November 22, 2015
2 Samuel 23:1-7, Psalm 132:1-13, (14-19), Revelation 1:4b-8, John 18:33-37
Pilate asks Jesus: “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answers, “My kingdom is not from this world.”So what does this encounter that took place 2000 years ago have to tell us about what Jesus might be doing in our present moment of fear and confusion?
This question confuses some folks because they’ve been taught to imagine that Jesus isn’t doing anything right now because he’s up in heaven, floating around on clouds far, far away, wearing a crown on this Christ the King Sunday.
Many Christians think the more important question to ask, therefore, is how do I get to heaven to be with Jesus, not what is Jesus doing on earth here and now and calling me to follow him in doing.
Those churches that are always asking their members “Are you saved?” are asking “do you know if you will go to heaven when you die?” For them salvation is an adventure entirely focused on what happens to my small self when I finally slip this mortal coil.
And if you think the Christian life is all about how to get heaven then everything in scripture will point to this: So in the King James translation of our gospel today Jesus answers Plate by saying “My kingdom is not of this world”, and generations of Christians have read this to mean: Jesus’ kingdom is in heaven and his message of salvation has nothing to do with this world except how to stay clean enough so you can leave earth when you die.
But I want to suggest this is profoundly unbiblical and destructive. The central issue of the good news that Jesus announces and then embodies and then manifests on the cross is not an evacuation scheme for my tiny self to get to heaven, but how the Living God is birthing the New Creation here and now and forever.
The New Revised Standard Translation more accurately translates Jesus response as “My Kingdom is not from this world”, which means God’s kingdom of which Jesus is King is sent to transform this world, to make of it the New Creation. It’s the image we hear from the Prophet Isaiah at Christmas:
The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid…,
9 They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.
Jesus says if my Kingdom were from this world my followers would have AK-47s and would be slaughtering the enemies of God because that’s how earthly kingdoms work.
But Jesus was trained for his kingdom work not in Rome, Syria, or Washington, but in the heart of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
His work is not revenge but reconciliation.
As Saint Paul writes in Ephesians: “But now in Christ Jesus you [Gentiles] who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups—[Jews and Gentiles]–into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us….that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16 and might reconcile both groups to God in one body[c] through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.[d] 17 So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 18 for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father.”
Our role is as ambassadors of God’s Kingdom, as emissaries of the New Creation. Notice it even in the small encounters of your day as you make a connection with, and not avoid, another human being—the checkout person at the store, a homeless woman standing with a sign at an intersection, hosting a student from Wolverhampton, England—in that open-hearted connection is the presence of the Kingdom of God.
Paul goes on to say: 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20 built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.[e]
Those grasped by the power of the gospel will most definitely fight for the Kingdom but with the weapons of mercy, truth and justice.
So we watch Jesus engage the Roman governor of Palestine, a petty tyrant named Pontius Pilate.
Biblical scholar Raymond Brown says Pilate served for over ten years in a very tough job. He said “Jesus did not face an individual monster, but a career politician doing what imperial powers think they need to do to keep order. Pilate’s greatest anxiety is to preserve the kingdom in a state of quietness.’” Raymond Brown quoted in Mark: Belief, a Theological Commentary on the Bible (Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible by William Placher p 225
Here’s the deal: Pilate must above all things maintain order, and therefore he is always willing to use lies and injustice. (Notice—we face this career politician every week in the Nicene Creed!)
And Jesus says to Pilate and all leaders, then and now, “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.”
Jesus is testifying to God’s truth and calling together a movement of people who belong to the truth and listens to his voice. It is of course easy enough to point at the troubles of this world and say, look at all the horror. But during the suffering under the reign of Roman Emperors it was the Christians who would take in the sick even if they weren’t Christian. They were willing to risk their lives to bear witness to the presence of God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
After the terrorism in Paris a week ago, now joined with the murders in Mali, our country is flooded with fear and this fear is pushing our politicians to create order above all things—even if they have to use lies and injustice.
Remember what happened after the attack on Pearl Harbor: the fear was so strong and the call for order so intense that in 1942 President Roosevelt, no conservative, instituted the internment of over 110,000 Japanese Americans who lived on the Pacific coast. 62% were American citizens.
In “1988 President Reagan, no liberal, signed into law the Civil Liberties Act which apologized for the internment and authorized a payment of $20,000 to each individual camp survivor. The legislation admitted that the government’s actions were based on ‘race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.’ The government eventually disbursed $1.6 billion in reparations.” Wikipedia
One theologian said: “When power crucifies truth it signals to all the world that it has come to its effective end.” Paul Lehman quoted in Matthew Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible by Stanley Hauerwas page 231
If the gospel is only about how we can get to heaven then we will care little for what happens in this world beyond what affects us: if my safety and comfort has to be built on lies and injustice, so be it.
But the gospel is about how the creator God becomes King on earth through the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, calling every human being to be part of the Jesus movement. In this view as C. S Lewis says “it is heaven all the way to heaven” as we let the Holy Spirit use us for Kingdom work.
If our work for the kingdom leads to suffering so be it because Jesus has promised to be with us always, even to the end of the age, when the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.