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Feb 18, 2018

Pilate #1: What Is Truth?

Passage: John 18:28-38

Preacher: John Huizinga

Series: Pilate: The Haunted One

Category: Pilate: The Haunted One

Keywords: cross, facts, guns, pilate, resurrection, school shooting, spin, trial, truth

Summary:

The story of Jesus before Pilate quickly turns to the truth of Pilate before Jesus. And it reveals that truth has gone bad in human hands. We have learned to spin it to defend ourselves, or preserve our lifestyles as is, or control outcomes toward what we want. So we’ll only find truth in the True One, Jesus. For truth isn’t a what it’s a who. Truth is the person, the God-man. His cross and resurrection power. We don’t grasp the truth by merely gathering facts. We live in truth, find it, know it only through sacrifice, trust and gratitude. Otherwise it’s only spin, our take on it. Our desire for truth - not just truth about God or about me or about this or that, but the truth of God and life with God – that desire is only fulfilled thru sacrifice, trust and gratitude. Those acts and assurances that live by the reality of Christ’s cross and empty tomb. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice, Jesus promises. When you hear truth, you hear him. When you act truthfully, you reflect his grace. When you value what’s true, you’ll find you are in his presence and blessed in his peace, even if it’s in the shadow of a cross.

Detail:

After the killing of Chicago Police Commander Bauer

and the mass killing of students in Parkland, FL

this week we know some facts.

We know some things about the killers,

what happened,

and we grieve knowing about those who were killed.

We know the weapons that were used.

We know again the laws regarding

criminals and guns,

and we know laws won’t save us.

We know a lot of facts.

But what’s the truth about this horrific day?

That’s harder to assess.

 

Sadly, horrifically,

school shootings are becoming the new normal.

Is that the truth here?

Anthony Rizzo, who went to that school, said –

This is out of control

and our country is in desperate need for change.

I hope in this darkest of times back home

this brings everyone together and we can find love. You’re all in my prayers.

Is that the truth?

This is out of control

meaning there is nothing to be done

but accept tragedies like these.

After all the back and forth debate someone said,

Do conservative, pro-life Christians today

defend weapons?

Is that the truth?

‘Thoughts and prayers’ are meaningless

without government doing something,

said another,

is that the truth?

We struggle to find the truth about this;

and our lack is killing us.

 

When Pilate asks Jesus, What is truth?

We ask along with him.

But if you think truth has taken a hit only lately,

and it is more up for grabs than ever, think again.

Here is a clip from the old Dick Cavett show

filmed back in 1970.

Here Jane Fonda is talking with

the archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey,

and their discussion turns to the question of truth.

Jane Fonda will say what many believe even today

that the truth is up to me,

it’s my preference, my choice,

what I say it is.

The archbishop says otherwise:

listen . . .

 

[play clip]

Is Jesus Christ the true final revelation of God?

For some people.

Either he is or he isn’t.

The archbishop is right:

there is truth

and it is not up to us to decide

only to follow and live by it.

Even if we dismiss the truth

that doesn’t change the reality of it.

 

All this goes back to Pilate’s encounter with Jesus.

In a place where truth is up for grabs

Jesus is the whole truth.

And that changes reality for ever.

 

Here’s the contrast:

the Jewish leaders

bring Jesus to Pilate’s headquarters,

but they won’t go into Roman jurisdiction

‘to avoid ceremonial uncleanness,’

we read.

Yet they want Roman judgment on Jesus.

There is no truth here, only hypocrisy.

 

Pilate is supposed to be the one in charge,

in control, in power.

Yet in this brief episode

he is portrayed as running back and forth

between the Jewish leaders and Jesus

like a household servant.

If you read the whole trial to the end

you’ll see that seven times

Pilate runs in and out,

less and less in charge

every time he shuttles back and forth.

He will be forced to be a servant of the truth

despite his protests.

He thought the truth was up to him.

By the end Jesus will say to him that

he’s not in control at all

and Pilate knows it,

he is a servant to something greater.

 

But Jesus is perfectly truthful

and full of truth throughout the whole trial.

He doesn’t argue.

He doesn’t lie.

He doesn’t spin the facts.

He doesn’t plead to save his own skin.

He is true to his mission,

he is the True One.

Pilate asks, Are you the king of the Jews?

Jesus answers,

Is that your own idea

or did others talk to you about me?

Jesus asks if Pilate said it or heard it

to distinguish what Pilate means by ‘king.’

Does he simply mean

are you committing treason against Caesar?

 

Pilate responds, this is what your own people say.

So Jesus can now reveal his kingdom to Pilate.

My kingdom is not of this world, answers Jesus,

to say it is not about political power

or material success, but truth.

The kingdom blesses and challenges the world,

but does not belong to the world measures

or standards of power, politics, or wealth.

 

Pilate says, OK, you are a king,

in your own mind, he thinks,

anyway, not the kind of king that interests Pilate.

If Jesus is not political he’s no threat to Rome.

So Pilate declares him innocent.

He dismisses Jesus.

So in our search for the truth

this crucial question emerges:

If Jesus’ kingdom

is not going to materially rescue me,

fill me, give me what I want,

then will I dismiss Jesus, too?

Jesus responds, That is the truth,

I have testified to this my whole life.

But now what will you do with it?

 

See, the truth isn’t just facts,

it’s reality,

it’s the meaning of life,

so you can’t just observe it,

dismiss it,

make it say what you want,

spin it to your favor:

Just because you have some facts

doesn’t mean you know or grasp or live by the truth.

Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.

What will you do now?

 

Jesus is charged but not guilty,

oppressed but not submissive,

mocked but not ashamed,

under pressure by politics and culture

but holding firm to the truth,

sacrificed and carrying the cross,

but raised to eternal life and Lordship.

 

And we are to own this truth

as the truth of all those

who follow him,

listen to his voice,

and live by the truth that is Jesus.

To live by the way, truth, and life of Jesus

is to accept such a cross in our own lives.

The Pharisees and priests

protect their self-righteousness.

Pilate protects his job, his power.

The truth is spun to serve their needs,

but Jesus is the truth, so he lives it out,

fulfilling his mission, to save sinners.

To lead us in truth he command us to follow him.

 

After his arrest,

Jesus is brought before Pilate.

But as they meet it becomes clear

that really it is Pilate

that is brought before Jesus.

You and I are brought before Jesus,

and will we respond to what is true?

 

Pilate utters those haunting words:

What is truth?

Is this the derisive word of a corrupted politician?

Is it the despairing word of a cynic

who’s seen far too many liars and selfish cheats?

Is it the dismissive word of someone

who prefers his own self-preservation

to the luxury of what’s right and good?

 

Is Pilate asking, What is truth to me,

I’ve got a job to do that pleases Rome!

Or is he just saying,

what is truth compared to power?

Watch what I can do,

see how I make the truth,

and then Pilate goes out to declare Jesus innocent:

I find no basis for a charge against him.

But Jesus being found not guilty means

he is who he says he is,

he is truth.

 

Before Pilate does that,

the question hangs there between the two:

Pilate looks at Jesus and asks,

what is truth?

And Jesus is silent.

he just stares at Pilate.

To say, you are looking at the truth . . .

Frederick Buechner comments:

Jesus doesn't answer Pilate's question.

He just stands there.

Pilate asks his famous question,

"What is truth?"

and Jesus answers him with a silence

to declare: "I," he said, "I am the truth" (John 14:6).

What is truth?

You’re looking at him.

 

Jesus did not say that religion was the truth,

or that his own teachings were the truth,

or that what people taught about him was the truth,

or that the Bible was the truth,

or the church,

or any system of ethics or theological doctrine.

There are individual truths in all of them,

we hope and believe,

but individual truths were not what Pilate was after,

or what you and I are after either.

Truths about this or that are a dime a dozen.

THE truth is what Pilate is after:

the truth about who we are and who God is,

the truth about life, the truth about death,

the truth about truth itself.

That is the truth we are all of us after.

what is truth?

I am truth says the suffering Savior –

God dying for the sin of the world is truth.

 

What is truth? They look at each other in silence

as if to say, truth is not a what it’s a who

and it is Jesus sacrificing himself

for the sin of the world,

everything else follows from that:

truth is living by grace not merit

truth is loving justice not expedience

truth is God’s providence not human power.

 

All of this and more haunts Pilate

as he encounters Jesus.

Pilate resists and chooses to find truth in his power but winds up haunted by its limits.

 

The only whole truth is Jesus.

We only begin to live by the truth

when we come into his light and life,

we do that by accepting the cross:

we sin and are sinned against,

and Jesus has atoned for sin,

forgiveness and repentance

are the way of life following him,

and he has conquered it all not by power or might

but by rising from the dead.

 

But Pilate doesn’t stick around for the answer –

he’s too busy managing his own truth

and it has him running back and forth

and getting nowhere.

 

So we are left with Jesus’ invitation:

Everyone on the side of truth listens to me. (vs 37)

‘Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice’

is more accurate.

 

This is so we don’t read him to mean,

the truth is merely me getting Jesus right

in my mind, and heart and actions.

Jesus is not saying we’ll live by the truth

only finally be truthful

when we’re better than we are now,

when we finally get it right.

The cross is the truth.

Humans using all the facts to sentence and kill

an innocent man.

Here is the truth about what we have done

with and to the truth,

how bad it has gone in our hands.

The cross judges we humans won’t get it right.

So every human truth,

every scientific truth,

everything we understand points beyond to

Jesus in whom all things hold together.

And every human truth is only partially held by us,

yet fully by him who

holds all things together.

 

So Jesus says listen to my voice.

He doesn’t mean audibly,

he’s talking about two things:

the power of sacrifice,

and the power of resurrection.

 

We will best live in the truth when

we value the sacrificial and resurrecting

presence of Jesus in our faith, hope and love.

How am I denying myself

and taking up the cross to follow Jesus

in this circumstance, struggle, or situation?

Can I let the assurance of resurrection

guide my choice and behavior

toward sacrifice?

This faith leads me to Christ the truth.

That’s listening to his voice.

 

Jesus talks about his voice a lot in John 10 –

I am the good shepherd,

and my sheep hear my voice.

In between he says,

The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

(John 10:11)

His voice refers to his cross.

Trust this.

This is the truth,

I have laid down my life for you.

No one can take that from you.

You may be called to suffer and sacrifice

but in such trouble know I have overcome the world.

That’s how you live out the truth.

 

In the rest of the gospel of John

Jesus refers to his voice when he talks about resurrection and eternal life:

John 5:25 Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.

John 11:43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”

 

Jesus is Lord of life and death,

he has conquered death with loving sacrifice

and he has blessed us with eternal life.

That’s why he is the truth.

 

It is only left for us to respond:

John 10:27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.

Rev 3:20 - Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

 

Pilate represents all who fail to recognize

they are called to answer Jesus.

He’s the first of those

who consider themselves to be

in the judgment seat regarding Jesus

while in fact it is they who will be judged

whether they acknowledge Jesus as the Truth.

 

Faith is not a project of self-improvement.

Rather, it’s allowing God to transform us.

I can’t be trusted to accomplish this.

If the only thing I come away with each Sunday

is one or two or three things to try to do

so that I get a little better,

a little more moral,

than I’m not hearing his voice.

I’m still insisting in my own control,

my own power.

I’m stuck in my own spin and

the truth of my own making.

 

Pilate says, OK, you are a king.

That’s the truth.

But Pilate could care less about a kingdom

that’s about righteousness, justice, truth.

He dismisses Jesus.

At that moment we’re all tempted

to sit in Pilate’s chair and ask:

If Jesus’ kingdom

is not going to materially rescue me,

fill me, give me what I want,

then will I dismiss Jesus, too?

Jesus responds, That is the truth,

I have testified to this my whole life.

But now what will you do with it?

Will I embrace the cross

and the truth about Jesus

and about my relationship to him,

and lift up that cross

sacrificing for Jesus’ sake?

 

Jesus voice tells us it is settled,

the truth is vindicated in him,

eternal life is secured,

you have nothing to fear or worry about,

you can sacrifice your life,

it’s time to adjust your priorities

to Jesus, others, then you,

it is time to live out faith

from this kingdom perspective

instead of from how it personally enhances me,

and if it doesn’t I will let it go.

 

Maybe this week has taught us that

our struggles can’t be solved politically.

Maybe peace comes only from the Prince of Peace.

It is said that

until gun violence or cancer or bullying

or ___________ impacts your family directly,

you won't care enough to do something about it.

That’s reality,

but Jesus brings the truth into that reality.

So Christians should be different.

We should care before it impacts us directly.

We should care even if it never directly impacts us.

Will we listen and respond?

Christian presence should make a difference,

will we live by the truth,

and not wait until we are impacted by evil?

 

The story of Jesus before Pilate

quickly turns to the truth of Pilate before Jesus.

And it reveals that truth

has gone bad in human hands.

We have learned to spin it to defend ourselves,

or preserve our lifestyles as is,

or control outcomes toward what we want.

So we’ll only find truth in the True One, Jesus.

For truth isn’t a what it’s a who.

Truth is the person, the God-man.

His cross and resurrection power.

We don’t grasp the truth by merely gathering facts.

We live in truth, find it, know it

only through sacrifice, trust and gratitude.

 

Otherwise it’s only spin,

our take on it.

Our desire for truth -  not just truth about God

or about me or about this or that,

but the truth of God and life with God –

that desire is only fulfilled

thru sacrifice, trust and gratitude.

Those acts and assurances that live by the reality

of Christ’s cross and empty tomb.

 

Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice,

Jesus promises.

When you hear truth, you hear him.

When you act truthfully, you reflect his grace.

When you value what’s true,

you’ll find you are in his presence

and blessed in his peace,

even if it’s in the shadow of a cross.