FINAL SERMON, Palm Sunday Year C
Our Saviour’s, Knox; St Peter’s Frankston. 8th April 2001
Text: Luke 23:35-38 and John 18:33-38
You may have wondered why on crucifixes the letters “INRI” are often written on the bit at the top.
The reasons for this is that these four letters are the first letters of the four latin words “Iesus Nazerenus, Rex Iudiorum”, or, in English, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”.
When the Romans crucified someone they wrote the crime with which they were accused on a noticeboard and nailed it to the top of the cross for everyone to see.
So, when Luke tells us that the inscription nailed above the cross of Jesus read: “This is the King of the Jews”, he is telling us that Jesus was condemned to death because he claimed to be the King of the Jews.
Jesus was a king. When the crowds welcomed him into the capital city of Jerusalem, the city of King David, they hailed him as “the king who comes in the name of the Lord”.
Just five days later, they handed their King over to the Romans to be crucified.
But according to the Gospel of John, the crucifixion was not so much seen as Jesus’ defeat, as his enthronement as the true “King of the Jews”.
Earlier in the story, we are told that he was crowned by the Roman soldiers. Yet what a strange coronation this was: Not a crown of laurel leaves--like the emperor in Rome wore, but a crown of thorns.
Not a throne of ivory--like the throne of the emperor in Rome, but a throne of wood and nails.
The Hebrew word “Messiah” and the greek word “Christ”, both mean “the anointed one”. Jesus was anointed as King when he was baptised in the river Jordon. He was crowned by Roman soldiers, and enthroned as King on the cross.
How little the passers-by understood all this.
They shouted out: “If you are the Messiah of God, his chosen one, come down from the cross!”
And the Roman soldiers said: “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!”
How little they understood that this was the very purpose for which Christ came into the world: to be enthroned as King upon the wood of the cross.
This was his “hour”. This was his “triumph”. This--his suffering and death--was his “glory”.
This is why Jesus was born, conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. This is why he came into the world--for us men and for our salvation.
John’s gospel--from which we will hear on Good Friday--gives us a greater insight into what it means to say that Jesus was “King of the Jews”.
There we read:
33 Then Pilate summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” 35 Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” 37 Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” 38 Pilate asked him, “What is truth?”
In this short conversation with Pontius Pilate we learn so much about what it means to say that Jesus is “King of the Jews”.
He says, “My kingdom is not of this world.” He says, that it is not “from here”. Then where is it from?
Jesus’ Kingship and his Kingdom does not come from earth, from the authority of human beings and nations. It comes from God, as he said after his resurrection: “All Authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me”.
Given by whom? Not by Pilate or by Caesar or even by the Jews themselves, but by God and by God alone.
Because his kingdom is “not of this world”, Jesus says that his followers “do not fight to keep him from being handed over to the Jews.”
His followers understand that his crucifixion was not the defeat of God’s plan for his King, but the completion and triumph of all his work.
It is upon the cross that Christ says “It is finished”.
So if Jesus’ followers do not fight to keep him from being crucified, what do his followers do?
Jesus says: “They listen to my voice.”
The followers of the Crucified King listen to the voice of their King, and they do what he tells them.
And what he tells them is “The Truth”.
All he ever said and did was to reveal the “Truth” to the world. In fact, he was “The Truth”, as he once said “I am the way, the Truth, and the life”.
And so Jesus says: “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
He is the King of God’s Kingdom of Truth. He has God’s authority to command all who seek the Truth. All who seek the Truth belong to his Kingdom.
So his followers listen to him. If we cast our minds back, we will recall the day of his transfiguration,when, instead of two criminals either side of him, Moses and Elijah stood talking to him, and when God said: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him.”
As the followers of the Crucified King, we are given one command: “Listen to the Truth.”
Listen to him speaking from his throne, from the throne of the cross. Listen to him,
and obey him, for he is your King.
St Paul tells us that God "desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth": that is, that they come to know Jesus Christ.
Furthermore, Christ must be proclaimed to all nations and all individuals, so that this Truth may reach to the ends of the earth: For it is the duty of every man, woman and child to listen to the Truth, and to do everything in their power
to conform their whole lives to the Truth in so far as they have come to know it.
Today we admit four young people to first communion. To you, Emily, Melinda, Alex, and Jessica, I say: / Today we confirm three young people in their faith. To you, Simon, Lindsay and Melissa, I say:
In a short while I will ask you to make a statement of your faith.
Three times I will ask the question “Do you believe”, and three times you will answer: “Yes, I do”.
To say that you “believe” means two things: first, you believe the person you are saying you believe in. You believe in the Father, you believe in the Son, you believe in the Holy Spirit.
But secondly you are saying that you believe the truth that these persons have revealed to us.
And in saying that you believe this Truth, you say that you will live by this Truth.
It is the same for all of us, who Sunday after Sunday, year after year, have stood in this church and confessed the Creed together.
Everytime we have said together “We believe in one God...” we have committed ourselves again and again to living a life that is in total conformity with the Truth we have confessed.
Because Truth is not an inconsequential thing.
If we have come to know that such and such is true, then we are obligated by our very conscience to live according to it.
We cannot do as Pilate did, when he asked Jesus “What is Truth?”
He asked the question, but he did not wait to listen to the answer.
Was he even interested in the answer?
I cannot help but feel that Pilate was a bit skeptical about the hope that anything here on earth could be called “True”.
In fact, Pilate could be the patron saint of our post-modern age, an age that believes in “relative” truth, an age that says: “What is true for you isn’t true for me.”
My friends, if my ministry here has helped you to realise anything, I pray that it has helped you to realise the danger of that attitude toward the Truth.
Sunday after Sunday I have stood in this pulpit and proclaimed the Truth to you.
I have not proclaimed “A truth”.
I have proclaimed “the Truth”, the one who said: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, apart from me, you cannot come to the Father.”
When Jesus said: “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice”, he faced Pilate with the inescapable fact that there is only one Truth, and that the Truth matters.
My friends, it matters how you live your lives. It matters that you listen to the voice of your King. It matters that you listen to the Truth. And it matters that you do everything in your life to conform to the Truth.
For Christ has said to us: “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
Do not fear the Truth. If you run from it, if you turn away from it because you fear its consequences, you will never know the freedom that Christ promises you.
About 15 years ago, I wrote five words in my journal. Five words which have changed the direction of my life. These five words are simply: “Follow truth where it leads”.
Follow the truth, even if it means that you have to sacrifice your career, your home, your friends, your family connections, your status, your income, your fringe benefits, and everything else that belongs to your current way of life, if that is the price that the Truth asks of you.
Yet it promises so much more. For the one who said “I am the Truth”, also said: “I am the Way” and “I am the Life”.
Our King, Jesus, died for the sake of the Truth. He died because he had come to bear witness to the Truth. He died so that by listening to the Truth and by following the Truth we might find the way to our heavenly Father, to salvation, and to eternal Life.