Messiah Lutheran Church :: WE HAVE NO KING BUT CAESAR


Dear friends in Christ,

Two sisters grew up and were polar opposites of each other. The older sister was very girlish.  She loved dresses and perfume and frilly things.  As the nursery rhyme says, “Sugar and spice and everything nice.” The younger sister was just the opposite.  She was a tomboy of tomboys.  She had girl’s name, but the nickname could also be a boy’s name.  She wanted to be known by the nickname.  She never wore dresses.  She loved tennis shoes. She loved sports.  She was particularly good at softball. She played on the conference championship team.  In fact, if I think her high school team won the state championship.  Guess what position she played.  Catcher.  She loved to get dirty.  Many wondered if she liked being a tomboy way too much. 

Guess what happened in her senior year in high school.  She was elected the Homecoming queen. She had a date. She wore a beautiful blue formal gown.  Photos of her were breathtaking.  She was always pretty, even with her catcher’s equipment, but wearing the dress emphasized her beauty. She is now in college working hard for a degree. She is a great young lady.  If someone hadn’t seen her since she was a little girl, they would be surprised at her transformation. What an irony if she wanted to get a degree in women fashion design.  

Tonight, we have that kind of flip flop with the people of Jerusalem.  Pontius Pilate had every right to say, “I can’t believe my ears!” The Jewish leadership exclaimed “We Have No King but Caesar.”  Did I hear that right? “We Have No King but Caesar.”

These words were the final argument in a dispute between Pilate and the Jewish

chief priests. When they exclaimed, “We have no king but Caesar,” the Jewish leaders won that argument.  Pilate’s hope of setting Jesus free was ended.

            The argument began earlier that Good Friday morning when the Jewish leadership showed up at Pilate’s palace to hound him to carry out the death sentence they had passed on Jesus only a few hours before.

Remember the scene in the palace of Caiaphas, the reigning high priest, and the Jewish bigwigs were all present.  “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.”

“You have said so,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

 Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy.  

What do you think?” “He is worthy of death,” they answered.

They took him to Pilate, the Roman governor.  Only Rome could sentence him to death.  Pilate needed to agree, but Rome and the Jews didn’t agree on much, and Pilate wasn’t going to let them dictate to him who needed to be executed or not.  So he questioned Jesus personally.

It didn’t take him very long to figure out that Jesus was guilty of nothing except making the Jewish leaders jealous. Since Pilate held the real power in Jerusalem and was supported by Roman troops and Roman law, the Jewish leaders had to argue with and manipulate Pilate.  Only he had the power to execute Jesus.

Pontius Pilate was Roman; that made him a Gentile. He had only a surface knowledge of Judaism. He really didn’t care to know any more than that.  Pilate was loyal to Rome. He was there to enforce Roman law; he was there to collect Roman taxes; he was there to protect Roman borders. The only opinion that mattered to him was what Caesar and all his advisors said on the other side of the Mediterranean Sea in Rome.  

We notice something else about Pilate.  Not a real positive guy.  He was a cynic.  Remember his phrase, “What is truth?” as if there is such a thing.  He was ridiculing all who think there is absolute truth.    

The chief priests were different from Pilate in almost every way. The Romans hated the Jews; the Jews hated the Romans.  After all they were Gentiles.  They were unclean; they were almost subhuman.  Senator Chuck Schumer, a Democrat senator, said he was concerned about the strife in the Republican Party.  I have a hard time believing he really cares if there is even a Republican party.  I heard someone in the Republican Party say they want the Democrat party to be around but smiled and said just so we don’t forget how bad things can be. So was the disrespect between Pilate, the Roman governor, and the Jewish leadership.  Given a chance, the Jews would have set up an independent country in a heartbeat. 

As far as Jesus was concerned they didn’t care whether he was guilty or not, the Jews just wanted to get rid of him.  They were even willing to invent charges. But Pilate seemed he really wanted justice for Jesus and tried to free Jesus.  

  • He remembered the custom of releasing a prisoner for the Passover and offered Jesus to the crowd.  The crowd chose Barabbas, a wicked man instead.
  • He even had Jesus flogged and then brought back out in the hope that the crowd would feel sorry for him. It didn’t work.
  • He sent Jesus to Herod to pass the buck. Herod passed him back.
  • He argued with the priests and the Jewish mob in front of the palace.

But in the end, he could not escape from the logic of their argument: Jesus claimed to be a king. That meant he was in rebellion against Caesar. If Pilate freed him, Pilate would be taking the enemy’s side. When Pilate asked, “Shall I crucify your king?” the chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.”

What a stunning answer!  With that answer, Pilate gave up and sent Jesus to die. If Pilate stuck up for Jesus he would be risking his career. Did he really want to risk everything for Jesus?  Pilate would not risk anything to save the life of an innocent man. Isn’t that human nature? You take care of yourself first. That is, in fact, the difference between Jesus and everyone else in this story. Jesus alone was willing to lay down his life for the good of others.

We are no different from Pilate. A colleague in the ministry once told me that he had a recurring dream.  He said he pictured himself in a classroom with the military outside making the demand that he tell the class that it was foolish to believe in Jesus or he would die.  He never got the end of the dream to find out what he would do.   He knew what needed to be done, but wondered if he would be so faithful

What would you do?  The truth is, most of us probably won’t ever find ourselves in a situation quite this dramatic. Rather, every day we have the opportunity to sacrifice our lives for God by showing love to one another. Sacrificing ourselves for others is the core of real Christian love. Are you willing to do such a sacrifice all the time?  

To be faithful to God we have to accept the smirks and the dislike of people who don’t want to be too fanatical about their faith. We have to stand on God’s principles, instead of standing on convenience. But saving our own skins is what we do most.  We wait for the right moment to talk about Jesus, and, strangely, the right moment never seems to come. Does that sound like you?

Yet for all these shortcomings the Lord Jesus came to die. When Jesus died on that cross, his blood washed away all the sins of selfishness, all the phoniness and all the lies. God has forgiven those sins through Christ.  Through faith in Jesus, we are forgiven. 

            This is supposed to be a true story about a famous Hollywood actor.  He grew up Catholic and needed to go to weekly confession.  He said he would never tell the priest about the things he really should have. So every time he went to confession he made something up.  He said at the age of ten he was in the confessional booth and said that he had committed adultery. The priest was shocked.  Yeah, the actor went on I like to pretend I am an adult all the time.  In a way, Pilate and the Jewish leaders were like children playing at being adults. They tussled over Jesus whether or whether not he would go to the cross. There was something going on here that was so much bigger.  That adds to tonight’s irony of the passion. We have no king but Caesar. These words are a sad comment on life without faith.

The chief priests were lying.  They hated Caesar. Jerusalem had a reputation for being one of the hardest places in the Roman Empire to rule, because the Jews were convinced that they were the people of God and that God would help them if they revolted—and they tried over and over again. Like I said, “We have no king but Caesar” was a lie

It was a lie in two ways.  They didn’t believe Caesar to be their king, nor did they believe the Lord Jesus was their king either.  But the King of Kings stood before them. But he was unlike earthly kings.  When he came to the earth, he to serve. He made the relationship between God and man right again.  

God had been promising for a thousand years to send a son of King David to rule his people. Jesus was that Son of David.  All real Jewish hopes focused on him. Abraham looked forward to the day of Christ, and every true son of Abraham trusted in him.  You see, when these men rejected Jesus and said they had no king but Caesar, they denied the faith of their fathers and removed themselves from the people of God.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               

Someone once said, “In every person’s heart there is a king. There is a Caesar that rules our hopes and our dreams. There is something that we steer by and work for.” That king is supposed to be Jesus. His Word and his love are to be the end all and be all of our existence.

But for most people, the king is something else or someone else. Even for us Christians, when we were born, the king was something else. That sinful nature inside of us wants to make ourselves the king and how to please this king becomes the goal of life.   

Stop.  Repent. Return to the real King. Trust in him. Jesus says to us, “I am here. I love you. I have forgiven you. I have given you my word to strengthen and renew you. I have given you Baptism and Communion to keep your faith alive. I have given you pastors and teachers to hear your confession and to comfort you with my love and forgiveness. I have given you fellow members to encourage you. I will never leave you or forsake you.   

As I said in every person’s life, there is a king. Let our answer always be, “We have no king but Jesus!” 

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