Over the last two months we have had the opportunity to walk through John’s Gospel together, both in our personal worship times and as we have looked at specific passages together throughout the Gospel. We might remember that John wrote this Gospel in order to prove that Jesus is indeed God’s Messiah and our only Lord.
Just to clarify where we have come in John’s Gospel, I want to briefly recap what we have discovered. First, Christ is eternal and He is the only one who can provide the light by which we need to live holy and God-honoring lives. Second, we discovered that to live in love with Christ is to allow ourselves to be exposed to His light rather than always seek to defend ourselves or make ourselves look good. After this, we were brought to the realization that forever satisfaction comes as we live life to please Christ rather than to please either other people or ourselves. Fourth, we learned together that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament Law and that it is only in Him we can become God’s people. Our faith must be in Christ and Christ alone if we ever hope to have a relationship with God. Fifth, we’ve discovered that it is only in our humility that God enables us to see. If we are always concerned with seeing things the way that we think they ought to be seen, Christ calls us blind. We have received as instruction the importance of Scripture: that it is sufficient to guide us in all of life and we ought to swim in its words and dwell upon them at all times. We have learned that standing on the promises of God means being wide-open to His conviction in our lives and being concerned with the things that He is concerned with. Finally, we have discovered together that Christ promises to take all of the grief of His people and one day turn it into perfect and unadulterated joy. Today, as we finish our current study of John’s Gospel, everything culminates in the great doctrine of Grace.
It is here I realize the importance of walking through Scripture, together. One of these passages out of context would not give us the entire message of John’s Gospel. If we do anything short of walking through the text of Scripture together, we do not receive the whole counsel of God’s Word. This also guards me from preaching my own opinion or always reverting to passages of Scripture that I favor. It forces me to even give the hard teachings that come from the text of Scripture itself for our lives. It is the only way to make sure Christ is preeminent in our time together. His Word, not our preferences, is central. Here, everything that John has written culminates in one central doctrine: Grace. What exactly is grace, though? How is grace applied to our lives? What kind of life does grace call us to?
Then they took Jesus from Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters. It was early morning. They did not enter the headquarters themselves; otherwise they would be defiled and unable to eat the Passover.
Then Pilate came out to them and said, “What charge do you bring against this man?”
They answered him, “If this man weren’t a criminal, we wouldn’t have handed Him over to you.”
So Pilate told them, “Take Him yourselves and judge Him according to your law.”
“It’s not legal for us to put anyone to death,” the Jews declared. They said this so that Jesus’ words might be fulfilled signifying what kind of death He was going to die.
Then Pilate went back into the headquarters, summoned Jesus, and said to Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?”
Jesus answered, “Are you asking this on your own, or have others told you about Me?”
“I’m not a Jew, am I?” Pilate replied. “Your own nation and the chief priests handed You over to me. What have You done?”
“My kingdom is not of this world,” said Jesus. “If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I wouldn’t be handed over to the Jews. As it is, My kingdom does not have its origin here.”
“You are a king then?” Pilate asked.
“You say that I’m a king,” Jesus replied. “I was born for this, and I have come into the world for this: to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to My voice.”
“What is truth?” said Pilate.
After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, “I find no grounds for charging Him. You have a custom that I release one prisoner to you at the Passover. So, do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?”
They shouted back, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a revolutionary.
God’s kingdom and the world’s
As we read through this section of the story, we see a few differences between the way of Christ’s Kingdom and the way of the world. In verse 33, Pilate questioned Jesus, asking Him if He was the king of the Jews. Jesus responded by asking another question, “Are you asking this on your own, or have others told you about Me?” Pilate replied by telling Jesus that he (Pilate) was not a Jew and that Jesus’ own nation (referring to that of the Jews) had handed Jesus over. Jesus’ answer was simple, “My kingdom is not of this world,” and He replied specifically to the idea that His own nation was handing Him over.
With this answer, Jesus draws out a dichotomy for us. There are the Jews in this case that represent the kingdom of the world. They are a nation that Christ, here, disowns in His reply to Pilate. Pilate said that Jesus’ own nation handed Him over and Christ replied by claiming that His kingdom was not of this world.
The Jews in this part of the story (and we can recognize that this story is not representative of all Jews) represent the ways of the world in opposition to Christ, and we might recognize a couple patterns:
The world offers a “My way or the highway” mentality.
When the Jews first brought Jesus to Pilate, they claimed simply that Jesus was an evil-doer and expected Pilate to prosecute on that basis. Pilate was the man who had been placed in authority over the Jewish people by the Roman government, and the Jews would accept nothing less than his doing their bidding. In this story, we see even that Pilate found no guilt in Jesus. Still, the Jews essentially forced Pilate to prosecute.
As Jesus interacted with Pilate, He set a different example. He said strictly that if His kingdom was of this world, His servants would be fighting so that He would not be handed over to the Jews (v. 36). The kingdom of Christ in this part of the story was not a kingdom of force while the kingdom of the world was. Jesus would even go on to die for the very people who persecuted Him.
The world offers a “Tell them what they want to hear” voice.
Again, when the Jews first brought Jesus to Pilate, they apparently told pilate that Jesus claimed to be a king. If there could be no other king but Caesar, then any claim to kingship was blasphemy and treason against the Roman government (John 19:12). The Jews represented in this part of the story were master-manipulators. They would tell people what they needed to tell them in order to get them to do what was wanted. Because of this, they championed human tradition and human rules more than the truth.
Jesus responds to this tendency as He interacts with Pilate, saying that He was born into the world to testify to the truth. He clarifies, offering an indictment against His Jewish accusers, “Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice” (v. 37).
Considering this conversation, we see the difference between the kingdoms of the world and the kingdom that has been ushered in by Jesus Christ for our current age. The kingdom of the world is a kingdom of force, whereas the kingdom of Christ is currently a kingdom of sacrifice. The kingdom of the world is a kingdom of manipulation while the kingdom of Christ is a kingdom of truth.
In the kingdom of the world, people do everything they can to get their way and to get others to behave in a way that they think to be correct. People are overtly defensive of their status, their material property, themselves, their methodology, and so on. The kingdom of the world is concerned with self and not concerned with anyone outside of its walls. The kingdom of the world is completely devoid of grace and acts in complete opposition to Christ.
In the kingdom of Christ, God’s people are to follow Christ’s example and do everything they can to serve others and to show merciful grace to others no matter how they behave. God’s people should follow Christ’s example by not being overtly defensive of their own status, their material property, themselves, their methodology, and so on. The kingdom of Christ is concerned with the service of others whether those others are inside the metaphorical walls of the kingdom or not. Furthermore, the kingdom of Christ should be concerned with truth instead of manipulation. Sometimes our message is offensive to the world, sometimes God’s conviction is offensive to us. If it were never offensive, there would never be conviction. If there was never conviction, we would never be conformed more to the perfect image of Christ. It is by God’s grace that we are offended and convicted, when we are offended and convicted by truth.
The Jews’ choice
Pilate responded to Jesus after Jesus claimed to be the revealer of truth and asked, “What is truth?” At this question, Jesus was silent. He did not answer this question. Pilate had two opposing parties claiming that they were correct. Pilate did not know who to believe and, for sure, what action to take, so he brought Barabbas, who was a revolutionary and probably a Zealot, and offered to release one of the two prisoners: Barabbas or Jesus.
The Jews had a decision to make. They could choose to have Jesus, whose kingdom was not of violence or force or hatred, or they could choose to have Barabbas, who was the embodiment of violence, force and hatred. The Jews chose Barabbas.
The Jews claimed to be the people of God, yet they chose for themselves to be a part of a kingdom that was focussed on the things of the world rather than the things of God. They were focussed more with themselves than with others. They were focussed more on defending their methodology and property than with trusting in God’s Messiah. They were concerned more with their own status than with their complete and utter surrender to the King.
Yet, as Jesus answered Pilate, saying that His kingdom is not of this world, He claimed that if His Kingdom was of this world, His servants would fight to protect His physical presence. The Jews had been overtaken by the Roman government. They were an invaded people living in subjugation. Yet, Jesus declares that His kingdom is a kingdom of physical peace. What this means for the Jews and for us is simple. Christ’s kingdom is a kingdom of unadulterated and complete grace. We live in a time where Christ has come to offer forgiveness. He does not currently wage war against us on the basis of our sinfulness. His grace is unlimited and this causes us to come to a very important realization. When we, like the pharisees, focus on defending our methodology, our property, our status, our freedoms, our rights, and even our own lives; we are entirely guilty or the same things that the pharisees were guilty of. When this group of Jews was guilty in this way, Christ, the preeminent one, actually verbally disowned them as His people. Yet, Jesus also spoke peace upon them. They declared war on Christ and Christ offered a peace treaty that needed only His signature.
If we are to represent Christ well, brothers and sisters, we must practice this grace. It is a grace that says, “No matter how you wrong me or what you do to offend me, I will offer you peace.” This is the culmination of John’s Gospel: The grace of God offering peace to all people.
I find that as we claim to be God’s people, we are faced with the same basic decision that the Jews were faced with. We are faced with this decision on a daily basis. Will we surrender to the ways of Christ, or will we hold on to the ways of the world?
First: we recognize that the ways of the world are ways of force. The ways of Christ are currently ways of surrender and sacrifice. I say currently because there will be a day when God’s wrath will be poured out on the world (Revelation 15-21). While the government carries the sword (Romans 13), as churches and as individual Christ followers we are implored to live at peace with everyone as much as it depends on us. In fact, I might even quote Romans 12:14-21:
“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep. Be in agreement with one another. Do not be proud; instead, associate with the humble (that is people whom we have every reason to look down on for any reason). Do not be wise in your own estimation. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Try to do what is honorable in everyone’s eyes. If possible, on your part, live at peace with everyone. Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for His wrath. For it is written: Vengeance belongs to Me; I will repay, says the Lord. But
If your enemy is hungry, feed him.
If he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
For in so doing
you will be heaping fiery coals on his head.
Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good” (HCSB Parentheses Mine).
We live in an environment where we are encouraged to do what is right only in our own eyes without considering the needs of anyone else. Within this environment, Scripture implores us to do what is honorable in everyone’s eyes. If someone else has poor character, we still strive to serve them however we can. If someone does not consider our needs and wants, we honor Scripture’s prescription for our lives by still considering their needs and wants. We do not look down on others because they did something without considering us, or because of how they look or sound or smell. We are to do what is honorable in everyone’s eyes and not react selfishly to the way that other people sometimes seem to be. If someone does something that we do not think to be correct or if someone acts in some way against us (whether accidentally or on purpose), we are to make every effort to live at peace with everyone. It is against our prerogative in the text of Scripture to do anything or act in any way that could possibly interrupt the peace that we experience with others. This means, consequently, that we must often hold our tongue or find ways to address issues peacefully with gentleness and respect. This means that there are many times when our first inclination will be to assert our authority, status, position, or ownership and we must, in godly wisdom, deny ourselves so that we can live in such a way that honors God; so that when we are tempted to commit the sin of this group of Jews, we, instead, act in and with the very grace of God.
In this, the great doctrine of grace is exposed. Christ, through whom all of creation was made and who owns all things, allowed a people He had chosen for Himself to hand Him over to be crucified so that He could save them from their own sinfulness. It is this grace by which Christ offers to save us even though we, in our sinfulness, try to reserve glory that only belongs to Christ for ourselves, and though we actually claim to own something in this world (knowing full well that Christ has the whole of Creation). It is this grace that I so yearn for my own community, and the world, to take hold of. My fear is that the greatest hindrance to this grace advancing beyond the walls of the church building is the self-assertiveness of people who claim to belong to Christ. The irony is this, we tend to assert ourselves while claiming to follow a Christ who has commanded us to deny ourselves. Let us be a people of surrender and sacrifice, not a people of force.
Second, we realize that the ways of the world are ways of manipulation. The way of Christ is truth. When we try to get others to do our bidding or say what we think other people need to hear to get them to do or behave in a way that we desire, we choose the kingdom of the world. When we pursue truth whether or not we are offended by it or speak truth even when it might offend, we choose to act as part of Christ’s kingdom. This means, of course, that we should strive to understand before we speak so that the truth we seek and speak is not just something we believe to be truth, but is actually truth.
Brothers and sisters, we have a decision to make every morning. Will we live for a gracious God by always looking for an opportunity to show even more mercy and grace, or will we live as part of the world by looking for opportunities to defend ourselves and the things we think we own?
Because of His grace, Jesus was handed over. He was flogged and crucified. On the third day, He rose again. By this time, even Jesus’ closest disciples had abandoned Him. Peter had denied Jesus three times. In chapter 21:15-17, after Jesus had risen from the dead, Jesus walks with Peter and raises him up even though Peter gave into the ways of the world:
When they had eaten breakfast, Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said to Him, “You know that I love You.”
“Feed My lambs,” He told him.
A second time He asked him, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said to Him, “You know that I love You.”
“Shepherd My sheep,” He told him.
He asked him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?”
Peter was grieved that He asked him the third time, “Do you love Me?” He said, “Lord, You know everything! You know that I love You.”
“Feed My sheep,” Jesus said.
We continue to see the doctrine of grace worked out. When God’s people falter, Christ restores them. When churches fail to show the grace of God and become more concerned with themselves than with making sacrifices for the whole community, God can raise those churches up from the ashes! When people are concerned only with getting their way instead of doing what is honorable in everyone’s eyes, God is in the business of bringing His people back to Him. We serve a great God who is all merciful and who pours His grace over us!
The truth is this. There is not one of us who deserves God’s grace. I am completely and entirely undeserving and unqualified for use in God’s kingdom. It is why I must rely on Christ and the Word that has been inspired by Him in order to speak and live. All of our other teachers are undeserving and unqualified to teach the very Word of God. Our servants are completely undeserving and unqualified to serve in the name of King Jesus. Our musicians are undeserving and unqualified to utter a single word of praise to the Holy God of the universe. We are all undeserving and unqualified to even think God would meet with us. Yet God, in His mercy, has grace toward us and offers us a peace that only depends on Him. Let this be the peace in which we live and the grace by which we invite every other undeserving person around us to join us as we accept God’s great grace together!