Luke: Are You the King of the Jews?

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on October 9, 2011

Luke 23:1-5

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The Lord’s Day Morning

October 9, 2011

“Are You the King of the Jews?”

Luke 23:1-5

The Reverend Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III

If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to Luke chapter 23.
We’ll be looking at verses 1 to 5 this morning as we continue through the
gospel of Luke. I’d invite you also,
as you’re turning there to Luke 23:1-5, to allow your eyes to look back to
verses 66 to 71 of Luke 22. Those
verses contain the account that Luke gives of Jesus before the Sanhedrin, or the
council of the elders, those who were the key religious leaders of the people of
Israel, and they are the ones that are referred to, if you look at verse 1 of
Luke 23, “Then the whole company of them,” they are the ones who arrive and take
Jesus to Pilate.

If I could set this scene for you, so that you understand what’s going on here a
little bit better, the Sanhedrin, the council of the elders, the supreme
religious body of the Jewish people, did not have the right of the death
penalty. If the death penalty was
going to be administered to Jesus, even though they had found Him guilty of
blasphemy, the highest crime that a Jew could have been found guilty of, they
would have to go to Pilate, the Roman authority, in order for that death penalty
to be assigned and sentenced and carried out.
Normally, Pilate would have been in Caesarea, that’s where his seat of
office was, but it’s Passover week and so Pilate and his company is actually in
Jerusalem because he’s there to make sure that nothing goes awry during the
Passover week where all of those Jews from all around Judea have come to
celebrate the Passover. His job is
to keep the peace. He worked
directly under the legate who was over all of Syria and reported through him
back to the emperor.

And Pilate had a very contentious relationship with the Sanhedrin, with the
council of the elders, and with the Jewish people in general.
We have Jewish sources from this time, the time of the story that we’re
reading and studying together, outside of the New Testament, that account his
relationship with the Jews as very problematic.
They considered him greedy; they considered him contentious and
condescending. He did things that
provoked the Jews. For instance, he
laid his hands on monies that were meant for the temple service and used them to
build an aqueduct. If you can
imagine a public official here in Jackson getting hold of monies that were meant
for Christian churches and using them for public works that would create quite a
stir amongst the Christians of the Jackson area.
Well, you can imagine how the Jewish people responded to that kind of
treatment by Pilate. So he was a
very unpopular man and he didn’t like to do what the Jewish leaders asked him to
do. That’s very apparent in this
passage here.

Now you need to have John 18 in your mind as you look at this passage because
Luke is giving you a little snippet of a larger story that is told about this
very encounter in John 18. There’s
more to the questioning of Pilate to Jesus and of Jesus’ answers to Pilate than
Luke tells us here. You have to pick
up a little hint that Luke makes in this passage that are expanded by the
parallel passage in John 18, but they’ll help you understand what’s going on.
But here are the three things that I want you to be on the lookout for.

First, I want you to note that in verse 2 you will find the charges of guilt by
the Sanhedrin against Jesus to Pilate.
John 18 will tell you that when the Sanhedrin gets to Pilate, what they
ask him to do is not to try Him, but to sentence Him.
Basically they say, “We’ve already tried Him; we’ve already found Him
guilty. We’d like you to sentence
Him to death.” And Pilate says,
“Well, what charges are you brining against the Man?”
And basically the Sanhedrin says to Pilate, “That’s none of your
business. We want you to sentence
Him to death. You don’t need to
worry about the basis of His being found guilty.”
And Pilate says, “I’m not going to do that.
You’re going to have to tell me what charges you’re bringing against this
Man.” Now in verse 2, you will find
three charges that the Sanhedrin brings against Jesus.
Now what’s so interesting is how different this is from verses 66 to the
end of the chapter back in 22. You
remember there, the big charge against Jesus is blasphemy.
Now, the big charge against Jesus is rebellion and treason and claiming
to be a king who is going to oppose Caesar’s rule.
So we go from a religious charge to a political charge.
That’s very important. Luke wants you to see that.
You see that in verse 2. So
there are charges of guilt.

Then, in verse 4, I want you to be on the lookout for Pilate’s pronouncement of
Jesus’ innocence. This is very
important to Luke. Luke wants you to
know that the charges that get Jesus sentenced to death and sent to the cross
are false. That is vitally
important. He is not on the cross
because He deserves to be on the cross, He is on the cross in spite of the fact
that He does not deserve to be on the cross.
And Luke is going to have, from the voice of the spokesman of the best
legal system in the world in Jesus’ time, declare His innocence.
So the best legal system that existed on planet Earth, their
representative is going to declare Him innocent and then is still eventually
going to put Him on the cross.
That’s important for Luke, for you, to understand.

And then third, if you’ll look in verse 3, there’s the question of kingship.
The big thing that this interview circles around is the issue of who
Jesus claims to be. And Pilate
directly asks Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?”
And Jesus answers in a very careful way.
And if you know again the background from John 18, you’ll understand why
because this was a big area that both the Jews and the Romans misunderstood
about Jesus, about His claims, and about what the Old Testament said about the
Messiah.

So I want us to look at the charges of guilt in verse 2, the pronouncement of
innocence in verse 4, and the question of kingship in verse 3.
Before we do, let’s pray and ask for God’s help and blessing.

Heavenly Father, this is Your Word and Your Word is true.
Sanctify us in Your truth.
Your Word is powerful and effective and sharper than any two-edged sword, so
break through our carelessness, our indifference, our preoccupation with other,
lesser things, with Your powerful Word and arrest us Lord.
Get our attention. Speak
deeply into our souls about who Your Son is and what He has come to do.
Grant, O God, that we would behold wonderful things in Your Word and
respond in faith. We pray it in
Jesus’ name. Amen.

This is the Word of God; hear it, in Luke 23 beginning in verse 1:

“Then the whole
company of them arose and brought Him before Pilate.
And they began to accuse Him, saying, ‘We found this Man misleading our
nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that He Himself
is the Christ, a king.’ And Pilate
asked Him, ‘Are You the King of the Jews?’
And He answered him, ‘You have said so.’
Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, ‘I find no guilt in
this Man.’ But they were urgent, saying, ‘He stirs up the people, teaching
throughout all Judea, from Galilee even to this place.’”

Amen, and thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant Word.
May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.

Well, it’s the second interrogation that Jesus has gone through, first by the
council of the elders — we saw that in verses 66 to 71 of Luke 22.
The questioning had started in the middle of the night, but the Sanhedrin
was not allowed to meet except between sunup and sundown, and so at the very
crack of dawn the council of the elders had been gathered and Jesus had been
questioned, and if you’ll look back to Luke 22 they had asked Him in verse 70,
“Are You the Son of God then?” and He had responded by saying, “You have said it
yourselves.” And they respond then
to His response by saying, “You’re blaspheming; You’re claiming to be the
Messiah; You’re claiming to be the Son of God.
You’re not, and therefore You’re guilty of blasphemy, You’re guilty of
death, and we’re going to recommend to the Roman officials that You be put to
death.” And so He’s taken to Pilate
who is conveniently in Jerusalem.
They don’t have to go all the way to Caesarea; they just have to go to Pilate
and his residences in Jerusalem.

Now Roman officials were famous for having early working hours.
They typically were in the office at 6am and they met the public from 6am
to noon. Those were their business hours.
The Romans were hardworking folks and their public officials were in the
office early and so he was already there and they show up with Jesus.
And as John 18 tells us, they show up to Pilate, they say, “We’ve found
this Man guilty; you need to sentence Him to death” and Pilate doesn’t want to
go along. He says, “Wait a minute.
What are the charges?” And
initially they say, “Well that’s none of your business.
You just need to sentence Him to death.”
And he says, “It is my business.
I want to know what the charges are.”
And here in verse 2, Luke more clearly than any of the other gospels, in
very few words — it’s amazing how the economy of words that Luke uses — Luke
summarizes the three charges that they’ve brought against Him; the charges of
guilt.

And they are as follows.

JESUS FALSELY CHARGED

First of all, they said that He was misleading the nation.
Look at verse 2. “We found
this Man misleading our nation.” Now
clearly they are intimating to Pilate more than that He is leading the people in
theological error. The suggestion is
that He is engaged in sedition. He’s
engaged in treason. He’s leading the
nation astray. Now that would have
been something that would have concerned a Roman official because when Jesus was
a little boy in about AD 6, a tax revolt had been led against the Romans by a
Messianic Jew and he had raised up a rebellion in the land against the tax
system of the Romans in Judea. And
so Roman officials were very concerned about this type of activity and it’s
clear that the charges that are being made are political in nature, that He is
some sort of a rebel against Roman rule.

Secondly, look again at verse 2, they say, “He forbids to give tribute to
Caesar.” Now this is an outright lie
because we’ve already heard what He said when they brought the Roman coin to
Him. What did He say?
“Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s.”
So this is an outright lie but it fits into the political charges that
they’re bringing against Him.

And then finally, “Saying that He Himself is Christ, a king.”
No, there’s a mixture of truth and error in that, isn’t it? He had
indeed, what Peter said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” said,
“Peter, you’re right, and God’s revealed that to you.”
But He had been very careful of using either Messianic language or Kingly
language. Why?
Because people misunderstood it.
He was very careful about using that kind of language about Himself in
public because the Jewish people were expecting the Messiah to be a political
figure who was going to deliver them from Roman oppression and Jesus did not
want to make people think that that was His goal for coming into the world.
He had a much greater, a much grander, a much more important reason for
coming into this world and the Messiah was about much more than that.
And so the charge, “He claims to be the Messiah-King,” again has
political overtones. “He’s claiming
to be king as opposed to Caesar being king and lord.
He’s setting Himself up over Caesar’s rule.”
So the charges are political.

But here’s what Luke wants us to see.
They’re all false. They’re
false in different ways but they are all false charges.
If you take care to listen to Jesus’ own ministry, He is exonerated of
these charges. So the first thing
that Luke shows you is that He was falsely charged.

JESUS IS PUBLICLY CLEARED

The second thing that Luke wants you to see though is that He is publicly
cleared. He’s not only falsely
charged, He’s publicly cleared. Look
at verse 4. After questioning Jesus,
Pilate says, “I find no guilt in this Man.”
Now this is interesting. He
asks Jesus, “Are You the King of the Jews?”
Jesus responds in a way that is very similar to the way that He responded
to the Sanhedrin back in verse 70, “You’ve said it yourself,” which is a
reluctant affirmation. But Pilate’s
response is totally different from the Sanhedrin’s response.
If you look back in verse 70 when they say, “Are You claiming to be the
Messiah?” and Jesus says, “You’re said it yourself,” their response is to say
what? “Ah ha!
You’re admitting that You claim to be the Messiah, the Son of God,
therefore You’re guilty of blasphemy.”
Pilate, when Jesus says, “You’re said it yourself,” says, “I find no
guilt in this Man.” And you’re
asking yourself — why that reaction?
John 18 explains it. Would you turn
with me to John?

In John 18, this conversation is elaborated on.
When Pilate first asked Jesus the question, “Are You the King of the
Jews?” Jesus answers by saying, “Are you asking Me that because you want to know
or are you asking me that for another reason?”
And they go back and forth on that in verse 35 and then in John 18 verse
36 Jesus begins His answer by saying, “Pilate, My kingdom is not of this world.”
Now you need to understand, at that point, Pilate is no longer interested
in what kind of claims to kingship Jesus has, because the only kingdom that
Pilate cares about is the kingdom of the Roman Emperor, Tiberius.
He doesn’t care about any other kind of kingdom.
If Jesus isn’t a rebel against that kingdom, he just doesn’t care what
He’s rebelling against. He can be a
king of another world as far as Pilate is concerned.
Pilate is very cynical. You
can see it throughout the rest of John 18.
He’s very cynical. In fact,
he’ll utter in the course of this conversation the famous words, “What is true?”
Pilate’s concern is to see whether Jesus is a political rebel against
Roman rule, and when Jesus says, “My kingdom is not of this world,” the thing is
all cleared up.

Now if you go on in John, you will notice that Pilate asked again, “Are You the
King of the Jews?” and you get from John the same language that Luke used,
“You’re said it yourself.” And then
Pilate says, “I find no guilt in this Man.”
Now you know why Pilate has the reaction that he has.
He turns to the Jewish leaders and he says, “This Man is not claiming to
be someone who is kicking Caesar out of office or taking over rule from Caesar
in Judea. You’re coming to me with
these political charges but I find this Man guiltless of your charges.
I find this Man innocent of your charges so I have no intention of
sentencing Him to death because He’s innocent of your charges.”
So Luke shows you not only Jesus falsely charged, he shows Him publically
cleared. This is important because
when Jesus is on the cross, normally a penalty reserved for rank criminals, He
is on the cross as an innocent Man, and not only as an innocent Man, but as a
Man who is declared innocent by the highest authority of Rome in Jerusalem at
the time! So though He is falsely
charged, He’s publicly cleared.

JESUS IS THE MESSAIH KING

But here’s the thing I really want you to see this morning.
If you’d look back at verse 3 and this interaction between Pilate and
Jesus. When Pilate asks, “Are You
the King of the Jews?” Jesus’ answer is, “You have said so.
You’ve said it yourself.” Now
that’s an interesting answer. Jesus,
in all of these interviews is on the horns of a dilemma.
Now normally, when we are being interrogated by somebody who wants to do
us wrong and they’re asking us a question that puts us in a Catch-22, our
reluctance to answer is because we don’t want to incriminate ourselves and get
ourselves in trouble. You know, when
somebody says, “Have you stopped beating your wife?” you pause and think about
that a little bit because you don’t want to get in trouble with your answer.
It’s clear that that is not motivating Jesus at all.
Jesus is not trying to avoid the cross by His answer.

So you have to ask yourself a question — why is Jesus answering the way He
answers? Well first of all, to the
Sanhedrin’s question and to Pilate’s question, He can’t say, “No, I’m not the
Messiah; No, I’m not the Son of God; No, I’m not the King of the Jews” because
He is! And so He can’t say no.
But if He gives an emphatic claim, an endorsement, that He is the
Messiah, the Son of God, the King of the Jews, what’s going to be the problem?
It will be misunderstood.
Jesus’ answers in each of these cases are given so carefully not because He’s
trying to avoid getting in trouble, not because He’s trying to get out of a
sentence, but because He wants to be clear on who He is and what He has done.

By the way, this is one of the testimonies to me of the truthfulness of
Scripture. Verse 70 of Luke 22 and
verse 3 of Luke 23 are two of those verses that just prove to me the
truthfulness of Scripture and the historicity of Scripture.
Let me tell you why. Amongst
all the early Christians, all early Christians believed that Jesus was the
Messiah, all early Christians believed that He was the Son of God, all early
Christians believed that He was not only the King of the Jews but the King of
the world. So if you were making up
an account of Jesus’ trial and He was asked, “Are You the King of the Jews? Are
You the Messiah? Are You the Son of
God?” if you were making up that account, what would you have Him say in
response? It would be a very clear,
emphatic response, wouldn’t it? And
Luke doesn’t do that. He records
these interesting, these reluctant affirmatives – “You’ve said it yourself.”

Why does he do that? Because he’s
telling you what actually happened!
That’s exactly what happened! That’s
why he’s telling you that way! If
you and I were making this up, this isn’t how we would have written it, but
because Luke is telling you what actually happened — and remember, he was a
historian, carefully speaking to the people who were primary participants in all
these events and compiling it, of course under the inspiration of the Holy
Spirit to be completely accurate — he tells you what happened.

Why is Jesus being so careful though?
Because He is not the kind of King that Pilate and the Sanhedrin think He
is. He’s not the kind of King that
the Sanhedrin is expecting. He’s a
different kind of King. He’s not
there to kick the Romans out of Judea.
He’s there to forgive the world of sin.
That’s the kind of King He is.
He is an exponentially greater King than the kind of King that the
Sanhedrin and Pilate are quibbling about.
He is a King of so much greater significance than the petty squabble that
they’re involved in that He has to answer that question very carefully.
“Are You the King of the Jews?”
Yes, He is, but He says, “You’ve said it yourself,” precisely so they
will not misunderstand who He is and what He’s come to do.
He’s not come for political reform in Palestine, He has come for the
bearing of the sins of the world.

And that is why it’s so important what Pilate says in the very next verse.
“I find no guilt in this Man.”
Now it’s not that that is a declaration that He has never sinned.
Of course that’s the declaration that He’s not guilty of the charges that
have been brought against Him by the Jewish leaders, but Luke has been careful
to let you know what? This Man never
sinned. This is a King with no sin
and no guilt and that is the kind of King that you and I need because we do have
sin and guilt and we need a king who can liberate us from that sin and guilt and
the only kind of king who can liberate us from that sin and guilt is one who is
Himself not in bondage to sin and guilt.
So Jesus is so careful in these answers, affirming but correcting, even
in the way that He answers the question because it’s vital for us to understand
that as the Lamb of God who comes to take away the sins of this world, He is the
King that came to die for sin though He didn’t deserve to die for sin because He
could never sin. But He died for sin
in our place that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
Luke wants us to understand that as we continue to make our way to the
cross in this gospel.

May the Lord bless His Word. Let’s
pray.

Heavenly Father, thank You for Your Word.
Thank You for the privilege of hearing it read.
Grant that You would teach us of Christ and of the Gospel as we hear it
and study it. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Now, let’s sing of the King, the real King, the Lord Jesus Christ, as we take
out our hymnals and turn to number 295 and sing, “Crown Him With Many Crowns.”

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