Wasted Passion Week Thoughts: "We have no king but Caesar" The only space the church dwells in the midst of the world
I have come to the end of my study and preparation for a sermon on the John 18-19 episode of Jesus before Pilate. Here are some final thoughts: In the final scene of this Passion-week episode our attention is drawn to Pilate’s last question. He could find no guilt in Jesus, “Shall I crucify your King?” This question sets up the statement of all adamic statements: “We have no king but Caesar!”
The Jewish leaders themselves had become frustrated with Pilate and, so, they turned to the clincher of their argument for doing away with this Jesus–they made it all about Caesar. They do what the world always (and the church, all too often) does: they change the characters in the judgment hall. They put Pilate before Caesar rather than Jesus before Pilate. The Jews set Pilate up, for when “Pilate sought to release him” (19:12), the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.” And in their last breath, the words that confront us all, Pilate was done—out-done: “We have no king but Caesar!”
The ironic thing, the Jewish leaders didn’t want to defile themselves by going into Caesar’s Jerusalem judgment hall, yet they had carried Caesar in their hearts, leaving them most defiled and guilty at their very core before God. As he had tracked the Jewish leaders and Pilate down to that very moment, Jesus puts every listener of this story, every church, all of us on trial. Who is your king?
But I don’t want to leave this here before the individual—which of course you must decide who is your king? —but I think we need to go right to the listeners of this in its original setting and see how this all works for church, for the gathered-church. This scene parallels the church’s social-religious-political-civil setting—as Jesus was on trial so is the gathered-church—not just for judgment, but to affirm their allegiance, for encouragement, despite all appearances to the contrary, Jesus is king! This scene is good news to the church!
Chip M. Anderson, advocate for biblical social action; pastor of an urban church plant in the Hill neighborhood of New Haven, CT; husband, father, author, former Greek & NT professor; and, 19 years involved with social action.