Who has the Power? John 19:1-16a

John 19:1-16 Contemporary English Version (CEV)
19 Pilate gave orders for Jesus to be beaten with a whip. 2 The soldiers made a crown out of thorn branches and put it on Jesus. Then they put a purple robe on him. 3 They came up to him and said, “Hey, you king of the Jews!” They also hit him with their fists.

4 Once again Pilate went out. This time he said, “I will have Jesus brought out to you again. Then you can see for yourselves that I have not found him guilty.”

5 Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said, “Here is the man!”

6 When the chief priests and the temple police saw him, they yelled, “Nail him to a cross! Nail him to a cross!”

Pilate told them, “You take him and nail him to a cross! I don’t find him guilty of anything.”

7 The crowd replied, “He claimed to be the Son of God! Our Jewish Law says that he must be put to death.”

8 When Pilate heard this, he was terrified. 9 He went back inside and asked Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus did not answer.

10 “Why won’t you answer my question?” Pilate asked. “Don’t you know that I have the power to let you go free or to nail you to a cross?”

11 Jesus replied, “If God had not given you the power, you couldn’t do anything at all to me. But the one who handed me over to you did something even worse.”

12 Then Pilate wanted to set Jesus free. But the crowd again yelled, “If you set this man free, you are no friend of the Emperor! Anyone who claims to be a king is an enemy of the Emperor.”

13 When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out. Then he sat down on the judge’s bench at the place known as “The Stone Pavement.” In Aramaic this pavement is called “Gabbatha.” 14 It was about noon on the day before Passover, and Pilate said to the crowd, “Look at your king!”

15 “Kill him! Kill him!” they yelled. “Nail him to a cross!”

“So you want me to nail your king to a cross?” Pilate asked.

The chief priests replied, “The Emperor is our king!” 16 Then Pilate handed Jesus over to be nailed to a cross.

Jesus was taken away,

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10 “Why won’t you answer my question?” Pilate asked. “Don’t you know that I have the power to let you go free or to nail you to a cross?”

Pilate had power. Or so he thought. He had the power of servants and soldiers. He had power delegated to him by Caesar and by the citizens he ruled. His power was reinforced by his position and by his wealth.

His power over the Jewish nation was compromised by manipulation on the part of the Sanhedrin.

The Sanhedrin, the ruling body of the Jewish community, had power over religious, social and political interaction. The Jewish community had its own set of laws, separate from those of the Roman government. These laws pertained to worship, to health, to social relationships, and to relationship with God. They did not conflict with Roman law.

The limited jurisdiction of the Sanhedrin became a problem when they couldn’t control Jesus. Their solution: use the Roman government to get rid of Jesus. They understood well that Pilate was expected to keep peace in Jerusalem. If they could threaten him with some kind of uprising, some kind of rival ruler, he would have to act against Jesus.

Jesus was a threat to the authority of the Sanhedrin because he was collecting followers who found something in Jesus that they had not found in their experience as followers of the Law. Jesus brought out in them a thirst for a relationship with God. Jewish practice for hundreds of years had been based on following rules. The rules were established for good reasons: they protected the Hebrew people from disease and from sin. The Law was geared to make sure that the Hebrew people flourished as a group. But most of all, the Law kept the people connected to God.

Have you ever known of rules or laws that became obsolete or lost their purpose?
The purpose of the Law became irrelevant when the need for the law disappears. Here are some examples.

Wisconsin
You can’t serve butter substitutes in prison. Is this law still needed? Probably in the eyes of dairy farmers, it is. It’s also a misdemeanor to try to pass off margarine (or oleo or oleomargarine) as real butter in Iowa.

Oregon
Hunting in cemeteries is prohibited. Visiting your loved one’s grave should not include dodging bullets. Somewhere, sometime, somebody got in trouble for hunting in a cemetery.

Minnesota
Using goldfish as bait is against the law. This is a good law, because goldfish are carp and carp can overrun other fish populations.

Maine
It is illegal for Christmas decorations to still be up after January 14th. My Christmas lights came down last Thursday. Good thing we live in Iowa.

Dubuque
Any hotel in the city limits must have a water bucket and a hitching post in front of the building. Yes, there are a few horses walking the streets of Dubuque, pulling carriages, but I don’t think they stop at every hotel.

What about bands at ballgames? Sunday ballgames became legal because when the band played; that made the event a concert. Add the Star-Spangled Banner, and it became a patriotic concert. It was acceptable to attend a concert, and if there happened to be a ball game going on, well, that was just part of the concert.

All of these laws are a result of a need. But when the need disappears, the law loses its meaning. The Law in Jesus’ time had become rules whose purpose had changed. The Law became a way for the ruling class to control the Jewish community. Granted, the rules protected the Hebrew nation, but like so many rules, they lost their flavor when their purpose became not to be closer to God but to control people.

Hence, when the Sanhedrin, which saw to it that the Law was followed, could not control Jesus with the Law, they turned to Pilate, to the other law that they had to obey, Roman Law.

Pilate cooperates with the Sanhedrin, but the result is tragic, not just for Jesus, but for the Sanhedrin.

Pilate cannot figure out what to do with Jesus. The Sanhedrin has not yet convinced him that Jesus is dangerous.

4 Once again Pilate went out. This time he said, “I will have Jesus brought out to you again. Then you can see for yourselves that I have not found him guilty.”

5 Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said, “Here is the man!”

6 When the chief priests and the temple police saw him, they yelled, “Nail him to a cross! Nail him to a cross!”

Pilate told them, “You take him and nail him to a cross! I don’t find him guilty of anything.”

7 The crowd replied, “He claimed to be the Son of God! Our Jewish Law says that he must be put to death.”

Why don’t the Jewish authorities kill Jesus by some other means? They don’t have time. It is the Passover and the Sabbath and they cannot do anything during that time except what is proscribed for the Sabbath. Thy want Jesus out of the way now, before he stirs up even more Jews who are in town for the Passover Feast.

There is only one way to bring this to an end and the arguing between Pilate and the Sanhedrin traps them both into crucifying Jesus.

Karoline Lewis has written a wonderful book on the Gospel of John and she points out clearly how there are no winners in this travesty of a trial.

Pilate’s final jeer of the trial, “Shall I crucify your king?,” pushes the Jewish leaders to utter perhaps the most devastating testimony in the entire Gospel, “We have no king but the emperor.”

For the Jewish leaders to declare that they have no king but Caesar is to denounce their own king, God Almighty. These men, who had been charging Jesus with blasphemy, create the greatest blasphemy of all: they deny God as their king and ruler.

I want to return to the dialogue about power between Jesus and Pilate, because Pilate and the Sanhedrin both are twisted by the power they hold.
11 Jesus replied, “If God had not given you the power, you couldn’t do anything at all to me. But the one who handed me over to you did something even worse.”

10 “Why won’t you answer my question?” Pilate asked. “Don’t you know that I have the power to let you go free or to nail you to a cross?”

11 Jesus replied, “If God had not given you the power, you couldn’t do anything at all to me. But the one who handed me over to you did something even worse.”
What Pilate and the Sanhedrin don’t recognize is that the real power of Jesus lies not in his body, nor even in his preaching. The power of Jesus is God. Jesus is the incarnation of God. Jesus has more power than Pilate, Caesar, and the entire Jewish population combined. What is different about Jesus’ power? He uses it for love. He does not use his power to control people. He uses it to teach people, to include people, to inspire people. Jesus uses his power to build relationships, connecting people to God and people to each other. The heaviness of the law is replaced with the light of seeking God through the goodness with which we were created.

Jesus uses his power to draw together in love the whole human population. The power that Jesus has is available to everyone. His power is not the exclusive property of the ruling class. His power is shared from the most important person in the world down to the newest baby. No one is excluded from using this power.

We know that power. We use that power. We are all subject to laws, the laws of government, the laws of nature, the unwritten laws of social interaction. Those laws are conceived and instituted by those who have authority. At the same time, those laws can hurt us. Turn on the news. See whom the written laws benefit. See whom they ignore or hurt. You all know that I work for one of our Iowa senators. Most of the time, I just play the piano for her when she sings at nursing homes. But I also listen to her. I know that she, like all our elected officials, wants the laws to help people. I get to hear her pain when she sees laws that hurt people. But she, like me, trusts a Power greater than Law.

That is our gift from Jesus. The Law has good purpose; the Law has power. But we possess a greater power, a power that gives us hope and courage to face what we cannot control. We have the tools of prayer and scripture, we have the support of each other and we have the knowledge that God prevails, that God’s power is the ultimate power.

The story of Jesus’ trial before Pilate is a fascinating study of power, especially the instability of human power. Pilate uses his power to destroy Jesus and to protect himself and to get the Sanhedrin off his back. But that display of power is puny and worthless compared to the power Jesus has over death, not just for Himself, but for us.
We, as Christians, have been given the power to follow Jesus, to conquer fear and evil, and to conquer what no one can do without Jesus. We have the power, through Christ Jesus, to conquer death. Amen.

Thy Kingdom Come John 18:28-40

Contemporary English Version (CEV)

28 It was early in the morning when Jesus was taken from Caiaphas to the building where the Roman governor stayed. But the crowd waited outside. Any of them who had gone inside would have become unclean and would not be allowed to eat the Passover meal.

29 Pilate came out and asked, “What charges are you bringing against this man?”

30 They answered, “He is a criminal! That’s why we brought him to you.”

31 Pilate told them, “Take him and judge him by your own laws.”

The crowd replied, “We are not allowed to put anyone to death.” 32 And so what Jesus said about his death would soon come true.

33 Pilate then went back inside. He called Jesus over and asked, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

34 Jesus answered, “Are you asking this on your own or did someone tell you about me?”

35 “You know I’m not a Jew!” Pilate said. “Your own people and the chief priests brought you to me. What have you done?”

36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom doesn’t belong to this world. If it did, my followers would have fought to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. No, my kingdom doesn’t belong to this world.”

37 “So you are a king,” Pilate replied.

“You are saying that I am a king,” Jesus told him. “I was born into this world to tell about the truth. And everyone who belongs to the truth knows my voice.”

38 Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth?”

Pilate went back out and said, “I don’t find this man guilty of anything! 39 And since I usually set a prisoner free for you at Passover, would you like for me to set free the king of the Jews?”

40 They shouted, “No, not him! We want Barabbas.” Now Barabbas was a terrorist.

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Can we exist simultaneously in two kingdoms? Can we keep them separate?
Pilate’s kingdom survives on violence. Jesus’ kingdom survives on love.
Violence is in the news. Violence makes news. Every time a gun is fired, every time an international leader makes a threat, every time a train goes off the track, news is made.
News is made, news is reported, and news is heard. What happens when we hear that news? We shake our heads. We check the locks on our own doors, literally and figuratively. We see the world through eyes of fear.
The sad part about this fear is that it makes us more and more reluctant to engage in the world around us.
As Christians, we are taught to be in the world, not of the world. How do we engage the elements of that world without following the ways of the world? We are a part of that world through necessity. We shop for groceries. We buy gas. We pay taxes. We vote. We attend meetings and classes and we show up at work. We cannot be separate from this world.
And here’s the thing: God created this world for us, for our enjoyment, for our exploration, for our use. God created us to enjoy the world and to enjoy each other.
But the violence…the violence that has plagued humanity since Cain killed Able…what do we do about violence?
We talk about it. We wonder about it. How could someone? we ask. Why did someone? we ask. And we wonder about our own safety, the safety of our own children.
Even more insidious than the violence we see in the news is the violence that is committed silently, out of sight.
Silent violence. Violence that is ignored. Violence that is complicit. Violence that is buried. Violence that is condoned. Violence that is disguised.

I am thinking of human trafficking, of young women being lured into a life of brutal servitude. We know it happens ten miles down the road from us, but each act of individual violence is done in silence, out of range, out of reach. I am thinking of drug trafficking, of the people who buy drugs for recreation, who ignore the human sacrifices that made a baggie full of weed available for an evening with friends. I am thinking of the violence of inadequate healthcare that keeps people from seeking help until the misery is unbearable and the patient and the nurse must battle together against illness gotten out of control. I’m thinking of the violence created by our own greed for cheap food, for cheap clothing, for cheap transportation. I’m thinking of the stripping away of clean air, of clean water, of healthy land by those who exploit our greed with farming and drilling and manufacturing practices that spoil the air and water and land to provide the most product for the least amount of money.
That is the world we live in, a world created in beauty and vulnerable to our own greed.
Sometimes the silence is the tool of the perpetrator. But how often is the silence our own defense, our own way of protecting ourselves? When we see wrongdoing, do we speak up or remain silent? Our forefathers spoke up against taxation without representation, Dietrich Bonhoeffer spoke up against genocide, Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke up against discrimination. What happened? War. Execution. Assassination. Violence. That’s not fair, is it? To act in love and be cut down by violence.
Do we put ourselves at risk when we act or speak against evil? At what point do we keep our love for others to ourselves?
We cannot “save the world.” Jesus did not save the world, the tangible, earthy part, the trees, the lakes, the flowers, the spring breeze. Jesus saved a world that is different from the one you and I stand on, different from the earth we dig in, different from the earth that grows our food. Jesus speaks of his own kingdom as being separate. Can you stand with your feet in both places, in a kingdom of violence and a kingdom of love?
Yes, that’s what we do. We are called to live in the world of economies and governments, but we also are called to live in a world of love and compassion.
I actually had a vision in a dream about this. I saw the life provided by this world as a rushing river with all kinds of debris and people being carried along, rushing in one direction. Everything was out of control. Then I saw a vision of a person standing in the middle of a river that simply went around and around the person, like a donut or the boat ride at an amusement park. The person stood, untouched, in the middle of the turbulence. It’s not a real exciting vision—no monsters or angel choirs, but it made me think of how we, as Christians, can be in the world and yet be of the Kingdom of God.
Being in the Kingdom of God does not necessarily protect us from physical violence or illness or hunger. But it gives us the perspective and the strength to carry Jesus within us, to keep us from committing acts of violence, to encourage us to reach out to victims of violence.
Jesus is our model and our example. He could have brought down thousands of angels upon Pilate and his soldiers. He could have destroyed every Roman place of government with a snap of his fingers. Instead, he allowed his gentleness to lead him to his death. Will our gentleness lead us to death? I would say no. But will our gentleness carry us past our own death to eternal life with our Creator and our Savior?
Absolutely.
In the meantime, in this world that bewilders us and threatens us, we can stand strong because we have our own defense. Jesus brought us strength, not in the form of weapons but in the form of love. And the good news is that love affects not just us, but everyone around us. I pray that our love of neighbor and love of God stretches beyond our own fingertips to provide stability not just for us but for our communities.
Let us be the Light of the World, one bottle of water at a time, one slice of cake at a time, one hour of volunteering at a time. Let us not be just people in a church on hill; let us be the connection between Jesus and our community. Amen.