Summary: God rules over hearts and minds with truth and advances a kingdom of repentance and righteousness.
In 1818, Percy Bysshe Shelley published a poem on the ephemeral nature of human kings and political powers:
I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
Kingdoms rise and fall. For a moment in time, Pontius Pilate appeared sovereign over the man named, “Jesus.” But even in his wounded and abused condition, the True King turns the inquiry against Pilate, and the one who would be judge finds himself in the dock.
Because the outward forms of God’s kingdom usually do not impress, most people trust themselves to temporary powers. But I would remind you of the vision of the future given the Apostle John: at the end of days, the seventh angel will blow a trumpet and the voices of heaven will proclaim: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.”
Jesus know his future, and challenges Pilate to rise above current appearances and to live by the truth that the cross is the path to his coronation. The same truth challenges us in John 18.
[Read John 18.33-38a. Pray.]
In I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, Norman Geisler describes a debate with the humanist Michael Kolenda: “Of the many atheists I debated, he was one of the few who actually read my book, Christian Apologetics, prior to the debate. When he rose to speak, Kolenda held up my book and said, ‘These Christians are very narrow-minded people. I read Dr. Geisler’s book. Do you know what he believes? He believes that Christianity is true and everything opposed to it is false! These Christians are very narrow-minded people!’”
Kolenda also wrote a book which Dr. Geisler had read. So he stood up and said, “‘These humanists are very narrow-minded people. I read Dr. Kolenda’s book. Do you know what he believes? He believes that humanism is true and everything opposed to it is false! These humanists are very narrow-minded people!’”
All truth claims are, in a sense, very narrow. Either Christ is the way to God, or he is a deceiver and demon. Our options are limited. But though the way is narrow, Pilate’s Roman empire lies just as much in ruin today as that of Ozymandias. Only God’s Kingdom expands and remains forever. Therefore there are three things to note today:
1. Entering God’s Kingdom Requires We Acknowledge Jesus as King
I love that scene in Robin Hood when Richard the Lionhearted returns in disguise to his land because he knows some cannot be trusted. When he meets Robin Hood and his men, he questions them to determine their faithfulness. Robin treats the disguised monarch roughly, thinking him a possible traitor. But when Richard removes the cloak, Robin and his men bow and cheer their lord. King Richard was there all along; removing the cloak revealed the truth.
Jesus, likewise, though cloaked in a veil of humanity and humility, speaks clearly of his kingdom. Verse 36: “Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is….” In other words, “Yes, I am a king, and I have a kingdom.” Jesus does goes on to explain that his kingdom is different from Pilate’s (and we will consider the nature of Christ’s kingship next). But do not pass too quickly over Jesus’ admission that he is king.
Some people are confused by Jesus’ first response in verse 34. When Pilate asks, “Are you the king of the Jews?”, Jesus’ request for clarification makes perfect sense: “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” Jesus is not evading the issue; he is forcing Pilate to clarify the matter for his own sake.
Though Jesus is on trial legally, he immediately begins to turn the table on Pilate, pricking his conscience and poking his pride: “Is this an inquiry for your own life and knowledge, or are you simply parroting the accusations of others? Are you after a real answer, or are you a lackey for a band of jealous Jews? Have you thought, Pontius Pilate, of why these men would use you to get at me, or have you completely given up thinking on your own?”