A lion woke up one morning in the jungle and felt pretty proud of himself. He decided to take a walk. He came across a monkey eating bananas and yelled, “Hey, monkey, who’s the king of the jungle?” and let out a tree-shaking roar. The monkey bowed low and said, “You, great lion, you are the king of the jungle.” The lion moved on and found a zebra grazing on the grass. He yelled, “Hey, stripes, who’s the king of the jungle?” and gave an earth-shaking roar. The zebra bowed low and said, “You, great lion, you are the king of the jungle.” The lion was quite pleased with all this and walked on. He found an elephant drinking at the watering hole and yelled, “Hey, dumbo, who’s the king of the jungle?” and roared with all his might. The elephant turned and looked, then reached out and wrapped his trunk around the lion, picked him up off the ground, threw him against a tree, and jumped up and down on him. As the elephant walked back to the watering hole, the lion scraped himself off the ground and yelled, “Okay, okay, no need to get mad just because you don’t know the answer!”
Do you know who’s king? Yes, Jesus is King. But do you know how he became King and what it means for you and for all of us and for the whole world? We’ll find the answer in the Gospel of John, chapters 18, 19, and 20. This is John’s description of Jesus’ trial, execution, and resurrection. He wants us to see that this is all about who will be King. Here are the sections that make this really clear.
(Ecce’ Home’ by Antonio Ciseri)
18:33 – 40
Therefore Pilate entered again into the Praetorium, and summoned Jesus and said to Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Are you saying this on your own initiative, or did others tell you about Me?” Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests delivered You to me; what have You done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.” Therefore Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” Pilate *said to Him, “What is truth?”
And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews and said to them, “I find no guilt in Him. But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover; do you wish then that I release for you the King of the Jews?” So they cried out again, saying, “Not this Man, but Barabbas.” Now Barabbas was a robber.
19:1 – 3
Pilate then took Jesus and scourged Him. And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on His head, and put a purple robe on Him; and they began to come up to Him and say, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and to give Him slaps in the face.
19:12 – 16
As a result of this Pilate made efforts to release Him, but the Jews cried out saying, “If you release this Man, you are no friend of Caesar; everyone who makes himself out to be a king opposes Caesar.”
Therefore when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out, and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Pavement, but in Hebrew, Gabbatha. Now it was the day of preparation for the Passover; it was about the sixth hour. And he said to the Jews, “Behold, your King!” So they cried out, “Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.”
19:19 – 22
Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It was written, “JESUS THE NAZARENE, THE KING OF THE JEWS.” Therefore many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Latin and in Greek. So the chief priests of the Jews were saying to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews’; but that He said, ‘I am King of the Jews.’” Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.”
19:28 – 30
After this, Jesus, knowing that all things had already been accomplished, to fulfill the Scripture, said, “I am thirsty.” A jar full of sour wine was standing there; so they put a sponge full of the sour wine upon a branch of hyssop and brought it up to His mouth. Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.
A few days before this, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey colt, and the people welcomed him as the King, the Messiah whom God had promised. Jesus did not assemble an army and take down his enemies by force as the way he took the throne. He put himself in his enemies’ hands and died as a sacrifice. That’s how he became King.
There certainly were other kingdoms in force. Force is the right word because that’s how they operated. The religious leaders used the Law as a force to require people to live the way they thought would qualify them as God’s favored people. Law without mercy or kindness or love. Heavy requirements that kept the people under the authority of those religious leaders. And if anyone dared oppose them, there would be severe consequences, including even execution, which is what they wanted for Jesus since he was claiming to be King but not including their way in his Kingdom. So the Jewish religious leaders made the astonishing declaration: “we have no king but Caesar.”
Caesar, the Roman emperor, represented by Pilate the governor. Rome was the great empire that claimed to bring peace on earth. Well, there was peace as long as you did what they told you to do. Their military legions were stationed all over the lands they had conquered by war. The Romans lifted up Caesar as Lord, as a god, and you didn’t have to believe that in your heart, but you better pay him your taxes and you better not try to take back any place he had conquered.
Now the reason those kingdoms of force were in place goes back to the beginning. Those ways of running things were in place because humanity rebelled against the Creator. Instead of continuing to rule the world which God had made as partners with him, we went our own way. We sinned and corrupted the world. We sinned and brought chaos. We sinned and brought death. Running the world by force is just the opposite of the way God intended it to be.
And instead of being partners with God, that rebellion made us partners with the Ultimate Sinner. Jesus called him “the prince of this world” (John 12:31). He’s the one who leads the whole world astray, that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan (Revelation 12:9). The world was under the dominion of a being who intended to rule forever in rebellion against God and who was quite satisfied for humans to keep on doing things their way because that meant they were really doing things his way.
So Jesus took on those kingdoms, those powers of force, in his own way. Without violence. Without force. With sacrifice. He put himself in their hands for them to have their way, yet God was using it for his way, to bring rescue and redemption to the world. Jesus gave his life. He took the sin of all people as his own. He took the rebellion of all humanity to himself. And because he took the sin and rebellion he had to take the consequence, and so he died.
Now that doesn’t look like a King taking his throne. It looks like he lost and the other kingdoms won. It looks like rebellion and force and violence come out the winners. It looks like humans will keep doing their own thing until they run the world into the ground. It looks like death will not be beat. It looks like Satan will remain the prince of this world.
Thanks be to God, that’s not the end.
John 20:1 – 2
Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, while it was still dark, and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb. So she ran and came to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.”
The two men ran to the tomb and yes, it was empty. They went back into town and Mary stayed close to the tomb. Someone else spoke to her.
John 20:14 – 16
When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (which means, Teacher).
Well, now things look completely different! The Law-enforcers condemned him but he didn’t stay condemned! The political/military establishment killed him but he didn’t stay dead! He has risen! He knocked the prince of this world off the throne by breaking the hold of sin and guilt. He took our sin to himself and left it in the grave. He took our rebellion as his own and left it in the grave. The enemies were conquered and Jesus became King. The apostle Paul put it this way: “Having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us, he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2:14-15). Jesus is King and so, God’s Kingdom has come into the world.
But wait just a minute, you may be thinking. Look out the window – does it really look like Jesus is King? There’s still a lot of force bearing down. Governments make us live by their codes and regulations. Political/military powers move into smaller nations and take them over. And look at the evil that makes headlines every day – murder and abuse and embezzling and mass shootings. Terrorist attacks throughout the world. And there’s all the dark, twisted stuff in our own hearts. God’s Kingdom has come? Jesus is King? If he is, you may be thinking, he’s not doing a very good job of making things right.
But see, Jesus did not become King by force and he doesn’t rule by force. Jesus and his first followers knew that even though he is King, opposition and rebellion will continue; force will still be used to run the world. They taught that the Kingdom takes root in individual hearts and that it spreads slowly and gracefully. It’s like a gentle stream of water that soaks dry ground instead of a raging river that washes everything away. A gentle stream can be dammed and diverted. The Kingdom and the King can be refused and rejected. But the King has promised that his Kingdom will never end and eventually the glory of God will cover the earth like the waters cover the sea.
We can see the basis for this in one more incident in this story of how Jesus became King.
John 20:27 – 31
Then He said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.” Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.”
Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.
The King and the Kingdom come to those who choose to believe. Thomas became convinced that Jesus was his Lord and God. His King. Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ and Son of God – the Messiah, the Rescuer, God come in the flesh and now the King will have life. Because Jesus is King, people can start over like Nicodemus (John 3). People can have their deepest thirsts quenched like the woman at the well (John 4). People can be unconditionally accepted like the woman caught in adultery (John 8). People can and will be raised from death like Lazarus (John 11). Like Thomas and John and Mary, we can become partners with the King building the Kingdom – not by force – and bringing life to others.
I’d like you to hear one young man’s story.
Jesus has died. Jesus has risen. And he is King.