Today’s passages: Jeremiah, chapters 23 and 25; John, chapter 19
Scripture: John 19:7-16 (NRSV) – The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God.” Now when Pilate heard this, he was more afraid than ever. He entered his headquarters again and asked Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. Pilate therefore said to him, “Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “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.” From then on Pilate tried to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor.” 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, “Here is your king!” They cried out, “Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!” Pilate asked them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but the emperor.” Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.
Observations: “We have no king but the emperor.” What a shocking thing for Jewish people to say! When God had brought them out of Egypt, he had told them that they would not need a king, because he would be their king. Of course, they had ultimately rejected that, asking God to give them a king so they could be like the nations around them. God did so; some of the kings were good, and led the people to follow God, but far more of them were wicked, and led the people into idolatry. Ultimately, that idolatry led them into exile (as Jeremiah prophesies in our passages from Jeremiah 23 and 25 today).
By Jesus’ day, the people were no longer worshiping idols like Baal, or Asherah – or Zeus and Artemis of the Greeks, or any of the Roman gods. They made a great show of worshiping God – but, as Jesus pointed out, their hearts were far from him. This passage shows that they understood exactly what Jesus had been saying all along: that he is God’s Son who came to call them to participate in God’s Kingdom. Unfortunately, this passage also clearly sets forth their response: “We have no king but the emperor.” They had come to view the peace, the prosperity, and the security of the Roman government as their kingdom, so they refused to accept the real King and pledge allegiance to his Kingdom.
Applications: God is reminding me today that we have only one King – the King of kings and Lord of lords. Our obedience to him must be more than mere lip service; we must live each day in submission and service to him. It is hard to picture our King with a crown of thorns on his head, beaten and bloodied, hanging on a cross – but we must remember that he paid that price to offer us life and citizenship in his Kingdom. Jesus told Pilate that his kingdom is not from this world (John 18:36); we must not get too connected to the kingdoms of this world. We must live each day as a proclamation, “We have no king but Jesus!”
Prayer: Father, thank you for the reminder that we are first and foremost citizens of your Kingdom. While we live in this world, help us to make the things of your Kingdom our priorities. Help us to live as salt and light in this world, so that others may experience your presence, your power, and your peace through your work in us. May your Kingdom come, and your will be done, on earth as in heaven, by the citizens of your Kingdom. Amen.