The Narrative Lectionary takes us to John 19:1-16a this week. This is the second half of the trial of Jesus before Pilate. Feel free to use these images in your teaching and preaching. Enjoy!
Narrator: Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. They kept coming up to him, saying,
Soldiers: “Hail, King of the Jews!”
Narrator: and striking him on the face.
One lens through which we can explore this story is that of the King. What is a true King? The Roman soldiers mock Jesus with a crown of thorns and a purple robe while they beat him with a whip, fists, and insults.
King Jesus absorbs their violence in silence.
Narrator: Pilate went out again and said to them,
Pilate: “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no case against him.”
Narrator: So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them,
Pilate: “Here is the man!”
Narrator: When the chief priests and the police saw him, they shouted,
Crowd: “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
Pilate: “Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find no case against him.”
Crowd: “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God.”
Narrator: Now when Pilate heard this, he was more afraid than ever.
The scene moves back outside. Pilate addresses the crowd. In this exchange we see the paradoxical reality of Jesus come into the light of day. On one side we have “the man,” the full humanity of Jesus. He is fully capable of being physically tortured and executed on a cross. Yet, on the other side, the chief priests unknowingly declare the truth: “He claims to be the Son of God.”
The claim to be the “son of God” is an attack on the Romans. Caesar claimed to be the Son of God and thus divine. Jesus’ claims challenge the authority of the Emperor.
Narrator: He entered his headquarters again and asked Jesus,
Pilate: “Where are you from?”
Narrator: But Jesus gave him no answer. Pilate therefore said to him,
Pilate: “Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?”
Jesus: “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”
This dialogue brings us full circle to the first three chapters of the Gospel. “Where are you from?” Jesus is from above, he is from the beginning. All power is God’s. Jesus willingly lays down his life at the hands of the Roman Empire.
Narrator: From then on Pilate tried to release him, but the Jews cried out,
Crowd: “If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor.”
Narrator: When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside and sat on the judge’s bench at a place called The Stone Pavement, or in Hebrew Gabbatha. Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; and it was about noon. He said to the Jews,
Pilate: “Here is your King!”
Crowd: “Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!”
Pilate: “Shall I crucify your King?”
Crowd: “We have no king but the emperor.”
Narrator: Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.
Pilate’s statement, “Here is your King” is better translated, “Here! Your King!” This harkens back to John the Baptist’s proclamation, “Here, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29)”
The people finally cross the line and name their true allegiance. They publicly proclaim that their true king is the Emperor of Rome.
I continually return to John 11:45-53 in order to make sense out of this scene. Caiaphas and the other leaders were so afraid of being destroyed by the Roman army that they were willing to betray the core of their own belief system. The Shema of Deuteronomy 6:4-9 declares that Yahweh is the one, the true God of Israel, and that all their allegiance should go to God. The exaltation of the Emperor as their only King is not just a political statement, but also an acquiescence to Caesar’s claim to be the Son of God.
It is alarming, and personally convicting, to realize how far fear will push us to betray our own convictions. The people would rather sacrifice the life of one man, who at his very worst, healed the sick and fed the hungry, in order to save their own lives.
Jesus, the true King, The Word made Flesh, the Way the Truth, and the Life, lays down his life for his friends…for the world, even for those who hand him over to die. This is the Gospel.
The entire scene with Pilate in two pages…
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