King Jesus at His Finest
Scripture: John 19:1–16
King Jesus at His FinestJohn 19:1-16
Sunday, March 21, 2004
Pastor Randy Smith
Newsweek provided this description of the dethroned Saddam Hussein: "In a part of the world where pride and dignity mean everything, the images were clearly intended to shame. A nameless doctor or medical technician, wearing rubber gloves, was seen closely examining the man's hair, perhaps looking for vermin. Prodded with a tongue depressor, the man opened his mouth; the doctor peered at the pink flesh of his throat and scraped off a few cells for DNA identification. Then the world saw the man's face. Haggard, defeated…meek and weak. The Glorious Leader, Direct Descendant of the Prophet, the Lion of Babylon, the Father of the Two Lion Cubs, the Anointed One, the Successor of Nebuchadnezzar, the Modern Saladin of Islam had been brought low, forced to bow down…to contemplate his fate while waiting to stand trial" ("How We Got Saddam," Newsweek (12-22-03), pp. 23-24).
Our account this morning from John 19 is another a true story about two men also of authority. One appears revered, arrayed in royal attire with hundreds of servants. His name is Pontius Pilate. The other appears similar to the humiliated Hussein, unpleasant exterior, deserted by His followers and fully subjective to His captors. His name is Jesus Christ. Though Jesus affirmed His kingship and His kingdom in chapter 18 (verses 36-37), Pilate, in the eyes of the onlookers, seemed to have the upper hand. However, the Holy Spirit has woven this account in such a way that the reader sees the true king and a catches a glimpse of the kingdom He has come to provide.
This morning, I'd like to walk you through the conclusion of Christ's trial before Pontius Pilate, highlighting the essence of Christ's kingdom and supremacy of His kingship. I want you to see how the King who appears defeated is actually the victor.
1. THE ATTIRE OF A KING (verses 1-3)
Let's first begin with "The Attire of a King."
Like any king, King Jesus wore stripes, which represented dignity and valor. However, His stripes were not in the form of a patch. Christ's stripes were earned through the Roman method called scourging or flogging. This instrument of torture involved a thick stick with leather thongs proceeding from the end. Fixed to the end of each thong were pieces of metal or bone often sharpened to a razor-like point. As the scourge was violently brought across the victim's back it is recorded by historians that skin would be shredded and major arteries torn. Often bone and inner organs were left exposed. Scourging was so violent that many were killed simply from the result of this treatment alone. Moreover, this scourging received by King Jesus in John 19 was only preliminary (the fustigatio) as Mark 15:15 records a second set even more violent just prior to the crucifixion itself (the verberatio). King Jesus earned His stripes and according to the prophet Isaiah, "By His stripes (scourging-NASB) we are healed" (Isa. 53:5-NKJ). Pilate demonstrated his authority by ordering the bloody beating. Jesus demonstrated His authority by receiving the beating in order to receive His stripes and heal many.
King Jesus also earned His crown. According to verse 2, "The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on His head." These were probably long spikes (up to 12 inches) taken from the date palm. As the soldiers pressed these thorns deep into His skull, little did they realize that in choosing the thorns, they chose an object symbolic of the Fall. You'll recall when Adam sinned in the Garden, one of the curses was "thorns and thistles" (Gen. 3:18). What a reminder that King Jesus was to be "accursed by God" (Dt. 21:23). He would become sin whereby He might reverse the Fall and redeem His people from slavery.
The soldiers also placed a "purple robe on Him" (Jn. 19:2) representing majesty. Matthew says they also stuck a phony reed scepter in His hand (Mt. 27:30) representing rule and authority. In addition to the mockery, all the accounts record Jesus receiving physical abuse. Kings often received treasures of homage similar to the Magi who presented King Jesus with gifts of "gold, frankincense, and myrrh" (Mt. 2:11). In this case King Jesus was received with "slaps in the face" (Jn. 19:3). And then verse 3 says they sarcastically announced His royalty acclaiming, "Hail, King of the Jews." Little did they realize that they acted better than they knew. Little did they realize that they rightly decorated the humble King. Little did they realize that the man who stood before them was "the King of kings and the Lord of lords" (1 Tim. 6:15). Without intending it, these men gave to Jesus the external appearance of a king, an appearance Jesus never sought during His earthly ministry.
2. THE INTEGRITY OF A KING (verses 4-6)
Not only was Jesus arrayed as a king on the outside, but He also had the integrity of a good king on the inside. Last week we learned that the highest official in the land Pontius Pilate said, "I find no guilt in Him" (Jn. 18:38). Again, twice in chapter 19 (at the end of verses 4 and 6) we read Pilate say, "I find no guilt in Him." Under the closest scrutiny by His greatest enemies, Jesus was found to be innocent.
We are beginning to see the inferiority of Pilate as compared to the integrity of Jesus. Pilate is beginning to show himself for the indecisive, selfish, gutless people-pleasing coward that he was. Since his plan to release a prisoner during the Passover failed (Jn. 18:39-40), Pilate resorted to a second attempt to get Jesus "off the hook" while still trying to please the people. He thought that if he humiliated Jesus enough, the people would see their charge of His kingship was ludicrous (Lk. 23:16, 22). He brought Jesus out (verse 5) "wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe" and said, "Behold, the Man." Literally from the Greek classical examples this can be translated "the poor man" or "the poor creature." There stood the Man the people accused of treason. He appeared harmless, powerless, disfigured and feeble, a defeated man, not a threatening king. Surely Pilate thought the Jewish leaders would recant their charge and dismiss the bloodstained Jesus out of sympathy. Unfortunately his plan once again was to no avail. Verse 6a, "So when the chief priests and the officers saw Him, they cried out saying, 'Crucify, crucify!'
These prophets spoke of the final hours of our Lord's earthy life. Isaiah 52:14 speaks of Christ's "appearance (being) marred more than any man." Psalm 22:17 says, "They look, they stare at me." What these people saw appeared to be a pawn at the hands of wicked men. Men who were bloodthirsty. Men who were evil, first scourging and then demanding the death of an innocent person. Despite the proclamation of His innocence, they could not see the Man, the God who emptied His external glory by taking on flesh to dwell among us, prepared to go to the cross and die as our sinless substitute. All they could see was a defeated and humiliated man.
3. THE AUTHORITY OF A KING (verses 7-12)
Jesus has displayed His attire and His integrity. Now in verses 7-12 He will display His authority.
Here we begin to see the unraveling of Pilate and the failure to rightly demonstrate his authority. In verse 7, Pilate heard the Jews getting even more specific about their accusation. This time they said Jesus "made Himself out to be the Son of God." Combine this statement with his wife's dream which warned him to "have nothing to do with that righteous Man" (Mt. 27:19) and we see why superstitious Pilate was "even more afraid" according to verse 8.
The mighty Pontius Pilate found reasons to be afraid spiritually and he also found reasons to be afraid materially. More than once he tried to parade the image or inscription of Caesar before the Jewish people in Palestine. Emperor worship was proper in the eyes of the Romans, but blasphemous before the Jewish people. The offense caused a revolt among the Jews to the extent that even Caesar himself demanded Pilate remove the images with the threat that he would remove Pilate from office if he failed to comply. Pilate's authoritative position was on thin ice and both he and the Jews were well aware of it. Now the Jews once again bring the charge of blasphemy before Pilate… (Jn. 19:7; cf. Lev. 24:16) and they knew Pilate if he wished to save his skin (meaning his rule and possibly his life) was forced to comply.
As the noose was tightening, Pilate desperately brought Jesus back into the Praetorium and asked Him (in verse 9), "Where are You from?" But the text says, "Jesus gave him no answer." Again this was prophesized in the Old Testament. "He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth" (Isa. 53:7).
Jesus showed Pilate who was in charge. He knew that Pilate was fearful, but he feared man and not God. He knew that Pilate was hopeless, but he did not seek His hope in the living God who stood in his midst. He knew that Pilate wanted answers, but he was uninterested in anything that pertained to "the truth" (Jn. 18:38).
Jesus is in control. Through His silence He was judging Pilate. He was exerting His authority over Pilate and the Roman governor knew it. Therefore the prideful and greatly irritated man responded to Jesus (in verse 10), "You do not speak to me? Do You not know that I have authority to release You, and I have authority to crucify You?" Even though Pilate didn't have the guts to do either, he tried to make sure the two of them knew who was calling the shots. Pilate was not about allow this Jewish carpenter to usurp his dignity, power and authority.
This prompted a response from Jesus on the subject of authority. Probably much to Pilate's surprise (in verse 11) He said, "You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above; for this reason he who delivered Me to you has the greater sin." Let's take a moment to break down this rich verse.
According to Romans 13:1b, "There is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God" (cf. Pr. 8:15). The only reason Pilate had any authority is because God in His sovereignty chose to give it to him. Like all leaders, he was established as a servant to God and a minister for good (Rom. 13:4). So while Pilate brags about his authority in verse 11, he needs to realize that the Man who stood before Him was literally the source of his authority.
While this is true, I believe verse 11 is making a different, but related, point. Jesus speaks of Pilate's God-given authority, but then qualifies that authority with the pronoun "it." "You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above." Most commentators like to take the "it" as reference to his authority, however the grammar and the remainder of the verse make this interpretation unlikely. Therefore I believe the "it" refers to the event of the betrayal itself. In other words, this climatic event that would send King Jesus to the cross was predestined from the foundation of the world and happening according to the sovereign hand of God. Jesus was the superior King, but God was allowing these events of the Passion to transpire to accomplish His wise and good purposes of redemption.
So we are forced to ask the question, "If this is the plan of God, is Pilate still guilty?" And the answer is "yes." Pilate is responsible because of his own wicked and evil heart combined with his inability to exercise his authority in a way that was pleasing to God.
This explains the remainder of verse 11. "For this reason he who delivered Me to you has the greater sin." It's as if Jesus said, "Yes, you are in sin Pilate, but the one who handed Me over to you, though orchestrated and permitted by the hand of God, is guilty of the greater sin." Pilate did not engineer the malicious witch hunt that brought Jesus into his presence. That person, who I believe is Caiaphas (Judas didn't deliver Jesus to Pilate), is responsible for the "greater sin."
By this point Jesus had trumped Pilate's authority on all levels and Pilate knew it. Furthermore, he knew that Jesus did nothing worthy of death. Therefore the beginning verse 12 says, "As a result of this Pilate made efforts to release Him."
Just as his other efforts failed, this one was no different. The Jews knew that Caesar would not tolerate the release of a political threat to Rome. The remainder of verse 12 says, "But the Jews cried out saying, 'If you release this Man, you are no friend of Caesar; everyone who makes himself out to be a king opposes Caesar.'"
Can you see the irony in their response? Here we have the Jews expressing a loyalty to Caesar to get Jesus executed, while at the same time they hated everything to do with the Roman occupation. Additionally, they indirectly acknowledged Caesar as their king, while at the same time their true King, King Jesus they delivered to be crucified. Sadly, since the Jews rejected their Messiah, in reality they had no king but Caesar. And little did they realize that their slavery to Rome was overshadowed by their slavery to sin (Jn. 8:33-34). They witnessed the authority of Christ (Mk. 1:22; Lk. 20:39). And they witnessed the authority of Pilate. Unfortunately the Jewish leaders chose Rome. We too must choose our ultimate authority. Do we choose Christ or an inferior substitute? Who is your Lord? Who or what rules you and governs your affections?
Unfortunately, even many professing Christians in today's church say Christ is their King or their Lord, but they don't act like it. Their actions contradict their professions and reveal a different ultimate authority in their lives. That's why Jesus said in Luke 6:46, "Why do you call Me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?"
A.W. Tozer summarized the attitude of many toward King Jesus. "The present position of Christ in the gospel churches may be likened to that of a king in a limited constitutional monarchy. The king (sometimes depersonalized by the term "the Crown") is in such a country no more than a traditional rallying point, a pleasant symbol of unity and loyalty much like a flag or a national anthem. He is lauded, feted, and supported, but his real authority is small. Nominally he is head over all, but in every crisis someone else makes the decisions. On formal occasions he appears in his royal attire to deliver the tame, colorless speech put into his mouth by the real rulers of the country. The whole thing may be no more than good-natured make-believe, but it is rooted in antiquity, it is a lot of fun, and no one wants to give it up" (Tozer in Great Sermons of the 20th Century. Christianity Today, v. 31, n. 6).
There is a good story about one Monarch in England who came "to give it up." King Canute ruled over England from the years 1014-1035. He was tired of hearing his retainers flatter him with extravagant praises of his greatness, power and invincibility. He ordered his chair to be set down on the seashore, where he commanded the waves not to come in and wet him. No matter how forcefully he ordered the tide not to come in, his order was not obeyed. Soon the waves lapped around his chair. One historian tells us that, therefore, he never wore his crown again, but hung it on a statue of the crucified Christ.
Kingship in the ancient world meant absolute rule. How many earthly kings like Canute, how many people, ever acknowledged the absolute rule of King Jesus? The Scriptures declare that Jesus has authority to: Command demons (Mk. 1:27), rule nature (Mt. 8:27), heal diseases (Lk. 7:22), prevent death (Lk. 7:10), forgive sin (Mt. 9:6), execute spiritual judgment (Jn. 5:27), give eternal life (Jn. 17:2) and lay His life down and take it up again (Jn. 10:18). Even Jesus Himself concluded His earthy ministry with these words: "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth" (Mt. 28:18). Does your life give clear evidence that you recognize His authority?
4. THE SERVICE OF A KING (verses 13-16)
Christ was dressed like a king, exhibited the integrity of a king, possessed the authority of a king and finally, executed the service of a king.
Jesus made it very clear that authority in His kingdom would be based upon service. "But Jesus called them to Himself and said, 'You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many" (Mt. 20:25-27).
Pilate was a dominating tyrant. Jesus executed His greatness through humble servitude. Pilate is the epitome of worldly leadership. King Jesus modeled the leadership characteristic of His kingdom. Someone in comparing these two styles once said, "There is a sense in which the Kingdom of God is a kind of reverse screw. Everything in our culture that seems right is wrong in the Bible. The way up is down. The way to spiritual wealth is to acknowledge your spiritual poverty. The way to live is to die. The way to rule is to serve" (author unknown).
In verse 13, Jesus stood before the "judgment seat" of Pilate. In fear of losing his job and losing his life, Pilate passed judgment on the One who is entrusted by God the Father with all judgment (Jn. 5:22). Little did Pilate realize that one day he would be standing before the Great White Throne judgment seat of Christ (Rev. 20:12).
The decision was decided, the sentence was passed and Pilate in taking one last jab at the Jews brought Jesus out before the people. And said (in verse 14), "Behold your King." Again the man spoke better than he knew. Jesus came to His own as their King and as the Scriptures predicted and declare His own did not receive Him (Jn. 1:11). Verse 15 says, "So they cried out, 'Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him!' Pilate said to them, 'Shall I crucify your King?' The chief priests answered, 'We have no king but Caesar'" (cf. Jud. 8:23; 1 Sa. 8:7). Pilate's response? Verse 16, "So he then handed Him over to them to be crucified."
A king? They call Him a king! Is homage due to such a one? A king? Can it be true? The lowly Jew, born in far Bethlehem? Men from all nations say He died for them and rose from the death, to hold a heavenly sway to which all men must bow the knee some day.
'The king? He's not our king!' the Jews once cried - 'Away with Him! Let Him be crucified! His claim is false. He is no king of Jews. Away with Him! Kill! Crucify! We choose Barabbas.' So a robber goes out free, while Jesus Christ is led to Calvary (author unknown).
Tragic as it was, unknown to the people, things were happening according to the perfect plan of God. "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many" (Mk. 10:45). Christ came into this world to serve, to die for our sin. In many ways He was on a suicide mission. He was not like the terrorist who blows himself up to kill others. Rather, He hung Himself on a cross in order to give life to others. He courageously embraced the cross as the Suffering Servant of God. God the Father said of Him in the Old Testament, "My Servant, will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities" (Isa. 53:11).
"The church father Eusebius, quoting from Greek historians, said that Pilate fell out of favor with his superiors and committed suicide before A.D. 40 - less than 10 years after his fateful decree. Since we have no indication that he ever repented of his sin and trusted Christ as his personal Savior, we must assume he died in a lost and hopeless condition. He had not reckoned with the 'shortness of time and the vastness of eternity'" (Our Daily Bread). His ending was similar to Saddam Hussein's, similar to all who follow after the things of this world.
But Jesus Christ is exalted, currently seated at the right hand of God. He is greater than Pilate. He is the "King of all kings!" "Therefore also (says Philippians 2) God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil. 2:9-11).
The Scriptures affirm our outline: Revelation 1 describes His present glorious appearance. Hebrews 4 speaks of His sinless integrity. Matthew 28 declares of His infinite authority. John 10 pronounces Him as the eternal Good Shepherd who served His sheep well through the giving of His life.
People may tragically miss King Jesus now, but they won't miss Him at His return. "And I saw heaven opened; and behold, a white horse, and He who sat upon it is called Faithful and True; and in righteousness He judges and wages war. And His eyes are a flame of fire, and upon His head are many diadems; and He has a name written upon Him which no one knows except Himself. And He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood; and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. And from His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may smite the nations; and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, 'KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS'" (Rev. 19:11-16).
If you don't know King Jesus now, you won't want to meet Him at His return of after you die. Don't be like Pilate who continually tried to get rid of Jesus. You'll learn it's not an easy one to wiggle out of. If King Jesus has spoken to your heart this morning, would you admit your treason, lay down your arms, accept His blood-bought ransom for sin, repent and switch allegiance to His side? You might have walked in this morning as His enemy, under His wrath, awaiting eternal judgment, but through faith in Christ alone, you can leave eternally forgiven and reconciled to the King of all kings!
The king? If King of Heaven, had He no power
To stay the surging evil of that hour?
He had- but out He went, and there He died
That sinners might be cleansed and justified,
Brought back to God. The wonder of this thing-
A pauper's pardon purchased by a King!
The King. Today mankind still turns Him down,
Still scourges, spits and plaits a thorny crown,
Still mocks His precious Name, still treads roughshod
Upon His claims- We have no time for God!
And so the royal Saviour is denied
Sinners for whom He once was crucified.
The King. Creator of all living things;
The Lord of Hosts; the mighty King of kings;
The conqueror of Death; the perfect One;
The Judge of all the earth, God's only Son;
The Christ of God is King! No power is known
To match in majesty His heavenly throne.
The King. Today this question comes anew-
Will you have Jesus to reign over you?
His hands and feet are pierced, His brow is scarred,
But there is glory in that face once marred.
He reigns! His claim outrivals everything.
Will you have Jesus Christ to be your King?