During this time of year, much of the world has its attention fixed upon what we have come to know as Christmas. Minds are captivated by gifts, Santa Claus, elves, reindeer, Christmas trees, and caroling. Within many societies, however, there appear to be glimmers of hope amidst the array of seasonal icons, as many who proclaim Christianity turn their hearts to declare ‘the reason for the season.’ This phrase of seemingly ever-increasing popularity can often even find its way to radio ads, television ads, and even certain sitcoms and shows. Sometimes the name Jesus might even be mentioned. But more often than not, it is left out to assure that there will not be any repercussions as a result of that Name.
In one of the less popular New Testament dialogues, our text in John 18 seems to convey what many might not know is the real ‘reason for the season.’ Jesus uses different words but the same idea: "To this end was I born" Or, as the New International Version translates: "For this reason I was born."
We could list a hundred reasons for the purpose of Christ’s birth. Certainly the salvation of His people from their sins was a reason for His birth: "And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins." (Matthew 1:21) Of course His presence among His people would be a reason for His birth: "Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us." (Matthew 1:23) But Jesus in His own words to Pilate felt compelled, with His most agonizing moment impending, to answer Pilate’s question as to whether He was a King: "Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice."
PROCLAIMING JESUS AS KING
It is to be admired when a Christian will declare that Christ was born to save His people from their sins. It is also to be admired when a Christian declares that Christ was born to dwell among His people. But when one observes the ambivalent state of so many who proclaim Christianity, it is strikingly clear that many have no King. Or if there is a person to whom they would be enslaved or of whose kingdom they would be subjects, many would opt for at least a ruler that is tangible, visible, and audible. We are hard-pressed to find the bold statements of professing Christians in proclaiming with authority their allegiance to the King, Jesus. The religious nature of the ‘sacrifice’ of Christ and even His dwelling among His people are more acceptable. But for one reason or another, to declare publicly that Jesus Christ is our King, to whom we are enslaved and show allegiance is a fearful thing to do. It seems to smack of going beyond the religious arena into the political arena. Even in the religious socio-political arena of the apostles’ time, it is understandable why this would be a concern, as the Jews warned: "...and these all do contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, one Jesus." (Acts 17:7) We of course should be sympathetic to the potential for fear among the apostles for declaring Jesus as King, considering the existing allegiance of even the most religious people at that time: "...The chief priests answered, We have no king but Caesar." (John 19:15) However, a bold spirit was present in these apostles to not only repeatedly declare Jesus as King, but to also be willing to "do contrary to the decrees of Caesar." Whatever this contrariness entailed, if Caesar’s decree defied Jesus Christ, the apostles would rebel against that decree. In fact, one of the more well-known ‘acts’ of the apostles shows this bold and blatant disobedience: "And they called them, and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, you decide." (Acts 4:18-19) They were exceedingly bold in their testimony of King Jesus. The threat of death by their own countrymen and by the decree of Caesar was a constant reality.
So then, why is it so difficult to announce Jesus as King? Is it primarily because of our fear of men that we lose sight of this particular purpose of Christ’s birth? Is our fear really the fear that tempted the apostles? Are we in danger of dying for declaring our allegiance to Christ rather than a flag or a world leader? This is definitely the case for many Christians, especially in eastern and mid-eastern countries. However, in the United States is this really a threat? In all honesty I would have to say no. There is of course much antagonism against Christianity. And we could argue that Christianity is becoming increasingly repressed. However, with our constitution as it stands, there really is no threat of death for declaring our allegiance to Jesus Christ as King.
OUR GREATEST FEAR
It is my contention that our greatest fear is not primarily that we could be put to death for declaring Jesus as King; rather, our greatest fear of declaring Jesus as King is because the King we would declare is not tangible, visible, or audible. Our King would be considered absurd to the carnal mind. Granted, there are those who zealously proclaim that they audibly hear God speak to them or even have visions of Him. But again, the problem still remains. Who else can experience what we experience personally? As far as physically visible or audible revelations of God, such subjective revelation I question. But my reason for questioning it is not because of the nature, but rather because it has no authoritative basis whereby God can confirm it to others specifically by the Bible. But concerning the Kingship of Jesus Christ we do have as our authority and foundation the word of God. Therefore as a religious unit, or what we call the church, we agree that the Bible is in fact authoritative and is our rule of faith and practice above all else. Thus we are brought back to the original problem: Who else can experience what we experience personally?
THE PROBLEM OF PILATE AND THE WORLD
Because our nature is such that it demands empirical or observable evidence for belief, we will always be plagued with any concept that attempts to persuade us of something intangible, inaudible, or invisible. Pilate asked Christ if He was the King of the Jews. Pilate’s only concept of kingly authority was that of a local, providential monarch or the emperor of Rome, both of which were all too tangible, visible, and audible. Pilate’s only reality of a king and a kingdom was that which he could touch, see, and hear. Therefore Christ’s answer to Pilate’s first question as to whether He was King of the Jews was destined to fall on deaf ears: "My kingdom is not of this world..." From an empirical perspective, the response of Pilate was more than justified: "Art Thou a King then?" In essence Pilate was saying, "Look, Jesus, all I know are kings and kingdoms that affect me physically and which I can observe and either trust or distrust based upon performance I see, feel, and hear. And it just so happens that there is an absolute monarch in Rome who dictates the affairs of the greatest Empire the world has ever known. Therefore Your world is not my world. And if I cannot empirically experience it, then your self-proclaimed kingship and kingdom is absurd."
WHAT DOES THE WORLD WANT?
Pilate was not the only one who had concerns about the kingdom of Jesus Christ. After the feeding of the five thousand with the five loaves and the two fishes, we see the nature of man at its height: "When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone." (John 6:15). It was clear: the people who had experienced the filling of their bellies were convinced that they needed this Jesus as King. It was a tangible reality to them. It was the ‘proof’ they needed to believe Jesus was the King; so much so that they forcibly tried to make Him King. Jesus responded to them with utter bluntness: "...Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled. Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed." (John 6:26-27) The carnality was evident as far as Christ was concerned. He strongly rebuked them for craving creation rather than the Creator. They were laboring for everything that naturally strikes us as ultimate reality: the satisfaction of the five senses. Even Paul wrote: "For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost." (Romans 14:17) The final reaction of the people was to walk away when Christ dashed their hopes and dreams of a physical kingdom by telling them that hunger and thirst would be eliminated by believing in Him. They walked away when Christ said that through belief in Him they would never die: "I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world." (John 6:51) To what kind of hunger and thirst was Christ referring? Of what death was Christ speaking? Whatever it was, it certainly did not satisfy the multitudes: "From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him." (John 6:66)
WHAT DID PILATE WANT?
Jesus was unafraid to speak of His kingdom, which is not of this world. His concern was not to pacify a carnal governor or a fleshly society. His concern was to preach the kingdom of God: "Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God," (Mark 1:14) Paul followed suit: "And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came in unto him, Preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him." (Acts 28:30-31) Christ spoke to Pilate of a kingdom not of this world. Therefore if Christ was proclaiming a kingdom not of this world, at least Pilate understood one thing: Christ never intended to be a King of this world. And therefore if the kingdom was not of this world; and Jesus was not a King of this world; and Pilate’s definition of a king and kingdom of reality was based upon empirical evidence, then there could really only be one response from Pilate’s lips: "Art Thou a King then?"
‘ART THOU A KING THEN?’
"Art Thou a King then?" During this season we call the Christmas season, we hear many carols that so joyfully proclaim Christ as King: "Come and worship, Come and worship, Worship Christ the newborn King;" "Hark the herald angels sing, ‘Glory to the newborn King;’" "Joy to the world, the Lord is come. Let earth receive her King." On and on the carolers carol, both pagan and Christian. But when professing Christianity does speak forth concerning Jesus as King, what is in the minds of these Christians?
More so than any other century, the twentieth century has been obsessed with trying to bring Christ back down to a physical Jerusalem to rule a physical kingdom and to satisfy a physical people. And they have this as a climax of world history and the greatest kingdom ever known. But is this not a complete reversion to the mentality of the multitudes Christ rebuked for their fleshly desires? Did not Christ firmly establish the far greater kingdom and its nature two thousand years ago? Yet the majority of professing Christendom pants for a day when they will have the kingdom for which they long: a kingdom where all their physical senses will be forever satisfied. But even David longed for something far different: "O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is; To see thy power and thy glory, so as I have seen thee in the sanctuary." (Psalms 63:1-2) David longed and panted for God. His greatest desire was to seek God and His power and glory. He knew that only God could satisfy the longing heart. He had that heart which was so evidently in love with the Creator and not the creation: "As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God?" (Psalms 42:1-2) Why was David not longing for physical meat and drink? It is simply because His heart was fixed upon God. He knew that his joy could only be fulfilled in God, and knew that one day his weary soul would be satisfied through the salvation that God would bring: "Oh that the salvation of Israel were come out of Zion! When God bringeth back the captivity of his people, Jacob shall rejoice, and Israel shall be glad." (Psalms 53:6) The Gospel of Luke tells us that this glorious day of the rejoicing of Jacob had come through the birth of Jesus: "And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David. And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end." (Luke 1:31-33)
But Christ would declare of this kingdom: "My kingdom is not of this world." In no uncertain terms, Christ’s words to Pilate elucidated the nature of the kingdom. The essence of Christ’s words was that His kingdom would not contain anything of that for which Pilate longed or could sensually experience. Pilate did not pant after the Creator but rather after the creation. Pilate did not labor for that which endures to everlasting life but rather for that which perishes. Pilate, like all of us by nature, did not want to suffer hunger or thirst or blindness or deafness. He did not want to grow old and die. None of us do. But his god was his belly. His glory was his shame. He longed for the temporal satisfaction of the five senses and not the eternal satisfaction of his soul. But to the people of God the promise is sure: "And I will satiate the soul of the priests with fatness, and my people shall be satisfied with my goodness, saith the LORD." (Jeremiah 31:14) Pilate did not want the goodness of Christ. Pilate did not understand the goodness of Christ’s kingdom. Pilate could not understand the true reality of the Kingship of Jesus. Therefore Pilate’s only alternative was to question Jesus: "Art Thou a King then?" Truth for Pilate was everything he had ever experienced with his five senses. Therefore, whatever this King Jesus was, He was not the king on which Pilate set his affections: "If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth." (Colossians 3:1-2) It is very evident that many who profess to know Jesus still have their affection set on things on the earth and not on Christ. They long to be removed from their sensual miseries rather than enjoy the Creator of their senses. Reality for them is bound almost entirely in a stomach that never goes hungry. But what is reality? What is truth?
WHAT IS TRUTH?
Sometimes we have to address the arguments of skeptics and science? Science has established a phrase called the law of physics. Scientists have been able to prove to us that the law of physics demands that when an apple comes loose from a tree it falls to the ground. That is a reality. But we certainly did not need science to prove that reality. We merely observed it. But that is all science is, or at least should be: i.e. declaring as reality that which we know to be true based upon empirical evidence. But all observable events are reality. It is just a matter of knowing what to examine and having the technology to examine it. Once we examine it and prove it, we then call it truth or reality. The problem comes when we introduce different kinds of truth. To the skeptic and many scientists, the moment we introduce different kinds of truth, we immediately begin to delve into the realm of uncertainty, particularly when we make assertions of unseen realms. But everyone believes in an unseen realm to some degree. The primary differences are what we believe and why we believe it. A theist believes that the material universe came from God. The atheist believes that the material universe came from nothing. Both God and nothing are unseen. And I would argue that it takes at least as much faith to believe something came from nothing as it does to believe something came from something, or God. Once a pastor told me of a dialogue between an atheist professor and a Christian student. The atheist incessantly argued that we can only be certain of what we can actually see. And that to have faith in the unseen is absurd and illogical. Therefore anything that cannot be observed must be deemed as non-existent. So the Christian asked the professor if he had a brain. The professor said yes. The Christian responded by saying that he could not see it, therefore should he believe it exists. Of course this infuriated the professor because based upon his own assertion he could not possibly have a brain. The ultimate answer is that all of us believe in unseen things. But the dividing line is when we establish an actual reliance upon that in which we believe. But the atheist simply cannot admit that he or she also believes in something unseen. To admit that would be to admit the possibility of the existence of an unseen God. Therefore the atheist by admitting that he or she believes in something unseen, should in good conscience be, at best, agnostic.
Regardless of Pilate’s religious philosophy, he was an empiricist. He judged reality by that which was seen or sensually experienced. He could not fathom any truth other than that which was observable. And particularly close to his heart was the issue of kingdoms and authority. His whole structure of life was based upon empirical reasoning, but rather than that reasoning being in the area of actual science, it was in the area of politics. His idea of truth as it pertained to the political arena was based solely upon that which he observed to be the kingdom and the person whom he observed to be the king. For him all other events from prosperity to famine, from war to peace, were the outgrowth of what he knew to be reality and truth. From Pilate’s perspective, a rational human being could not begin to rely upon things unseen without the possibility, through subjectivism, of becoming morally relativistic or anarchistic, the latter being the greatest danger to him. But Christ introduced not only a kingdom not of this world; He also introduced His purpose as King: that all those who were of the truth would hear Him. It is easy to imagine Pilate being shocked at the audacity of Christ to speak of His people being of the truth after He just presented an abstract, unseen kingdom, not provable by sensual experience. In fact, Pilate’s response is predictable: "What is truth?" That is, "Christ, You tell me about Your unseen kingdom not of this world; You tell me about the fact that you are King, but know full well that Your definition of a King is completely abstract and foreign to any rational human being; and then you tell me that those who hear you are of the truth? Look, it is one thing to completely redefine kings and kingdoms. But when you start redefining truth, then I have to question your definition of truth." Again, if we step back and really analyze Pilate’s questions, we will realize that he was only asking exactly that which a normal and natural human being would ask. Without faith we can only trust the sensual, for there is no other sense than those which we physically experience. Ultimately we have to consider Pilate’s mindset and realize that, as Paul says: "But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." (1 Corinthians 2:14). We too would be in that equally dismal situation without faith. And this is where we must stop and consider the whole text and what we actually believe about Christ as King, and His kingdom, and the reason for His birth.
Are we actually as professing Christians hiding an allegiance to the reasoning of Pilate? Pilate was not being unreasonable. He was merely being what all of us are without the grace of God—carnal. He, like the multitudes in John 6, had his affection set on sensual experience. He had no faith. Faith is certainly relying upon God who is unseen; but faith also is the actual evidence of the unseen. That is, our faith is the proof that the unseen exists, for otherwise we could not believe: "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." (Hebrews 11:1) That for which the patriarchs and holy men hoped was Christ in them, the hope of glory. Their faith was the substance. That is, the faith was the actual proof of the existence of things for which they were hoping. It was the proof that the God in whom they were hoping exists. It was the proof or evidence that the unseen God exists. That is, to His people God shows Himself existent by giving them what they cannot generate themselves: namely, faith. It is telling us that faith is a miracle given by God to show He exists. It is far more of a testimony of His existence than even the material creation; for to create faith in Christ is nothing short of a divine work. To create that by which one would be saved and given everlasting life in a being so wretched and unbelieving as we are, is absolutely a wonderful and powerful miracle. For us to be able to actually trust that Christ is indeed a King right now, and for us to be able to trust that His kingdom is real and unseen and not of this world is a miracle. Could we believe it by proof? Obviously the multitudes had abundant ‘proof’ that Christ was the Son of God. But they could not believe: "But though he had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on him: That the saying of Esaias the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spake, Lord, who hath believed our report? and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed? Therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said again, He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them." (John 12:37-40) This is so imperative as we consider Pilate’s response. A carnal man cannot respond to or understand the Kingship of Jesus. A carnal man cannot believe that Jesus is truly the King: "And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father. From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him." (John 6:66) A carnal man cannot believe that God has placed His people in an unseen kingdom: "Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son:" (Colossians 1:13) And of course in the words of Jesus: "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness." (John 3:11)
‘TO THIS END WAS I BORN’
As we consider our focus during this time of year, may we be acutely aware of the purpose of Jesus Christ, and that was to be born as a King of a kingdom which is not of this world nor will it ever be. May we understand that Christ’s mission was not thwarted by a rejection by His people. Those who rejected Him were not His people. His people and sheep heard His voice, for Christ said that everyone who was of the truth would hear His voice. He is that great Shepherd whose voice the sheep hear and they know Him and follow Him and He gives them eternal life and they shall never perish, neither shall any man snatch them out of His hand. Have you heard His voice? Is He your king? Are you in His kingdom? Are you longing for sensual and temporal satisfaction, or are you content with the nature of the kingdom as Christ proclaimed it?
Jesus Christ is King. He has been the King of an unseen kingdom for two thousand years and He will always be King: "And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth." (Revelation 19:6) When Christ declared: "To this end was I born," there was nothing or no one that could stop that purpose. This was planned and accomplished exactly as predicted: "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this." (Isaiah 9:6-7)