Sunday Sermon for 21 November 2021: “God’s Kingdom, not Pilate’s”

Today’s message reveals how Jesus stood before Pilate, the Roman Governor of Judea (John 18:33-37). Jesus had been arrested and accused by the Jews and now it was Pilate’s responsibility to decide if Jesus was worthy of death for treason.

In Roman times, anyone who declared themselves king against the authority of the Roman Caesar could be put to death as a traitor. Therefore, Pilate asked Jesus if he was a king, King of the Jews. Jesus responded in a roundabout way, using clever rhetoric, thus engaging Pilate in further conversation. Jesus said that “[m]y kingdom is not of this world . . .” (John 18:36a). Interesting that Jesus didn’t claim earthly authority, which was what Pilate could have used decisively against him.

By stating that his kingdom was not of this earth Jesus changed the argument from politics to spirituality. If Jesus had claimed earthly kingship then Pilate’s job would have been easier and condemnation could proceed without question. If Jesus had usurped the political, imperial authority of Caesar then Pilate would not have hesitated in executing him. Yet at first Pilate didn’t see in Jesus anything deserving of capital punishment, or at least that’s the image the Bible reveals. It’s as if Pilate didn’t perceive Jesus as a threat to Roman hegemony. Pilate seemed inclined to dismiss Jesus as some sort of misguided teacher.

The Bible portrays the Jews as trying to entrap Jesus by accusing him of challenging Rome’s power. Pilate had a dilemma, because he could either release Jesus and further anger the Jews– something that could have returned to haunt him—or he could do the safe thing, yet betray his own conscience, and execute Jesus. The Bible suggests that Pilate struggled about the choice, but he predictably decided in his self-interest and chose the politically safe action: he consented to have Jesus crucified to appease the angry mob.

Consider Jesus’ words about the other-worldly kingdom, the one to which you and I belong. As a person of faith, your virtual home is the same as your ultimate destination: heaven. On earth you are a temporary sojourner, as was Jesus. All of us are invited to avoid the folly of becoming so entrenched in this life that we ignore the one to come. Everyone therefore needs a spiritual awakening, a life inspired by transformed priorities. Rejoice in that you are spiritually liberated to receive and share God’s love and truth.

There’s plenty to interfere with your quest of the kingdom of heaven. Managing life’s distractions is a full-time, never-ending job. This highlights the pivotal role of your personal relationship with God, free from middlemen and their abusive institutional bureaucracies. In the grand scheme of things, a mere outward participation in religion doesn’t achieve what God most wants for you. Performing rituals and going to church are most helpful when they are organic extensions from your inward connection with the Almighty. Your inside/out miracle of God’s presence is crucial over any mere religious participation.

My prayer is that we will embrace the transforming power of God’s love. Together we can engage a life revitalized by God’s indwelling spiritual essence, which ultimately is love. Want the most out of life? Then own God’s promises because you are a redeemed soul. Think and act with the victorious power that is already yours. Then, if you stand before the modern equivalent of a Pilate, you can triumph over unjust accusations. -–Reverend Larry Hoxey

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