Eight months ago, I was challenged to read each chapter of John three times. The first time was just to read the content. The second was with the question “What does Jesus want me to learn?” in mind. The third time was to pose the question ” What does Jesus want me to do?” based on what I’d read and learned. I would then go through one last time and record the words Jesus spoke within that chapter, in my journal.
This discipline has caused many familiar passages to take on new life and reveal new things.
One of the more recent “reveals” starts in chapter 18. It takes place as the Jews are preparing for Passover. They’ve had Jesus arrested and brought to Pilate who asks the crowd what charge they’re bringing against Jesus. They dodge the question by saying they wouldn’t have come to Pilate if Jesus weren’t a criminal.
Pilate tells them to judge Jesus by their own law. Now they counter they have no right to execute anyone. Pilate knows the crowd wants him to do their dirty work. After an exchange with Jesus, Pilate gives the crowd the option to have him released. This is the first part of the irony in this story – the crowd requests an actual criminal be released instead – Barabbas.
Pilate has Jesus beaten. Surely this will satisfy the mob. It doesn’t. Pilate tries again. “You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.
The Jews whip out their handy dandy law book and say “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.”
So, they have a law they can’t uphold because while it says the offender must die, they also claim they have no right to execute anyone. Things that make you go hmmm….
This does freak Pilate out a bit though. He doesn’t want to kill a possible deity. He has another conversation with Jesus and returns to the crowd, trying every manner of persuasion to have them drop their demand.
Finally, the crowd pushes the right button. “If you let this man go, you’re no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.”
Now they’ve hit him where it hurts – politically, economically, socially. Pilate might lose his stature, his job, possibly HIS life if Caesar thinks Pilate has gone against him.
But here’s what jumped out at me. Chapter 19, verse 15. But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!” “Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked. “We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered.
There. Did you catch it?
The chief priests and the rest of the Jews are in the midst of preparing for Passover. Preparing a celebration in recognition of God preserving their lives and rescuing them from a foreign king (Pharaoh) even as they confess with their mouths, “We have no king but Caesar.”
I’m sure they never caught the irony, but we should. And we need to learn from it.
We need to guard against that kind of double-mindedness. Trying to be righteous while throwing God right under the bus. Being proud of our humility. Being judgmental while claiming to be speaking truth in love. Giving the appearance of celebrating the goodness of God while chasing after idols.
It’s a subtle lie sometimes. It sneaks in as we pursue our “rights.”
But it is important to remember. we have no king but the King of kings. Don’t serve under the reign of another!