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The Man Born To Be King

John 18:33-38

Some 2300 years ago now, the prophet Zechariah announced to the city of Jerusalem: “Behold your king comes to you, triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding upon a donkey…” It must have seemed strange then. It certainly seems strange now. I mean, a king

Who rode no golden chariot,
Who had no golden crown,
Who led no marching soldiers,
Who wore no regal gown.

It just doesn’t fit. Yet 300 years later, the prophet’s words came true. On the first Palm Sunday, Jesus entered Jerusalem riding upon a donkey. And by entering the city that way, Jesus was proclaiming for all the world to hear: “Behold I am your king!”

At first the people applauded Him. But later in the week they crucified Him. They rejected His royalty. They denied His dominion. They renounced His rule. And that is still true today. Many people, when confronted with the sovereign claim of the Lordship of Jesus Christ, say: “I can do quite well without that, thank you.” Why is it that now, as then, people refuse His rule in the kingdom of their hearts? I would suggest that the clue is found in the conversation which Jesus had with Pontius Pilate. It is recorded for us in John 18. Pilate asked Jesus point blank: “Are you the King of the Jews?” And Jesus replied: “For this I was born.”

That’s the first thing Jesus said to Pilate: “My kingship is not a matter of my position—it is a matter of my person.”

There are two Latin words which may help us catch hold of Jesus’ meaning here. First, there is the word “autoritas”, which is the source of our word “authority.” It was used in reference to an office which was conferred upon a person by virtue of his achievement or of his being elected or his scheming or scrambling to gain the position. Pontius Pilate had that kind of authority. The second Latin word is the word “potestas” from which we derive the word “power.” It refers to the kind of power which belongs to a person not because he earned it or scrambled for it, but simply because he was born to it. This is the kind of power Jesus had. So Jesus said to Pilate: “I was born to be king. It is not something which I have sought or seized or gained by my own efforts. It is something which belongs to me simply because of who I am—the only begotten Son of Almighty God.” That was the clear and unmistakable claim of Jesus before Pontius Pilate: “I was born to be king.” and Pilate said: “Away with Him. I do not want such a king.”

We say the same thing. As I look at our society, our way of doing things here in America in the 1980’s, I see us depending upon two kinds of power. One is political power. Are you aware of the fact that we spend more than 10 million dollars a year providing personal services to the President of the United States? We provide him with all his living facilities, his own plane and helicopter, his own hideaway, a phalanx of servants, the red carpet, the 21-gun salute, the bands which play when he steps off the plane or back onto it. Yes, ours is a government of, by, and for the people, but our President lives like a king. Such is the high regard we hold for political power. But the second kind of power to which we pay homage is economic power. Charles Wilson, once the Secretary of Defense, said: “What’s good for General Motors is good for America.” And there’s an element of truth in that. He was exaggerating to make a point, but the point is well-taken: in America, business is king.

Yet over against that, I set this word of Jesus to Pontius Pilate. He said: “My kingship does not rest upon votes or bank balances. It is not built upon the way people do things. It is not founded upon earthly authority. I was born to be king!” The implication of Jesus’ words is clear: if we do not bring our political power and our economic power under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, then we are bound for disaster.

That’s what happened to Rome. I remember one moonlit night when Trisha and I went to see the Colosseum in Rome. It was a magnificent sight, bathed in soft light. And I remember thinking to myself that more than any other structure, the Colosseum was the symbol of the political and economic power of ancient Rome. It was the focal point of that society. In that arena, they did to death hundreds of the disciples of King Jesus. But for 1800 years now that Colosseum has stood empty and unused. Why? Because in the end, the power of King Jesus was stronger than the power of Rome. The tremendous political and economic powers of the empire could not stand in the face of “the man born to be king.” Before Him, that empire crumbled in the dust.

So I ask: Why, oh why, oh why do we seem so determined to make the same mistake the Romans made? When, oh when, oh when will we ever learn that there is only one power on this earth which shall last, only one power which can guarantee us life now and life forever. That is the power of Jesus Christ, the man born to be king.

But the second thing Jesus said to Pontius Pilate is this: “My kingship rests on consent, not on coercion.”

Here stood Pilate who had at his command legions and armies and instruments of torture and propaganda. All that earthly power belonged to him. And here stood Jesus. His response to that kind of power was this: “My servants will not fight.” He was saying that His royalty rests on consent, not on coercion. And His way always prevails.

Saul of Tarsus had all kinds of coercive power. He could command soldiers. He could arrest whomever he desired. He could kill whomever he pleased. But then one day on the road to Damascus, he met King Jesus and everything changed. Jesus so flooded his life with love that this Saul, now named Paul, wound up saying: “Christ loved me and gave Himself for me.” That is not the testimony of a coerced heart. That is the testimony of a captivated heart. Jesus, you see, never blasts His way into a life. He never terrorizes His way into a heart. He never intimidates His way into a heart. He never forces His way into a heart. He never buys His way into a heart. No. He just stands at the door and knocks.

In Brooklyn, New York a few years back, a group of young men sat about a table in a tenement house. One of them—his name was Lou—said: “We started out stealing hubcaps but now it’s much more than that. Something bad is going to happen. I want out.” The leader of the group, feeling that his power was being challenged said “No.” The other boys quickly grabbed Lou and tied him up. When he awakened hours later, he was in a hospital. His body was swathed in bandages and slightest movement caused him intense pain. The boys in the group had beaten him; and using knives and cigarettes, they had tortured him. Lou swore vengeance. But while he was in the hospital, a Christian, a follower of King Jesus, named Ben Mooring came to see Lou. He talked to Lou about the way we usually do things—you know, “You hit me and I’ll hit you back harder.” Then Ben Mooring told Lou about another way of doing things. He told him about a King who ruled not on the basis of force and vengeance, but on the basis of the power of love. Lou eventually gave himself to the service of that King. And today he works on the streets of Brooklyn trying to win with love the very young men who so scarred him. You know something? It is working. It always does. What coercion and the point of a knife and cigarette burns couldn’t do in the life of the young man, the loving power of King Jesus could do.

So Jesus said to Pilate: “My kingship is not of this world and it is not from this world. My power is built not upon force, but upon love, not upon coercion but upon consent.” And Pilate said: “Away with Him. I do not want such a king.”

Then the third thing Jesus said to Pilate was this: “My kingship is based upon truth not falsehood.”

Jesus said: “I have come to speak the truth, and everyone who knows the truth hears my voice.” And Pilate said: “What is truth?” Imagine that. Pilate, of all people, asking, “What is truth?” He knew the truth about Jesus. He knew it all too well. Five different times he declared that Jesus was guilty of no crime. Five times! But then his conscience collapsed under the pressure of public opinion. Truth became relative, and he proceeded to condemn King Jesus to death.

But the kingship of Jesus Christ is not built upon falsehood, and it cannot be conquered by lies. It is built upon truth. Jesus always spoke the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help Him God. He said: “This is what is true—that all of you like sheep have gone astray into sin. And this is what is true—that the justice of God is offended by your sinfulness. And this is what is true—that the justice of God must be satisfied or the condemnation of God will fall. And this is what is true—that God’s justice will be satisfied by my death upon the cross. I am the Way and I am the Truth. Through me, you can have life, life now, life forevermore.” Jesus’ kingship cannot be stopped. In the words of James Stewart, He is “King Forever.” That’s the Gospel, my friends, and that’s the only Gospel there is. Jesus is King—King forever.

Arnold Toynbee has written what is regarded as the greatest history of civilization produced in this country. In the fifth volume of that study of human history, Toynbee considers the world’s saviors. Some eras of history, he says, have regarded creative geniuses as saviors. But creative geniuses have their day; and when new ideas come along, their genius is eclipsed and they are shunted aside. Then there have been those who would save the world by military might. But the testimony of history is that violence begets violence and that the sword which has once tasted blood will never be satisfied until it drinks of blood again—and so ultimately military saviors have meant nothing in history. Then Toynbee says that there have been philosopher-kings. But eventually such kings make the mistake of trying to force their philosophy upon the people which is just a more subtle form of violence—and so these would-be saviors have disappeared into the mists of history. And finally, he says, there have been those whom various civilizations have regarded as gods. But Toynbee notes that all of these so-called gods were fictitious, nothing more than the stuff of which dreams are made. They were never real, historical people who lived and walked amongst the people of the earth. That is, all but one. Arnold Toynbee, considered by many to be the greatest historian of our time, writes these words. Listen:

“When we set out on this quest for a savior, we were confronted by a mighty host of candidates. All but one have fallen out of the race. Only one of the would-be saviors of the world has dared to put his title to the test by plunging into death’s icy river. Only one. But now as we stand and gaze with our eyes fixed on the farther shore, that one solitary figure rises up out of the flood of history and out of the icy grip of death and straightaway, He fills the whole horizon. He is the Savior, and He alone!” King Jesus is His name.

So…

This Palm Sunday, your King comes riding to you, triumphant and victorious is He, humble and riding on a donkey. His royalty does not rest in His position, but in His power, not on what He is, but on who He is. His sovereignty is not one of force but of love, not of coercion but of consent. His power is based not upon falsehood, but upon what is true—now and everlastingly true. He is the King. He is the Savior of the world. For this He was born. For this He came. King forever. Jesus is His name.

I ask you today to open your heart and to receive Him as your very own…

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