In Nomine Iesu – Pastor Thomas L. Rank
Text: John 18:33-37
Then Pilate entered the Praetorium again, called Jesus, and said to Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered him, “Are you speaking for yourself about this, or did others tell you this concerning Me?” Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered You 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 fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; not now My kingdom is not from here.” Pilate therefore said to Him, “Are you a king then?” Jesus answered, “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”
THESE ARE YOUR WORDS, HEAVENLY FATHER, SANCTIFY US BY YOUR TRUTH, YOUR WORD IS TRUTH. AMEN.
Dear friends in Christ,
Jesus is a king. What does this mean? We normally think of a king as someone who has great political power in his country. A king is the one who has control; he is the one who has the money, the army; and he can use that power to achieve whatever he wants. There is no one higher than the king in his country. Everyone else is subordinate to the king. These subjects of the king must do his bidding or fear his wrath. Is this the kind of king Jesus is?
On Palm Sunday it sort of looked like it. After all, you have Jesus being cheered by a huge crowd. They ask Him to save them: “Hosanna!” They say that He comes in the name of the Lord. But despite the cheering crowds Jesus does not look like a king. He comes into Jerusalem by Himself. No great army marches with Him. There is no show of great riches or power. All you see is Jesus, sitting on the back of a small donkey.
Four days later Jesus is standing before Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea. There is no crowd cheering Jesus and praying for His help. Instead He has been arrested, slandered, beaten. As Pilate says, “Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered You to me.” It doesn’t sound as if Jesus has a country to be king of. It doesn’t look like Jesus has followers that will defend Him and raise Him up as their king and leader. So what kind of king is Jesus?
“My kingdom is not of this world.” Here Jesus separates His kingdom from all earthly kingdoms. His kingdom is different. He doesn’t mean it is in outer space. But rather it is not a kingdom that can be defined by borders on a map. His kingdom does not have the agendas of worldly kingdoms: the point is not to amass riches, nor to become the strongest, nor to conquer all other countries so that Jesus is the great political leader of a vast kingdom here on earth. None of that. Jesus’ kingdom is the kingdom of “truth.”
Earlier Jesus had told Thomas: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except by Me.” Jesus is the truth, and He is opposed to the ‘lie.’ The ‘lie’ was first spoken to Eve when Satan said: “You can be like God.” This great lie continues to bring ruin and death to people of all races, of all countries. This great lie is at the heart of all human attempts to achieve spirituality of some kind or another.
When Jesus tells Pilate: “For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice,” He is telling Pilate what His kingdom is about. This kingdom first of all is dependent upon Jesus, upon His witness, upon His voice. Without the voice of Jesus there is no kingdom of Jesus. Without the voice of Jesus there is no truth. This makes the kingdom of Jesus exclusive; in other words, the only kingdom that lasts is that of Jesus, no other kingdom, no other religion, will stand. They will all fall. But not through the power of the sword. The kingdom of Jesus does not come when people decide to blow themselves up and kill others along with them. Jesus had told Peter to put away his sword. And Jesus tells Pilate: “if My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight.” The kingdom of Jesus does not come when we are able to get the right laws passed in the United States congress, nor does the kingdom disappear if the wrong laws are passed. The kingdom of Jesus does not come when we keep the nation of Israel safe from her enemies. These are all kingdom of the world issues. They have importance, politically; and they impact us, our society. But not spiritually, not eternally.
It is the voice of Jesus that brings truth, and where that truth is, there you will find the kingdom of Jesus. Remember the Second Petition of the Lord’s Prayer:
Thy Kingdom come. What does this mean? The kingdom of God certainly comes of itself without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may come to us also. How does God’s kingdom come? The kingdom of God comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and live godly lives here in time and hereafter in eternity.
The voice of Jesus is the Word of God. He is the Word that became flesh. And the Holy Spirit works through the Word of God so that we believe the Word and live godly lives.
It is easy to become seduced by the ways of this world and its kingdoms. It is easy to think of the kingdom of Jesus in terms that apply to this world. Think of the churches that are attractive to the world. They are the big churches. They are the churches where you can be influential in your community through the contacts you make there. They are the churches that have great outward displays of wealth and power. Think of the Crystal Cathedral in California, think of St. Peter’s basilica in Rome, or consider local churches. If you were to list the influential churches in Winnebago county, the ones that you join in order to have influence and to make good business and social connections, where do you go?
It is easy to question the rightness of what we believe when it looks like all that happens is that we get smaller and smaller. This does not excuse us from doing all we can to spread the truth, to preach Christ, to pray for the kingdom of God to grow so that others will know and believe in the Savior. This also does not mean smaller churches are holier or better. But the point is: don’t look at size, listen to the voice. Do you hear the voice of Jesus? Is His word in its truth and purity the center? That voice alone is what defines the Christian Church, the kingdom of Jesus. We do not want that voice of Jesus muted or distorted. For that voice is truth. Nothing else is truth.
Today we start a new church year. Today is the start of Advent, the time of preparation for the great festival of the birth of Jesus, the Son of God, born of the virgin Mary. We use these days before Christmas to prepare our hearts and minds by heeding the voice of Jesus. This voice keeps calling us to repentance, to put aside the seduction of the kingdoms of this world with their riches and power, to gather around the Word of God, preaching, sacraments.
Jesus is a king. This king works among us now by His grace, by bringing us forgiveness for our sins of envy for the power and riches of the world, forgiveness for our lack of love for His kingdom, forgiveness for all sin. This is what the kingdom of Jesus is all about. And that is why at the start of this new church year we always see Christ on the cross looming in the distance. That is where Jesus would end up after talking to Pilate. And that is why He came: forgiveness comes with that cost of Jesus – death on the cross . He paid. We’re saved. “The kingdom of God comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and live godly lives here in time and hereafter in eternity.” That is our prayer at the start of Advent. In Jesus’ name. Amen.