Pilate Got It Right

I read John 19 this morning, Good Friday. Here are two interesting verses to contrast:

15 They shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!”

Pilate said to them, “Should I crucify your king?”

“We have no king but Caesar!” the chief priests answered.

19 Pilate also had a sign made and put on the cross. It said: Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.

So many questions. Did the chief priests really mean what they said? Did they really view Caesar as their king? If so, what did they say to the people around them when they spoke about their God, their loyalty to him? Seems contradictory. Feels familiar in 2021 America.

Of course, one could understand from Jesus’ teachings that the chief priests didn’t really get it. When Jesus talked about the kingdom of God, his language and teaching may have even gone over their heads, too. They either didn’t understand it or they rejected it. Either is tragic for them and the people they led. Seems that what we continue to witness happen in religious circles when leaders focus their eyes on the wrong king isn’t anything new.

As a follower of Jesus, to declare allegiance to any created being over their Creator declares citizenship in an earthly kingdom. Some scholars teach that Pilate’s note on his sign wasn’t so much a personal declaration as a statement of charge-that Jesus claimed to be the King of the Jews. Interesting that, regardless of his intent, Pilate-the non-Jew, the one not looking for a Messiah, the one who was simply trying to do justice for the accused man-declared the truth.

May we all on this Good Friday declare that Jesus is King.

Photo by Josh Applegate on Unsplash

July 4, 1837

(portions of President John Quincy Adam’s Independence Day speech in 1837 as quoted in Our Presidents and Their Prayers)

Why is it, friends and fellow citizens, that you are here assembled? Why is it, next to the birthday of the savior of the world, your most joyous and most venerated festival returns on this day? – And why is it that, among the swarming myriads of our population, thousands and tens of thousands among us, abstaining, under the dictate of religious principle, from the commemoration of that birth-day of Him, who brought life and immortality to light, yet unite with all their brethren of this community, year after year, in celebrating this, the birth-day of the nation? Is it not that, in the chain of human events, the birthday of the nation is indissolubly linked with the birthday of the Savior? That it forms a leading event in the progress of the gospel dispensation? Is it not that the Declaration of Independence first organized the social compact on the foundation of the Redeemer’s mission upon earth? That it laid the corner stone of human government upon the first precepts of Christianity, and gave to the world the first irrevocable pledge of the fulfillment of the prophecies, announced directly from Heaven at the birth of the Savior and predicted by the greatest of the Hebrew prophets six hundred years before?

…the Declaration of Independence announced the One People, assuming their station among the powers of the earth, as a civilized, religious, and Christian People, – acknowledging themselves bound by the obligations, and claiming the rights, to which they were entitled by the laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.

…A moral Ruler of the universe, the Governor and Controller of all human power, is the only unlimited sovereign acknowledged by the Declaration of Independence; and it claims for the United States of America, when assuming their equal station among the nations of the earth, only the power to do all that may be done of right.