Rock or King? – March 13, 2016

“Rock or King?”

2 Samuel 23:1-7 John 18:33-37


Not too long ago I got a break from the routine …and got to do two of my favorite things. I saw a fantastic movie and an even better play. In both…the actors played the roles of people from the past…50 years ago in one case and 150 years ago in the other…and they did it very well. In both I also saw the beliefs…attitudes…and actions of people who live today. This fantastic acting prompts me to think we should spend a few minutes looking at the important actors in the story of Jesus’ trial. As we do…let’s ask whether their scripts are still used today. At the time the Jews were under Roman governance. They could not carry out the death penalty. Only the Roman government could do that. If the Jews had been able to do so they would have done it by stoning. The Law clearly stated that anyone who committed blasphemy would be stoned by the congregation. Jesus’ prophecy that he would be lifted up had to be fulfilled through the Romans’ practice of crucifixion. Through their attempts to use the Romans to kill Jesus the Jews were working to fulfill Jesus’ words…words they did not understand. How often do we find that we…or others…do not understand the words of Jesus? There’s more about the Jews. They began by hating Jesus. But…they finished in a hysteria of hatred…yelling mindlessly “Crucify him! Crucify him!” They were so stirred to hatred that they could not be approached with reason. They had no mercy. Their hatred made them lose all sense of proportion…truth and justice. Have you watched some of the political debates taking place on television and in the coffee shops in this state and nation? Is hatred and fear of those we call illegal immigrants getting in the way of our very humanity? Are great personal and corporate greed helping to fuel hate for the less fortunate…or for the very fortunate? Is fear of those whose lifestyles differ from ours creating hate that makes us forget to love all though they differ in some way? The hatred of the Jews caused them to twist the truth. In order to get Pilate to act the Jews said that Jesus had claimed to be king…when he had done no such thing. Recently I talked with a friend whose work includes assisting others to find a way to survive economically. She told me of a conversation she had the day before with a man who so despised those receiving government assistance that he told the story of how individuals in great numbers could beat the system to live comfortably without working. I won’t use the word my friend used…but she was quick to point out the falsehoods created by the man’s hatred and greed. Pilate is the next character in this drama. He knew that the charges against Jesus were lies…that Jesus was completely innocent. Pilate was impressed with Jesus and didn’t want to condemn him to death. But…through it all he refused to put his foot down and challenge the Jews. In effect…the Jews blackmailed Pilate. They said, “If you let this man go, you are not Caesar’s friend.” Maybe you feel sorry for Pilate. He did seem to be in a predicament. He may have wanted to do the right thing…but…he crucified Jesus in order to keep his job. Not all of us have been…or will be in a position…where telling the truth and doing the right thing will cost us our job or something of great importance. You can trust me on this one. It’s not a comfortable position. However…do we find situations where we go along with the crowd…even though it’s not doing the right thing…just to stay in the crowd or to keep its favor? Here’s an example of how many Americans are doing just that. In 1963 the U. S. Supreme Court banned state-sponsored prayer in public schools. Since then there has been much complaining about the ruling. There have been noisy but unsuccessful attempts to overturn the ruling with a proposed Constitutional amendment that hasn’t even made it to a reading in a Congressional committee. There have been loud promoters trying to make us believe that God has been forced out of the schools. Many have jumped on these bandwagons. They are using the court ruling as an excuse for many Christians to stay away from public schools…to go along for the ride. Here’s the situation for us to consider. Just a few minutes away our children and neighbors’ children…are at Gateway elementary school…one of the best in the school district…and also one in which better than half the students are receiving free or reduced price lunches. They are living in households in poverty. They are children who don’t have books in their homes…who don’t have educated parents or grandparents to read to them and assist them with their school work. Are we reaching out with Christian love to help these children and their families? Or, are we among those in the noisy crowd using the Supreme Court ruling as an excuse to not get involved…as a way to hear incorrectly the message that Christians are not wanted there? Pilate…at first…tried to evade his responsibility by telling the Jews to judge Jesus by their own laws. He tried to evade the personal responsibility of dealing with Jesus. That’s something no one can do. We can’t let someone else deal with Jesus for us. Dealing with Jesus…creating our relationship with Jesus…is entirely up to us. We must…ourselves…decide whether we will accept or reject Jesus. Pilate then tried to create a compromise. We can’t compromise with Jesus. Not one of us can serve two masters. We are either with Jesus or against him. Pilate was too proud to get involved in what he regarded as Jewish squabbles and superstitions. That pride was exactly what made him a bad governor. No one can lead a people…no one can properly interact with others…without making attempts to understand them and to enter into their thoughts and minds. How many doors are closed…and opportunities missed…because we choose not to interact with and as a result understand others? Do we close those doors out of unwarranted fear of the unknown…out of self-centered complacency? Let us now turn to Jesus in this story from John. The majesty of Jesus never was more obvious than in this time when he was on trial before humans. As John told the story there is no sense that Jesus is on trial. Think about this…when a person faces Jesus…it is not Jesus who is on trial…more likely it’s the person facing Jesus. Jesus spoke with directness and honesty about his kingdom. He said it was not a kingdom of earth. He also said it is not a kingdom based on force. It is a kingdom in the hearts of humans…based on love…mercy and forgiveness…that drives them to reach out to others. Jesus did not deny that his goal was conquest…but it was a conquest of love…love that is sacrificial and active…not passive. Jesus told us why he came into the world. His task was to witness to the truth…to tell people the truth about God…the truth about themselves…and the truth about life. Think about it. There is no half-way about the truth. You either accept it or reject it. Christ is the truth. Are there those who accept and profess Christ only when it’s convenient and to their advantage? Did you notice who was in control? Pilate warned Jesus that he had the power to release him or to crucify him. Jesus responded that Pilate had no power at all…except what had been given to him by God. God and Jesus were working through Pilate to accomplish their goals…and Pilate thought he was in charge. Who do you think is in control? There were times during the trial in which Jesus was silent. Jesus did not respond to Pilate…the High Priest…and Herod. Have you ever had the experience that when talking with other people further argument and discussion are fruitless. That’s what happened to Jesus. So…he stopped talking with them. Can there be anything more difficult than when a person’s mind is so made up…closed by pride and self-will and hurt…that there is nothing Jesus can say that will make any difference. In his dying breath David said, “The Rock of Israel said to me: The person who rules righteously Who rules in the fear of God He is like the light of morning, Like the sunshine bursting forth in a cloudless sky, Like the refreshing rains that bring tender grass from the earth.” (2 Samuel 23:3-4) David’s words told of the coming righteous messiah…and the righteous leadership and living we should all foster…with action as well as words…with interaction not isolation. The questions we asked should prompt us to consider whether we have accepted Jesus’ kingdom…how we are helping others to see his truth…and whether we lead our lives in true righteousness…reaching out in love…as he would have us do.