Sermon - Brad Brookins
John 19: 1-16
Where are you from?
9 Pilate went back into the Praetorium and spoke to Jesus. He asked, “Where do you come from?”
The church council met last Tuesday evening and one of the items on the agenda, as it is every month, was the treasurer’s report. We have changed the way we are reporting our finances and we were trying to figure out how to get that information out to all of you in a way that would allow for questions, if there were any.
Alan was a bit reluctant to ask for time out of the service today, because he knew we already had a very full morning planned; and you know, no one likes to be late to brunch. So I said, half joking, mind you, that I could just preach shorter sermon.
Nobody got the joke. They loved the idea!
And you know me—I like to make everybody happy. So here we are.
So hat I’m going to do this morning, is focus just on the story for today. I’ll not spend a lot of explaining it. We’re coming up on Holy Week, you know—Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday all lie just ahead, so we will have opportunity to dig deeper.
When we left off last week, you may remember, poor Pilate is in a real pickle. On the one hand, he has a prisoner in his headquarters whom he knows to be innocent. On the other hand, he has outside a small mob of influential people—people he has to somehow keep happy; and they are screaming for the prisoner’s head.
What’s the poor man to do?
Pilate released a prisoner of the people’s choice at the Passover each year. He hopes this year they will take Jesus. “Do you want me to release ‘the King of the Jews’ ”, he asks.
And the crowd shouts back. “Not him; give us Barabbas!”
So Pilate tries something else. He turns his soldiers loose and they flog Jesus. “Flog” is a four letter word for a whole lot of pain inflicted on a body. To mock him more they weave a crown of thorns fit for this king, cover him in a purple robe and just for fun, slap him around a while.
Then Pilate goes back out to the crowd and repeats what he has already said. “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no case against him”. The soldiers bring Jesus on to the porch, still wearing the crown and the purple robe.
Pilate is mocking them now; as if he’s saying to the priests, “This ‘king’ is the best you can do?” Then he says, out loud, “Here is the man!”
Seeing Jesus there, beside Pilate, even dressed as a mock king, the priests are enraged. Perhaps they’re worried Pilate is beginning to believe this imposter; maybe they’re afraid he will turn the anger of Rome against them for producing this miserable excuse for a king.
They shout out, “Crucify him!”
“Take him yourselves and crucify him”, Pilate says. “I find no case against him”. They can’t do that, of course. Only Rome had the power to execute. He’s mocking them again; reminding them of their weakness, their impotence.
Pilate tries to set Jesus free. You have to give him that much. The problem is, though, he does everything but the right thing. He doesn’t set Jesus free.
Poor Pilate, you see, is the prototype of the spineless politician. The chief priests are like his political base, you see. He needs their support to keep the peace in Jerusalem. It will be grudging, support, to be sure, but if he doesn’t find a way to satisfy their bloodlust, they will make his life miserable.
Poor Pilate. He knows what’s right; but he wants what’s easy. He knows what is right and true, but he’s not sure he can pay the price.
“We have a law,” the priests tell him, “and according to that law he deserves to die— Because he made himself the son of God!”
This new charge forces Pilate into full retreat. To claim to be “the son of God” was blasphemy to the Jews. But it was also, and more importantly for Pilate, blasphemy to the Romans. “Son of God”, you see, was the title Caesar Augustus claimed for himself. The only “son of God” Rome knew, and the only son of God Pilate knew, was Caesar.
Now, John says, Pilate is “exceedingly afraid”.
He knows what it means for Caesar to be son God. But what does it mean for Jesus? What if he is the son of God; of another son of God; or the son of another God?
Pilate feels the remnants of his spine disintegrating. He asks Jesus this strange question: “Where are you from?”
Strange, because he knows where Jesus is from. He’s a Jew from Palestine. But that’s not what Pilate is asking, is it. Jesus has already told him his kingdom, such as it is, is not “from here”; that he is not from here.
So, “Where are you from?”
Pilate is a true believer, you see. His world was fully enchanted by the gods. The gods were everywhere; surely had more than one son. And now, I think, he finds himself caught between competing sons—Caesar Augustus, the son of the God of Rome, and Jesus of Nazareth, the son of the God of Israel.
He can’t serve both.
He lacks the courage to choose, much less the wisdom to choose wisely.
So the crowd chooses for him.
“If you let this fellow go,” they say, “you are no friend of Caesar! Everyone who sets himself up as a king is against Caesar!”
And so the bargain is made. Pilate and the priests will both sacrifice what is right and true to keep what they values, proving, as is always the case in these trades, that what they values is neither true nor right.
But Pilate wont’ take responsibility for this decision. He’s not man enough for that. Responsibility, Pilate believes, must fall on the priests.
He brings Jesus back out to the porch, sets him on the judge’s seat and says to the leaders standing below, “Here is your king!”
The shout rings out, “Crucify him!”
“Do you want me to crucify your king?” Pilate asks, taunting them again.
Then these priests of the God of Israel—the God who brought their ancestors out of Egypt and through the wilderness and into the promised land, respond with the saddest words in Scripture:
“We have no king, but Caesar!”
“He was in the world, and the world came into being through him”, John wrote in the first chapter of his gospel, “yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.” (Jn 1: 10,11)
Then Pilate handed Jesus over to be crucified.
Text and Questions
The lectionary we are following gives us two weeks in the Lenten season to focus on the trial of Jesus before Pilate. I copied both readings below so you can read them together before splitting them up for our discussions. The version below is from a recent translation of the New Testament by the Anglican Bishop and New Testament scholar N. T. Wright called The Kingdom New Testament. These questions relate to the first of the two readings.
1. V. 28: “They were anxious not to pollute themselves…” For 1st century Jews, too close contact with Gentiles (entering their house would be close enough) would render them unclean, impure or polluted. Discuss this phenomenon. What do you think is going on in the mind of those who consider people unlike them to be a source of physical and spiritual pollution? What in this consideration makes sense to you? Where is it problematic?
2. Do the Jewish leaders remain “unpolluted”? Explain your answer.
3. Vs. 29-30 “What have you got against this fellow?” Consider the Jewish authorities non-answer answer to Pilate’s question. “Take our word for it…he’s bad!” Why do you think they don’t give a straight answer?
4. Notice how Pilate is bounced back and forth. He is resisted by Jesus and manipulated by the Jewish authorities. This is John’s way of drawing your attention to the illegitimacy of Roman power. Who is really on trial here? Is John saying something here about the relationship between the state (Rome in this case) and people of faith?
5. Here’s another Church/State question. The Jewish leaders want Jesus dead but can’t do it themselves; they have to cozy up to the power of the state to accomplish their goal. What moral and political compromises do they have to make in the process? When is it appropriate for religious people to cooperate with the state?
6. What examples do you see today, if any, of this church/state coziness? Are there moral or ethical concerns or compromises for us to consider in the relationship between church and state? Should the church ever resist the state? When?
7. V. 31 “We’re not allowed to put anyone to death…”. What problem were the Jewish authorities attempting to solve by putting Jesus to death? What were they most afraid of?
8. V. 33 Was Jesus the king of the Jews?
9. V. 38 “Truth!” said Pilate. “What’s that?” What is truth? Notice, the question is not “What is the truth?” Pilate has given up on getting a straight or honest answer from Jesus’ accusers. Is this a question or a statement in the form of a question? (Interesting detail: the word “truth” appears once in Matthew, 3 times each in Mark and Luke but 25 times in John. The word “true” appears once in Matthew, Mark and Luke but 23 times in John. What do you think John is up to?)
10. Why doesn’t Pilate stay around for an answer? What do you think Jesus would have told him?
John 18: 28-40 (for 3-11-18)
28 So they took Jesus from Caiaphas to the Praetorium, the governor’s residence. It was early in the morning. They didn’t themselves go inside the Praetorium. They were anxious not to pollute themselves, so that they would still be able to eat the Passover. 29 So Pilate went outside and spoke to them. “What’s the charge, then?” he asked. “What have you got against this fellow?”
30 “If he wasn’t doing wicked things,” they replied, “we wouldn’t have handed him over to you.”
31“ Take him yourselves,” said Pilate to them, “and judge him by your own law.”
“We’re not allowed to put anyone to death,” replied the Judaeans. 32 (This was so that the word of Jesus might come true, when he had indicated what sort of death he was going to die.) 33 So Pilate went back into the Praetorium and spoke to Jesus. “Are you the king of the Jews?” he asked.
34 “Was it your idea to ask that?” asked Jesus. “Or did other people tell you about me?”
35 “I’m not a Jew, am I?” retorted Pilate. “Your own people, and the chief priests, have handed you over to me! What have you done?”
36 “My kingdom isn’t the sort that grows in this world,” replied Jesus. “If my kingdom were from this world, my supporters would have fought to stop me being handed over to the Judaeans. So, then, my kingdom is not the sort that comes from here.”
37 “So!” said Pilate. “You are a king, are you?”
“You’re the one who’s calling me a king,” replied Jesus. “I was born for this; I’ve come into the world for this: to give evidence about the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
38 “Truth!” said Pilate. “What’s that?” With those words, he went back out to the Judaeans. “I find this man not guilty!” he said to them. 39 “But look here: you’ve got this custom that I should let someone free at Passover-time. So what about it? Would you like me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?”
40 “No!” they shouted. “We don’t want him! Give us Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a bandit."
John 19: 1-16 (for 3-18-18)
1 So Pilate then took Jesus and had him flogged. 2 The soldiers wove a crown of thorns, put it on his head, and dressed him up in a purple robe. 3 Then they came up to him and said, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they slapped him.
4 Pilate went out again. “Look,” he said to them, “I’m bringing him out to you, so that you’ll know I find no guilt in him.” 5 So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple cloak. “Look!” said Pilate. “Here’s the man!”
6 So when the chief priests and their attendants saw him, they gave a great shout. “Crucify him!” they yelled. “Crucify him!”
“Take him yourselves and crucify him!” said Pilate. “I find him not guilty!”
7 “We’ve got a law,” replied the Judaeans, “and according to that law he deserves to die! He made himself the son of God!” 8 When Pilate heard that, he was all the more afraid. 9 He went back into the Praetorium and spoke to Jesus. “Where do you come from?” he asked. But Jesus gave him no answer.
10 So Pilate addressed him again. “Aren’t you going to speak to me?” he said. “Don’t you know that I have the authority to let you go, and the authority to crucify you?”
11 “ You couldn’t have any authority at all over me,” replied Jesus, “unless it was given to you from above. That’s why the person who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”
12 From that moment on, Pilate tried to let him go. But the Judaeans shouted at him. “If you let this fellow go,” they said, “you are no friend of Caesar! Everyone who sets himself up as a king is speaking against Caesar!”
13 So when Pilate heard them saying that, he brought Jesus out and sat down at the official judgment seat, called “the Pavement” (in Hebrew, “Gabbatha”). 14 It was the Preparation day of the Passover, and it was about midday. “Look,” said Pilate, “here is your king!”
15 “Take him away!” they shouted. “Take him away! Crucify him!”
“Do you want me to crucify your king?” asked Pilate.
“We have no king,” the chief priests replied, “except Caesar!”
16 Then he handed him over to them to be crucified."