Text: John 19:1-16a
Of all the different kinds of pain that men and women have to suffer, few can be more agonising than the pain of rejection. For a wife to hear her husband of 20 years say, “I can’t stand the sight of you; you no longer have a place in my life”; for an employee to be told by her boss, “Your knowledge and skills are surplus to our requirements; you no longer have a place in this organisation; you are redundant”; for a student to be notified by his university, “You have failed your examination, you no longer have a place on this course”; all are deeply wounding.
How painful, then, must have been the rejection experienced by Jesus Christ at his trial before Pontius Pilate. His accusers said that he had claimed to be the Son of God, and to be the king of the Jews. On that basis they forced a decision form Pilate that he should be executed by the most terrible method imaginable. Let us examine those two grounds for rejecting Jesus, and see if perhaps there was truth in them after all.
1 (a) He was rejected as the Son of God
When the Jewish leaders first hauled Jesus up before Pilate, they struggled to think of an accusation to make against him. “What charges are you bringing against this man?” demands Pilate in 18:29. “Erm…he’s a ciminal,” they splutter in v30.
But now they’ve thought of something to accuse him of. ‘We have a law,’ they say in 19:7, ‘and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.’
The ‘law’ they were thinking of was probably Lev 26:16 – ‘Whoever blasphemes the name of the Lord shall surely be put to death.’
Not to worry about whether that law actually covers the situation in front of them. After all, one bad reason is as good as another when you want to justify an evil plan.
But notice this: the Jewish leaders rejected Jesus as the Son of God in accordance with their religious principles, holding their Bibles in their hands.
Do you suppose they were thinking, “We are cruel and wicked people; we like nothing better than to make innocent people suffer.” No: they thought they were doing God a service.
This reminds us that religious convictions are not necessarily ‘good things’. In fact man’s greatest crimes have been his religious crimes. In the words of Blaise Pascal: ‘Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from a religious conviction’. You only have to look at the mindless and insensitive episode of Koran-burning in the United States and the fatal over-reaction to this in Afghanistan.
And on religious grounds, Jesus was rejected as the Son of God.
(b) He was rejected as the King of the Jews
Pilate was intrigued by this idea of Jesus as the king of the Jews. In 18:33 he had asked Jesus outright, “Are you the king of the Jews?” but he did not receive an entirely straightforward answer to his question.
Then Pilate’s soldiers decide to have fun with this idea by carrying out a mock coronation:-
19:2f ‘[They] twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe and went up to him again and again, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!”’
And then, with Jesus having been flogged and beaten and mocked, and still wearing in his ridiculous crown and robe, Pilate presents him to the Jews. “Here is your king,” he says to them in v14.
And then Pilate asks the Jews in v15 – “Shall I crucify your king?” As if to say, “What possible threat could this pathetic specimen be to you and your precious nation?”
“We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests reply.
In fact, all this talk about kingship hands the Jewish leaders their trump card. Verse 12 “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.”
Well now, Pilate can’t risk having the Jews complain about him to Caesar Tiberius. Pilate is far to unpopular a governor, and Tiberius far too suspicious am emperor, for him to take that risk.
So, in the end, Pilate acts against his better judgment. Three times Pilate pronounced Jesus innocent of all the charges brought against him. And in v16 we read: ‘Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.’
And so it was that Jesus was rejected as the king of the Jews. Because Pilate chose to do what was expedient rather than what he knew was right.
People still do the same today. People still reject Jesus by choosing expedience over truth. I heard of a young man who, presented with the claims of Jesus Christ, declared that he was fully persuaded of their truthfulness. ‘Will you now become a follower of Christ, then?’ ‘No, because, quite frankly, it would mess up my life-style.’
So what about ourselves? Will we aim to please God and do what is right, whatever the cost, or will we take the line of least resistance and follow the crowd? And will we pray for Christians in positions of leadership, that they will be true to the convictions, that they will be leaders of public opinion, and not merely followers of it?
Here, then, are the two ways in which Jesus was rejected: he was rejected as the Son of God, and he was rejected and the king of the Jews.
But John, the author of this Gospel, wants us to know that the one who was rejected as king really is the King, and the One who was rejected as the Son of God really is the Son of God. Way back in 1:49 he records Nathanael exclaiming to Jesus, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.”
2 (a) The one who was rejected as king really is the King
Did Jesus claim kingship for himself? When asked by Pilate, “Are you the king of the Jews?” he had finally agreed: “Yes, you are right in saying I am a king.” (18:37)
So Jesus did claim it. But is it true?
Well, if there is one word that sums up kingship, surely it is the word ‘authority’. Now who exercises authority in this passage? Is it Pilate? Certainly, he thinks that he is in control. “Don’t you realise,” he says to Jesus in v10, “I have power either to free you or to crucify you?”
But we have already seen that Pilate, for all his bravado, is a slave to the threats of the Jewish leaders and the shouts of the crowd.
As for Jesus, he certainly looks an utterly pathetic spectacle. But, truly, his regal majesty of Jesus shines radiantly throughout this trial scene. He may have been treated with contempt, but he responded with dignity, and he spoke with authority. “You would have no power over me,” he tells Pilate in v11, “ if it were not given to you from above.”
And Jesus’ kingly authority would soon be wonderfully vindicated. He had declared, Jn 10:18 – “I have authority to lay my life down and authority to take it up again.” And that claim would be gloriously vindicated just three days later.
And there will come a day when he will be revealed in all his majestic splendour, when he returns, not now as a lamb led to the slaughter, but as Lord of lords and King of kings.
Bishop Ryle: ‘Vast is the contrast which there will be between the crown of glory that Christ will wear at his second advent, and the crown of thorns which he wore at his first coming.’
(b) The one who was rejected as the Son of God really is the Son of God
Again, this has been a theme right from the beginning of John’s Gospel. In 1:34 John the Baptists bears witness to Jesus in the following words: “I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.”
And Jesus himself repeatedly referred to God not just as ‘the Father’, but as ‘my Father’, and to himself not just as ‘a son’ but ‘the Son’.
These are outrageous claims. But they are backed up by evidence. Within his Gospel, John presents us a series of seven miracles, or ‘signs’ of who Jesus really is. The last and most astounding of these is the raising to life of a man who had been dead and buried for four days. The raising of Lazarus in Jn 11 is specifically linked with the confession of his sister Martha:-
“Yes, Lord,” she told Jesus, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God.”’
This raises a serious question, however. If Jesus was truly the Son of God, what was his Father doing, allowing him to endure such rejection and punishment?
George Hutcheson puts it succinctly: ‘Christ in his sufferings was innocent of any personal crime, even in the consciences of his persecutors, whereby the Lord made it clear that his sufferings were for others.’
Ah, yes. Behind the malice of men in their rejection of Jesus, moved the mastering love of God in reaching down to a needy world. The execution of Jesus was not a tragic accident, nor even a martydom, but a sacrifice.
1 John 4:8-10 – ‘God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.’
Here, then, are two of what have been called ‘the ironies of the cross’. The One who was rejected as king really is the King. And the One who was rejected as the Son of God really is the Son of God.
Surely, the only proper response for us can be to honour and serve him as our King, and to love and worship him as the Son of God.
And as for Jesus himself, we know that it brings unspeakable joy to his heart to gather to himself a countless multitude of loyal subjects, and devoted worshipers, and to be able to say to his Father, “Here am I, and the children God has given me.” For it was in prospect of that joy that he so willingly endured the cross, scorning its shame and and rejection, and is now sat down at the right hand of the throne of God, the Son of God in his rightful place of kingly authority.