By Self-Sacrifice & Truth, Jesus Builds His Kingdom
Passage: John 18:28–38
Sermon on John 18:28-38a by Bret Rogers, Pastor
Delivered on March 8, 2015
Evil Kingdoms by Violence & Lies
If there’s one thing history has taught us, it’s this: violence and lies are the primary weapons of evil kingdoms.
A man publishes his Mein Kampf—argues that one race is superior to others—and then resorts to killing off millions to have things his way—Adolf Hitler. A man wants his USSR to prevail, so he manipulates the economy and starves seven-and-a-half million people who want freedom from his tyranny—Josef Stalin. A man wants control of Cambodia, so he knocks off a third of the population with malnutrition in forced labor-camps, all under the guise of agricultural reform—Pol Pot. Men want power in Rwanda, so they dehumanize an entire people group with propaganda and then watch the public slay them for three months—the Hutu militia.
Violence and lies are the primary weapons of evil kingdoms. Now, I seriously doubt any of us who are sane would support such heinous brutality, such stomach-churning wickedness. But we would be mistaken to think that such power-hungry kingdoms don’t illustrate the evil present in all of us born in Adam.
Think of it—sinful anger, impatience, complaining, hateful attitudes, cutting remarks, manipulation, half-truths, gossip—the heart of evil is the desire to be God, the desire to make ourselves the center of the universe: “Others must serve me; and if they don’t, somebody’s going to get hurt.” Sure, not all sin manifests itself in the degree of public brutality of the regimes I mentioned. But sin is sin, and it all comes from the desire to be on the throne at the expense of others.
If this is the natural state of humanity as the Bible says—and history proves again and again that it is—we’re doomed. We’re doomed, not just because our evil desires will continue ruling us. We’re doomed not just because history will keep repeating itself with power-hungry people and more genocide and bigger bombs. More importantly, we’re doomed before God. He made us to rule and relate to one another under his kingship, not our own kingship. And he has appointed a Judgment with severe consequences for doing things our own way. He will not tolerate treason forever. So, then, where do we turn for deliverance, for hope, for a future?
Jesus’ Kingdom by Self-Sacrifice & Truth
Because of his love, God has answered that question. His word tells us, there lives a King who is not evil, but wholly good. He is not a tyrant, but a servant. He doesn’t vie for power; he already has all-power. And he doesn’t use his power the way the rest of mankind uses its power. His reign and his kingdom is altogether alien to this evil world. He builds his kingdom, not with violence and lies; he builds his kingdom with self-sacrifice and truth. That’s where we’re heading this morning: he builds his kingdom with self-sacrifice and truth. The name of this alien King is Jesus Christ.
We find ourselves in the middle of Jesus’ journey to the cross. He gives himself into the hands of the authorities. He’s tried before Annas and Caiaphas. And one of his closest followers, Peter, just denied him. That brings us to verse 28.
28Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters. It was early morning. They themselves did not enter the governor’s headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover. 29So Pilate went outside to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” 30They answered him, “If this man were not doing evil, we would not have delivered him over to you.” 31Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” The Jews said to him, “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death.” 32This was to fulfill the word that Jesus had spoken to show by what kind of death he was going to die.
1. Jesus Builds His Kingdom by Self-Sacrifice
We’ll read more in a minute, but stop there: “This was to fulfill the word that Jesus had spoken to show by what kind of death he was going to die.” We should know by now that these little remarks help us understand the salvation Jesus brings for us (cf. 18:4, 9, 14). John wants us to make connections to the rest of his Gospel leading up to this point. And it’s by making these connections that we see the first way Jesus builds his kingdom. He builds his kingdom through self-sacrifice.
Now, by saying Jesus builds his kingdom, I don’t mean to imply that he somehow isn’t King already. He’s very much a king, as we’ll soon see in his exchange with Pilate (18:37; cf. 1:32; 6:15; 12:15).
Making Enemies Kingdom Citizens
But his kingdom isn’t one that’s fully established yet on earth (cf. Matt 6:10; 1 Cor 15:25). It must be built. He must populate it with citizens. In fact, his kingdom wouldn’t have any citizens at all were it not for his coming. All that exists in the world are rebels against his kingdom. That’s what the whole of humanity is; that’s what it means to be born in Adam—born enemies of God (Rom 5:10-12).
Just look at how his own people are treating him. All he’s done is good for them. But now he finds even his own kindred manipulating political powers to execute him: “What accusation do you bring against this man?”…“If this man weren’t doing evil, we wouldn’t have delivered him over to you.” There’s no accusation in that. These people have nothing on Jesus. He’s done nothing wrong, only good. But they oppose him anyway. And if they can manipulate Pilate enough, then they might be able to get Jesus crucified. It’s a stunning picture of what we are by nature—that apart from God’s grace opening our eyes, we’ll do what we can to bump off the true King. And that’s not just true for Jews here; it’s true for the whole world. They’re all gathered against Jesus (Ps 2:1-4; Acts 4:27-28).
We are, by nature, God’s enemies. So, if Jesus is going to build a kingdom of people—people who love him and follow him—he must break in and fundamentally change them. He must deliver them from evil and make them citizens of his kingdom and subject to his rule. But he doesn’t do this by brute force—not by coming and imposing some sort of Sharia law. He does it through self-sacrifice.
He does it by taking up a cross—Roman execution of all things. It’s a kind of death only reserved for the scumbags of society. Romans had several ways of killing people, but crucifixion was the worst. They wouldn’t even crucify their own citizens, because of how wretched and shameful it was.
And yet, John’s note in verse 32 seems to be saying all this was happening according to plan. “This was to fulfill the word that Jesus had spoken to show by what kind of death he was going to die.” Self-sacrifice by crucifixion. Why this route? Why didn’t the Jews just take him out in the streets like they did Stephen and stone him (Acts 7:54-60)? Why were things unfolding this way, through Roman crucifixion? They’re happening this way because this is how God saves us and brings us into his kingdom.
Jesus’ Crucifixion and Being “Lifted Up”
Here’s where I want you to start turning some pages with me, because there are three times Jesus foretells his death in the way John is speaking of here. And in those three places Jesus refers to himself as being “lifted up”—that is, lifted up on a cross; it’s basically a euphemism for crucifixion in John’s Gospel.
But in each of these places we also find three massive problems separating us from Jesus’ kingdom—separating us from enjoying his peaceful rule. We’re sentenced to eternal death, stuck in our sin, and subject to the devil. We’re sentenced to eternal death—meaning, God’s wrath remains on us because of our sin (3:36). We rightly deserve his condemnation for preferring evil (3:18-20). There’s a death-sentence over us forever. We’re also stuck in our sin—meaning, we can’t escape sin on our own. We carry sin with us (8:21). It separates from God. There’s nothing we can do to get away from sin’s control (8:34-36). Sin will follow us to the grave, and be the reason for our torment in eternity (8:24; cf. 3:36). And then we’re also subject to the devil. He even uses this death-sentence and our sin against us to blackmail us, such that we fear him and support his kingdom agenda (8:44; 12:31; cf. Col 2:13-15; Heb 2:14-15; 1 John 5:19).
Sentence of Eternal Death | Removed in Christ
So with those three problems in mind, go with me now to 3:14. Jesus says this, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness [cf. Num 21:4-9], so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
So, right there, we see that Jesus, by being lifted up on a cross, is going to remove the sentence of eternal death for all who believe. We all deserve to perish, because of sin. But somehow, God is going to lift Jesus up on a cross and when we look to him, believe in him, the bite of eternal death will be removed. We won’t perish but gain eternal life. The death-sentence will be eliminated for the believer.
Stuck in Our Sins | Redeemed in Christ
Now, look at 8:23—the second time Jesus mentions being lifted up: “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I AM you will die in your sins.” Verse 28, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I AM.” And then verses 34-36 explain a bit more on how this Son of Man sets people free from sin. He redeems them. How? By being “lifted up.” So the problem is we’re stuck in our sins. And we’re redeemed only by union with Jesus who’s lifted up on a cross.
Subject to the Devil | Rescued by Christ
One more—12:31-32. Jesus says this in relation to his death: “‘Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world [that’s the devil] be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” In other words, they’re not going to be subject to the devil anymore. He rescues them. They’re going to freely run to Jesus. Then get this in verse 33: “He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.” And with that verse, all three problems separating us from Jesus’ kingdom are dealt with. Sentence of eternal death—removed! Stuck in our sin—redeemed! Subject to the devil—rescued! All when Jesus is lifted up on a cross.
Jesus’ Crucifixion and the Curse
Now, if we want to know how a cross in particular achieves those three things—versus another kind of death such as stoning—we must turn to one other place in Scripture, namely, Galatians 3:13. It says this, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree [= cross]’ (cf. Deut 21:23; Acts 5:30), so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.”
This is how Jesus adds people to his kingdom. He doesn’t come to curse us by imposing more law; he comes to obey the law as one of us, in order to become the curse in place of us. He’s perfectly innocent. The Jews can’t bring a single charge against him. He’s committed no crime to deserve such a death. Yet he chose the wretched shame of Roman crucifixion, so all the visible and invisible world—including Satan himself—would see that the curse we deserved because of sin fell on him instead.
Jesus’ wasn’t the criminal; we were the criminals. He wasn’t cursed; we were cursed. But he became a curse for us. He bore the wrath of God, and so he removes our death-sentence. He paid the penalty for our sin, and so redeems us from sin’s power. And with that done, he also rescues us from the devil’s blackmailing threats. And because of all that, we then become part of his kingdom—simply by trusting in what he’s done for us on the cross. There’s no more condemnation separating God from us; there’s no more sin separating us from God; and the kingdom of darkness no longer holds sway over our soul. We run into his kingdom as new, free citizens. It’s beautiful!—what our King does for us, and yet so alien to a world that craves power at the expense of others.
2. Jesus Builds His Kingdom by the Truth
We’ll come back to that in a minute, but look now at the second way Jesus builds his kingdom. Jesus builds his kingdom by the truth. Let’s continue in verse 33. Pilate, to the Jews’ surprise (cf. 18:3), calls their bluff a couple of times. But they finally convince him to question Jesus:
33“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.” 37Then 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.” 38Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”
Through this exchange with Pilate, we learn a couple of things about Jesus’ kingdom. First off, his kingdom isn’t of this world—meaning, it doesn’t have its origins in this world. It’s not a kingdom this world could ever produce through political power and military force. It’s an alien kingdom. It doesn’t rise up from within, it breaks in from without. There’s no need for Pilate to fear political revolt. Otherwise, Jesus’ disciples would have already been fighting. And the only one who did raise his sword, Peter, Jesus rebuked. Jesus doesn’t build his kingdom with violence. We’ve already seen, he builds it by willingly laying down his life for others.
But we also find that Jesus’ kingdom is one of truth: “For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth.” Now, “the truth” that Jesus mentions isn’t merely propositional truth as opposed to falsehood. It can mean that, and in some cases it does (3:33; 8:44, 46). But that’s not so much why Jesus says he was born and entered the world. He’s working with categories far more sweeping than that.
“Truth” in John’s Gospel is often associated with God’s final and climactic revelation in Jesus. For instance, 1:17: “The law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” The point isn’t that truth didn’t exist before Jesus’ coming, but that Jesus is the true fulfillment of all that preceded his coming. And so we see him revealed as the true Light (1:9), the true Passover (1:29; 6:55), the true Temple (2:21), the true Bread from heaven (6:32), the true Vine (15:1). In other words, he reveals the truth about God and his kingdom. To see and know Jesus is to see the very truth about God’s kingdom unfolding.
He’s speaking in terms of ultimacy in God’s self-revealing work. In fact, at one point in John’s Gospel he straight up says, “I am the truth” (14:6). Or here, “Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” (18:37). Talk about ultimacy! It’s a staggering claim. Can you imagine any one of us making such an assertion?—“You’re of the truth insofar as you listen to me.” It’s at the height of arrogance. Others who’ve said things like this start cults; they sway entire nations with their ideology.
So, when you hear Jesus saying such things, you’ve really got to decide: Is Jesus in a category with all the other arrogant lunatics; or is he really Lord and God? If he is Lord and God, then we owe him everything.
His words confront us at the highest level. And that’s how he gathers citizens into his kingdom. We’ve already seen that he dies for them; the question is, “Are you listening to his voice?” If not, you’re not of the truth; you remain outside his kingdom. But if you’re listening to him, you’re of the truth; you’re welcomed into his kingdom. You become a citizen. You start embracing his values. You start looking at the world as he looks at the world. You start applying his words to your relationships with others. You start thinking his thoughts after him. You start to love the very things that he loves.
Everything about you now belongs to him. You’re not your own, but walk by his order and his counsel and his example—such that what ends up happening is that the alien King builds an alien kingdom by making alien citizens, that is, people so in love with him that they look alien to this world.
Alien Citizens Following an Alien King
And with that said, I want to leave us with a few comments about what sort of people that ought to make us. If Jesus builds his kingdom by self-sacrifice and truth, then what sort of citizens ought we to be?
We embrace our King’s cross to serve others
First of all, it means we embrace our King’s cross to serve others. This is no more than what Jesus said in 13:34, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” How is it that he loves us? He loves us by self-sacrifice, by taking up a cross; and we are called to follow in his footsteps (1 Pet 2:20-22). The way of the cross will make you alien to this world. This world craves power and recognition at the expense of others; but our King has shown us a better way.
So, what might embracing the King’s cross look like us, husbands? We are to love our wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. This is the King’s charge to us. But what will it look like? All of us are in different places, but it may look like this. It may mean you need to crucify the desire to focus on your wife’s failures, in order to serve her as the fellow heir of grace that God says she is (1 Pet 3:7). It may mean you need to crucify your irritation and temper in difficult circumstances, in order to serve her with prayer (Col 3:19).
It may mean you need to crucify your complaining attitude, in order to serve her with thanksgiving for all that God is doing in her. It may mean you need to crucify the way you lead her to watch all sorts of movies full of sex and violence, in order to serve your marriage with prayer and reading Scripture. When you get home and she’s exhausted, embracing the King’s cross may mean you don’t ask, “What’s for dinner?” but, “How can I help?” Of course, speaking from experience, these sacrifices will only happen if you’re getting to know the King himself.
Or what about those of you who, by God’s providence or gifting, are single? What might embracing self-sacrifice look like for you? I honestly had a hard time coming up with things here, but not because I didn’t know what to say, but because everything I found myself saying, our singles were already doing. The majority of our singles are great examples to us in taking up the cross. So, take these for what they are, take these as a way to fan into flame some of what you’re already doing.
Singles, it may mean that you’re busy with so many things, that you lose sight of your service on the right things, like the brothers and sisters in this church body that you agreed to love. Taking up your cross may mean you need to die to some of your selfish ambitions—whether that’s hours in World of Warcraft or hours in the gym behind a mirror—and doing this, in order to give undivided devotion to the Lord and his church.
Maybe you’re one that already struggles with some level of loneliness, but over time, that loneliness has turned you so inward, you find it hard to even think creatively about serving others, because they’re not really serving you either. The way of the cross addresses both sides doesn’t it? It tells us to put down some of our own preferences and tight schedules to draw near to you, to include you; and it tells you to draw near to us when we are still blind and inconsiderate. We need regular reminders from your sacrifices that Christ is sufficient in all things and that marriage isn’t an end in itself, but a pointer to a kingdom in which men and women aren’t given in marriage except to Jesus Christ. Membership in Christ’s kingdom doesn’t hinge on the question, “Are you married?” but “Are you bearing a cross?”
And for others of us, the cross will come as a jolting check to the manner in which we serve others as well. For instance, is it your habit to serve others only in contexts in which you will be recognized, only in ways that will build your resume? When we pursue service in this way—only to be praised for our service—we’ve perverted the King’s cross. The cross calls us to serve others for God’s sake, not our own; and even more, to embrace the boring, everyday opportunities to serve others who could never pay us back (Montgomery, 152).
I also think many of you should apply the cross to the way you interact on social media. How might the cross affect your Facebook posts and Twitter outlets? Our culture says the way up in our world is to be louder about ourselves, and our own views, and our own likes. The way up is harsh and outspoken about every little news publication. We need to die to this mentality, and you might even check your cravings by going a week or two without posting or checking anything. We need to die to making offhand remarks that lack any consideration for the body of Christ to whom we’re united.
And positively speaking, shouldn’t we use all our communication tools to serve the King’s agenda instead of our own? We need to put down the iPhone at lunch, to get to know other employees; we need to die to our infatuation with social media, to get to know each other face-to-face; to show hospitality, and not just assume she isn’t lonely because her Facebook page is full.
I could go on, but the point I hope is clear: all of us must take the self-sacrifice of our King and imitate him in our marriages, and in our homes, and in our church, and in our workplaces. Jesus put it this way elsewhere: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).
We listen to our King’s voice as people of the truth
Something else: we listen to our King’s voice as people of the truth. There are many competing voices in the world vying for your attention. There are many noble voices, who have good things to say. There are even solid Christian voices who speak well of Christ and point people to him. But there’s only one King you will answer to on the Last Day. Do you know his voice? I don’t mean his audible voice. I mean the voice of his Spirit-inspired words, written and preserved on the pages of Scripture. This is how he speaks to us. Are these the words you listen to and pursue as your utmost prize?
There isn’t anybody else who reveals God as Jesus does. There isn’t anybody else who knows you as well as he does. There isn’t anybody else loves you as much as he does—nobody else who will lead you into the pleasures of eternal life like he will. He was born and came into the world to reveal God to us.
And so I would encourage you to open your Bibles often. Get alone with God and pour over the pages of Scripture. You can’t listen to his voice if you’re never setting your eyes on his written word. Set aside time to get the Bible open.*
And soak in it, not just to know truth in the abstract, but to know the person of Christ himself. He is the truth, he is the ultimate goal of all God’s revelation. He redeemed and rescued you, not to leave you alone in silence. He’s a Good Shepherd, a perfect Bridegroom, and he delights in speaking words of truth over his people.
And then let his word compel you to obedience. Being a people of the truth will mean our lives exemplify the very truth Jesus displays. His word must effect everything we do, from the big plans we make to the microscopic things we put into our bodies. His truth must effect the way we speak in content and tone. His truth must effect the way we listen with patience and charity. His truth must effect the goals we set for our children and the types of things we pray for one another. His truth must effect the way we work diligently, as unto the Lord and not merely to please man.
But none of this obedience is in the abstract. It’s all aimed at Christ and enjoying more of him. It’s not to congratulate ourselves as good Christ-followers. It’s so that people see the King in all we do, so that people glorify Jesus in all we do, so that there’s no part of our lives that suggests to the world, “He’s not that great a King. He doesn’t have my best interest in mind. He’s not telling me the truth.” Everything about us should bear witness that all he says is truth, and truth of the highest sort, truth that leads to salvation and a relationship with God.
We spread the King’s truth to make more citizens
Third, we spread the King’s truth to make more citizens. There’s an invitation in Jesus’ words. It goes along with all the other “whoevers” and “everyones” in John’s Gospel. And here we see, “Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” Now, the obvious point here is that Pilate doesn’t listen to Jesus’ voice and neither do any of the Jewish authorities. They’re the false ones. They’re in the wrong.
But the point pressed home on the reader is, “Who do you think is true?” And that’s what we must ask those we encounter in the world. “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom 10:17). People aren’t just going to stumble into the kingdom. They’re still blind, just as blind as we once were. They suppress the truth and walk in a world of people who suppress the truth in unrighteousness. They’re still stuck in their sins. They’re still trapped in the devil’s lies. And their only hope for rescue is if they hear the King’s voice, is if they see what he’s done to remove their death-sentence and redeem and rescue them from darkness.
So, spread his truth to others. Put it in an email, write it on a card, speak it over the phone, have your neighbor over for coffee and draw it on a napkin, whatever. The Lord hasn’t returned yet. He’s patient toward all, not wishing for any to perish, but for all to come to repentance.
We seek the King’s power for our existence
And lastly, we must seek the king’s power for our existence. Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world. The power for our existence cannot come from this world. It cannot come from worldly means like political maneuvers and brute force and guerrilla warfare and guns and threats and suicide bombers. Our power for existence must come from above, where Jesus is seated at the right hand of God.
Our warfare functions at a different level, Paul tells us. “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day” (Eph 6:12-13). And the armor of God is essentially Christ himself as he’s revealed in the gospel (Eph 6:14-17). Even “the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds…to destroy every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God” (2 Cor 10:4-5).
That’s not to say that our Christian worldview and our faithfulness to Christ can’t shape governing agencies or can’t reform legislation that honors God and serves the public. The Christian should work very hard to let the truth of Jesus Christ influence agencies of justice and law for the benefit of others in society. Our faith is not a private matter. But, in terms of converting others, and in terms of sustaining faith, and in terms of building the church, our power doesn’t come from the sword, but from the Savior.
Civil authorities cannot remove the death-sentence, they cannot redeem from sin, they cannot rescue from Satan; only Jesus can. And his power enables us to set aside our violence, to set aside our lies, to follow him in self-sacrifice and truth.
More in The Gospel According to John
May 24, 2015Eyewitness Testimony to the Greatness of Jesus
May 17, 2015Loving Jesus & Feeding His People at All Costs
May 10, 2015Believing the Apostle's Testimony When Not Seeing Jesus