Lord God, we give thanks for your Church and all that it means to us. We thank you that you continue to speak to us through the Bible; may we always be willing and ready to hear your Word.
A blind lady was flying from London to Aberdeen on a budget airline. Unexpectedly, the plane was diverted to Leeds along the way. The captain explained that there would be a delay, and if the passengers wanted to get off the aircraft the plane would re-board in an hour. Everybody got off the plane except the one lady who was blind. The pilot had noticed her as he walked by and could tell she was blind because her guide dog lay quietly underneath the seats in front of her. “Excuse me, we are here for an hour. Would you like to get off and stretch your legs?” The lady replied, “No thanks, but perhaps my dog would like a walk.” So the pilot, who incidentally was wearing sunglasses, walked off the plane with the guide dog and everyone came to a complete standstill. The other passengers, with mouths opened wide, not only tried to change planes, but they were trying to upgrade to a better airline!!
The old adage that “things aren’t always what they seem” rings true here, as indeed it does in today’s Gospel passage. Jesus is King. But in John 18 we encounter that King – beaten, bloody and bruised with His hands tied behind His back. Jesus looks nothing like a king. He’s meek and unassuming. He is being interrogated by Pilate, who no doubt was wearing his robes of office, and was a man who had worldly power and might, with armed soldiers at his command standing by. When we think of a king, that’s what we think of.This text highlights the debate between Jesus and Pilate. A supposed rebel against Roman authority, a would-be “King of the Jews” exchanging ideas with the procurator: a man employed by the Roman Emperor to manage the affairs of the Jewish people. But Jesus was no usurper to Pilate’s crown: “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom” He said. (18:36).
Things aren’t always what they seem. Earthly kingdoms rise and fall. Flags, borders and military might define nations. It’s easy to see who has the power in the kingdoms of this world. Presidents and dictators have had their moments of glory. God’s realm, though, is entirely different. There are no borders, but there is angelic might and heavenly power that unites all believers under the banner of the Cross. The Kingdom of God is within you, it’s justice and peace; judge not, love your neighbour as yourself. The Kingdom of Heaven is like a wedding feast, and is, therefore, no threat to this world. If it were then a battle would already have been fought. “My followers”, says Jesus, “would fight to prevent my arrest. But my Kingdom is not of this world” (18:36). Then in the end Jesus says, “I came into the world to testify to the truth.” (18:37).
Things aren’t always what they seem. The one born in a stable, the carpenter’s son from Nazareth, is King of all the earth! How can this be? The crowds didn’t “clap their hands and shout to God with loud songs of joy”, as we heard in our opening Psalm this morning (47:1). The learned men, the priests and scribes, had overlooked the prophecies that spoke of Israel’s king as a suffering servant who would be rejected and killed. It’s no wonder that few recognised Jesus as the King-Messiah. It doesn’t have an easy explanation. But what matters is Scripture’s affirmation. That’s the life application to us garnered from these verses. Jesus is not a threat to you. He wants you to recognize who He is and know that what He has done in the lives of millions of people, He can do for you. However, you’ve got to allow His Spirit the opportunity to challenge your heart – for that’s where faith begins and sees what has been carefully revealed as God, throughout history, has unveiled His opus of salvation. As you walk the road to Bethlehem this month challenge yourself and ask:- Where do your loyalties lie? Is Jesus your King? Is living in His Kingdom your passion?
My eyes work fine. I don’t rely on a white stick, or a guide dog. I don’t need glasses to assist my vision. Yet for years I couldn’t see that the way I was living my life would eventually lead me into eternal damnation. Though I could see the world around me, I couldn’t see the need for Jesus Christ. Like Pilate, who goes on to say, “What is truth?” (18:38) – I shrugged my shoulders at the outrageous notion that Jesus was the High King of Heaven even at His birth. I was celebrating Christmas for the wrong reasons. It’s a tragedy when we fail to recognise this unchanging truth. The Christmas event is God’s testimony to a stubborn people. It’s not like the X-Files with the truth being out there somewhere! That’s the mistaken understanding people have – that God is a dictatorial God, who lives “somewhere up there” and is not relevant to our human condition. How wrong this is! Truth is right here. Throughout Advent we see most clearly how the Most High God made a choice to be a vulnerable baby, needing protection: “’Immanuel’, God with us.” (Is.7:14). He’s not aloof and uninvolved with human affairs. Truth was birthed and walked among us. He is present in the normal and ordinary struggles of life. He’s not presented as a conquering hero even at the end of His life where He stood right in front of Pilate stating: “All who love the truth listen to me.” (18:37).
He is the Messiah. The only One who fulfills the hopes and aspirations of all people. The great thing is that the ‘stables of our broken and wounded hearts’ are good enough for God’s grace to dwell. This is one of the most important messages of Christmas. It sounds corny, but accepting Jesus Christ is the best gift any of us can receive! What more could the Truth say? Yet that’s the message that Jesus’ contemporaries rejected. It’s the truth people still have to freely accept today. Yet the promise is that more understanding will be given to those who diligently seek the fullness of life in the Kingdom of God. Things aren’t always what they seem. Pilate’s cynicism is the wrong reaction. He couldn’t find Jesus guilty of any crime, but had to show his authority to pacify the bloodthirsty mob. “Your leading priests have brought you to me for trial. Are you the king of the Jews?” (18:33,35). Well yes He is! As we journey through Advent – a King is coming! And we are truly blessed if we can confess Jesus as King of kings and Lord of lords without arrogance or mocking. He shall reign forever and ever. His Kingdom is not of this world. It’s upside down. It’s not about power and status. Where did Jesus spend His time? With outcasts, the poor and sinners. In His Kingdom we are treated as friends and equals. That alone should determine our attitude in the presence of the King.
Things aren’t always what they seem. Jesus redefined what Kingship means. Through the labour pains of an unblemished young woman, through the light of incarnation – we can meet the Lord in unexpected ways! Naturally, God’s Kingdom is open to anyone and will have no end, but it does make demands on us. Jesus gives us our freedom but if we don’t change from whatever we’ve done in the past then we remain unrepentant sinners. As our King, ultimately though God wants us to change. That’s the point of His love and forgiveness shown by the cross. However it’s in our nature to wander from the truth. We want to have our cake and eat it, believing that whatever we do isn’t really important as it will all work itself out somehow and eventually we’ll all end up in heaven. But faith is based on a relationship of love, obedience and service to God in our lives. The exclusive affirmation of Scripture is that Jesus is the Way, Truth and Life. As we look forward to Christmas will we see the need to clear all the rubbish out of the way and have hearts ready to accept the angel’s message: “Don’t be afraid! I am here with good news for you, which will bring great joy to all the people.” (Lk.2:10).
The Bible is the original Google – God’s Own Official Guide to Locating Everything! Things are not as they seem. Yet there was no contradiction in anything that Jesus said and did. He gave hope to all whom He encountered. Embrace that hope. Be encouraged, motivated and refreshed during this Advent season as you hear the truth and once again start to prepare the way – for Christ the King in splendour arrives. How truly miraculous that is!
Blessed be the Word. Love in the Messiah.