Midweek Lent - 4: Testimonies about Jesus from Unlikely Witnesses

Preached: February 27, 2008

Pilate Testifies about Kingship
John 19:17-22

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from Jesus Christ, our crucified and risen Savior. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit comes to stir our hearts is John 19

Carrying the his own cross, [Jesus] went out to the Place of the Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. There they crucified him and with him two others, one on each side with Jesus in between.
Pilate also had a plaque written and placed on the cross. It was written: “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Then many of the Jews read this plaque, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Aramaic, Latin, and Greek.
Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this person said, ‘I am the King of the Jews.’” Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.” (John 19:17-22)

This is the Word of the Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow pilgrims to the cross:

I-N-R-I. Maybe you've seen those letters on paintings of the cross. I-N-R-I are the first letters of the Latin words: Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum. Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews. That's the superscription Pilate placed above Jesus on the cross.

What was Pilate's motive for ordering that placard above Jesus? Was this simply a way for him to rub the Jewish people's noses in Rome's superior power? Look at what we can do to your king! Possibly.

But Pilate knew that Jesus was no threat to Rome. You heard his dialog with Jesus in the Passion History tonight. He knew that Jesus' kingdom was not of this world. So maybe this placard was Pilate's attempt to soothe his guilty conscience by honoring Jesus with that title, in a sense paying his last respects. That's another possibility.

Or maybe Pilate was getting back at the chief priests and the Sanhedrin. They had pressured him to condemn a man that he knew was innocent. So now to spite them, instead of placing above Jesus an actual criminal charge, he writes for all to read exactly what these Jewish leaders don't want the people to think. That's another possibility.

Yet whatever Pilate's motive, God used this testimony from this unlikely witness, from this man that unjustly condemned Jesus. God used his testimony to proclaim the truth. Jesus of Nazareth is the King of the Jews.

What does that mean for us? We're not Jews by birth or blood. Is Jesus our King, if he's King of the Jews?

To answer that think back a thousand years before Jesus. A Jewish king by the name of David was ruling from Jerusalem. The Lord had promised King David that one from his family line would reign as King forever. That offspring of David was of course the the divine Savior the Lord had promised. Although born a Jew from David's line, he wasn't the Savior only for the Jews. But as the Lord had made clear to David's forefather, Abraham, all peoples on earth would be blessed through him, not just the Jews.

So the title, King of the Jews, doesn't limit Jesus to only a Savior for those of Jewish birth and blood. Rather it reminds us that Jesus of Nazareth, although lowly and crucified, is David's royal offspring, who reigns forever. He came to bring blessing for all people who walk in the faith of David and Abraham, regardless of their natural ancestry. That faith trusts the Lord's promise to send our Savior from sin. That faith believes that Jesus of Nazareth is that divine Savior, whom we need. The title, King of the Jews, proclaims him to be so.

And though we were not born from Jewish blood, yet Jesus, the King of the Jews, is your King by birth and by blood in a different sense.

In Baptism you were reborn through water and the word. You were reborn as a citizen of Christ's kingdom. Before we were aliens and foreigners. Even just looking at our national politics, you see that there can be much tension and even hatred between illegal aliens and natural-born citizens. How much more so when our inborn sinfulness alienated us from holy God and we were foreign to all that was good and upright! We were at war against God.

But Jesus Christ, the King of the Jews, reconciled you to God. He took your sinfulness into his body nailing it to the cross. He fulfilled the laws obligations in order to credit you with his goodness and uprightness. So through Baptism you became an upright citizen in his kingdom, no longer an alien and foreigner, no longer an enemy of God, but a citizen. Jesus is your King by your rebirth through Baptism.

And he is your King by blood, but not by blood in the sense of a family blood-line. He is your King because his blood has ransomed and redeemed you to be his very own. Yes, your Sovereign bled and died for sinners such as you and I. He groaned upon that tree for crimes committed by you and me. Your King gave himself for you. His holy, precious blood has purchased you to be his very own. He is your King by blood, his blood shed on the cross for you.

Pilate did not grasp what he was saying by those words: Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum, I-N-R-I. But the Holy Spirit has opened your eyes to see your King. He gave himself on the cross for you. Now he has risen from the dead, your glorious, victorious, triumphant King. Live under him in his kingdom. Serve him with your body, mind, and spirit. Declare with the hymn writer, “Here, Lord, I give myself away -- 'Tis all that I can do.” (Christian Worship 129:5). For your King has done it all, even the cross, for you. You belong to him. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313