Absolute power corrupts absolutely! “Poor man wants to be rich man, Rich man wants to be king, And king ain’t satisfied until he rules everything!”
We don’t trust people in power for one reason: power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. That’s why the kings and queens of England have been stripped of any real power. When the world talks about British royalty today, they are not talking of them as being in charge. They are talking about Meaghan Markle having a baby! Many years ago my son James was invited to carry a mace for the Queen up the aisle of St Andrew’s cathedral. A mace is a three million dollar staff, carried as a symbol of authority. It may surprise you that I was not worried that if James stepped on the Queen’s toe or dropped the mace on the Queen’s lap, she would have his head chopped off. Once upon a time I might have been worried about such things, but not anymore. The British royals are mostly celebrities.
The Federal election on May 18 is a statement that we don’t trust humans, especially humans with power. They so often don’t serve their people. But in Jesus we have a king who has absolute power. And we see that on the first Good Friday that he is a servant, he is king, he is the servant king.
Jesus is the king before whom the arresting soldiers bow (v. 6).
It is the night before Jesus died on the cross. Jesus has just finished praying, when out of the darkness comes the betrayer. Judas is leading a detachment of soldiers and a few officials. It is clear that they came looking for a fight. They came with weapons in hand against a man whose only crime was that he raised a dead person to life. But here Jesus shows who really is in charge. He goes out and stands up to the these bullies, John 18:4:
Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, “Who is it you want?” (NIV)
Jesus asks the question to stop any of his disciples from getting hurt, John 18.8:
“I told you that I am he,” Jesus answered. “If you are looking for me, then let these men go.” (NIV)
You see, Jesus is a servant, and he is king: he is the servant king. You know he is king because of what the soldiers do when they come to arrest Jesus, John 18:6:
When Jesus said, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. (NIV)
They draw back and fell to the ground. I have watched my quota of police shows, from ‘Law and order’ to ‘NCIS’, and it never happens like that. The suspect is captured and then handcuffed, and then the usual spiel is recited: “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.” Then they put the arrested person into a police car, making sure he doesn’t hurt his head. And off the suspect goes to the police station.
When Jesus looked least like a king, surrounded by an angry mob, the arresting group was forced to their knees. Somehow they knew that he is the king. The Bible says that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow. That is a picture of what is going to happen at the end of time, whether from the height of heaven or the pit of hell. Outnumbered forty to one, they bow before him. Without realizing it, they are arresting God himself.
Jesus is the servant who holds people to account without taking revenge (vv. 19-23).
The high priest interrogates Jesus in verses 19-21, and notice Jesus’ answer in verses 20-21:
“I have spoken openly to the world,” Jesus replied. “I always taught in synagogues or at the temple, where all the Jews come together. I said nothing in secret. Why question me? Ask those who heard me. Surely they know what I said.” (NIV)
Their interrogation of Jesus was in secret at night, but his teaching was open and during the day. Over the years I’ve talked to a number of people who have had to go to before a judge or magistrate. Even though they were found innocent, they still have nightmares about hearing the judge say “guilty”. Courts are very intimidating, but Jesus is not intimidated. He effectively says to the high priest, “My cards have always been on the table. I have always spoken in public. Go and ask them.” And before Jesus had time to catch his breadth, wack! He got smacked across the face with a heavy blow by one of the officials, John 18.22:
When Jesus said this, one of the officials nearby slapped him in the face. “Is this the way you answer the high priest?” he demanded. (NIV)
Remember, this man is slapping the very person who created him. What does this king Jesus do when he is punched? He turns and looks the official in the eye and says,“You are going to regret the day you laid hands on me!” No, Jesus doesn’t do that. This is what Jesus does: he questions the official and holds him to account, John 18:23:
“If I said something wrong,” Jesus replied, “testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?” (NIV)
Hello! Who is interrogating whom? Who is really in charge? Jesus is neither angry nor rude. Jesus taught that when someone hits you on one cheek, turn the other cheek. We now see what Jesus meant. He is not teaching us to be a passive ‘doormat’ to an abuser. He confronts his aggressor. Jesus holds him responsible and yet does not exercise revenge. Jesus could have killed that official on the spot. But he is a servant. Jesus is a king, he is a servant: he is the servant king.
In our church we have had two families who lived either side of the neighbours from hell. They endured drugs, violence, vicious dogs, and late night parties. On one occasion, these neighbours bashed one of the ladies who lived next door and came to our church. Her husband, who also came to church, was a tattooist for a bikie gang. When the gang heard about how she had been bashed up, forty bikies wanted to come and wipe them out. The husband called the police, but he also held back those forty angry bikies from exercising revenge. And Jesus held back his power from killing the man who struck him.
You see Jesus’ authority in the way he handled the mob that came to arrest him, and in the way he handled the high priest and his servant. And now he faces Pontius Pilate, the top dog in Israel.
Jesus the true king confronts Pilate (vv. 33-34).
‘Pilate’ is not the man who flies a plane. Nor is ‘Pilate’ a French method of doing exercises. Pontius Pilate was the Rome-appointed governor. The buck ended with this man. He alone had the power to execute a person in Israel. And what does Jesus do when questioned by Pilate? Jesus questioned him back, John 18:33-34:
Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?” (NIV)
In other words, Jesus is asking Pilate, “Do you really want to know? Are you interested in the truth, or do you want to play games?
On this Good Friday, that is the question for you. Are you interested in truth, or do you want to play games with God? It is clear that Pilate does not care for the truth. He will sit on the fence for as long as possible. In the end, his fear of the crowd will make him an enemy of Jesus. Can I say that it is usually fear of others that stops people coming to Jesus. Too many have left this earth rejecting Jesus because of fear. Too many end up in a Christless eternity because the approval of people mattered more than the approval of God. Friends, the only one to fear is God himself.
Jesus then makes it plain that he is God’s king, but not like the emperor in Rome, John 18:36:
Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” (NIV)
Jesus is saying that his kingdom is not marked by national borders or armed forces. It does not have its own flag and currency. Jesus is clear that if his kingdom was of this world, then what happened on the first Good Friday would not have taken place. He says that his kingdom is not a matter of weapons and war. This was news for the Jews, whose great heroes fought with swords as leaders of armies. King David was a man of war who plunged his sword into many an enemy. But Jesus is a servant, he is a king: he is a servant king.
Jesus the servant king won’t use the sword but will drink the cup (vv. 10-11, 36).
So when Peter pulled out his sword and sliced the right ear of the official’s slave, listen to Jesus’ response in John 18:11:
Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” (NIV)
“Pete, put that sword away!” Christianity will not begin with a sword being raised. It will not spread by the sword. The story of Christianity would be very different from that of other religions. Imagine if Jesus were to say to Peter, “You’re the man, Pete! Fist pump! That’s my boy! Take him out!” Just imagine how different Christianity would be. Every time someone did you wrong, you would have one response, and it is payback. Every time your children were bullied at school, you could do a drive-by shooting into the house of the kid who messed with yours, because if it was good enough for Jesus, it is good enough for you.
Jesus will die for his cause but he will not kill for his cause. We don’t do military training on Christian camps. Our youth ‘Launch’ camp is not going to train our kids on how to use an AK-47, they will learn about John 3:16, that God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever would believe in him may not perish but have eternal life. From the beginning, Jesus was clear: put the weapons down.
Notice, if Jesus isn’t protecting his own, he is protecting his enemies. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus heals the ear of the one who came to arrest him. He is a servant, he is a king: he is a servant king. Listen to what Jesus says to Peter in John 18:11:
Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” (NIV)
The king will drink the cup. Jesus is saying that he has come from heaven to do a job. The plan is not to crucify the enemy but to be crucified for his enemies. It is not to punish the world but to take the punishment for the world. It’s a strange way of putting, “Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” The cup in the Bible is a symbol for bearing the anger of God. And when God brings punishment on his enemies, it is described as God pouring out his wrath or anger from the cup, making his enemies drunk with suffering. So Jeremiah 25:15:
This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, said to me: “Take from my hand this cup filled with the wine of my wrath and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it.” (NIV)
Jesus is saying that the cup of God’s anger is to be poured out on the sin of the world. Jesus on the first Good Friday takes the cup of judgment from his Father and says, “Father, I will drink it for them, because you have asked me. Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”
Instead of you drinking the cup of hell, Jesus is drinking this cup for you. As Caiaphas said earlier, reported again in John 18:14, it would be good if one man died for the people. But Jesus’ sacrifice makes no difference to you unless you yourself turn and take hold of Jesus, John 18.37b: “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
Are you siding with the truth? Jesus says that truth is a person and that person is him. Judas abandoned the truth for greed. Peter denied the truth for fear of death. The high priest rejected the truth out of jealousy. Pilate washed his hands of the truth for the fear of others. But the truth is that Jesus is a servant, and he is a king: he is the servant king. But is he your servant king? Will you let him serve you by dying in your place? And then will you serve him as your king? The truth is now staring you in the face. Jesus is saying, “Trust me, and I will set you free.”
Thank you for sending your one and only Son into the world. The truth is that I am a sinner worthy of hell itself. Thank you Jesus for drinking the cup of hell for me. Thank you king Jesus for the complete forgiveness of my sin. Help me by your Spirit to live by this truth, that you are “King of kings”, and my king.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.