KING OF THE JEWS  John 19:13-22

A sermon with the congregation of St. James' Anglican, Kingston, Ontario, June 12, 1983

by Robert Brow (

The very first question Pilate asked when Jesus was brought before him was "Are you the King of the Jews?" (John 18:33). Jesus answered by saying "My kingdom is not of this world" (18:36), and Pilate said "So you are a king?" (18:37). It is not clear what Pilate understood about the Kingship of Jesus. But certainly in our reading today Pilate speaks of Jesus as king of the Jews. Let me remind you of what he said.

19:14 He said to the Jews, "Here is your King."

19:15 Pilate asked them, "Shall I crucify your King?"

19:19 Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews." It was written in Hebrew, Latin, and in Greek (19:20).

19:21-22 Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, "Do not write 'The King of the Jews,' but, "This man said, I am the King of the Jews'" Pilate answered, "What I have written I have written."

Pilate seems to have sensed much more than he actually understood. What does it mean to say that Jesus is the King of the Jews?

We could begin with the first chapter of Matthew's Gospel which begins "An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah." Then he reproduced the genealogy of Joseph, which he presumably got from Jesus' own family tree, or from the census records in Bethlehem. None of the religious authorities ever questioned that Jesus came from the Messianic line. But that is only a matter of genealogy. We need to grasp the meaning of Jesus' word to his disciples about the nature of his reign.

Mark 10:42-45 "You know that among the nations those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you." His followers were going to be servants of others because "The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many." The word ransom means a payment made so that another can be freed. This means that Jesus' Kingship is not a tyranny. As King of the Jews his one concern is that the Jewish people should be free. And as King of any other nation the supreme purpose of his reign is their freedom.

What is needed for you and I to find freedom? What does freedom mean? The primary task of a king or president or ruler of any kind is to prevent anarchy. The worst experience for people of any country, or region, or city, is living under anarchy. Instead of government, warring bands roam the streets. There is no right to justice. Nobody's life or home is safe. That is why people prefer a dictator to anarchy. So we first look to Jesus, our King, to establish order. And that means he will have to step in on occasion and deal violently with those who want disorder. The Bible calls that wrath. It is the assigning of bad consequences to those who disrupt the freedom of others. It is very hard to think about anything good, or beautiful, when we are terrified.

That function of kingship is dealing with the situation in the society around us. But earthly kings and rulers cannot deal with the anarchy inside us. Guilt is anarchy of the heart. Feeling guilty means that we are not at peace with God, or with others, or with ourselves. And of course Jesus is the only King who can say "You are forgiven because I have forgiven you. I love you and accept you just as you are." When you hear those words your heart settles into peace.

Once we are forgiven, we can face the future and its fears and uncertainties. And anxiety can tear us apart. Dealing with anxiety is something no earthly King or ruler can do for us. For a time we feel safe, but any moment we can be hit by financial disaster, or our health can break down, or our family can fall apart. Do you know what tomorrow might bring? But as our King, Jesus promises us that whatever situation we face the Holy Spirit can guide us to know what to do, and fill us with love, and joy, and heart peace. As he said "If you who are so imperfect know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him" (Luke 11:13).

Pilate did not know about the guidance of the Holy Spirit. If he had looked to the Spirit he would have found a way to avoid having to crucify an innocent man. But he did write the reason given for his crucifixion. "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews." Jewish people, as do all people, need freedom from anarchy, freedom from gnawing guilt, freedom to enjoy the wisdom and guidance of the Holy Spirit. But in that fateful moment they said "We have no king but the emperor" (19:15). And again and again among all nations people make the same deadly choice.

Today my task is to invite you to accept and come under the authority of Jesus. He not only wants to be the King of the Jews, but the King of every nation, and city, and family. And that begins for you when you submit to him as your King. He has provided a very simple way for you to make your submission. "Here is my body, here is my blood. Take and eat this as reminder that I died for your freedom." There is much more you can learn about the meaning of the communion service, but that is a good place to begin. Open your hands and your heart to Jesus your King. I never heard of anyone who said they had been disappointed by him.

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