“What to do with Jesus?” – John 18
Palm Sunday (of the Passion) – April 9, 2017
Introduction – Schizophrenic Sunday
Sometimes I call this Sunday a schizophrenic Sunday. The word ‘schizophrenic’ literally means to have a divided mind. This Sunday has a divided theme to it. In the olden days, when I was young, it was always called Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter, and it focused on Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem that week before he died. About 35 years ago, the Sunday began to be called the Sunday of the Passion and it focused more on Jesus’ suffering which took place later in the week than it did on the palms and branches and praises that took place on the Sunday. I’m not sure why that change came to be but I suspect that it was because it was determined that some people did not come to worship on Good Friday and then they missed the entire suffering and death of Jesus account which really is the precursor to the joy and celebration of Easter Sunday. So I’m guessing those readings about Jesus’ suffering were chosen to ensure that people heard the first part of the story – Jesus’ death – before they heard the second part of the story – Jesus resurrection from the dead. That’s next Sunday.
So there really are two possible gospel readings appointed for today. One is the Palm Sunday account of Jesus’ riding into Jerusalem on a donkey – that’s the one we read today – and the second one is the long account – two whole chapters of Matthew – describing Jesus’ arrest, trial, suffering, and crucifixion. We’re saving that for Good Friday.
- Essential 100: John 18
This year, we’re continuing to consider the 100 essential Bible stories which tell the entire narrative of God’s interaction with His people from the Old Testament times through to the New Testament times. Today’s essential passage is taken from John chapter 18. We see a lot of things happening in John 18. Jesus begins by taking his disciples from the Upper Room to the Kidron Valley, the Garden of Gethsemane, to pray. It didn’t take long for Judas, the detachment of Roman soldiers, and the officials from the Jewish religious leaders to appear with torches, lanterns and weapons. What happened next was that Jesus was betrayed or pointed out by Judas, and then arrested by the Roman soldiers. Jesus was taken away to the residence of the high priest to be tried. There were actually several trials that took place that evening – one before Anna and another before Caiaphas. During that time both Peter and John found their way into the courtyard of the high priest, where Peter denied knowing Jesus three times. He was pointed out by some of the other people in the courtyard as a follower of Jesus, but each time he vehemently refused to be associated with Jesus.
- Pilate’s Three Questions of Jesus
After the trials before Annas and Caiaphas, Jesus was sent to the Roman Governor Pilate for a third trial. Although John’s Gospel doesn’t record this, He was also sent to King Herod for a fourth questioning. It was before Pontius Pilate that Jesus was interrogated at length. In John 18 Pilate asked Jesus three significant questions. There are more questions in John 19, but we will leave those for Friday’s consideration. The three questions Pilate asked were: Are you the king of the Jews? What is it that you have done? and What is truth?
Jesus responded to the question of His kingship by admitting that He was a king, but He clarified that His kingship and His kingdom were not earthly realms. He said that His kingdom was from another place, and by this He also meant that His kingdom was qualitatively different from the common political or military Kingdom that Pilate worked within. He didn’t say it, but we know that His kingdom is a kingdom of the heart and of the spirit. He doesn’t rule people by force but by love and by grace.
Jesus responded to the question of what He had done not directly to Pilate, but earlier – in His trial before the high priest. He said that He spoke openly, that He taught in the synagogues or at the temple, that everything He did was in plain view of others. Those others could have easily given witness to His teachings, His healings, His miracles, His compassion and love for all. That’s what He had done. That was His reputation.
Jesus responded to the question about truth, again not directly to Pilate, but in His teachings. Perhaps Pilate’s question was a rhetorical one. We don’t hear anything at this time from the lips of Jesus. However, four chapters earlier Jesus add spoken to His disciples about going to prepare a place in heaven for them and us. In that teaching moment, He said one of His most famous lines: “I am the way and the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus claimed not only to speak the truth but to be the truth for all people.
After this brief interrogation, Pilate was faced with his own question – the question of what to do with this Jesus. When the Jews brought Jesus before Pilate, he asked about the charges against Jesus. In their minds, there was no question that Jesus was a criminal, and deserved to be punished. They would not have brought him to Pilate without a charge. However, because they wanted to execute Jesus and because the Roman laws would not permit it, they had to have Pilate’s permission and order to sentence Jesus to death. So what would Pilate do with Jesus? We hear three or four times that he found no guilt in Jesus, certainly no crime deserving of death. He sought various ways to release Jesus, but the Jews pressed him for the death sentence. So the choice was either to release Jesus outright or to release him to the vindictive Jews who he knew wanted Jesus to be crucified. The story continues in John 19 and we will come to the conclusion of the story on Friday.
- Apathy X 3
In this episode, we here about apathy toward three different things. The first one is… who cares about due process? This relates to the Jews who orchestrated the arrest of Jesus. They connived with Judas a disciple and insider who would be familiar with Jesus movements. They didn’t care about integrity and loyalty. They arrested Jesus under the cover of darkness and then proceeded to hold His trial in the overnight hours, something that would be illegal. The other Gospels tell us of their struggle to even find witnesses that agreed in their stories about Jesus. They didn’t care about due process at all. They just wanted to get rid of Jesus.
The second example of apathy could be described as… who cares about fairness or justice? This one is really about Pontius Pilate. We have already heard that he had no strong evidence of Jesus’ guilt with respect to any crime deserving of death. He seemed to be able to read between the lines of the motivation of the Jews, and yet he ignored Roman principles of justice and fairness in his trial. What motivated Pilate was his own personal agenda. He wanted to avoid the hassle of dealing with Jesus and get those annoying Jews out of his courtyard. Even though as a governor he was charged with meting out justice he ignored his responsibility.
The third question of apathy is… who cares about truth? This one also relates to Pilate. He asked about truth, should have been responsible for uncovering the truth of this case, and then delivering a verdict in keeping with the truth. But like some presidents we have heard of recently, he seemed to have his own version of the truth based on alternative facts. He might have said, “Well, that Kingdom stuff may be true for you but it’s not true for me.” He was not willing to accept the absolute truth which Jesus spoke, preferring instead to stake his claim on what was true for him, what was meaningful for him.
The small group that meets at my house on Monday evenings is studying this book called True For You But Not For Me. It is about overcoming objections to the Christian faith especially with respect to something that is very popular in our world and Society – relativism. Relativism says that there is no absolute truth, but rather that everything is relative. What is right and wrong depends on individual values and cultural diversity, and each person must determine for himself or herself what is truth – the very question that Pilate posed of Jesus. I suppose we might conclude that Pilate was the very first relativist.
- What do we do with Jesus?
So then, what do we do with Jesus? Of all the things that happened to Jesus that evening as they are recorded in John 18 – betrayal, arrest, trial, denial – the one thing that we want to do is to interrogate Jesus, to put Him and His life under a bright light to find out who He really is and what He has done, especially what He has done for you. We want to search for the truth. Once we have found the truth about Jesus then we can determine what to do with him.
Many of you will know that my daughter Kara and her husband Mike and their family are in Africa working on a Bible translation project. My younger daughter Amie got engaged a month before Christmas. When Mike found out, he immediately came up with the idea of sending Kara back to Canada for Amie’s wedding. He planned it as a surprise Christmas gift. He gave Kara a canister with a thermos in it, but that wasn’t the real gift. There was a piece of paper (the plane ticket) folded up on top of the thermos. [Oh, let’s just watch the video.] She unfolded it and got tears in her eyes and held it close to her chest. Their oldest son Tobias asked, “Mama is that what you’ve always wanted?” She nodded as more tears came to her eyes. They left Canada just over a year ago, so coming back for her sister’s wedding is a real treasure, so precious, and that’s why she held the paper close.
When we recognize the truth about Jesus, the treasure He is to us because of what He has done for us, we certainly don’t want to release Him but want to hold Him close just like Kara held that piece of paper close.
There are many ways that we can hold Jesus close.
We can love and worship Him – not just on Sunday mornings but in our daily lives and routines.
We can follow Him in the way that we live our life, and in order to do that we need to be aware of how Jesus lived, His attitudes, His actions, His love, His words.
We can hold Jesus close by growing in our relationship with him. This is quite the opposite of Pilate’s avoiding the hassle of dealing with Jesus. Growing in our relationship with Jesus is nothing more but nothing less than hanging around with Him, immersing ourselves in those Jesus’ stories found in the Bible.
Another way to hold Jesus close is to serve, to be a servant just as He gave us an example. He washed His disciples feet and He asks us to do the same – not literally but figuratively, serving others in even menial ways and knowing that in our servant-hood to others we are serving him.
We also hold Jesus close by giving him away. This is done by a profession to others of who He is for our lives, in our witness of what He has done for us – OK, think here, remember here His suffering and death on our behalf – in calling others to know and believe the same truth about Him as we do.
So I hope that you can think of one person with whom you can share an Easter eggvitation to Easter Sunday worship next week. In this way we treasure Jesus by both holding Him close and by releasing Him into the lives of others.
All this we do because He is the king of our life, because of what He has done for us in His suffering, death and resurrection, and because he is the very truth for us and for all people.
Let us pray…