Sermon for November 21, 2021

Speaking Of Life 3052 | Royal Flush

Program Transcript


Speaking Of Life 3052 | Royal Flush
Cara Garrity

If you know anything about the game of poker, you are probably familiar with what is called, a “Royal Flush.” A Royal Flush is made up of the ten, Jack, Queen, King, and Ace cards that are all the same suit. What’s significant about this hand is that if you are ever so lucky as to have it, you are guaranteed to win…well, unless you were foolish enough to fold. But why would you fold when you are holding a Royal Flush. It’s the “king” of all hands and no matter what anyone else is holding or even if they try to cheat, you can’t lose.

So, if someone is holding a Royal Flush it’s pretty obvious what they should do. They should go “ALL IN”. Meaning, they should put everything they have in the pot because there is no chance of losing. The only reason you wouldn’t go “ALL IN” is because you don’t know what a Royal Flush is. Can you imagine how foolish you would feel if you folded only to learn later that
you couldn’t lose?

Permit me to make an unrefined metaphor: Jesus is our Royal Flush. When we know who Jesus is, we will know we can’t lose. No matter who is betting against you, you can trust Jesus gets the final word of victory.

It might be a crude analogy, but it does point to the reality the last book in the Bible makes. Picture with me a high-stakes poker game while hearing these words from the Book of Revelation:

Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood,
and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Revelation 1:5-7 (NRSV)

Jesus being proclaimed as Lord of lords and King of kings is a “Royal Flush” proclamation indeed. Those who put their complete trust in his hands should always be confident to go “all in” with no fear of loss.

Sure, the poker analogy can break down in many ways seeing that nothing compares to the one who is has been crowned King of kings and Lord of lords. But don’t let that bluff you into believing that Jesus is anything less than your sovereign and sufficient King. With Jesus, you always win.

I’m Cara Garrity, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 132:1-12, (13-18) • 2 Samuel 23:1-7 • Revelation 1:4b-8 • John 18:33-37

This week’s theme is the kingly reign of Christ. This royal theme is given voice by the call to worship Psalm, which recalls God’s act of establishing the Davidic dynasty. 2 Samuel 23 records the last words of King David, which serve as a herald of God’s everlasting covenant. The Gospel reading in John 18 uses irony with the interaction between Pilate and Jesus to indicate who the true king is. The reading from Revelation is more direct by praising Jesus as the “ruler of the kings of the earth.”

Jesus Is Not a Co-Pilate

John 18:33-37 (NRSV)

You have probably seen the bumper sticker that says, “God is my Co-Pilot!” On the surface this sounds like a good thing. It sounds spiritual, like someone has their priorities straight. But sometimes these little bumper sticker clichés may reveal something theologically flawed in our thinking. For example, if God is a co-pilot, then he is ultimately not flying the plane. He’s not in charge; we are. It means that we are still choosing the altitude and speed of our flight in life. It means we are picking the destination and determining the flight path to get there. God just becomes a helper to our goals and plans when we hit some turbulence or need some rest. If God is a co-pilot, we cease to be followers. We see ourselves perhaps as equal partners or pals on the same team, but either way, it puts us in the pilot seat.

So, this bumper sticker cliché will need to take a back seat today as we find ourselves on the liturgical calendar with a special day called “Christ the King Sunday.” This marks the last day of the Christian worship calendar before we  start over again with Advent. The Christian calendar, which focuses on the life, death, resurrection, ascension and return of Jesus, culminates with this crowning moment: Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords. No room for co-pilots.

So, in keeping with this theme and our chosen passage for today, we will title this sermon with a play on words. We will be looking at the interchange between Jesus and Pontius Pilate and in the end we will see who is really in charge. If you can stomach the pun, we will get a new bumper sticker to slap on your bulletin that reads, “Jesus is Not a Co-Pilate.” You have my permission to groan.

Let’s begin by reading the passage.

Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” 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?” 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.” 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.” (John 18:33-37 NRSV)

It must be admitted that the passage we have before us has left out some significant portions of the story. But we can make do with what we have with maybe a few references to what has been left out. For starters, let’s back up and see what leads up to Pilate asking Jesus if he is a king.

John 18 outlines the arrest and subsequent trial of Jesus that grants him an audience first with Annas and then Annas’ father-in-law, Caiaphas the high priest. From here they send Jesus to be questioned by Pontius Pilate, the governor of the Roman province of Judea. This progression shows that Pilate was a man of prominence who had the authority to accept or deny Jewish requests for executions. The Jews admit in verse 31 that they “are not permitted to put anyone to death.” The way the text flows makes it  clear the crowd must get permission from Pilate to put Jesus to death. They see Pilate as their potential co-Pilate for their dastardly deeds.

Pilate, on the other hand, is conflicted over the entire matter. He is depicted as one in authority who wants to do the right thing. But the “right thing” for Pilate is what fits his own personal aspirations and political positioning. So he is reluctant to take action on a man that, as far as he can tell, presents no threat to the political state. Why create potential trouble for himself? The story describes Pilate going back and forth between his personal chambers and the public courtyard. He is a very conflicted governor caught in the middle of a fight he’d rather wiggle out of. And that leads to our passage at hand…

Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” (John 18:33 NRSV)

When Pilate asks this question, his understanding of kingship is shaped by his own political way of ruling. If Jesus is a king, Pilate assumes he would be like-minded. So, what lies behind Pilate’s question is the concern that a king of an occupied country like Israel may want to rise up to overthrow its Roman oppressors. Pilate wants to know if Jesus is a risk to his rule. He may be wondering if Jesus has desires to stir up any trouble, such as putting together an army in hopes of revolting and challenging the power that belongs to the Roman emperor. Pilate simply wants to assess the threat level of Jesus to his own authority. If he is not a threat, Pilate would rather not get involved with an internal conflict between Jesus and his accusers. Pilate, like any Roman political authority, is being self-serving. His question, “Are you the King of the Jews?” can be read as a threat to Jesus. You can almost hear Pilate say under his breath, “take care how you answer, Jesus— remember I have the authority to have you executed.”

Jesus’ answer is fearless:

Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” (John 18:34 NRSV)

Jesus answers with a question. That is a bold move in itself. It plants the thought, “who is interrogating who here? Who is really in charge?” Jesus’ answer in effect is saying, “Pilate, are you truly concerned about me being a threat to Rome, or have you been played?” Jesus is putting his kingly finger on the fact that Pilate’s political strings are being manipulated against him. After all, why is Pilate even investigating this baseless charge presented by the crowds? In the way John is telling the story, it is clear who is really in charge. He is presenting Jesus as the one who actually holds all the cards. Pilate is the one caught up and tossed to and fro, not Jesus. This is pointedly clear after John wrote his Gospel.

For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father. (John 10:17-18 NRSV)

Jesus is no pawn, and he is not playing co-pilot with anyone. He is in control from beginning to end. Even Pilate later in the story seems to pick up on this reality. (See John 19:9-10).

Now Pilate is responding to Jesus, and we see him try to pivot:

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?” (John 18:35 NRSV)

Pilate’s non-answer to Jesus’ question is an admission that he doesn’t have anything on Jesus to warrant the death penalty. “This is not between you and me,” Pilate seems to be saying. He is also trying to reestablish that he is the authority in the room, not Jesus. With that floated into the air, he asks another question as a thinly veiled threat: “What have you done?” Pilate seems to realize he had lost some ground and wants to redirect the heat.

Jesus’s answer once again shows who is really the main player in the room.

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.” (John 18:36 NRSV)

Jesus now takes the opportunity to teach Pilate something that remains beyond his grasp. Instead of answering the question of whether he is a king or not he talks about his kingdom, which does not play by the same rules as Pilate’s kingdom. If it did, Pilate would know what to expect, like his followers would be fighting against his capture. But as Jesus says, “my kingdom is not from here.” Pilate is way in over his head. He has no idea what, or who, he is dealing with. He can only see things from his own political power-seeking point of view and therefore is blinded from seeing what’s going on and who Jesus is. Again, it is clear there is really only one person in this discussion in a position to ask questions. Pilate is but a pupil, and a poor one at that. But Pilate cannot shake his political fears as he reacts to the word “kingdom” with one final attempt of getting Jesus to answer to him:

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.” (John 18:37 NRSV)

If John was trying to be humorous with how he records this dialogue, he nails it. Pilate seems so intent on getting Jesus to answer his question that he inadvertently provides his own answer, “So you are a king?” Pilate meant it to be a question, but Jesus lets him know that he has in fact provided the answer to his own question. “You say that I am a king.” Jesus never had to answer his question. It’s almost like Pilate gets played once again by another Jew. But Jesus is not trying to manipulate Pilate. He is trying to help Pilate see that Jesus is not a king like the emperor, and his kingdom is nothing like Rome. Pilate needs to rethink everything he thinks he knows about power and authority, rule and control. Jesus brings a far superior reign to a kingdom beyond the control of any earthly power. Jesus is not playing games; he is speaking of truth. His kingdom is the reality that all other kingdoms will have to submit to. Jesus will not play co-Pilate and he doesn’t play co-pilot with us either.

Before we close this passage, we should not miss the opportunity to listen to the voice of the King who has a very pointed statement you and I should ponder on long and hard. Let me put emphasis on the word “you” in restating it:

Jesus answered, “YOU say that I am a king.”

When Pilate said Jesus was a king, he had in mind the same kind of king he was used to. He attributed to Jesus a projection of his own form of rule and authority. For Pilate, he could not imagine Jesus to be anything other than the kind of king that currently ruled the kingdom known as the Roman Empire.

What about you and me? Are we so different? Here on this final day of the Christian worship calendar, we celebrate Christ the King Sunday. We have come here today to join voices in praise to proclaim that Jesus is King. But let us listen first to Jesus’ voice, for we belong to him, and not to any other kingdom of this world. When we say Jesus is king, do we mean the type of king he has revealed himself to be? Or have we been manipulated and played by the crowds, the culture, the political voices, and powerful rulers of our day? Do we proclaim that Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords, while questioning his reign, as if he were a mere idol in our own hands to aid us in self-worship? Or, do we listen to our true King who came into this world for you and me, not to manipulate or control us, but to die for us and set us free to know him and his Father who are not of this world? If we have any remaining bumper stickers that claim Jesus is our co-pilot, today, on Christ the King Sunday, you are invited to lay them down at the foot of the cross where it belongs. Look up and behold your true King. You will find his reign to be a crown of rejoicing.

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Confessing Our Hope w/ Ted Johnston
November 21 – Proper 29
John 18:33-37 “What Have You Done?”

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Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life

  • Using the analogy of a Royal Flush to speak of Jesus as King of kings and Lord of lords, where is it helpful and where does it break down?
  • What does it look like to “go all in” with Jesus? If we are holding back from trusting Jesus, what is the problem and how can our brothers and sisters help?

From the Sermon

  • Have you ever thought about the message conveyed in the bumper sticker “God is my Co-Pilot”? Can you think of other clichés that may trip us up in how we think of God?
  • Can you relate to Pilate being caught between the demands of the crowds and his own personal concerns? Do you ever feel like you have strings pulling you in different directions? How can knowing Jesus as the true King in the room help cut those strings and bring us into freedom?
  • Discuss some implications of Jesus telling us that his kingdom is not of this world. Do our lives reflect living in this other-worldly kingdom, or do we blend in with the crowd?
  • What did you think of Jesus in how he handled the questioning from Pilate? How does the way John presents Jesus in this story make you think about Jesus? Who do you see Jesus to be from this passage?
  • The sermon challenged us to ponder Jesus’ statement, “YOU say that I am a king.” Ponder together how we may say Jesus is king, but we assume Jesus is the type of king we want him to be. How might Jesus be a king that does not align with how we want him to rule? Are there any “Co-pilot bumper stickers” you would like to confess and lay down at the foot of the cross?

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