We were always told that there are no stupid questions, just stupid answers. Some people push the boundaries of that statement, but I still believe it holds true.
Christianity is a religion premised upon the existence of objective truth. Not only does truth exist, but truth is most clearly articulated to us in the person of Jesus Christ. We can actually point to truth.
And in an age when biblical literacy is low, there is a deep desire for the most basic truths. Christians don't shy away from big questions of existence precisely because we value truth so highly, even if the answers trouble us and our delicate dispositions.
As much as we want truth, sometimes we rail against it because of how much it troubles us. Or, we rework truth to make it more palatable to the zeitgeist (which guarantees backfire). Or worse yet, we use our words as misdirection for what we really believe or to mask the fact that we don't know what we believe.
in John 18, Pontius Pilate asks Jesus, "What is truth?" Actually, Jesus gets asked four questions in this passage.
So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world--to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”
After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, “I find no guilt in him. But you have a custom that I should release one man for you at the Passover. So do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?” They cried out again, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a robber. (John 18:33-38)
Jesus is arrested in Gethsemane, is brought in front of the high priest and his crew, and he's questioned about his disciples and what he taught them. Jesus knows he's there under false pretenses, so he keeps asking for evidence of their charges. They've got nothing.
Jews weren't allowed to sentence anyone to the death penalty as long as the land was occupied by Rome. Jewish leaders had to convince Rome that Jesus was a threat so that Rome would kill him, instead. Hence why the Jews take Jesus to Pilate, the Roman governor.
Even Pilate recognizes that there isn't a coherent story here. All they have against Jesus is a bunch of ad hominem attacks. When Pilate asks for more clarity on their charges, all they can muster is, "If he didn't do anything bad, we couldn't have brought him here" (v. 30). If anyone ever says, "Just trust me," don't trust that person.
Pilate wants them to judge Jesus by their own laws since he's broken no Roman laws. But they're so adamant they want him dead that they keep pressing the issue. So Pilate asks the first question:
"Are you the king of the Jews?"
To Pilate's credit, he didn't cave too early to the Jewish leaders' demands and place him in the boo-box immediately. He had enough wherewithal to get some clear answers.
But this is the question, isn't it? This is the hinge on which the door swings, right? Who is Jesus? It's easy to write him off as a man of history who got swept up in a revolutionary time period. It's easy to think that his followers thought differently about Jesus than what Jesus thought of himself and made too much of him.
But unlike the Jewish leaders, we have to honestly asses who Jesus said he was based on what actually happened.
Jesus responds to Pilate's question with a question. "Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?" Everyone eventually has to answer this question. Is Pilate asking on his behalf or on behalf of Jesus' captors?
Jesus knew himself to be a king, but a very particular kind of king. He was not the revolutionary warlord or military strategist bent on taking Jerusalem back from Rome (at least not in the way many wanted him to; he will do that one day).
Jesus wants Pilate to answer for himself. Because the truth requires an individual response from each of us. Everyone is required to give an account. Jesus is drawing the truth out of Pilate.
Like Pilate, we will all be held to account for our answer to this question. And whether or not we answer it today, we will answer the question someday. We're all called to faith and repentance today.
If Jesus is not the king of the Jews, he's not at all who he claimed to be. And if he is the king of the Jews, then he's the rightful king and heir of the whole world, destined before the foundation of the world.
God has sent us into the world to tell people that Jesus is in fact the king of the Jews. When we make that bold claim, we are simultaneously begging people: "Be reconciled to God" (2 Corinthians 5:20).
Jesus is the cosmic King who reconciles us to the eternal Father. Pilate didn't know all that he was asking when he questioned Jesus, "Are you the king of the Jews?"
He is the king of the Jews with authority over all of creation, imploring us, "Be reconciled to God."
Next week, we'll look at the second question, "Why should I care about Jesus?"