Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Problem with the Truth

 Why is it that we have such a problem with the truth?

 You may scratch your head at that statement, but hear me out.  I believe that we as humans have a love-hate relationship with the truth.  We love to think that we are diligently seeking it out or that we have found it, but, in reality, we don’t actually want to find it.  We’d rather think that truth does not exist or is so completely subjective and relative that it doesn’t apply to us.  Why would I say such a thing?

 Well, I want us to think about it for a minute as we apply the truth to some very real world situations.  Let’s take the issue of hunger in the world.  We all know there are people in this world who face hunger every day.  We also know that people die from hunger every day.  And we also know that we produce enough food in the world to feed everyone with no problem.  No one should go hungry, so why do they?  I have said before that the truth of the matter is: we don’t have a hunger problem; we have a distribution problem.  Food is not distributed to those who are in need.  That’s the truth.  We may all nod in agreement this morning with that statement, but here is where the truth hurts.  If you are like me, you have a pantry full of food.  You have a refrigerator full of food, and you have a freezer with plenty of food in it.  Most of us have enough food stored up in our house to last for months.  We have much more than we need, so we are actually part of the problem.  When the truth confronts us, we don’t like it. 

 Or, let’s turn our attention to politics for a little bit.  I know we have both Republicans and Democrats sitting here this morning. Some of you are passionate about supporting your political party, and I understand that.  Some of you are more quiet than others given that this area leans very strong Republican.  We are in the midst of a presidential election year, and the newspapers, radio waves, and internet feeds are going nuts talking about how the end of the world–or at least the end of the U.S. will be at hand if either Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, or Bernie Sanders is elected.  So, what is the truth of the matter.  Well, if history is any judge, it’s not going to matter who is going to get elected.  Really.  Think about it.  Has the election of anyone really made a difference for any one of you here today?  Has your life improved substantially by the election of any particular person to office?  The reality is that elections are more about which corporate entities get richer.  You and I almost never benefit, and yet we fight amongst each other as if these elections were life and death.  And the truth hurts because we become so emotionally involved in these things.  When the truth confronts us, we don’t like it.

 And God forbid that anyone asks us what we really believe is the truth about a particular issue.  I’ve stepped in it a bit with my first two illustrations.  Perhaps I’ve gotten myself into a little bit of hot water, but that’s going to be nothing compared to this next topic.  I’m going to talk about altar flowers.  Some of you may laugh at this.  Others are already gearing up for a battle.  If you are not a Christian or are new to the Christian church, you may not realize that there are actually conflicts in churches about whether or not you can use artificial flowers on the altar.  And we pastors are oftentimes thrust right into the midst of the battle.  “Pastor, can we use artificial flowers on the altar?”  “Pastor, tell them that only live flowers are allowed on the altar.”  Believe me, you don’t want to be caught here.  It’s not pleasant.

 What is the truth of the matter here?  My honest answer to folks on this one is: God doesn’t care what kind of flowers you put up there, but people do.  Before anyone throws anything, hear me out.  Do you really think God in heaven looks at a congregation and says, “Whoa there!  They put artificial flowers on the altar down there.  That’s a huge no, no.  Gonna have to move them to the going to hell list until they repent and use real flowers.”  I mean, it’s just as plausible as God looking down from heaven and saying, “Wait a minute!  I gave these people the ability to produce very realistic flowers so they wouldn’t have to destroy the beauty of my creation just to add color to their worship services.  Why do they persist in taking the wondrous beauty I produce outside and move it inside when they don’t have to anymore?  I’m going to put them on the going to hell list until they repent and change their ways.”  Do either of these things make any sense what-so-ever?  But, this truth confronts us in our own traditions–traditions that are very important to some of us.  And if our traditions are shown to be not as important as we once thought, we are not happy about it.  The truth hurts.

 In each of the examples above, when truth is brought to the matter, we don’t like it.  It makes us dig deep down within ourselves to confront our biases and our behaviors.  The truth reveals that we are not as holy, as good, or as worthy as we think that we are; so even though we like to think that we strive for the truth (because that makes us look good), when confronted with the truth, we generally shy away from it or refuse to admit it.  It is too painful.

 I believe this is why the Jewish authorities were trying so hard to get rid of Jesus.  This is why they paid Judas to betray Him.  This is why they put Him on trial.  They could not stand that He, as the way, the Truth, and the life, revealed their shortcomings and showed how they had corrupted the Jewish faith.  Unable to handle the Truth, they chose to get rid of it.

 After Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gesthemane, they brought Him to the high priest.  This move was highly unusual.  The Jews had developed a system of jurisprudence that followed the Torah.  They prided themselves on being a just people, but all of that was thrown to the wind because of their hatred of Jesus.  Ordinarily, they would meet in the daytime so that all proceedings could be public.  Not so now.  Ordinarily, they met “in the Chamber of Hewn Stone, north of the temple sanctuary, adjacent to the Court of Israel.”  (Edwards) Not so now.  They met in the high priest’s house to expedite the process and keep out public influence.  Ordinarily, they gave the accused time to prepare a defense.  Not so now.  All of their jurisprudence, they threw out the window because of their hatred of Jesus.

 And they certainly didn’t have any ideas of innocent until proven guilty.  Mark says they were seeking evidence so that they could put Jesus to death.  They didn’t have any evidence!!  But they desperately wanted some, so they tried their hardest to produce such evidence.  They failed repeatedly.  You see, according to Jewish law at the time, two witnesses were necessary to provide evidence for a death penalty, and those two witnesses had to agree on every detail–every single detail.  The Jews knew how unreliable eye-witness testimony could be.  They knew that oftentimes people saw what they wanted to see and heard what they wanted to hear.  They wanted to insure this did not happen to an accused person.  They wanted to make sure people weren’t lying just to get rid of someone.  They questioned witnesses individually to safeguard fraud.  And their own system was failing them.  The false witnesses who came to testify against Jesus could not agree on details.  Not surprising since they were making stuff up as they went.

 Mark records then, a very interesting note.  Witnesses came forth to say that Jesus had said, “I will tear down this temple made with hands and build one not made with hands.”  Nowhere in Mark did Jesus say this.  There is a reference to this in the book of John.  It’s an interesting accusation because of what it connotes.  According to Craig Evans, “Referring to the temple as... “made with hands” in itself would have been offensive to the ruling priests, for in addition to denying the divine status of the temple such a statement would even hint at its idolatrous status.  In the LXX, ...“made with hands” appears several times in reference to idols.  Such a connotation would only intensify the prophetic indictment of Jesus’ saying” The temple establishment is likened to something human, perhaps even idolatrous, that will be destroyed when the “son of man” comes and a temple...”not made with hands” is erected.”  The accusation here against Jesus is that He is claiming that the temple is an idol.  That would have infuriated the Sanhedrin, and could have carried a death sentence.  However, we know from the book of John that Jesus was not referring to the temple proper but His body.  This is most probably why, “on even this point they could not agree.”

 The trial at this point is not going well for the Sanhedrin.  The false witnesses cannot come up with a proper accusation.  Jesus is not cooperating with His silence. Ordinarily, an accused person would speak up and defend himself, but Jesus does not.  If He opens His mouth, it is very likely, the Sanhedrin will find something to accuse Him of, so Jesus lets things play out.  He will not answer falsehood.  There is no need.  It will always undermine itself.  Therefore, since the witnesses cannot agree, and Jesus remains silent, Caiaphas, the high priest takes matters into his own hands.  With the thought of this trial slipping away and the distasteful prospect of having to release Jesus, Caiaphas speaks, “ 60Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, ‘Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?’ 61But he was silent and did not answer. Again the high priest asked him, ‘Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?”

 Let me read to you Walter Liefield’s comment here, “The silence of Jesus to the first questions prompted the high priest to ask him another.  The question “Are you the Christ the son of the Blessed One?” indicates that by this time the religious authorities either knew or suspected that Jesus regarded himself as the Messiah.  “The Blessed” is a reverential circumlocution to avoid the pronunciation of the name of God and stands in apposition to the title “Christ” or “messiah.”  “Son of God” was understood by the Jews of Jesus time solely in a messianic sense; and since the Messiah in Jewish expectations was to be a man, the question of the high priest was about Jesus’ claim to messiahship and had nothing to do with deity.  The question proved to be a stroke of genius.  Blasphemy was a capital crime.  If the religious authorities could not effect an accusation by the testimony of others, Jesus’ own testimony about himself would do.  Had Jesus refused to answer this question, the Sanhedrin would have had to devise some other plan.”

 If Jesus would have remained silent, some other plan would have needed to been devised.  If Jesus would just have remained silent.  But He did not.  At this crucial junction, Jesus spoke.  And He didn’t pull any punches.  “I am; and “you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power”, and “coming with the clouds of heaven.”  Now, if Jesus would have simply admitted that He claimed to be the Messiah, there would not have been much of an uproar.  There were people who claimed to be the Messiah all the time, and the Sanhedrin didn’t accuse them of blasphemy.  There is something more to Jesus’ statement here.  There something that truly sets Him apart form these other wanna be Messsiahs.  Let’s start with the first two words of Jesus’ answer. “I AM.”  Some scholars debate this particular response as to whether Jesus is simply self identifying or if there is more going on because the Greek words here: ego eime are the exact words used for God’s name in the Greek translation of the Jewish Bible.  If Jesus is using the name of God right here, it is no wonder He is accused of blasphemy!  He is telling the Sanhedrin He is God!!!

 And Jesus does not quit there, He continues by quoting Psalm 110 and Daniel 13.  N.T. Wright says this, “...these two biblical texts, taken together, answer all the questions simultaneously, and add to them the assertion that Jesus will be vindicated, exalted to a place at God’s right hand.  The answer says, in a tight-packed phrase: yes, I am a true prophet; yes, I am the Messiah; you will see me vindicated; and my vindication will mean that I share the very throne of Israel’s God.  At last the masks are off, the secrets are out, the cryptic sayings and parables are left behind.  The son of man stands before the official ruler of Israel, declaring that God will prove him right, and the court in the wrong.

 Throughout the book of Mark, there has been a Messianic secret.  Jesus has commanded the disciples to silence about His identity.  Jesus has commanded the demons to silence regarding His identity.  Jesus has commanded those whom He healed to silence regarding His identity, but here, in front of His accusers; in front of those who are waiting to put Him to death, He reveals Himself.  “I AM!” 

 And the high priest tore his robes.  This is a sign of deep distress.  This is a sign of anger and grievous wound.  This Jesus has placed Himself in a position only reserved for God.  Jesus has elevated Himself far too high.  Indeed this is blasphemy!!  All the rest of those gathered agreed and condemned Jesus to death.  They couldn’t handle the truth!  And so convinced of their rightness; so convinced are they of their position, they begin to slap Jesus and hit him.  Jewish law required that if a man is condemned of death, those who have accused that man are made to cast the first stones.  The members of the Sanhedrin are following through on this.  They are unabashedly killing the truth. 

They cannot stand in its presence. 

 It’s not surprising, because when we are confronted with the truth, we don’t like it either, and now I am going much deeper than those opening illustrations I used at the beginning of this sermon.  I am going straight to the source of all truth.  I am going straight to Jesus, and I am telling you this morning that if you stand in the presence of Jesus, you will find it a very painful experience.  You will find yourself cut to the core.  You will find yourself revealed in all of your weakness.  The truth hurts, and being in front of Jesus is no different.



   But...  Jesus is love.  Standing in front of Him won’t hurt.  He simply loves us; unquestioningly; without reservation.  Yes.  Indeed He does love us without reservation, but He loves us not because of who we are but in spite of who we are.  Let me say that again, Jesus loves us not because of who we are but in spite of who we are.  It is this that hurts most deeply when we come before Jesus because we are truly revealed.

 We are revealed as those who have murdered others simply by being angry with them.–Matthew chapter 5.

 We are revealed as those who have failed to give up our possessions and follow Him.–Luke chapter 14.

 We are revealed as those who did not love the Lord our God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength.  We are revealed as those who chase after false Gods.

 We are revealed as those who have failed to love our neighbor as ourselves.

 We are revealed as those who have failed to love our enemies and bless those who persecute us.

 We are revealed as those who talk the talk but fail miserably to walk the walk.

 We are revealed as those who want to justify our actions and make excuses instead of accepting our faults.

 We are revealed as those who would seek to escape the truth or have it silenced.

 If you ever stand in front of Jesus, these things cut you to the core, and you know deep down your failure.  You know deep down your own darkness.  You know deep down your sin.

 And it is at this point, where the great I AM stretches out His arms and dies for you.  It is at this point where you know you are not worthy of the truth, that the truth sets you free by saying, “I will take your sin upon myself.  I will offer you forgiveness.  I will clothe you with my righteousness that you may be blameless; you may be flawless.”

 The truth will go to the cross to right all your wrongs.  He loves you that much.  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that all those who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God sent the Son into the world not to condemn the world but that the world might be saved by Him.”

 Ah, and once you experience these two things: once you are condemned by the truth and then embrace by it with its great love: no longer will you run from it.  No longer will you avoid it.  You will stand in it and upon it.  And you will unabashedly point to it–not as something you own or claim, but as the person who was unafraid to announce it; die and then rise as it.  You will point to the truth.  You will point to Jesus.  Amen.

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