No Blanky Belief

I get asked somewhat frequently if I really believe in Jesus. I always answer with a simple “Yes.” Sometimes I wonder if I shouldn’t respond with a “Do you say Jesus is King?” Does that seem jarring; incongruous? But this question should be a heavy question. I minister among young people who claim a belief in Jesus. But this belief doesn’t shape their language. It doesn’t change how they treat other people. They say their prayers with no intention of even trying to follow Jesus. Jesus is a nice blanky; something to curl up in when you feel sad or angry or frustrated or whatever. What’s wrong with that, you ask. Well, this may be a comfortable belief in the moment, but it doesn’t really change anything. Jesus came to change us; to call us to discipleship. Anything less than this is a false comfort. No blanky belief can save you.

Luke 23:1-7 is the account of Jesus being brought before Pilate, the Roman appointed prefect of Judea. Although history paints Pilate as ruthless, the gospels present him as rather reasonable. It seems likely that Pilate had zero love for the Jews. And in our story, it is the Jews who bring Jesus before him. So, there’s that. In Luke 20:20 we are told that the Jews inserted spies into the camp of followers of Jesus in order to find something to accuse him of to the Roman officials. They wanted Jesus dead. They most likely hated Pilate as much as he despised them. But he was necessary to their plan. I think it is more than wanting Jesus dead. They want him crucified. They want this false messiah to hang from a tree overnight and therefore to be accursed (Deuteronomy 21:23). How can he be the messiah if he is cursed under the law?

So, they brought him to the enemy and accused him of perverting the people and forbidding them to pay taxes to Caesar. Well, that’s ironic. There is no reason to doubt that they believed the first part of the accusation. Interestingly, king Ahab accused the prophet Elijah of being a perverter of Israel in 1 Kings 18:17, 18. And that was also ironic. Ahab was the perverter of Israel. Project much Ahab. And in what way is Jesus perverting the nation? He is preventing them from paying taxes to Caesar? Well, not only does this reek of irony, it is a flat out lie. They tried to trip Jesus up here. But Jesus had clearly told them to pay taxes. If you are going to use Caesar’s money, pay taxes. But Pilate cannot ignore this accusation. Caesar likes his taxes. The other accusation cannot be ignored either. He makes himself out to be Christ and king. The title “Christ” would have meant nothing to Pilate. Ah, but somebody claiming to be king. Well, that means something.

And that is the accusation Pilate zeroes in on. He asked Jesus if he was the King of the Jews. And again, Jesus’ answer can be punctuated as a question; “Do you say that I am?” But why would he ask this of Pilate? Jesus knows who he is. He knows the plan of God. He has no need to defend himself. His desire in all of this is not to avoid the cross. His desire is to generate belief. What do you say Pilate? And there may also be a bit of a defense here as well. Do you really believe that I am king of the Jews when the Jews bring me before you? Do you think I am a threat to Caesar in any way Pilate? Maybe. But I tend to think the main goal of Jesus was to encourage Pilate to think about his own beliefs. I don’t think Pilate had a coming to Jesus moment here. But he did see something. This man was not trying to rise up against Caesar. If Pilate had taken seriously the accusations of the Jews against Jesus, he would have had to execute Jesus. He obviously did not. He found him to be without guilt. There was nothing to charge him with.

But the Jews would not give up on their plan. This Jesus stirs up the people. In the context this may imply sedition. Jesus did stir things up. He still does. But there is no hint of sedition in his teaching or his actions. This accusation is technically true. From Galilee, his teachings and actions spread throughout Judea, culminating in Jerusalem. But the implication is false. When you are trying to falsely accus a person it is wise to throw in as much truth as possible. Pilate snatches at this whole thing beginning in Galilee and decides to throw this one to Herod. It is not that he didn’t have the authority. He didn’t want it.

Do you say that Jesus is King? That question should be weighty. You see if you say Jesus is King, it changes everything. Your language becomes Kingdom language. Your actions become Kingdom actions. Jesus is not just a nice blanky to curl up in. He is King! He is Master! And he doesn’t ask you to be comfortable. He calls you to follow; to serve; to die. Follow on disciples of Christ. Peace.