The name Pontius Pilate comes up in the great Creed of the Church. Of course, we read about him and his intimate interactions with our Lord every year during Holy Week. We confess Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate, but we rarely get time to reflect on just who this man was. We know he played a crucial role in the trial and crucifixion of Jesus, but we do not know much else. Pilate was the fifth governor of the Roman providence of Judea during the reign of emperor Tiberius. As governor he was the head of the local judicial system, and he alone held the power of capital punishment. He was responsible for collecting tributes and taxes, for disbursing funds, and even minting coins. He also had the right to appoint the Jewish High Priest. He was a powerful man, but he had been constantly embattled in his role. His desire to promote the imperial cult and his occasional brutal response to any opposition brought great animosity from the local Jewish people. While he had authority and power, he did not have ultimate authority. He reported to superiors and his future was in their hands. How he governed, how he ruled over the people of Israel was crucial for any dream of advancement.
So, it is Caiaphas, Pilates own appointed high priest, who brings Jesus to Pilate’s headquarters on that fateful Friday morning. It is in the midst of local tension with the people and the political aspirations of the governor that Pilate brings Jesus into his headquarters and asks Him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Imagine how absurd all this looks from the outside. Imagine you were a bystander there watching the conversation play out. Jesus had already been arrested in the middle of the night, bound, tried, and beaten by His captors. He must have looked like a haggard mess, a disheveled and bloodied man standing before a powerful Roman governor. One held all the political power, all the prestige and honor, and the other had nothing. Not even His own disciples were with Him. He was all alone, the exact opposite of what anyone would imagine a king to be. Yet, Pilate inquires about His role among the people. Just who was this man? Is this opposition to be resisted? Is this another political opportunity? Another hurdle to get over or roadblock to deal with? If this is a king, He must be the king of losers and rejects, the king of failure and a doomed kingdom.
Of course, Jesus is a king. He is the active rule and reign of a Kingdom which is very real and powerful. His authority is not granted by temporal emperors, it is not enshrined in constitutions or defined by princes. But Jesus of Nazareth, the child born in the little town of Bethlehem is the long-awaited King, a king unlike every other king to ever walk the face of the earth. What He will do is take on the greatest threat to humanity. He will wage war against an enemy so elusive, so corrupting, so pervasive that all the world has simply given up the war. In fact, all other kingdoms, all other dynasties, have simply made friends with this enemy, joined forces with it, embraced it, but not our Lord. No, this lowly man delivered into the hands of Pilate to face crucifixion, is the King who will challenge sin and death and corruption and despair and all the forces of evil which plague and haunt every person on earth.
So, Jesus says to Pilate, “My Kingdom is not of this world.” And “My Kingdom is not from this world.” This kingdom of which He is a King is not derived from this world, it is not formed by it. This means it has come from the outside. It is a breaking in, an invasion if you will, into all the kingdoms of this world. His Kingdom does not conform to the rules and aspirations of the kingdoms of the world. In fact, you might say He turns everything we know about kingdoms and kings over on its head. He can be lowly, humble, beaten, and in chains. Yet, He has not relinquished any power. In fact, He will use it all, the suffering, the brutality, the anger, as the very means to move His Kingdom forward.
The problem with this King and His other-worldly Kingdom is it is offensive to us. It is scandalous. Why would we pledge allegiance to a king who suffers and dies? We want power, prestige, security, and protection. This King says, “Take up a cross and follow me.” Why would any of us do that? What is in it for me?
For many, this King is enticing for a while. It is the sort of kingdom you want to be a part of at least while the good times come raining down. It is a king who speaks of peace, hope, salvation, and love. But He does not promise to remove you from trial and struggle. He does not say you will not face opposition for your allegiance. In fact, He promises just the opposite. He promises you will be hated for His name and ridiculed. You will know suffering in this age. We like to dress up the Kingdom, make it look powerful and bold, but we always fail in our attempts to make His Kingdom into one of the kingdoms of our world. We either become willing actors in a lie or disheartened believers, afraid to confess the truth.
The thing is, there are all sorts of other kingdoms towards which we can turn. You all have your favorite ones. You have the voices you prefer to listen to, the ideas you rally behind, the authority and rule before which you bow. The kings of this world seem powerful and large. Their voices boom into our lives. They get at us from our phones and through our televisions, radios, and computers. They promise health, wealth, and influence. They offer you community of welcome and understanding. They say, “You be you. There is no place for judgment anymore, no place for distinction and separation.” It is a utopian kingdom of inclusivity where you will be entertained and satisfied to your hearts content. These kingdoms do not ask much form you, just your attention. That is all. Just tune-in to their words and they will take care of the rest.
Yet, death remains, anger remains, distrust and broken promises still happen. There is still depression and grief and tears which keep flowing. These kings and their lofty voices look good and powerful. They promise much in our temporal lives but there remains much they can never deliver victory over. The greater enemies, the truly pervasive and all-encompassing enemies that attack all of mankind whether rich or poor, strong or week, those remain untouched and unhindered.
Then there comes another voice. There comes a voice which works its way into our lives. It is not broadcast on TV. It is not the feature you were searching for on the internet. It was not powerful and awe-inspiring. No, it was probably spoken to you from the mouth of a family member or friend. It was spoken through someone who struggles like you do, who grieves like you, who has longing and desires like you. Jesus says to Pilate, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose, I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world – to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to My voice.” This king’s voice separates Him from all other voices, for it is the voice of truth. This Kingdom is not a kingdom like any other of our age for it is a kingdom of the truth. This is not about temporal glory and power of prestige. This is about the truth.
And what is this truth? What is it we are called to hear in His voice which is so different from all the other voices and kings out there? The truth is, sin and death and the Devil meet their end in our King. He embraces them. He holds fast to them and endures their scorn, shame, and destruction. He suffers and dies as the sacrifice that will give freedom for all those in His Kingdom, not financial freedom, or freedom from illness, or even judgment in this life, but eternal freedom. This Freedom declares that even the grave will not be the end of His subject for it was not the end of Him. The truth is He has died for you. He forgives you. He welcomes you. He is your King! Today, tomorrow, and in the age to come, He is for you.