Ironies of the Passion
We Have No King but Caesar!
A sermon based on John 19:12-16a
Wednesday, March 29th, 2017 – Midweek Lent 5
It's nothing new. It shouldn't surprise us. Yet it still seems to catch us off guard… when a politician flip flops, when they suddenly do a 180 on a policy they've been adamant about for years because suddenly it's politically expedient. And it happens all the time.
And it's nothing new… Though it shouldn't have surprised Pilate to hear the Jewish leaders totally flip flop, I'll bet it still caught him off guard to hear those leaders who had been so opposed to big government with such an anti-Roman sentiment, now declare with such passion and conviction, "We have no king but Caesar!"
And how ironic, that those who were hoping that the Messiah would throw off Roman rule and liberate them from Caesar's control, were now ready to flip-flop and claim total allegiance to Caesar just to have the Messiah executed.
How ironic that because Caesar had robbed them of the right to implement the death penalty, they now had to swear allegiance to Caesar to get Caesar's representative, Pontius Pilate, to implement the death penalty for them.
Our text for consideration tonight is found in John 19:12-16…
12 … Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jews kept shouting, "If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar."
13 When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge's seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha). 14 It was the day of Preparation of Passover Week, about the sixth hour.
"Here is your king," Pilate said to the Jews.
15 But they shouted, "Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!"
"Shall I crucify your king?" Pilate asked.
"We have no king but Caesar," the chief priests answered.
16 Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.
"We have no king but Caesar!" they cried. How ironic! Those who hated being subject to Roman rule, who opposed Caesar every chance they could get, now threated Pilate by their claimed allegiance to Caesar, suggesting he was no friend of Caesar's if he didn't do what they told him to and execute Jesus.
"We have no king but Caesar!" they cried. And, "This man refuses to pay taxes!" How ironic that this was their accusation against Jesus: "We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Christ, a king." (Luke 23:2)
How ironic because Jesus said they should pay taxes to Caesar. He wasn't opposed to Caesar (like they were), but called for obedience to earthly governments. And though they accused him of being treasonous, the very thing they were hoping to trap him into saying with their tax question, he was anything but.
18 But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, "You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? 19 Show me the coin used for paying the tax." They brought him a denarius, 20 and he asked them, "Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?" 21 "Caesar's," they replied. Then he said to them, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's."
How ironic, that Pilate saw right through their plot and that the representative of Rome saw Jesus' innocence and was doing all he could to set Jesus free, while the Jews were doing all they could to get their Messiah, their King, executed.
Pilate had had enough. "Here is your king," Pilate said to the Jews… "Shall I crucify your king?" Pilate asked. How ironic! Jesus was their king, the promised descendant of David who would sit on his throne forever! The Jews should have recognized him as such. But Pilate jabbed them as he pointed it out.
"We have no king but Caesar!" they replied. And how ironic because they rejected their King, the King of the Universe. They would not be subject to him, but would do all they could to kill him. And, "They shouted, 'Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!'"
"We have no king but Caesar!" they shouted. And how ironic because some of the Jews wanted to make him king once, but he refused: "After the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus did," [feeding the 5,000] "they began to say, "Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world." Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself." (John 6:14-15)
How ironic, that Jesus was a king, but he wouldn't let them crown him because he was not that kind of king. "Pilate asked Jesus, "Are you the king of the Jews?" "Yes, it is as you say," Jesus replied." (Luke 23:3) But he also clarified, "My kingdom is not of this world… my kingdom is from another place."
You see, Jesus came not to dominate other nations, but to be a sacrifice—a sacrifice for sin. So he willingly submitted to Pilate's rule and took the false accusations of treason and even the death sentence they demanded that he might die for them… and for us.
How about us? Do you ever declare, "We have no king but… Trump!"??? Okay, maybe not. But have you ever thought, I have no king, no ruler over me, but the federal and state governments? Aren't you proud of this great nation in which we live, where no one but federal and state governments can tell us what to do? Don't you love our freedom to do anything we want as long as it's not against the law?
But have you ever abused that freedom? Have you ever acted, in that freedom, as if you had no king? Have you ever rebelled, in your political freedom, against Jesus as your King and against his rule! I know you have! You do every time you sin! So have I! So do I! You and I reject Jesus as our King every time we live to serve ourselves. And we declare, "We have no king but Caesar!" "No one tells us what to do but ourselves!" And in reality we set ourselves up as king of our lives and cry, "I have no king, but me!"
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
Those words of the Declaration of Independence sound so nice, don't they? The only thing is… they're not true. God, our Creator, doesn't owe us life, liberty, or the pursuit of happiness. For trying to usurp him and seat ourselves on his throne, we don't deserve life, but death—physical death on earth and eternal death in hell. We don't deserve liberty, but as slaves to sin, we deserve an eternal prison of torment. And we don't deserve any happiness, but misery, as we're separated from God forever!
That's what we deserve, but it's not what we get because Jesus is our King! How ironic that the soldiers mockingly shouted, "Hail, King of the Jews!" as they abused him. (Matthew 27:29) How ironic that Pilate put the sign over the cross that read, "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews," as he had Jesus crucified. (John 19:19)
How ironic because even though both meant it in scorn, it was absolutely true. Jesus was King of the Jews! Jesus is King of the Jews—and not just of the Jews, but of everyone!
Being a king came with certain privileges to be sure. But it also came with serious responsibilities. As his subjects brought him tribute, the king, in turn, was expected to protect his subject. So a good king went and fought battles to keep his subjects safe from their enemies.
And our King, Jesus, of course fought the biggest battle for us. Accepting the false accusations, the flogging Pilate commanded, the crucifixion the Jewish leaders demanded, and the hell God the Father inflicted upon him on the cross, he won the battle against all sin—our sin!—against satan and his control over us, and against death—and our eternal death in hell! And by winning that ultimate battle, he set us, his subjects, free!
And now we get life—eternal life with him forever in heaven! We get liberty—freedom from hell and a freedom to live for him without letting our sinful natures control us! And we get the promise of eternal happiness and joy beyond our imaginations that awaits us in heaven. And we get it all because Jesus is our King.
And in the meantime, while we wait to join him in his heavenly kingdom, we live lives of peace, secure in the safety of his kingdom as he rules all things for our eternal good. And so we gladly give our allegiance to our King, and eagerly serve him, not as a burden, but as our greatest joy. We gladly do all we can to help answer our own prayer that his kingdom come as he rules in our hearts more and more and as he rules in more and more hearts, bringing more people to faith by our witness to them.
The truth is, every person has a king in their heart—a Caesar that rules their hopes and their dreams, their thoughts and their actions. For all of us, at one point, our king was once our self. But Jesus rescued us from that tyrannical king that enslaved us and would lead us to hell. And in doing so, he became our king, our hero, the one we gladly serve in all we do. Thought we too once cried as those Jewish leaders did, "We have no king but Caesar!" "We have no king but ourselves!" not anymore! Now we know—now we cry, "We have no king but Jesus!" In his name, dear friends, amen!