It is Christmas and you are probably came expecting me to talk about shepherds, wise men, and Mary & Joseph every time Christmas comes around. Instead, scattered throughout your New Testament little statements of why Jesus Christmas came into existence. These statements tell you why Jesus came to earth that first Christmas.
Now on President’s Day we celebrate Presidents Abraham Lincoln and George Washington’s birthdays. But we don’t think of either of these men today as babies on President’s Day. Instead, we remember their accomplishments as adults. We don’t pass around pictures of Lincoln as a boy in his log cabin days. So why do so many stop to celebrate only the baby Jesus of Bethlehem in celebration of His birth rather than His actions as an adult?
This is a series devoted to showing God’s why behind Christmas. I invite you to turn with me to John 18. This is a really famous encounter and it is reported at some level in all four gospels. The sequence of events that brought Jesus before Pilate shows how organized crime also has an ancient legacy. Here you’ll discover cowardice, treachery, falsehood, scheming, and eventually murder. All these vices spring to life in the harsh reality of the most historic display of injustice in history, when Truth itself was on trial.
Only hours from His death, Jesus makes a statement about His birth.
So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” 35 Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” 37 Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” 38 Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, “I find no guilt in him.” (John 18:33-38)
Millions of people have cited the words of the Apostle’s Creed:
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate…
Do you think for a moment that Pilate’s mother thought the boy she named would be referenced in every Christian creed for centuries to come?
This conversation between Pilate and Jesus has taken on a life of its own. Even just a few years after this conversation, Paul would speak growlingly of Jesus with these words: “I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession” (1 Timothy 6:13).
The conversation takes place on the day we call Good Friday. Only hours from His death, Jesus tells the reasons behind both Christmas and Bethlehem. Only hours from His death, Jesus makes a statement about His birth.
1. The Truth About Him
In the opening of the interrogation, Pilate asks, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Pilate wants to know if Jesus claims to be a political power. Note how Jesus responds to Pilate’s question for there is a deliberate strategy He employs. First, in verse 36, “No, I am not kind of king you are thinking about. My servants don’t fight.” But just one verse later, “I am king. I was born to be a king.”
1.1 Jesus’ Bookends
Jesus was bookended by a problem both at His birth and again, at His death. At His birth, He raised the jealousy of the regional ruler, Herod. Herod kills every male baby less than two years of age because he is threatened by Jesus’ Kingly nature. And now on the other side of His life, the confusion over His potential political ties is one of the reasons He will be killed.
1.2 The Background
Let’s step a back a moment to see how we arrive here. The religious leaders engineered Jesus’ conversation with Pilate because they didn’t possess the authority to execute Jesus. Jesus is before Pilate because the religious leaders wanted Jesus out of their way. They wanted Jesus to wash Jesus off their hands. Yet, these evil men were torn between two systems of law – the Hebrew code of law and the laws of Rome. Jesus is “pinballed” back and forth between the religious leaders and the Roman leaders. They put Jesus before Pilate in order for Pilate to deliver the death sentence. The resulting conversation between Pilate and Jesus takes place in private quarters (the praetorium), away from the potential mob violence outside. As he questions Jesus, the Jewish religious leaders are just outside awaiting his verdict (John 18:29-31).
1.3 No Rival to Caesar
It was really a frivolous charge from the start. At every stop along the way, Jesus refused to be the king everyone wanted. When He was asked about taxes, He responded: “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Luke 20:25b).
“My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36b). Kings have a well-defined territory. You can go to the map to see where their kingdom lies. What did the Roman legions have to fear from this solitary man?
Still on another occasion, Jesus was asked to be arbitrator over an inheritance dispute. He’s reply is telling: “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you” (Luke 12:14)? No, the Roman Empire had no real threat of sedition with this Man.
Just before our recorded conversation at Jesus’ arrest, Peter attempts to defend Jesus: “Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) So Jesus said to Peter, ‘Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me’” (John 18:10–11)? Jesus is intentional here. His kingdom doesn’t move forward by political power. No one can claim Jesus when waging a war with guns and swords. Jesus tells Pilate, “I don’t want my followers taking up arms to advance my cause.” Jesus is saying, “No, I’m not a political leader, and I don’t want people ruling and going to war and taking up the sword in my name.”
Someone asks Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus says, “Yes and no.” So they ask, “Are you a king?” Jesus says, “Yes and no.” You might reply, “Are you aiming to have a political impact on the world?” Jesus says in effect, “I am not a political leader and yet I’ll have an enormous impact on the way in which people actually live.” Jesus’ kingship could not be established by force or even by threat. Jesus never came to establish a government on this earth. Yet, His reign has a gigantic impact upon all governments.
1.4 Born to be a Different King
Now, take careful note … Jesus did not deny being a King. The famous Napoleon was exiled on the rock of St. Helena. While there, he had some time to think and he called a Count to his side and asked, “Can you tell me who Jesus Christ was?’’ The Count refused to respond and then Napoleon said this of Jesus: “Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne and I myself have founded great empires; but upon what did these creations of our genius depend? Upon force. Jesus alone founded His empire upon love, and to this very day millions will die for Him…” Napoleon understood Jesus better than Pilate did. The truth is Jesus was a King and He is a King. Jesus says so: “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born…” (John 18:37b).
Jesus taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10) But Jesus did not look like a king. He wasn’t seated on a throne but rather, He was beaten, battered, and soon-to-be crucified. Still, no king in all his pomp and majesty was more king than Jesus. Every inch of Jesus is a king! He sits on a throne of grace with a scepter of truth.
1. The Truth About Him
2. The Truth About You
Jesus already knew who He was. Now, the question is, “Who are you?” Pilate asks, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus says in effect, “Is this your question … or did others ask this about me?” Jesus is now speaking directly to Pilate. He is speaking personally to Pilate. He cautions Pilate not to treat him generically or as an abstraction. Jesus says, “Where do you stand regarding me? What do you think of me?” As a journalist might look underneath someone’s questions to determine why they are asking them, so Jesus begins to peal back Pilate’s motives like you would an onion.
2.1 Born to be Truth
Listen to Jesus: “…for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” (John 18:37b). This is one of the most defining statements Jesus made concerning Himself. His good confession tells us both Jesus’ purpose and His mission. His purpose was to testify to the truth for whenever Jesus spoke, He spoke the truth. Even to this day, Jesus’ words are the very bedrock of truth.
Christmas itself places truth in front of us. Jesus knows the essence of us: “But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man” (John 2:24–25). Plus, He spoke the truth about Himself when He said: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
In fact, Pilate is a Roman governor of Judea from A.D. 26-36/37. Yet, in the six different trials he had to undergo, Pilate was the only one who looked at the facts and declared Jesus, “Not guilty.” Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no guilt in this man.” (Luke 23:4) After sending Jesus to Herod, and trying him a second time, Pilate continues to speak of Jesus’ innocence: “And after examining him before you, behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him” (Luke 23:14b). Not to be outdone, Pilate continues to plead the innocence of Jesus yet again: “A third time he said to them, ‘Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no guilt deserving death. I will therefore punish and release him’” (Luke 23:22). Isn’t that the most interesting judgment you’ve ever heard from a judge? He’s completely innocent of all the charges, therefore I’m going to punish Him and release Him. At least three times, Pilate pleaded Jesus’ innocence. It’s at this point that the case against Jesus should be closed and Jesus should have been released. I believe Pilate, was “this close” to letting Jesus go and doing the right thing, but then he begins to listen to the crowd. Pilate may well be the quintessential example of a terrible politician. So why did Pilate end up crucifying Jesus? How do you condemn a Man whom you declared innocent thre times?
2.3 Pilate Is All of Us
Again, Jesus already knew who He was. Now, the question is, “Who are you?” Notice when Pilate hears the truth, he brushes it away. He asks cynically, “What is truth?” but walked away before hearing the answer to his question. The truth is Pilate loved his position, his authority, and his comfortable lifestyle more than he loved justice. There’s some of Pilate in all of us. There’s something about the truth of Jesus that threatens all of us even to this day.
Chinese police have been really ramping up their efforts toward persecution toward underground Christian believers in recent days. Just within the last week, while the entire world is hanging on edge wondering whether Canada will free a tech giant, China was rounding up 100 or more Christians. While we are worried about our retirement accounts as the market whipsaws over China/US economic relations, members of the churches in China have been beaten, tortured and denied food, and restroom accommodations. Reports of Bibles being burned and even simple prayers before a meal is now considered an illegal religious gathering in some places now. Pastor Wang Yi of the Early Rain Covenant Church in China wrote these words to his church family to be released if he were detained for more than 48 hours.
On the basis of the teachings of the Bible and the mission of the gospel, I respect the authorities God has established in China. For God deposes kings and raises up kings. This is why I submit to the historical and institutional arrangements of God in China. As a pastor of a Christian church, I have my own understanding and views, based on the Bible, about what righteous order and good government is. At the same time, I am filled with anger and disgust at the persecution of the church by this Communist regime, at the wickedness of their depriving people of the freedoms of religion and of conscience…
If I am imprisoned for a long or short period of time, if I can help reduce the authorities’ fear of my faith and of my Savior, I am very joyfully willing to help them in this way. But I know that only when I renounce all the wickedness of this persecution against the church and use peaceful means to disobey, will I truly be able to help the souls of the authorities and law enforcement. I hope God uses me, by means of first losing my personal freedom, to tell those who have deprived me of my personal freedom that there is an authority higher than their authority, and that there is a freedom that they cannot restrain, a freedom that fills the church of the crucified and risen Jesus Christ.
Regardless of what crime the government charges me with, whatever filth they fling at me, as long as this charge is related to my faith, my writings, my comments, and my teachings, it is merely a lie and temptation of demons. I categorically deny it. I will serve my sentence, but I will not serve the law. I will be executed, but I will not plead guilty.
Jesus is the Christ, son of the eternal, living God. He died for sinners and rose to life for us. He is my king and the king of the whole earth yesterday, today, and forever. I am his servant, and I am imprisoned because of this. I will resist in meekness those who resist God, and I will joyfully violate all laws that violate God’s laws.
A little more than 5% of China’s nearly 1.4 billion people are now Christians. The Chinese government has declared war because of the threat of Christian truth to their communist ideology. But it’s not just China, it’s you and me as well. There’s something in all of us that is threatened by Truth. Jesus is unique because He is the combination of both truth and power. He is both king and truth wrapped up in deity. Jesus integrates truth into power and He does so in ways that still threaten political kingdoms to this day.
Jesus acts like a searching spotlight and all of us want to hide certain parts of vulnerable selves from the light of His truth. The Apostle Paul’s frank admission of his sinful tendencies stands for us all: “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15). Again, “…For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” (Romans 7:18–19). In fact, denying the truth of Jesus in life is lot like cutting off the branch you are sitting on. When you argue against Him you are arguing against the very power that makes you able to argue at all.
1. The Truth About Him
2. The Truth About You
Truth demands a decision. Trust is not a distant abstraction but it is instead intensely personal.
6-year-old Lily Chitwood’s face lit up as she grabbed the judge's gavel just a few weeks ago. While many little girls want Barbie’s this Christmas, Lily wanted a good home. She had been hungry for three years while she was in the care of her drug-addicted birth mother. But now all that was behind her having been adopted into the home of Paul and Michelle Chitwood. The first night she was with us, when her soon-to-be adopted mother, Michelle tucked her into bed, she asked a question: “Will we have food tomorrow?” She continued to ask that question for several nights until she realized that she would never go hungry in our home.” In fact, Lily’s experience with hunger was so powerful that Paul & Michelle put a bowl of Cheerios beside her bed to help her rest at night. Besides head lice and bedbug bites, little Lily had a tough life until placed in foster care and eventually adopted. But the Chitwoods brought a smile to her face because they were confronted the Truth confronted them. They knew Christ loved them with an undeserving love. How could they not love a small, hungry child?
Had Jesus only grabbed for political power so long, He would have no influence today. No one adopts a child today because of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, or Napoleon. But millions of children are adopted in the name of King Jesus. He is a King like no other.