Somewhere around the first week of December I start listening to Christmas music on my car radio. Before long songs like this well-known seasonal song comes through the car speakers:
Dashing through the snow/In a one-horse open sleigh/O'er the fields we go/Laughing all the way/Bells on bobtails ring/Making spirits bright/What fun it is to ride and sing/A sleighing song tonight/ Oh, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells/Jingle all the way . . . and so on. You know the words by heart, I am sure.
And, of course, along with such seasonal songs also come Christmas hymns, such as this one: What Child is this, who laid to rest/On Mary's lap is sleeping?/Whom angels greet with anthems sweet/While shepherds watch are keeping?/This, this is Christ, the King/Whom shepherds guard and angels sing/Haste, haste to bring Him laud/The Babe, the Son of Mary!
I like both ‘Jingle Bells’ and ‘What Child is This?’ I sing along to both when they play on the radio. But I want to remind us on this third Sunday of Advent of the contrast between the two. Although Jingle Bells is often called a Christmas song, it really has nothing to do with Christmas. Jingle Bells doesn’t focus on the reason for the Christmas season, whereas “What Child is This?” turns our thoughts to the one who alone is the reason for Christmas. It is Christmas hymns that turn our thoughts toward King Jesus who came to us in that little town of Bethlehem through the virgin womb of Mary.
Advent is a time in the Church calendar during which many Christians make an additional attempt to better prepare ourselves for the celebration of the Lord’s birth in that little town of Bethlehem some two millennia ago.
But a serious problem many Christians face in our daily journey with Christ is that the reason for this season tends to get lost in the familiarity of the stories we have heard all our lives about Jesus – from the Bethlehem manger to Calvary’s hill. As a consequence, the blood Jesus shed on that cross tends to lose its power to move us toward a holy lifestyle maintained and nurtured by a routine prayer life, study of Scripture, and the confession of our sins.
Jesus left His throne in glory to rescue us from Satan’s domain of darkness, of sin, and of eternal death. He did that on Calvary’s cross where He died in our place, taking the punishment for our sins, and thereby fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah: “But He was wounded for our transgressions; He was bruised for our iniquities. The chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and with His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, everyone, to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:5-6).
So, on this third Sunday of Advent, my texts come first from John 18:33-38 “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 now chapter 19, beginning at verse one: 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. Pilate came out again and said to them, “Behold, I am bringing Him out to you so that you may know that I find no guilt in Him.” Jesus then came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold, the Man!” So when the chief priests and the officers saw Him, they cried out saying, “Crucify, crucify!” Pilate said to them, “Take Him yourselves and crucify Him, for I find no guilt in Him.” 7 The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and by that law He ought to die because He made Himself out to be the Son of God . . . 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.” 16 So he then handed Him over to them to be crucified.
Pilate asked Jesus several questions during his interrogation. One question was this: “Are You the King of the Jews?” Now notice the Lord’s response: “Are you saying this on your own initiative, or did others tell you about Me?”
Good question for us as well: Do we say Jesus is Lord and King because our parents, our pastors, our teachers, or what our friends have told us about Him? Or do we know Jesus as OUR Lord and King because we have an intimate and personal relationship with Him through prayer and humble searching for truth?
Pilate also asked Jesus, “What is truth?” But instead of waiting for an answer, he turned and walked away from the very embodiment of Truth. You will remember on an earlier occasion Jesus told His followers, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by Me (John 14:6) And likewise, you and I must also answer that question: What is truth?
Listen, please. If we do not think we will find Truth embodied in the Lord Jesus, then we will never find truth about life, death, and eternity. Never.
So, just who is this King Pilate told the crowd to behold? Well, what saith the Scriptures? For example, here is the prophet Daniel: “I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, and He came up to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion, glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations and men of every language might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; And His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14)
And from the prophet Isaiah: The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.. . . . For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder. And His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David and upon His Kingdom, to order it and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. (Isaiah 9:2, 6-7)
Pilate disagreed with God’s view of the Man standing in front of him. And so have millions of political, religious, and average men and women throughout the millennia. They all have disagreed with God’s view of the Man in Pilate’s custody. They’ve called Him a great prophet. A great moral teacher. And some have called Him a charlatan. Few have called Him Jehovah God in the flesh of a man.
You might have heard this opinion of C.S. Lewis about Jesus. I repeat it now because it dovetails into my point about God’s view of the Man standing before Pilate – and what should be OUR view:
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him [that is, Christ]: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic–on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg–or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse…. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come up with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.” (Mere Christianity)
Please hear this eternal truth: Jesus is King of heaven and earth. And His throne will never be usurped.
As I prepared this message about the kingship of Jesus, this scene recorded in John’s gospel when the mob cried out, “We have no king but Caesar” – this scene reminded me of two incidents in the books of Old Testament books of 1 and 2 Samuel.
The first story has to do with the time Israel demanded the prophet Samuel to appoint for them a king to rule them. They no longer wanted to be ruled by God’s prophets or His priests as they’d been guided since the days of Moses. They told Samuel they wanted to be just like the other nations. Here is what God said about it to Samuel:
“Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them. (1 Samuel 8:7)
Isn’t that what the mob before Pilate said when they said, “We have no king but Caesar”? And isn’t that what humanity has been saying to God ever since the Garden of Eden, “We don’t want God over us”? Frank Sinatra captured the philosophy well in his signature song, My Way:
For what is a man, what has he got/If not himself, then he has naught/
Not to say the things that he truly feels/And not the words of one who kneels/The record shows I took all the blows/And did it my way
The next incident similar to the record in John’s gospel occurs in 2 Samuel. God had anointed David to be King of Israel. But – and to make a long story very short – Absalom, one of David’s sons – wanted to be king instead of his father. He organized a treasonous rebellion and would have killed David if he had the chance. In the ensuing battle between David’s army and Absalom’s, Absalom was killed.
When David learned of his son’s death, he “was deeply moved and went up to the chamber over the gate and wept. And thus he said as he walked, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” (2 Samuel 18:33)
In the next chapter, someone tells Joab, the general of David’s arm: “Behold, the king is weeping and mourns for Absalom.” (2 Samuel 19:3-4)
That phrase, “Behold, the king . . .” reminded me of Pilate’s proclamation to the mob: “Behold, your king!” To which they responded, “We have no king but Caesar.”
I reflected long over David’s grief, and his desolate cry, “O my son Absalom, O Absalom, my son, my son!” Would that I had died instead of you.”
Listen! Do not think for a moment that King Jesus does not weep over every man and woman who rebels against His authority. Don’t think for a moment Jesus does not cry out the names of all who reject His Kingship over them. “Oh, Sharon. O Sharon . . ..” “Oh, Steven, Oh Steven . . ..” “Oh, Brenda, Oh, Brenda . . ..”
On and on and on, name after name, King Jesus still weeps aloud for today’s lost souls – just as He wept over Jerusalem: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it! (Luke 13:34)
David said of Absalom, “Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!”
But to every Sharon, Steven, Brenda, and every other man, woman and child living today, Jesus the King says it repeatedly, “I DID die for you. I took your place. I took your punishment; I took on Myself God’s wrath against your sin so that YOU might live around our throne forever.”
Absalom had a choice – to rebel or to place himself under the authority of his father, the King. In the same way, you and I, and all those we care about, also have a choice -- to rebel or to place ourselves under the authority of Jesus, God’s anointed King.
Absalom could have been reconciled with his father. He could have said to him, “I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. I am no long worthy to be called your son. Make me as one of your hired servants.”
And so, everyone today has a choice. We can rebel against the King of Kings, whose heart breaks for us – or we can come to Him in prayer and admit to Him, “I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. I am no longer worthy to be called your son or daughter. Make me as one of your hired servants.”
There’s nothing wrong with Jingle Bells or any of the secular songs of the season. But let us be ever mindful that Christmastime serves as a reminder – a much needed reminder – that God sent His Son, whom the Virgin Mary wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a cattle feeding trough – God sent His Son to be our Savior . . . . and our King.
Pilate said it 2000 years ago. And as Jesus stand before us even now, our Father in heaven, says it: “Behold your King.”
What will we do with Him? Will we receive Him now – for the first time, or the hundredth time – as Savior . . . and King?