Jesus, Lord and King Most High - Barrie Robinson
John 18:18-23; 33-37; 19:6b-12
As a small child of perhaps 7 or 8 years, I can remember hearing for the first time of Jesus’ crucifixion. I was heartbroken. I was dismayed. The one I loved was defeated, destroyed. My hero was eliminated. Even his rising from the dead didn’t seem enough as he left the disciples behind. My Sunday School Teacher, probably a girl in her mid to late teens couldn’t explain it to me, and couldn’t bring comfort. It was only a few years later after God had brought me to Tasmania, that I came to the Lord and I began to understand that Jesus’ death on the cross was necessary for my salvation.
Jesus’ disciples were in the same boat. As you will remember, Peter said to Jesus, “This shall never happen to you,” and he even attacked one of the High Priest’s servants and cut off his ear. Hear what Jesus said to Peter then:
“Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the scriptures be fulfilled, which say it must happen this way?”
On first impressions, Jesus is completely under the control of the High Priests and their men and of Pilate’s Roman soldiers, that he is completely powerless. That he is at their mercy, there is no doubt, but I propose to demonstrate that he is in complete control of the situation.
The readings I selected for this afternoon cover the interrogation of Jesus by Annas and by Pilate.
In the first paragraph, Annas tries to pin on Jesus the charge of leading an insurrection. He asks about his disciples, and demands to know about his teaching. Jesus, wanting to protect them, ignores the question about his disciples. But by asking Jesus about his teaching, he is seeking to have him testify against himself, contrary to the Torah. This says: “On the evidence of two or three witnesses the death sentence shall be executed.” (Deut 17:6) This is still Jewish legal procedure — there must be two or more witnesses, and they must agree. The synoptics tell us that at the trial before Caiaphas, not recorded in this Book, they sought and heard many false witnesses, but they couldn’t agree.
Here, however, Jesus tells Annas that he always taught in public places and there should be no problem finding suitable disinterested witnesses. Jesus had no fear of independent testimony. One of the High Priest’s servants struck Jesus on the mouth, contrary to the law, and Jesus pointed out this wrong, saying, if he’d spoken wrongly, it was open to tis man to say so, but if he’d spoken rightly, then to strike him was doubly wrong.
Annas wasn’t getting anywhere, so he sent Jesus to Caiaphas.
Matthew’s Gospel tells us that Caiaphas got the answer he wanted by putting Jesus under oath and demanding that Jesus tell him whether he was the Messiah, the son of God. Immediately, Jesus responds positively, adding
“From now on, you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
This is the one charge that Jesus can rightly lay down his life for — it is the truth, something the High Priests could not conceive of. But of course, Pilate will not put Jesus to death for blasphemy, even if it were true. In fact, the leaders find great difficulty in putting any charge to Pilate that he’d be prepared to execute Jesus for. They end up accusing him of claiming to be a king in Judea, in opposition to the emperor.
So in verses 33-37 we hear Pilate questioning Jesus about this. At first, Jesus does not respond but instead asks Pilate if this is his own idea, or had others suggested it to him. Pilate is affronted and says it’s not his idea but that Jesus’ own people had handed him over. Jesus then proceeds to answer Pilate’s question by telling him about the true nature of his own kingdom. One even wonders if he’s offering Pilate the opportunity to be part of it. Pilate is not interested in that, but perceives that Jesus is no threat to himself or to the emperor. He goes out and tells the Jewish leaders that he can find no fault with Jesus and they should go and try him by their own law. They can crucify him if they dare.
This won’t do for the Jews — the Torah prescribes the sentence of stoning but they want him crucified which is a greater disgrace. In any case, only the Roman authorities have the power of capital punishment. They tell Pilate that according to their law, Jesus should die because he claimed to be the Son of God.
This really put the wind up Pilate, who, like most Romans was very superstitious. Up until now, Jesus only appeared to be at worst, a crazy philosopher. But now, its’ possible one of the gods has come down. Pilate doesn’t want to go there, that could be very dangerous.
Now Pilate is actively trying to release Jesus. He asks where he’s from, but Jesus doesn’t answer. We learn from Luke that Pilate found out from others that Jesus was from Galilee and sent him to Herod, who was in Jerusalem for the passover. But Pilate is frustrated that Jesus won’t answer him and tells him he has the power to release him or to put him to death. Jesus is not going to give Pilate ammunition to release him. He already has that anyway.
As Jesus has earlier said,
“For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.” (John 10:17-18)
The Greek word here translated ‘power’ means no ‘might’ but ‘authority.’
Pilate however must be forced to accede to the Jewish leaders’ demand, in order that the scripture might be fulfilled. He is worried that there will be a riot, but even this is not enough, and in the end it is the leaders who play their trump card: “If you release this man you are no friend of the emperor.” Pilate in a patron-client relationship could lose all he’d worked for in the event of an adverse report to Tiberius. So Pilate caves in, but not until the Jews have uttered that unpardonable sentence, “We have no king but Caesar.” The irony is that, under the Torah, the Israelites are to have no king but the LORD. (YHWH — God by his covenant name.)
These passages illustrate that Jesus not only follows the Torah rigorously, but is in control the whole way through. The Jews can only convict him on a charge that is his birthright and his true nature, that he is God the Son, the true King of Israel, and they have to use the latter to force Pilate’s hand. Far from being disgraced and humiliated, Jesus is vindicated under the law, while the Jewish leaders are effectively put on trial, and found guilty of breaking the Torah at every turn with the most serious breach at the end.
This is the Jesus we worship.
Father, we see your son at the mercy of unscrupulous men, being attacked unjustly, but coming out on top with confidence and purpose. May we be his true followers, and by the power of the Holy Spirit so speak the words of grace and truth with great boldness and confidence that many tongues confess that Jesus Christ is Lord and that your name be glorified.
In his name we pray. Amen.