What is truth?
That was Pilate’s question to Jesus. It’s an age old question apparently.
Mercifully, the election season ended on November 6th of this year, and for at least a few months, we will be spared television ads and radio adds from politicians striving to get our votes in any way, shape, or form they are able. Intriguingly enough, in the past several years, a new phenomenon has arisen: the Fact-checkers. These folks supposedly look at what candidates for office say, and then research whether or not they are telling the truth. Of course, in the last election, you had folks fact checking the fact checkers as well. It was quite interesting as I studied and reflected upon what was going on throughout the election cycle.
I actually even blogged about it at one point, and I asked the question, "Why do we need fact checkers?" I mean honestly, why do we need folks to take the time to ascertain whether or not someone is telling the truth? Has lying become an acceptable thing in our culture? In a word, yes. Yes it has. And despite the fact checkers, someone can still lie and get away with it without recourse.
After one of the debates and listening to what the candidates’ had said, I decided to do a bit of fact checking myself. I decided to dig into one of the issues that had arisen. Now, I’m keeping the exact issue under wraps at this time because I’m not in the dissing one particular candidate or the other mode. There’s no place for that in a sermon, but there is a place for truth. And I eventually discovered the truth. I found one candidate’s original words on a topic and discovered those words had been warped and twisted by the other candidate in a gross and inappropriate manner. Simply put, a candidate lied boldly and without remorse simply to get elected. And what chapped me even more was the fact checkers didn’t check the lie appropriately.
"What is wrong here?" I thought to myself. "Why is this lying taking place? Why have we come to accept it? Why do we continually elect people to office who we know to be untruthful? Who we know are not being fully honest with us or with one another? What has happened to truth, to honesty, and to integrity?"
Jesus stood before Pilate and unabashedly said, "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 asked him, ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, "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."
Here’s an interesting tidbit for you. In the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, the word truth appears 95 times in the New Testament. Of those 95 times, the writer of John uses the word truth 21 times–nearly 1/4 of the times the word truth appears. All throughout the Gospel of John, Jesus talks about bringing the truth from the Father, and in one very famous text, Jesus says, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except by me."
Jesus was not ashamed of the truth. Jesus spoke the truth without reservation, without concern to what would happen to Him. In John chapter 6, it cost him many who had followed Him. He also famously said in John chapter 8, "If you are truly my disciples, you will continue in my Word, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." Of the four gospels, John blatantly and purposely holds the truth before our faces no matter the cost to himself.
Perhaps this is what separates Jesus from politicians, from used car salesmen, and from ourselves. For, I think if we are honest enough with ourselves, we find that we too stretch the truth. We too are not always honest in what we say and how we outline the facts. For you see, most of us want to paint a nice portrait of ourselves. Most of us want to be liked. Most of us don’t want to get ourselves in trouble. Case in point my willingness earlier in this sermon to refrain from talking about which candidate said what. We don’t necessarily want to offend anyone else. We want to be well thought of, and so we refrain from speaking the truth.
One more case in point, is there any man here who when asked by a woman, "Does this dress make me look fat?" would actually tell the truth? I think I made my point right there. God forbid that anyone ever come up with the ability to fact check our true thoughts and feelings. For then, all hell might break loose. Someone might even get angry enough to kill us. Can you imagine the woman who just asked that question fact checking the guy's thoughts? "Wait a second here, let me look at the telestrator on your forehead....hmmm...'Yes, it does, and you could stand to lose a few pounds.' Where's my frying pan?!!!"
What is truth? For many of us, it’s whatever makes us look better in the sight of others or makes us feel better about ourselves. It’s whatever helps us to get what we want or perceive we need. For many of us, it’s a willingness to say just enough without revealing what we really feel or think.
For that’s exactly what happened to Jesus, wasn’t it? That’s exactly what took place when Jesus unabashedly and unashamedly proclaimed the truth, wasn’t it? Jesus came into the world to announce the in-breaking of God’s Kingdom. He proclaimed forgiveness of sins to those who repent. He ate with rich and poor, those considered clean and unclean, those who were considered saint and sinner. He proclaimed
God’s goodness to those who were both near and far away. He proclaimed that all needed forgiveness and all needed to forgive each other. He pointed out hypocrisy. He refused to compromise on what was right or shirk His mission from His heavenly Father. And it led to the cross. It led to His death. No wonder more people don’t tell the truth. It very well could lead to death.
Which is why Jesus is the perfect King of kings and Lord of lords. He did not come to this world to please everyone. He did not come to this world to make everyone like Him. He did not come to this world to seize power and lord it over anyone and everyone. He came to reveal to us the fullness of God’s love. He came to reveal how God’s kingdom operates: how there is healing, how there is forgiveness, how there is compassion, how there is generosity, and hope. He came to serve and humble himself, emptying himself and being obedient unto death, even death on a cross. And it is by that death that our King brought to each and every one of us true freedom–freedom from fear–freedom from death. Our King died so that we might live and have full confidence that God will care for us and provide for us no matter what happens in this life.
"What is truth?" Pilate asked.
Pilate couldn’t see that the truth was standing right in front of him. Pilate missed it.
On this Christ the King Sunday, may your eyes be opened so that you don’t. Amen.