John 18:33–19:6 (ESV)
33 So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” 35 Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” 37 Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” 38 Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”
After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, “I find no guilt in him. 39 But you have a custom that I should release one man for you at the Passover. So do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?” 40 They cried out again, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a robber.
19 Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him. 2 And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. 3 They came up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and struck him with their hands. 4 Pilate went out again and said to them, “See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him.” 5 So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold the man!” 6 When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, “Crucify him, crucify him!”
The adjective “worldly” is used in two different but related senses. If you look it up in the dictionary, you get these two definitions.
- Having a lot of practical experience and knowledge about life and the world.”
- Of or relating to the human world and ordinary life rather than to religious or spiritual matters.
In our Passion Reading tonight, we see both senses of the word at work. We see it at work in Pontius Pilate, the Jewish chief priests and crowd, and in the Roman soldiers. These different groups of people look at Jesus through worldly eyes.
You see, in the Roman Empire, one didn’t just rise to the level of power which Pontius Pilate enjoyed without being worldly-wise. As a governor, everything boils down to convincing the emperor of your ongoing worth. So above all things, you have to look out for numero uno, for number one, for yourself and not for other people. Pilate was a man with worldly desires and ambitions. Pilate was also worldly in the sense that he didn’t personally care about religious matters. As governor of Judea, the large population of highly religious Jews was really a thorn in his side.
But given that, it is a bit surprising to see Pilate basically cooperating with the Jewish leaders in the trial of Jesus. Based on his own investigation of Jesus and warnings from his wife, Pilate thought Jesus was innocent. But Pilate’s worldliness won out in the end. Pilate’s religious skepticism is on full display when he asks Jesus, “what is truth?” Truth was beaten, bloodied, and standing right there in front of him. And yet Pilate’s attitude toward worldly affairs is evident by the fact that he granted to the vocal Jews the execution of Jesus, while the wicked Barabbas went free. For Pilate, it is better to pacify the Jews than place his own position of power in jeopardy, especially if they decided to provoke a rebellion over this insignificant Jew who some said to be their king.
The leaders of the Jews had worldly eyes as well. The Sadducees saw the popularity of Jesus as a threat to the power they enjoyed through compromises with the Romans; the Pharisees saw Jesus as a competitor to their own religious influence and as an opponent of their legalistic theology. So the worldly Jewish leaders stirred up the crowds to demand the crucifixion of Jesus.
Finally, the Roman soldiers who mocked and beat Jesus had worldly eyes as well. They knew a king when they saw one, and Jesus was not it. Many of these soldiers had seen Caesar himself; others had seen kings of the East during military campaigns; and still others could envision with the mind’s eye a glorious king with all their pomp and circumstance. But this Jewish carpenter? This human specimen who was beaten and bloodied and wearing a crown of thorns a king? Not a chance. Their bowing down and praising of Jesus was all a mockery as they called out: “Hail, King of the Jews!”
But you know, ironically, Pilate and the soldiers got it right. Regardless of what was in their hearts, they correctly called Jesus King of the Jews, that is, the eternal Messiah promised long ago. The promised Messiah promised to Adam and Eve, to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, and all of his chosen people in Israel. But as Jesus told Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). Rather Jesus came into this world from heaven “to bear witness to the truth” (18:37). What is the truth? Jesus was and is king, but not a worldly one, but a heavenly, divine King, the very Son of God in human flesh! And while the way of the world is to look for power and glory in rulers, the true God glories in suffering and the cross. God manifests His power to save you in the Gospel of Jesus Christ crucified and risen!
The crowds cried out, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” God the Father from his sapphire throne cried out, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” Jesus, the obedient son cried out, “Crucify Me!” St. John says in his first letter, “Whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:17), and Jesus did just that. Jesus came down from heaven to do his Father’s will, to draw all men to himself on the cross, bear the sins of the masses, and then die for the life of the world. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son” (John 3:16) to reconcile the whole world to himself, not counting men’s trespasses against them (2 Cor. 5:19).
Dear friends, Jesus is “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). Your worldly sins were placed on his shoulders as he hung on that cross. If they were placed on his shoulders, that means that you no longer carry the burden of them. If your sins are placed on him, they most certainly cannot weigh you down in guilt and shame, but you should consider them to be as far from you as east is from the west, drowned in the depths of the sea. Actually, your sins are no longer even in the world because Jesus through his death and resurrection has set you from sin, from death and hell, and all you have to look forward to is eternal life in the new creation to come.
As Jesus says, His kingdom is not of this world, so you, you are called not to a worldly mind-set but to a heavenly one. St. Paul writes to believers of Jesus, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory” (Colossians 3:1-4).
Jesus prayed to his Father for you on the night when He was betrayed. “Father, I have given them Your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that You keep them from the evil one” (John 17:14-15).
Satan, the evil one, would love to lead you into sharing the worldly viewpoint expressed by Pilate: “What is truth?” Religious skepticism leads people to despair. Despair leads to either the desire to get out of this godforsaken world through suicide or it leads to an extreme worldliness were think, “Let me eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow I may die.”
But not you. Not you. You know the truth about the world. St. John writes, “All that is in the world – the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life – is not from the Father but is from world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:16-17).
Friends, because you have your eyes set on Jesus, the very Savior of the world, because you have your eyes set on heavenly things, no matter what happens in this world, no matter what happens tomorrow, the next day, months from now or years from now, because you have your eyes set on Jesus, you are washed clean by the blood of Christ. You are forgiven. As children of god, live in this hope and promise. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your heart and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever. Amen.