“Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters. It was early morning. They themselves did not enter the governor’s headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover. So Pilate went outside to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” They answered him, “If this man were not doing evil, we would not have delivered him over to you.” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” The Jews said to him, “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death.” This was to fulfill the word that Jesus had spoken to show by what kind of death he was going to die. So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” 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.” Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “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.” Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, “I find no guilt in him. But you have a custom that I should release one man for you at the Passover. So do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?” They cried out again, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a robber.” (John 18:28-40 ESV)
Several years ago, my wife and I were in Chiangmai, Thailand. Anytime you visit a foreign country, it is always wise to be aware of local customs and ways that you might unintentionally offend a local, especially if you are trying to share the Gospel with them. One of the things we were cautioned about prior to our arrival was about Thailand’s king. We were told that he and his family were well respected by the people and to be very careful about making any political comments because they could not only offend the person with whom we were speaking but could also cause us to be expelled from the country.
To be honest, I would never have said anything intentionally, in a disparaging way, about their king. But, it was good Information to have because we realized that you can unintentionally offend when making positive remarks about your own government or political beliefs. In other words, it could be perceived that we had made negative comments about their king by making certain positive comments about our own form of government or our President. It is this very issue that we find occurring in today’s passage. We have two earthly leaders encountering the King of kings and seeing how they responded can help us know how to respond to His claims and what our responses say about our view of ourselves and of Him.
Last week’s passage included an incident we didn’t look at closely, but I want to briefly remind you about it. Jesus was standing before Annas the (former) High Priest, and you’ll recall that John notes that Caiaphas, his son-in-law was the official, ruling high priest. When a person is named High Priest, it is a lifetime appointment, according to Jewish law. However, Annas seems to have offended the Romans and possibly Pilate, in particular, so that he was removed from that role and his son-in-law placed in that role. But, it becomes quite clear who is still the High Priest in the people’s minds when Jesus is first taken to Annas and not Caiaphas for judgment. During that “trial” in Annas’ home, Jesus responds to a question and a servant standing near him doesn’t like the response and strikes our Lord. I want you to notice Jesus’ response, ‘Jesus answered him, “If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?”’ (John 18:23 ESV)
The servant is upset by Jesus’ response to the High Priest, but it doesn’t appear to be because of what Jesus actually said. When I was young, my mother used to get upset and tell me “don’t back talk me.” To “back talk” was, in essence, to question her authority and that wasn’t tolerated, regardless of what I actually said. In a very real sense, that’s exactly what’s happening here. Jesus responded to the High Priest and the servant said, in essence, “how dare you back talk to the High Priest?” Jesus replied, “if I said something wrong (or untrue), then show me how it was wrong. But, if what I said is true then why do you strike me?” Neither this servant nor the High Priest were seeking truth, only agreement with their agenda and position of power.
There are many in our society today who are just like them. They don’t seek truth, only agreement with their agenda or position of power. As long as you agree with me, we will get along fine. Don’t back talk me. Don’t question my authority over my own life and choices. It doesn’t matter what is true, what matters is what I want and what I believe will most benefit me. Basically, if the Gospel questions their choices, they slap Jesus and say “how dare you speak to me like that? Don’t you know who I am?”
In today’s passage, we have a similar event with a different issue and a different response. Jesus has now been brought to Pilate’s headquarters. Pilate didn’t live in Jerusalem, he only came here during these Jewish holy days as a show of political authority and military might. It was a political move to keep the Jewish people in check and to head off any issues. There were three annual festivals that required all Jewish males to travel to Jerusalem for offering sacrifices and worship, the Feast of Booths/Tabernacles (Sukkoth), the Feast of Weeks/Pentecost (Shavuot), and the Feast of Passover (Pesach). As you might imagine, it was during these times that the Romans would make this show of political authority and power.
There’s not a better opportunity for the Jewish authorities to address their “Jesus problem.” If they could convince Pilate that Jesus was leading a potential insurrection, then the Romans would rid them (the Jewish leaders) of their religious “thorn in the flesh.” So, they march Jesus over to Pilate’s headquarters and present him to the governor for judgment. You can sense the animosity between them in the questions and responses. Pilate seems to question their motives, and their response is dripping with sarcasm. But, the part I want us to focus on is Pilate’s question to Jesus; “Are you a king?”
Pilate was asking this question because it is obvious that’s the accusation the Jewish leaders had presented as Jesus’ offense that deserved death. They knew that if they had presented Jesus as simply a religious teacher who was claiming to be God’s Son or the long awaited and promised Jewish Messiah then the Roman authorities would have simply laughed at their accusations. The threat needed to be socio/political in nature to raise the Roman suspicions and to pose a potential political threat. So, their charge is that Jesus claimed to be the King of the Jews and he poses a political threat to Rome.
When Pilate saw Jesus, he apparently questioned the accuracy of the Jewish claims. His question to Jesus is, “Are you a king?” I want you to pay close attention to Jesus’ reply… First, he asks if Pilate is asking this question himself or if someone had said this about him. Pilate clarifies by noting that he’s not a Jew and Jesus’ own people have rejected him and handed him over for Pilate’s judgment. He then asks, “What have you done?” Jesus makes an incredibly important statement, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would have fought to protect me.” Pay attention to that statement, it’s important. We seem to want to try and establish the very kingdom Jesus refuses to claim, an earthly one.
Now, don’t misunderstand my words. I’m not implying that Jesus has no authority nor any subjects in this world. He admitted himself that he had servants willing to fight, if only the battle were of this world. His authority and rule is simply not of this earth, but far greater and farther reaching. Some recognize his power and reach, and they attempt to thwart it by political or social means. As I mentioned last week, there are many countries around our globe where believers struggle under religious persecution. The leaders of those nations recognize the powerful force for personal change that resides in Holy Scripture and the powerful Spirit of Christ. That’s why they attempt to ban its spread and influence. But don’t miss the implications of that statement, the battle is NOT a physical one. Our greatest battle is occurring in the spiritual realm…
“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.” (Ephesians 6:12-13 ESV)
Pilate noted Jesus’ response and clarifies, “So, you are a king?” You need to clearly hear and understand Jesus’ reply to Pilate, “For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth.” Some might say that Jesus words are simply repetitive for emphasis and that each statement makes the same basic claim, “For this I was born/came for this purpose.” I don’t think he simply made the same statement in different ways for emphasis. I think he makes two very distinct statements entirely on purpose. “For this purpose I was born” shows his humanity while “for this purpose I came into this world” shows his deity.
That’s critical to grasp because his next statement throws many into a tale spin. His purpose in coming as the God Man was to bear witness to the truth. When man alone bears witness to the truth, we doubt that its truth because of the source. When God bears witness to the truth, we doubt his understanding or compassion because of His transcendence. But, when the God Man bears witness to the truth, we cannot simply dismiss it as irrelevant because He has lived both among us and above us. He not only knows truth, He knows how it is relevant to our lives. He knows truth and He knows us…
Pilate ends their conversation with a simple but incredibly profound question, “What is truth?” I want to end by answering that question. Why? Because many in our culture today are asking the same question, what is truth? They doubt it can exist because of the ugliness they’ve seen and experienced. Yet, they miss one important detail. If truth doesn’t exist, they could never know or recognize the ugliness they so easily recognize. The fact that truth exists makes it possible to see and recognize the lie. If truth were just a construct of our minds or desires, then it would be entirely subjective. And yet, we know that certain things are true. For instance, we know children should not have to suffer physical or sexual abuse. We know a person’s skin color does not determine their worth. We know that life is precious and should be valued for all persons.
So, what IS TRUTH? Truth isn’t a statement or a concept. It is a person. Jesus IS TRUTH. When truth is a person or, more accurately, when truth is GOD in the flesh then we begin to see just how important that statement becomes. Truth isn’t an idea that’s hard to understand, it is Jesus living out all of those hard to understand truths in His daily life and relationships. As Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father except through me.”