The Reign of Christ and the Missional Church (Sermon)

“The Reign of the Christ and the Missional Church”

John 18:33-38a

Allen Huff

Jonesborough Presbyterian Church

Reign of Christ Sunday


33 Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?”

34Jesus 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?”

36Jesus 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?” (NRSV)

         Pontius Pilate. Some see him as a kind of tragic/comic figure, hustling anxiously back and forth, wavering between the rabid crowd outside and the calm, inscrutable Jesus inside. This Pilate might actually prefer to let Jesus go.

         Others see him as just another scheming, egomaniacal autocrat who manipulates people and their fears in order to get what he wants while making the masses think that they are getting what they want.

         Because of John’s consistent view of what he calls “the world” and how it operates, the latter possibility seems more likely in the fourth gospel. Whatever the case, John makes it clear that the Roman governor is outmatched. It reminds me of Matthew’s gospel when Jesus advises his disciples to enter the world with the wisdom of serpents and the innocence of doves. (Matthew 10:16) And that seems to be the Jesus that John presents before Pilate.

         Why do your people want you dead? Pilate asks. Are you some kind of king?

         If you say so, says Jesus.  

         That’s like Moses standing at the burning bush and asking for some name to drop when he confronts Pharaoh. And Yahweh just says, Tell them that I AM WHO I AM sent you.

         I can imagine Moses saying, Gee, thanks. That’s really gonna spook the old boy, isn’t it?

         When Pilate asks a direct question, the Johannine Jesus—who, throughout his ministry, echoes God’s words to Moses saying: I am the good shepherd, I am the bread of life, I am the vine, I am the way, the truth, and the life—gets all cagey and mysterious. How does that help him further the work of his “kingdom”?

         The very idea of kingdom creates problems. When hearing the word king, iconic images come to mind—over-the-top displays of power and wealth. Castles, feasts, and garish robes. And these things were defended not just by armies but by the principle of the divine right of kings. And if a king held office by God’s decree and with God’s blessing, he could do no wrong. When funded by fear—especially religious fear—power can turn large groups of people into flocks of violent sheep, sheep who seem to think they’re independent-minded guard dogs or something. That’s one reason many Christians today avoid the term “kingdom of God,” preferring instead terms like the Realm of God, or the Household of God, or the Kindom of God (because we’re all kinfolk in the family of God).

         The words king and kingdom would have threatened Pilate. And he would know what to do with any challengers to the Roman government. He just doesn’t seem to know what to do with Jesus who leads his followers according to a very different drumbeat—the drumbeat of God’s eternal truth, a truth that does not bow to fear, or power, or money. And while the Pilates and the Caesars of the world canwreak havoc, they cannot, finally, control or defeat God’s truth, which is Alpha and Omega truth, original and ultimate truth—the truth of love over selfishness, grace over competition, compassion over apathy, justice over exploitation, forgiveness over vengeance.

         That’s probably why Pilate says, “What is truth,” then leaves before Jesus can answer. Pilate seems to know that if he tries to argue with Jesus on the nature of truth, he has no answer for love. Any leader who is guided by love, any leader who has the strength to lead with a heart for the people whom he or she governs will have far greater influence than one who leads by threat of violence.

Overcoming humankind’s addiction to violence is one of the great projects of any community committed to God’s truth. I think that’s why Jesus says, “My kingdom is not of this world,” because if it were, he says, “my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over…”

         The realm of the Christ cannot be established and maintained through the means of worldly kingdoms—through sword and shield, rifle and bomb, pride and fear, dollars and ownership. And trying to force Jesus’ realm on anyone almost always destroys their desire to enter it. One enters the here-and-now realm of God by intentionally living for the well-being of neighbor and earth.

         Reign-of-Christ living is a day-to-day thing. We can live in love for God’s Creation one minute and cast stones the next. That’s the challenge and the beauty of the Christ’s realm: It’s not subject to our whims or even our acknowledgment. And we constantly slip in and out of it. Even when we have been out of it for some time, it’s always as close as our next act of compassion or justice toward another, or someone’s similar kindness toward us.

         Jesus concludes his earthly ministry in the same place he begins it—with a proclamation of and an invitation to the kingdom of God. Remember, after his baptism and trials in the wilderness, Jesus reappears preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.”

         Turn, says God’s Christ. Turn and see your neighbor and the earth through my eyes, the eyes of fear-shattering love, and you will live a new life, because you will inhabit this world from an altogether different realm.

Learning to live in the Realm of Christ is our mission.

         In the early chapters of his book, A Generous Orthodoxy, Brian McLaren offers a critique of every mode of Christianity that accommodates itself to Caesar. The first chapter is entitled “Why I Am Missional.” And in this chapter, McLaren builds his understanding of “missional” around a bit of wisdom shared with him by a mentor he doesn’t name. That person told McLaren that “in a pluralistic world, a religion is valued based on the benefit it brings to its nonadherents.”1

         Think of Abram. God calls him to a missional life saying, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you…so that you will be a blessing…” (Gen 12:1-3)

         Inasmuch as God’s creatures, wherever and whoever we are, strive to live as blessings upon the rest of Creation, we inhabit and reveal the Household of God. This is what it means for us to live under the Reign of Christ.

         There’s an irony here: While we do not find our true home in any worldlykingdom, finding our home in God’s kingdom does indeed happen in this world. It happens in everyday relationships when we choose to live as blessings.

         This Thursday we celebrate Thanksgiving. Giving thanks is only half of recognizing and receiving God’s blessings. The other half of full-fledged gratitude is sharing the benefits of God’s goodness with the rest of God’s good Creation.

         As a missional church, we are called live for the sake of others and the earth. And when we live this way, we do, in truth, live under the gracious, trustworthy, eternal Reign of Christ.

1A Generous Orthodoxy, Brian McLaren, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 2004, p. 121.

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