The Big Kahuna

Who is in charge? Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat, Pray, Love says, “I met an old lady once, almost a hundred years old, and she told me, ‘There are only two questions that human beings have ever fought over, all through history. How much do you love me? And Who’s in charge?'” This week we celebrate the One who is in charge – Jesus Christ. (“…and he shall reign forever and ever.” Luke 1:33, Rev. 11:15)

Read John 18:28 – 19:3; Psalm 132:13-18 here

The scripture we just read from John’s gospel, the story of Jesus being questioned by Pilate before he is crucified and resurrected, is part of the longer story in John 18 and 19 of the events leading up to Jesus death. At the end of chapter 19, Jesus is taken down from the cross, and laid in a tomb.

It’s normally a scripture we read on Good Friday, so it probably seems odd that we are reading a piece of this story today, the Sunday after Thanksgiving, the day we are going to be putting up the Christmas decorations. Next week on the first Sunday of Advent, we’ll be talking about the beginning of Jesus’ story, so today we prepare for that by remembering the end of the story, and considering the question that is at the center of Jesus’ discussion with Pilate:

Who is really in charge?

In these few verses, in these two chapters, in our lives, in the world, who’s really in charge?

A Sunday school teacher asked her students to draw a picture of the Holy Family. As the children showed her their pictures, she saw that many had drawn the usual Christmas pictures – the Holy Family and the manger, the Holy Family riding on a donkey, etc.   But one boy had drawn an airplane with four heads sticking out of the plane windows.  She said, “I can understand that these three are Mary, Joseph and Jesus, but who’s the fourth head?”  “Oh,” the boy answered, “that’s Pontius the pilot!”[1]

Pontius Pilate, governor of Judea, is certainly an important part of the story. He represents the power of Rome in this region. In the scenes of Jesus being questioned by Pilate, we see the dance of power.  Is Pilate in control?  Or is Jesus?  Or the Jewish leaders?

The Jewish leaders are afraid of losing control, so they are anxious to quiet Jesus because they think he is a threat. Jesus stirs people up and says things that challenge their understanding of the scriptures and their laws.

When the priests bring Jesus to Pilate, Pilate tries to stay out of the conversation by leaving it to them to decide what to do about Jesus, but the Jewish leaders do not have the power to execute someone, only Rome has that power, so they need Pilate’s power as governor to accomplish their goal.

Jesus with Pilate 1

Figure 1. ‘Ecce Homo’ (Behold the Man), by Antonio Ciseri from

We see Pilate dancing between Jesus and the priests.  Jesus is inside the palace to be questioned, while the priests wait outside so as not to be contaminated by contact with a Gentile.  Pilate goes outside to talk to the priests, then inside to talk to Jesus, then back outside to the priests again, and then back inside to Jesus again.

The conversation is like a dance, as well, because nobody gives anybody a straightforward answer.  Pilate asks the priests, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” (18:29)

They reply, “If this man were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you.” (18:30)

That doesn’t answer the question.

So Pilate goes back inside and asks Jesus “Are you the King of the Jews?”

Jesus replies, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?”

Again, not answered.  Instead, another question: Who’s asking and why are you asking this?

So Pilate tries a more direct question: “What have you done?”

I imagine Pilate was quite frustrated by Jesus’ answer: “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”

Pilate responds, “So you are a king?” Jesus answers, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

Pilate replies, “What is truth?”

It is rhetorical, and Pilate doesn’t wait to hear if there is an answer,[2] but it’s an important question.  What is truth?  The word in Greek, aletheia, means reality.[3]  What is the reality at work in this situation?  The reality is that Jesus is in charge, but not in the way Pilate or the religious leaders think.  Jesus is a man on a mission.  Just before Jesus was arrested, he had been praying.  We read the last words of his prayer in John 17:

 “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:25-26)

The truth is that Jesus came so we would know how much God loves us, and so that we could love one another with that same love.  Jesus came to rule in our hearts. As we sing in our Christmas carols:

“His law is love and his gospel is peace” (Oh Holy Night)

Neither Pilate nor the religious leaders really understand what’s going on. Pilate is uncomfortable with the idea of killing Jesus because of the complicated political situation there, and because he doesn’t want to be beholden to the religious leaders.[4]  So Pilate goes back outside and offers to release Jesus, but the crowd demands that another prisoner named Barabbas be released instead. (18:38-40)

img_3604-2So instead of releasing Jesus, Pilate has him flogged, and the soldiers dress Jesus in a purple robe and a crown of thorns and mockingly praise him as king, shouting, “Hail, king of the Jews!” as they strike him on the face (19:1-3).  Ironically, although it is not the regal coronation ceremony we know Jesus deserves, this is the only earthly coronation he receives.[5]

But then, Jesus had already explained, “My kingdom is not of this world.”

This is Jesus living out what the apostle Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 13:7:

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Long before the events happened that we’re reading about in John, God made a promise to another king, King David.  That promise is remembered in our other scripture reading for today, Psalm 132:

The Lord swore an oath to David, a sure oath he will not revoke:
“One of your own descendants I will place on your throne. . . then their sons will sit on your throne for ever and ever.”  (Ps. 132:11-12)

God had promised David that one of his descendants would be king forever. Not a continuous line of descendants on the throne, because that line was broken through their disobedience, but one eternal king.  Jesus, the messiah, was the fulfillment of that hope.  Before Jesus, they thought that meant the messiah would be saved by God from death. Instead, he conquered death by dying on a cross and being resurrected.

The psalm is a prophecy about Jesus.

“Its priests I will clothe with salvation, and its faithful will shout for joy. . .

His enemies I will clothe with disgrace, but on him, his crown will gleam.” (Ps. 132:16,18)

We know that what actually happens is that Jesus is crucified and does die, but then is resurrected and shows himself to his followers.  Because of this, all of us who trust in him are those priests who are clothed with salvation. In John’s visions in the book of Revelation, we see the faithful shouting for joy in eternity, and we see the risen Jesus crowned in gleaming light.  In one of the scenes John describes in Revelation, the voices in heaven are singing:

“The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign forever and ever.” (Rev. 11:15)

We now know that God’s promises were true.  “He will reign forever.”

Jesus’ love is powerful – so powerful it conquered sin and death. It isn’t always obvious, but it’s there.  Often we see Jesus power in the unexpected ways people respond to what’s happening in their lives.


Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth at Yankee Stadium on July 4, 1939, shortly after Gehrig’s retirement

“A few years ago, a commercial on television began with a black and white clip of Lou Gehrig being honored by Yankee fans on his last day of play. His career was shortened by ALS, which is now called Lou Gehrig’s disease, a debilitating muscle disease that eventually stops the heart. What would you have said in the face of this heartbreaking challenge? Amazingly, he begins: ‘Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.’ How could he say that?” Despite his challenges, Gehrig was thankful, thankful for all the gifts he had been given, for all the love he had been shown by fans, for all the opportunities he had. He focused on the joys not the losses.”[6] That’s the power of gratitude!

”Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful” (Colossians 3:15)

Gidget and the Big KahunaThe title of today’s message is The Big Kahuna.  Today that is a nickname for someone who’s in charge, but in the United States it first came into use as the name of a character in the 1950’s beach movie Gidget.  The Big Kahuna, played by Cliff Robertson in the movie, is the ring-leader of a group of surfers.[7]  (Also in the picture is Sandra Dee who played Gidget.)  The Big Kahuna character is inspired by a real-life person named Terry Tracey.[8]  Terry was a surfer who hung out on the beach in Malibu in the 1950s.  One day a Los Angeles teenager stopped by Terry’s beach shack and asked to borrow a surfboard.  She was so impressed by Terry that she went home and told her dad all about him.  Her dad, Frederick Horner, wrote about her stories in a series of novels that became the movies.[9]  Maybe his kindness in loaning a Real Big Kahunasurfboard to an eager teenager is what made him memorable.

Long before the Big Kahuna was the name for the master of the beach, the word kahuna was used in Hawaii to describe those who were experts in their professions.  Most often it was used for those who were caregivers and healers.[10]

Our big kahuna, Jesus, is the best caregiver and healer of all.  Jesus is kind, loving, self-sacrificing and generous.

When we are kind, loving, self-sacrificing and generous, the power of his love shines through us.

May Jesus’ love rule our hearts.  May Jesus be in charge of our living and our loving.

[1] Stephen Bramer, The Bible Reader’s Joke Book, P283

[2] Gary Burge, NIV Application Commentary, pg 501


[4] Wright, Arthur M., Jr. “What Is Truth?: The Complicated Characterization of Pontius Pilate in the Fourth Gospel.” Review & Expositor, vol. 114, no. 2, 2017, pp. 211–219. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1177/0034637317703715.

[5] Ibid.






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