The Powers that Be – February 21, 2016

Mark 12:13-17, John 18:33-37

February 21, 2016

Last week, we continued on our theme which we called, “Things seen and unseen.” I think that’s a great theme! Because, as I said, we do live in two worlds, the world we see, and the spiritual world – the “kingdom” Jesus said was “among us.” But, it is that spiritual world that’s the hardest for us to see! And if we’re not careful, if we’re not intentional, we will miss seeing it. Because we are inundated by the physical world – every day, all day long!

So… how’s it going? Are you taking time to focus on – to “look to” – “things unseen?” That’s one of the most important things we do in this season of Lent. We take time in our lives to “step aside” from the demands and the constant attention of the physical world, and we try to see more clearly, the spiritual.

But that “ain’t easy!” Doing so, takes “intentionality.” We have to “choose” it! We have to “choose” to do the Lenten disciplines, don’t we? Those things won’t “just happen” by default, nor will they simply “rub off on us” from someone else!

We have to do the “Lenten disciplines.” So, if you haven’t started yet, we’re only a week into this. Take some time today to decide to do some things differently. Decide to pray more, to read more, to make “Lenten sacrifices.” If you haven’t “given anything up for Lent,” consider doing so. It’s an old tradition, I know. But it’s one that helps us to remember what we’re doing. It’s one that helps us to focus on – that helps us to “look to” – the spiritual.

The story we had for last week, was the story of Nicodemus. And that was a good one for thinking about “things seen and unseen.” If you weren’t here – and the frigid temps kept a number of us home – if you weren’t here, read it again. It’s found in John chapter 3, and it’s the story that leads up to John 3:16 and 17, two very familiar and very important verses!

In that story, Jesus was interacting with this very influential religious leader. And he was teaching him and us about the interplay – the conflict – between the physical and the spiritual world. This week, the players are different. This week, Jesus had come up against the worldly powers, the “powers that be!” This week we find Jesus standing before Pontius Pilate. And yes, this actually comes from a later time in Jesus’ life. It comes from that time when he had been arrested, and he was about to be sentenced to death. And just before that, we have this dialogue with Pilate. We’ll probably revisit this closer to Easter, but I wanted us to see today this “clash” between Pilate, the ultimate worldly power, and Jesus, the ultimate spiritual power!

This is a great scene! Jesus stood that day before Pilate, the great warrior! Pilate was Rome, Rome in all it’s power! Rome was built on might! Pilate was a leader of Rome because he had proven himself to be a great soldier. Historians tell us that Pilate was a horseman. They say that, in battle, he had become a master of the “Pilatus,” which I’m sure I’m mispronouncing! But the pilatus was a long, heavy spear, which was designed to pierce enemy shields and armor. And as a great warrior, Pilate rose through the ranks to where he now commanded the region of Judea.

Yet, even as Pilate stood in judgment over Jesus – and that was his job – this great warrior, this ultimate worldly power, was not so sure! Yes, he attended to the business at hand, but at the same time, he was concerned about the crowds. What should he do with this Jesus? The wrong decision could spark a riot! And the Romans hated riots!

The Gospel accounts are very clear that Pilate had no problem with Jesus. He was convinced that he had done nothing wrong, certainly nothing deserving death! Pilate tried on a number of occasions to set Jesus free. But the crowd cried out against him. So finally, Pilate thought he had a solution. He would use his “custom” of releasing one prisoner during Passover, which was one of the concessions Rome had made in order to “keep the peace.” I think Pilate sent word to the prison, asking for the sleaziest, most despicable man they had, thinking that would be a “slam dunk.” He knew of the great popularity of this Jesus, and he probably figured that this was an easy way out of his dilemma. We know differently.

Here in this story, we see the contrast between the worldly power and the spiritual power. And we see that the real power here lies with Jesus! The real power here lies in the spiritual realm! That’s hard for us to imagine in our modern world, isn’t it? We’re told that the “spiritual” doesn’t matter, and that “spiritual people” are somehow weak and unimportant. But here Pilate is seen as weak, while Jesus is seen as strong – despite how they may have appeared, with one in robes and the other in chains!

I love this story! I love this mental picture! I love how John portrays this “test of power!” And this helps me in my own struggle with what I know of the worldly powers and influences around me, and how they compare with the power of the spiritual realm.

I want you to think about this picture. If someone were to look at a still image of this scene – with no captions, with no dialogue, with no Biblical record – they might be tempted to see it as many see the world today. They might see Pilate, representing the worldly “powers that be” standing in domination over this lowly, silent, small-town preacher, standing chained and bleeding before him. And remember that Pilate, in that scene, was indeed the power of Caesar under whom the people were subject.

With that image in mind, we might think of our passage from Mark, where we hear Jesus giving the people these well known words. “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s!” If we saw only this scene, might we be tempted to heed only the first part of that sentence? We might see only the need to “Render unto Caesar?” That’s quite compelling in that picture, isn’t it? Caesar calls to us to “render.” And remember, there are consequences if we fail to render to Caesar! But Jesus didn’t end that sentence there. He added a second clause. “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s …and to God the things that are God’s!”

The question I have for you today is this. Which is more important? If you didn’t have this entire scene to reference, how would you answer that question? If you only had that image, with none of the dialogue, what would you say? Who rules here? The “powers that be,” or God?

My friends, let me assure you today, that God’s power is the ultimate power! Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise! Know that in this time of Lent! Remember how Paul told the Corinthians that “the cross is folly, it is foolishness to those who don’t believe.” If you saw a picture of Jesus standing before Pilate, and you knew nothing of the story, you might think the cross foolishness, too! But as Paul said, “[Even] the foolishness of God is greater than human power and understanding!

Know that this Lenten season – and always!


Eternal God, your love and your power and your Grace and your peace, are beyond our comprehension! Help us to look to your kingdom. That’s hard, living in our world. But when we think about it, we know your kingdom is the greatest power and the richest glory! Help us in our journey of understanding this Lenten season. Help us to know who we are because of whose we are. And we give you glory, honor, and praise, now and forever, in Jesus’ name, and for the sake of his eternal kingdom, Amen.