Christ Is Sovereign of the Heavenly Way – November 21

A sermon based on John 18:33-37 (Inclusive Bible)
given at Mount Vernon, Ohio on November 21, 2021
by Rev. Scott Elliott

“The central claim of Christianity is that Jesus is the divine revelation of God. He reveals, discloses, what can be seen of God in human life.”1 There’s always been a scandal that comes with that claim. It’s depicted in our lesson. Jesus, the revelation of God, was arrested and stood before Pilate the governor of Palestine as a lowly criminal, and a short while later is convicted and executed by earthly power in the most dreadful humiliating way.

It was, and really still is, a scandal that Jesus – the revelation and representative of God on earth– was a criminal! Think about that. If I told you we should follow a criminal’s path to God would you take me up on it? See, that’s why there is a tendency to skirt around the scandal like it was a mistaken or trivial charge. But here’s the thing, Jesus was not just some accidental or petty criminal to Rome. At the time the events in the lesson occurred Jesus was as low a type of criminal a person could be in the Roman Empire. He was in the eyes of the law a seditious rebel. Jesus was considered so awful he was condemned to execution by crucifixion, a penalty reserved for only the worst type of criminal. Simply put, there was no one lower to Rome than a man like Jesus. That’s why he is treated so awful. To earthly power he was rotten. The scandal is we follow that man to this day, that He is for us the decisive revelation of God. The scandal is also that earthly powers’ rotten ways made Jesus a criminal and allowed him to be lawfully arrested, convicted and executed. . . .

The Lectionary lesson we heard Ann read so well has the lowly-to-the-state Jesus face-to-face with the loftiest person in the state Pilate, Rome’s governor. God’s representative is the low life Jesus. Caesar’s representative is high and mighty Pilate. In our lesson we find the two discussing whether Jesus is a king or not. We come to that question knowing the answer before Jesus even gives it. For us it may be a loaded question, but it was a laughable question to Rome and Rome’s elite. Can this raggedy riff-raff Jesus be royalty? He’s certainly not a king from the powerful earthly Roman realm, or even from one of Rome’s earthly client states, like Palestine. Jesus admits as much when Pilate cross examines him asking if he was King of the Jews. “My realm” Jesus replied, “is not from this world. If it belonged to this world, my people would have fought to keep me out of the hands of the Temple authorities. No, my realm is not of this world.”

Pilate, incredulous at Jesus’ audacious and dodgy answer, follows up with another cross examination: “So you’re a king?” Jesus’ final answer has reverberated through the ages: “You say that I’m a King. I was born and came into the world for one purpose, to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who seeks the truth hears my voice.” Oddly the Lectionary cutting of the text leaves out the final cross examination question that Pilate asks, a question that’s likely on our minds. Pilate asks in verse 38 “Truth? What is truth?”

But that question misses the point, only slightly, but enough to miss the meaning. Since in the Gospel of John Jesus is “the way and the TRUTH and the life. . . ” (18:6 NRSV), the question is not WHAT is truth, but rather WHO is truth. “Aletheia,” The Greek word translated as truth means “that which accords with reality or is genuine.” From the start Jesus Christ is truth in the fourth Gospel. The whole of Christ is genuine reality. To use Paul’s words in Acts, the whole of Christ – God in creation– is what we live and move and have our being in. This. Reality.

Getting back to the Book of John, in Chapter 14 Jesus Christ declares “ I myself AM the Way– I AM Truth, and I AM Life.” “I AM” is the name God gives Moses from the burning bush. And way back in the first chapter of John we were already told that Jesus Christ is, and always has been, the Word who was with God at the beginning of creation. Christ is the “I AM.” In short, Jesus the Christ is the decisive revelation of God on earth in all of creation in the past, present and future. Christ is what we have our being in.

John was written generations after the first Easter morning, and by then John’s community had come to realize that the stories and experiences of Jesus’ life and teachings exemplified what God incarnate in a person looks like, what the Gospel of John refers to in the first chapter as The Word becoming flesh and living among us revealing God’s glory, grace and truth. (John 1:1-10 NRSV). In the stories and experiences of Jesus Christians experience the reality of what we are and can genuinely be. Christ’s way leads to our full potential of true life. He is the King– sovereign– of another way– another way from earthly powers’ ways.

When Pilate judged Jesus Christ Caesar was an earthly king who was sovereign over lands with artificial boundaries and rules that insured his and other high and mighties, like Pilate and the temple elite’s, well-being. Caesar maintained Rome’s reign with violence and threats of violence, through the means of terror, injustices and occupying armies. Caesar legalized oppression and criminalized love.

Jesus was the opposite type of King, not of Caesar’s worldly way, but of God’s worldly way. He’s love incarnate. The Reign of Christ, love, has no land, no boundaries, no rules that create limits to well-being, no laws that are oppressive, and it is maintained with promises of non-violence and peace, through the means of love, which is desiring and tending to the well-being of others.
Jesus’ Way is not of Caesar and Pilate’s world. But thankfully it can be of this world, when we do as Jesus did and help heaven break in on earth. Each one of the saints of the church – and of our lives– that we are lifting up today helped heaven break in on earth for us and others. They did not have to be perfect to do it, just loving. Saints in the New Testament refers to members of the Church who have been consecrated to God through Jesus Christ– who is the Truth, the way and the life.

Jesus’ tells Pilate he “came into the world for one purpose, to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who seeks the truth hears my voice.” Christ did not claim we need to be prefect to belong to the truth, but to hear Christ’s voice. That voice has long called us toward love, because God is love. And, as we have been discussing most of November, love of God and others is the Greatest Commandment. It is our primary directive. On Reign of Christ Sunday we lift up and remember those who heard Christ’s voice in their lives and were love in our lives before leaving the earthly realm over the past year . . . those we know and love who belong to the Truth now and forever in the heavenly realm.

The message of our lesson, is the same as the hope of Christ and the hope of the Church, that we all strive to hear Christ’s voice that calls us toward love. May we respond to that call by being love in the world, as best as we can everyday all the time.

1.Borg, Marcus, The Heart of Christianity, p 85