Today’s message text arises from John 13: 33-37. In this passage, Jesus stands before Pilate, the Roman Governor of Judea. Jesus had already been arrested and accused by the Jews. Now Pilate must decide if Jesus is worthy of death.
In Roman times, anyone who declared themselves king against the authority of Caesar could be put to death as a traitor. This is why Pilate asked Jesus if he was a king, King of the Jews. Jesus responded in a roundabout way, using clever rhetoric, and thus engaging Pilate in further conversation. Finally Jesus said that “[m]y kingdom is not of this world . . .” (John 18:36a). By stating that his kingdom was not of this earth, Jesus changed the argument. If Jesus had claimed earthly kingship, then Pilate’s job would have been much easier and condemnation could proceed effortlessly. If Jesus had usurped the imperial authority of Caesar, then Pilate would not have even blinked in executing him. Yet Pilate didn’t see in Jesus anything deserving of capital punishment, or at least that’s the image scripture paints. It’s as if Pilate didn’t perceive Jesus a threat to Roman hegemony, and in this light Pilate would rather have let Jesus live while dismissing him as an idealistic wannabe.
Alas, the political reality was not that simple. Jesus had been accused of challenging Rome, although there was little evidence in the Bible to justify that accusation. The Jewish critics knew how to get Jesus in trouble, and Pilate had a dilemma. Pilate could either release Jesus (and further anger the Jews– something that could have returned to haunt him) or he could do the safe thing, betray his own conscience, and execute Jesus. The Bible suggests that Pilate struggled about the choice, but he predictably came down on the safe side and did the politically-correct thing: He crucified Jesus.
We return to Jesus’ words about the other-worldly kingdom, the one to which we also belong. Our home is the same as our destination: heaven. We are but temporary sojourners on this earth, as was Jesus. We realize the folly of getting too enmeshed in earthly affairs, especially if it undermines our hope of heaven and complicates our God-ordained destiny. So, we cling to Jesus’ promise of a heavenly realm, where Jesus is our King.
There’s plenty to interfere with our journey to heaven. Managing life’s distractions is a full-time, never-ending job. We need to prioritize our personal relationship with God. Not much else matters if we refuse to draw close to God. Outward participation in religion isn’t enough. Performing rituals and going to church are helpful only if they are outward evidence of an inward, spiritual connection. God wants our heart and mind and not just showy behavior. Living a life of spiritual authenticity involves much more than what we do or what other people see. Good works are important, but only if they reflect the inner miracle of God’s redeeming grace. Without redemption, even the most selfless of charitable acts is impoverished, incomplete.
My prayer is that we will embrace the transforming power of God’s love, mercy and grace. Let us join one another as we live life transformed by God’s presence. We shall claim the miraculous power of the Holy Spirit and boldly demonstrate the attendant spiritual gifts. Want the most out of life? Want the highest and best joy in life? Then claim God’s promises. Think and act with the victorious power that is already yours. Amen!