Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate asked him, “What is truth?”
Political signs and bumper stickers are a strange practice. I understand the fervor that’s behind people wanting to display their political hopes and affiliations, I can even appreciate the very rare but very good pun made on such signs, and in a time such as ours I get the desire to draw clear lines in the sand.
But, what are we really trying to communicate when we display those particular names, or those particular political mascots?
I mean, how many people have been persuaded to vote for someone else because of a bumper stickers or a lawn sign? Is that why we do it?
Or are we purposely trying to anger the people stuck behind us in traffic or that wayward neighbor from the other side of the aisle?
It boggles the mind that for being one of our so-called private subjects, we certainly love to air out all of our political laundry.
And what’s funnier is how long we keep those signs/stickers long after the race is over.
Just drive anywhere around the church and you’ll likely see a Make America Great Again sticker, or a wind battered “I’m With Her” sign. And if you’re looking for it, you can find some other great reminders down memory lane.
In the last week I saw three W stickers, two for Clinton/Gore, and believe it or not, I saw a Nixon/Agnew sticker on the back of a pickup truck that no longer had any business being on the road.
It’s one thing to proudly display whether we lean red or blue today, but what does it say if we are living in the far political past? I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had conversations when someone said something like, “I wish ______ was still president.” And then he or she will lay out all of the reasons it would be better for us as a country, never mind the fact that Ford, Nixon, Regan, and JFK are all dead.
But the funniest and strangest political sticker of them all is one that I see far too often these days: Jesus for President.
Have you seen one? It has all the trappings of a normal political announcement: it is usually filled with the patriotic red, white, or blue, and with a slightly skewed angle you’ll see the words “Jesus for President” or “Jesus Christ 2020.”
Most of them are so well done that you have to look twice before you realize they’re talking about the baby who arrives in the manger and not some political hopeful who believes he can fix everything with our country.
Friends, let me tell you something, we don’t want Jesus to be our president.
No. No. No.
That would be a terrible idea.
Hey everyone, we’ve got to raise everyones taxes, and by everyone I mean EVERYONE, because we’ve got too many people who are hungry, cold, and suffering in the hospital.
My fellow Americans, I am proud to announce our new national initiative: “Turning Cheeks.” Yep, that’s right, from now on if someone hits you, it’s illegal to do anything in retribution except for offering the other cheek as well.
Tonight, I speak to you from the oval office with great news, every weapon in the country has been smelted or melted into plowshares so that we can all work toward a more agrarian economy. I once said that those who live by the sword will die by the sword and I meant it. But today, those who live by the plow will thrive by the plow!
Jesus would be a terrible president.
Can you imagine? He’d always disappear in the middle of something important just so that he could pray with his heavenly father in private. He’d ditch the secret service to go hang out with the homeless around the Whitehouse. And he’d probably wear a dirty robe when he gave speeches from the Rose Garden.
Jesus would be a terrible president.
But he makes a pretty good King…
Today, in churches all across the globe, we triumphantly announce that Jesus Christ is King. We boldly proclaim that our allegiance it to Christ and to Christ alone. And we remember that we, as Christians, humbly bow to no one but Jesus Christ our Lord.
This is the last Sunday in the liturgical year and we dedicate it to reminding ourselves about the lordship of Jesus. It’s not the time for a quaint little parable, or an Old Testament narrative. No, today we put it all on the line: We are either for Jesus, or we’re not.
And its kind of funny, when you think about it… Taking one day out of the year to talk about Jesus as the King. We usually talk about Jesus in a great number of other ways. We think about Jesus as a teacher, or a healer, or a sage, or a spiritual leader.
But a king?
And, seeing as it’s the last day of the year for us, we do well to take stock over where we’ve been, and the one whom we have gathered to worship over the last 12 months.
Jesus was poor. He had no standing in the world. But he preached about the kingdom of God, and it attracted a lot of attention.
It can be very difficult for people like you and I to grasp the kind of common that followed our King, because we don’t really live at all like the people did during the time of Jesus. But, for centuries, for generations, the Jews experienced nothing but trials and tribulations. They were exiled, defeated, and eventually returned to disasters. They went through various rebellions and foreign occupations, all while waiting for the promised King from the line of David.
And then came Jesus. He shook things up. He healed people and preached about an entirely new reality. And it made people mad.
So the religious elite, and the secular authorities, took a poor Jew and they nailed him to a cross. He suffered and died in the most degrading and humiliating way possible. And pretty soon after, his former followers, people called disciples, started our from Jerusalem and spread word all over the Mediterranean that this crucified man was resurrected from the dead and was the Lord and King of the universe.
It’s hard to imagine Jesus as our president, but sometimes its even harder to imagine him being resurrected from beyond the grave.
But that’s the whole thing right there: Jesus was raised from the dead. That’s what makes him our king. Not because he has the right political strategy, not because he knows who to tax and who to forgive, but simply because he was raised from the dead.
Christ the King Sunday is strange and political and eternal. It pokes and prods at our expectations about what it means to be a faithful people and it leaves many of us, if not most of us, scratching our heads.
It confuses our sensibilities about life, death, and everything in between.
“Are you the King of the Jews?” Pilate is confused as well. He is stuck between a rock and a hard place. The people have delivered this poor Jew into his hands and he doesn’t know what to do. Jesus hasn’t really committed a crime, certainly nothing that warrants death, yet that’s what the people want.
What’s a Pilate to do?
He asks questions – he wants to make sense of this senseless moment. He stands before the one man who will literally change everything. In him he encounters something that is strange and political and eternal. Jesus’ answers poke and prod at his expectations of what it means to hold power and he leaves scratching his head.
“What is truth?”
Oh what a question! It doesn’t get much better than this. For a moment, it’s like we’ve jumped into the strange new world of the Bible and we finally get a chance to ask a question!
Jesus, what is truth?
Pilate has the Truth standing right in front of him and he doesn’t recognize it. Perhaps he is kept from seeing the height and depth and length and breadth of God’s love in Jesus Christ on that side of the crucifixion.
Here’s the truth, the truth that Pilate couldn’t see, but the truth made possible to people like you and me: Jesus Christ is our King because he, and he alone, has been victorious over death.
It’s that simple.
It’s that confusing.
On the cross he drew into himself all of the brokenness and all of the pain and all of the sorrow of the world, and in his resurrection he conquered it, he destroyed it, he obliterated it.
He came into this world as God in the flesh and from his resurrected dominion he rules as the living Lord of life, death, and resurrection.
Jesus is the truth!
On this Christ the King Sunday, as we re-encounter the truth, there is a question that hangs in the air, a question similar to Pontius Pilate’s: Who do we want to be the ruler of our lives?
The answer, for many of us, is of course: We want to rule our lives. We want to be the masters of our fates, we want to be the captain of our souls. That’s the American way!
Most of us here this morning have come of age in a world and a culture in which the individual reigns supreme. We like to elevate self-made people. And we often want to put them in places of power.
But if we want to be in charge, why aren’t things going the way we hoped? Why do we bicker with the people closest to us? Why aren’t our children doing what they’re supposed to do?
Our heightened individualistic culture is not one that is familiar to our King.
Being left to our own devices leaves us isolated, and afraid, and full or questions.
There is no such thing as being alone in the kingdom of God: Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.
We are not alone, nor are we meant to be alone. We belong to something and someone greater than ourselves. We belong to the Truth who is, and was, and is to come.
Jesus is our King, not because he makes our lives easier, not because he has better solutions for all of our political problems, and not because he will protect us from the evils of this world. He is simply our King because he is the truth: For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that we might not perish but have eternal life.
The incarnation and the defeat of death are the only qualifications necessary for Jesus to become the Lord of our lives.
There’s a reason that Jesus’ kingdom, to put it in his words, is not of this world. Because this world isn’t the end, it does not determine everything that happens to us, it does not hold all the power. Jesus died and rose again to usher in a new world not defined by those with power, but by the one who points toward himself and therefore at the truth.
And so, like Pontius Pilate we stand before the one born in a manger, the one who wandered Galilee, the one who died in a tree for you and me, and we get to ask the question, “What is truth?”
And what is Jesus’ answer? “I am.”