Thursday, November 30, 2006

Is He a King? (John 18-33-37)

Sorry, no update this week (Dec. 6). The format from Dec. 3 didn't lend itself to a blog post.

“Christ the King” Sunday doesn’t make everyone’s top ten lists of favorite images of Jesus. After all, most kings in the ancient world and many in some parts of today’s world are nothing like Jesus.

Many of them use their power for their own good, rather than the people’s welfare. They might remake laws according to their own desires or abuse their power against those who can’t fight back. Jesus, of course, is nothing like that. Jesus cares about people and uses his power to help them.

But Christ as the King of Kings, as the ruler and sovereign of all, is a real part of Christian teaching. The first Christian creed, or statement of belief, was probably, “Jesus is Lord.” So we have to come to terms with the idea, even if it doesn’t seem to fit as well as we might like.

Like I said, kingship in the ancient world was something that depended heavily on power and force. A king might inherit the throne from his father, uncle or brother, but he might also have taken it by overthrowing the old king. Even if he didn’t have to fight for it, he often had to hold power by force.

Some nations had legal systems that supported their kings, but many didn’t. In order to be king, a man had to claim to be the king. In order for his claim to stick, he had to have the force to back it up.

“I’m the king,” he might say.

“Who says?” other people might answer.

“Me and all my friends holding the sharp, pointy things.”

“At your service, Your Majesty.”

One reason Pilate asked Jesus if he was a king was to hear if Jesus would make the claim in his own words. He didn’t really care what Jesus answered, because he intended to use the answer for his own purposes. Pilate was trying to play some political games with the religious leaders who’d brought Jesus to him. They wanted something from him? Fine. Maybe he wanted something from them, too.

I’m sure he expected Jesus to deny what he said, because then Pilate could start his quid pro quo-ing with Jesus as well. After all, that’s the way it worked in his world.

But Jesus won’t play Pilate’s game. His answer: “You say that I am.” We often read that with the “you” emphasized. What about this, though: Read it and emphasize the “say.”

Remember, Jesus doesn’t force people to acknowledge him or his authority. He won’t make them accept him as savior and even today, he won’t bully or dominate us. He is our Lord, but he will only be our Lord at our request.

The first step of that request is the acknowledgement Pilate almost makes. “You say that I am a king,” Jesus says. In Pilate’s world, that’s enough. If I acknowledge someone as king, I admit he has the power and I don’t. I describe a state of affairs that already exists, that I can’t do anything about.

But when I say Christ is King, I make a claim and a promise. I claim he’s my ruler, and then I promise to act like it. Because love fuels Christ’s kingship, my claim is worthless without my promise, and my promise only turns out to be worth how well I live up to it.

Christ the King came to serve and to save – and even then, he wouldn’t even force Peter to let him wash his dirty fisherman’s feet. We accept his service to us and in turn are accepted into his service, his work to bring the gospel to the world.

Is he the king? He turns the question back to us. “Am I?” he asks. The true answer has to come from us, again and again.

1 comment:

Tyler said...

I like what you say about Jesus not forcing himself on us or making us acknowledge him as our Lord. But at the same time, God doesn't just sit back and wait for us to come to him. Even though he doesn't demand an answer, he is always asking, in a question that will sound like an invitation if only we'd let it, if we want him to be our Lord.