Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that we’re in the heart of political election season. Right now, candidates are duking it out to be their party’s candidate for the presidency, which means that in recent political debates, we’re seeing a lot of finger pointing and “flip flopping.” One candidate accuses, “My opponent has opposed cutting taxes for decades, and suddenly he wants to cut them way back!” Or “she used to oppose gay-marriage, but now she fully supports it!” Or “he used to fund Democratic candidates, and suddenly he’s a Republican!” Why do politicians do this “flip-flopping,” and change a stance they’ve always held to something completely different? By judging the way that the country’s political winds are blowing, politicians are often willing to do or say whatever gives them the best chance of getting what they want…to be elected. Tonight, we have before us some examples of “politicians” flip-flopping, as Pontius Pilate and the Jewish chief priests changed their stance so they could get what they wanted. Our irony of the passion tonight is these words of the Jewish leaders: We have no king but Caesar.
These words were the final counter punch in a dispute between Pilate and the Jewish chief priests. The argument began early Friday morning when the Jewish leadership showed up at Pilate’s palace to persuade him that he needed to put Jesus to death. But Pilate wasn’t about to let a bunch of Jews dictate whom he executed in the name of Rome! So he personally questioned Jesus. It didn’t take him very long to figure out that Jesus was guilty of nothing except making these guys jealous. He wanted to set Jesus free, and had the power to do so, but the Jewish leaders would do anything to rid themselves of Jesus. So the two sides faced off.
Pilate was a Roman Gentile. He only cared about enforcing Roman law, collecting Roman taxes, and what the Roman leaders thought about him. He knew little about Jewish religion, and cared even less about the Jewish people.
The Jews hated the Romans, and dreamed about overthrowing their Roman oppressors. But at this point, they were more focused on getting rid of Jesus than getting rid of the Romans.
It’s a pretty ironic scene. The gentile governor who couldn’t have cared less about the Jews was the man who wanted justice for Jesus, while the religious leaders, who should have clearly seen that Jesus was the promised Savior, wanted him dead. Pilate tried over and over to free Jesus, but the chief priests and the Jewish mob kept shouting, “Crucify him!” When Pilate asked, “Shall I crucify your king?” the chief priests showed how desperately they wanted Jesus dead, exchanging their hatred of the Romans for submission, sneering at Pilate, “We have no king but Caesar.” The Jews flip-flopped to get what they wanted. Pilate couldn’t escape their argument: Jesus claimed to be a king. That meant he was in rebellion against Caesar. According to Roman law, Jesus had to be crucified.
That’s not to say Pilate didn’t have the power to stop Jesus’ murder. But to save Jesus, he would have had to put his career, and even his life on the line, by opposing Caesar. Pilate certainly wasn’t going to risk his own life to save Jesus, so he flip-flops on Jesus’ innocence to save his own skin, and sent Jesus off to be crucified.
Isn’t Pilate a snapshot of human nature here? People naturally take care of themselves first, second, and third, and then maybe others fourth. We might boldly daydream that we would have stood up for Jesus, even to the death! But would we? We might never face that kind of a dramatic situation. But every day we have the opportunity to sacrifice our lives for God, by showing love to him and to others ahead of ourselves. But are we any more willing to sacrifice ourselves for God than Pilate was?
When we look at our lives, we’re far more likely to put ourselves first. We lie to stay out of trouble. We avoid eye contact with people who need our help. We wait for the right moment to tell others about Jesus, but tell ourselves that the right moment just hasn’t come. We talk friendly over the fence, but we don’t really put ourselves out there for a neighbor. We might sacrifice for others or God, but only when it’s convenient for our needs.
The sad irony is how often we’re willing to do or say anything to get what we want, but how unwilling we are to do or say anything to get what Jesus wants. All those selfish failures, that lack of love we display deserves God’s punishment. But the joyful irony is that Jesus, the only person in this account who wasn’t acting solely out of selfishness, was willing to do and say nothing. He did nothing and said nothing to stop these fools from their selfishness, so that he could get what he wanted. So he could win what we needed…our forgiveness and salvation.
In love, Jesus wasn’t looking out for himself. He looked out for us! What a miracle of grace that God counts that perfect, self-sacrificing love of Christ as our perfect, self-sacrificing love. God says that you and I have loved God and one another perfectly because Jesus did. And just as miraculous, because Jesus didn’t stop these men from sending him to the cross, God counts his death as our payment for sin. His blood washed away all our selfishness, all the lies we tell to make ourselves feel better, all our guilt for the times we put ourselves first. Because Jesus suffered our death and our hell, God has forgiven those sins. Through faith in Jesus, we are now free.
“We have no king but Caesar” was a flip-flop lie the chief priests told to get what they wanted. However, it reveals a deeper problem of their hearts. “We have no king but Caesar” revealed that these men lacked faith that Jesus really was the true King of Israel. For a thousand years God had promised to send a son of King David to rule his people. All Jewish hopes rested on that promised King, and Jesus fulfilled those promises! So when these men said they had no king but Caesar, they rejected Jesus. They denied the faith of their fathers and removed themselves from God’s people.
The truth is that everyone holds a king in their heart; a Caesar that rules their hopes and dreams, steers their actions and draws their worship. Because of Jesus’ love, he should always be the king. But most people worship a different king. Even as Christians, the old selfish king that used to rule in our hearts wants its job back.
So while we shake our heads as the chief priests crown themselves instead of Jesus, we also have to shake our heads at the times we’ve denied Jesus to follow other kings; when we’ve kept our true king hidden because it was easier for people to not know that we follow him. We’ve flip-flopped in our love for Jesus, because it’s more convenient to love ourselves instead. Any other king would send you to the gallows for such disobedience!
But not our king. Our king Jesus put us first over himself, so our rebellion against him might be forgiven. Trust in him. Because although we’ve flip flopped in our love for Jesus, his love for you remains firm. Although you’ve placed other kings above him, he’s always put you first! Praise be to our king. His love endures forever!
In every person’s life, there is a king. Those whose king is themselves leads them to do or say anything to get what they want. If their king is not Jesus, it leads them to hell. But God has given us the one thing Pilate and the chief priests lacked—faith in Christ. So he has put a new King in our hearts. Yes, that King has rivals. But no other king loves us as perfectly as king Jesus. Trust in him. Trust in his love. Trust in his gracious rule. Worship the king, and serve him only!