I led the service and gave the sermon at my church last Sunday (July 17, 2022) and it seemed like something that would be useful to have saved somewhere other than Google Docs. So I decided to post it here so I could link to it and reference it in the future.
Jesus is standing before Pontius Pilate inside the palace in Jerusalem. Bloodied and bruised, a crown of thorns forced on his head and purple cloth draped on his shoulders. Soldiers are slapping and mocking him: “Hail, King of the Jews!”
The religious leaders have stirred up the crowd but Pilate doesn’t see Jesus as a dangerous revolutionary. He goes to speak to them about letting him go. But they are defiant: “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.”
Pilate brings Jesus out to them and sits down on the judge’s seat: “Here is your king.” Their reply? “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!”
Pilate asks “Shall I crucify your king?” The answer: “We have no king but Caesar,”
The scene, full of tension, drama and ambiguity, closes: “Finally Pilate handed him over to be crucified.”
If at that moment you were forced to choose a side in the power struggle between Pilate, as representative of Rome and Caesar, and Jesus, a Jewish messianic prophet, you could hardly be faulted for choosing Rome.
Of course, we know the story doesn’t end there. We know Easter follows Good Friday. But I want to focus for the moment, not on the theological repercussions of the resurrection, but the historical events that followed in its wake.
First, zealots picked a fight with Rome and it went catastrophically bad. Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed in 70 A.D. Historians at the time describe the violence and bloodshed as unprecedented. As with the crucifixion, the gods of Rome would seem to have the upper hand against the God of Israel.
But fast forward 300 years: the Roman Emperor Constantine converts to Christianity, and 80 years after that, the Christian faith becomes the official religion of the Roman Empire.
Rome, the enemy of God’s people, executioner of Jesus, destroyer of the temple, the power that martyred the apostles, the empire of Nero who burned Christians to light his garden parties, the figure of the beast in the Book of Revelation. This Rome, this empire, proclaimed the Nicene Creed:
“We believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible; And in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God…”
Why bring up this seemingly obscure history? Because I think it highlights a potential weakness in our approach to scripture and our identity as the people of God. And because the world this process birthed, Western Christendom, is coming to an end and we need to wrestle with what that means.