were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. It’s interesting to reflect on what truth is now that we have survived yet another campaign season replete with lies and half-truths.
The King of Truth
A Sermon on John 18:28-19:16
Christ the King
“What am I looking at here?” Pilate wondered as he went back into his headquarters. He had gone outside to meet with the religious authorities of Jerusalem because it made sense to respect their sensitivities when possible. It was the day of preparation for the Passover, and if these leaders had gone inside Pilate’s office, they would have become ceremonially unclean, and unable to eat the Passover meal.
“What am I looking at here?” Pilate wondered as he went back into his office. Is this Jesus a zealot, somebody like that terrorist Barabbas who would stop at nothing to try to get his way? What a nuisance these people are! We crucify them, but here come some more to take their places. Or is Jesus one of those harmless kooks, thinks he’s the Messiah or something, but not the kind that’s going to raise an army and give us trouble.” Us being the imperial government.
Well, whatever this Jesus turned out to be, Pilate’s agenda was to do what served the empire. And what served the empire was what kept these hotheads in Jerusalem under control.
“So,” Pilate said as he strode into his office, “are you the quote-unquote ‘King of the Jews?’”
Notice how Jesus immediately began examining Pilate. “Do you really want to know,” Jesus asked, “or are you just repeating what you heard?”
Pilate realized this Jesus was no lightweight. “Do I look like a Jew?” he answered impatiently. “It’s your people and your leaders that turned you over to me. Tell me, what did you do?”
“We’re not talking a worldly kingdom here,” Jesus replied. “My kingdom isn’t like yours. If it were, my followers would be fighting to save me. But I’m not that kind of king.”
“So, are you a king or not?” said Pilate.
Jesus answered, “You tell me. I was born for this: to witness to the truth—to point to it, to illumine it, to illustrate it, you might say. Everyone committed to the truth recognizes my voice, listens, heeds my voice.”
What makes Jesus king is that he is the truth, the way, the TRUTH, and the life. He is the king of truth, the ultimate truth by which everything else is judged. Jesus is the King of kings because he is the truth. And he has the authority and the ability to examine every king, every regime, every person, every loyalty, every commitment, every agenda.
Those who claim to follow this king, Jesus, those who claim to serve the truth listen to his voice above all others. The followers of the truth let the light shine into every corner of themselves and their world. If the light exposes darkness, so be it. If the truth calls something into question, so be it. Jesus is the truth. Everyone who cares for the truth listens to his voice.
“What is truth?” Pilate mused aloud. Was Pilate really interested? Did he care about the truth? Maybe. Maybe.
But Pilate cared about other things more. He knew this much was true: this Jesus is no Barabbas. And yet there were other considerations…
The authorities knew this much was true: Jesus was a threat. He was a threat because he was calling their agendas, their arrangements, their scripture interpretations into question. They didn’t want to hear it. “We’ve got to silence the voice of Jesus,” they decided, for the good of the whole nation, as Caiaphas had said.
When there’s a lot at stake, the truth seems expendable, or even optional, or at least stretchable. Just ask Peter, number one disciple, first to declare his undying loyalty to Jesus. When the chips were down, the truth wasn’t what was most important. “You’re one of this man’s disciples, aren’t you?” “Absolutely not!” Peter lied.
This is how the world and worldly kingdoms operate: truth is optional, or at least stretchable. Sometimes other things seem more important. This is how governments and administrations work, with their propaganda ministers, also known as spin-doctors. Manipulate the truth any way you have to meet the goal. We saw that with our last agriculture commissioner. Manipulations and cover-ups helped her get elected.
Then once people are elected, or are take the reins some other way, they shade and spin the truth to reach their goals. Remembering the Kennedy assassinations takes me back to the sixties and to the Vietnam era. Remember the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. The Johnson administration pushed it on the congress and the American people. The administration said that Vietnamese boats had attacked two American ships in the Gulf of Tonkin, unprovoked, twice. The resolution gave the president the authority to send many more troops to Vietnam, and it was used to justify the escalation of the war until 1970. Later it came out that in the first instance, the Americans fired first, and that the second instance may not have even happened at all. Lyndon Johnson later admitted as much on tape to Defense Secretary Robert McNamara. “We don’t know if there really was a second attack,” he said.
Since the beginning of government, kings and administrations, including Israel’s greatest King, David, have played fast and loose with truth. David plotted murder to cover up his adultery. What is truth when you’ve got a job to get done? You can care about the truth—but not too much.
Sometimes Christ’s own people kid themselves about the truth. Remember Ananias and Sapphira and their little white lie in the book of Acts. People were selling their property and bringing the proceeds to the apostles to be distributed to people in need. Ananias and Sapphira sold a piece of property, and they said to themselves, “What’s wrong with letting the rest of the congregation think we’re giving all the proceeds to the church, even though we’re not really?” When the truth came out, and they were exposed, both of them fell down dead. The light of truth proved to be more than just uncomfortable. Deadly for them.
The light of truth can get uncomfortably bright and hot. Outwardly people declare, “yes, Jesus is my Lord and King,” but check out the corners of their hearts.
“Yes, I love Jesus,” but the truth is, “I love my own comfort more.”
“Yes, I love Jesus,” but the truth is, not enough to struggle with his hard teachings. Not enough to struggle with what it means to love enemies and care for outcasts.
“Yes, I love Jesus,” but the truth is, not enough to sacrifice. I’ll think about service after I’ve taken care of what I need and what I want, what’s going to get me ahead.”
“Yes, we love Jesus,” his churches say, but the truth is, not enough to do what it takes to get in touch with the unchurched. Not enough to try anything that might not be successful. Not enough to make room for new people and new ways. We like our church just the way it is. We love you Jesus, but Jesus, don’t challenge us. Just keep things nice and going well, and we’ll be satisfied. We love you, but the truth is we love other things more.
The light of truth does get uncomfortable. But Jesus is clear: those who care about the truth heed my voice. If he really is our King, and we really do plan to follow him, then we need to heed his voice, even when he doesn’t tell us what we want to hear. He will always tell us what we need to hear: the truth.
And the truth is, people generally don’t want a king who will tell them the truth. They want someone who will give them what they want. Take the religious leaders who wanted to get rid of Jesus. Remember, now, they couldn’t go into Pilate’s headquarters for fear of being defiled and excluded from Passover. Yet just a few verses later, when Pilate is talking like he’s not going to give them what they want, they—and the people they’ve stirred up—declare, “shall I crucify your king” he said, and they shouted back “we have no king but Caesar!” These are the ones who accused Jesus of blasphemy. Who’s really blaspheming in this story? What is the truth here?
We think that the Gospel of John was written around the end of the first century, in relatively the same era as the book of Revelation. If that is the case, the Gospel of John was written in a time when there was great pressure on Christians to join in declaring that Caesar is Lord and God. The younger adults have seen this as we’ve studied Revelation. The Emperor Domitian demanded it, and it was a requirement if you wanted to join any of the trade guilds. It was nearly an economic necessity. Now imagine how those first readers of the Gospel of John would hear that declaration, “We have no king but Caesar!” No wonder the Book of Revelation continually stresses that Christ is the King of kings, the ruler of all, the highest authority of all.
Christ is the King of truth. Those who follow the King of truth expect and allow him to examine every agenda, every loyalty, every commitment of ourselves, our churches, our communities, our government. The King of truth is the King of kings.
We let the light examine us. We let the light shine into every corner of heart, soul, mind and action. We let the truth test us. Then we do what he says.
If we belong to the truth, that is.