Scripture: John 18:28-40
First of all, I admit that I am weird. To prove it, when I am bored I wonder about weird things; things like:
- When does it stop being partly cloudy & start being partly sunny?
- Which baby is the cutest ever?
- How can something be both "new" & "improved," because if it's new, what is it improving on?
- Can you cry underwater?
Some of these may seem to be unanswerable questions; but they are, in fact, answerable. It's not rocket science.
The question about babies, for example, is easy. The cutest baby is "my baby." The answer can only be subjective. Next!
Can you cry underwater? Yes. Your tear ducts still function underwater, but you won't be able to feel tears running down your cheeks because they'll mix with the water around you. But why would you be crying underwater, anyway?
Today's Scripture is full of questions. They are posed by Pilate, & Jesus responds to all of them -- except one. The last one. Pilate asks him: What is truth?
And Jesus says nothing. If he did respond to the question, we don't know about it, because John doesn't tell us. Perhaps Jesus simply said nothing because he sensed that it was a rhetorical question; in other words, a question of frustration coming from a guy under political pressure. What is truth? is a question politicians -- it could be argued -- have trouble with.
It's more likely that Jesus didn't respond because he knew Pilate wasn't really looking for the truth. Pilate wasn't looking for what was true, but for what was expedient; what was least likely to cause a riot in the streets, & a phone call from Caesar.
How did this little chat get started anyway? It began with Pilate's question, Are you the King of the Jews? Jesus responded & the conversation continued.
Pilate repeated his question, So you are a king?
Jesus replied, 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.
What? Let’s not get philosophical here. Jesus wasn't trying to get Pilate into a conversation about Greek philosophy. Jesus was not referring to the truth of philosophers, but the truth of, & about, God. Jesus knew that Pilate wasn't ready to hear the truth about God.
So, he didn't respond to Pilate's final question, What is truth?
But, Jesus' reluctance to answer a question about truth has not stopped preachers from trying to answer the question! And that's not a bad thing, nor is it particularly a hard thing to do. Elsewhere in the gospels, Jesus makes plenty of statements about God's truth, including:
- that God loves us,
- that God wants us to be reconciled to him,
- that believing in Jesus is the way to salvation,
- that God's kingdom is not like earthly kingdoms,
- that we should love God and our neighbors as ourselves,
- that God's word is truth,
- and, of course, the big one, that Jesus himself is the way, the truth & the life.
So the question, What is truth? is not one that is impossible to answer.
What is difficult, but not impossible, to deal with is Jesus' statement that everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice. That Jesus chose the word belongs rather than "corners" is significant. He didn't say, "Everyone who corners the truth listens to my voice." This kind of a person -- the one who's convinced he or she has a corner on the truth -- is not only a scary person, but a dangerous one. Proverbs 21:2 comes to mind: Everyone’s path is straight in their own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart.
Jesus says that everyone who belongs to him listens to his voice. This is not the first time Jesus has said this. You may recall John 10, where he talks about being the Good Shepherd. The sheep listen to his voice, Jesus says in verse 3. Verse 4: [The sheep] follow him because they know his voice.
In verse 16, he says: I have other sheep that do not belong to this sheep pen. I must lead them too. They will listen to my voice. And finally, My sheep listen to my voice. I know them & they follow me, Jesus says in verse 27.
Therefore, to belong to the truth & to listen to Jesus' voice is to be a member of the flock over which Jesus is the shepherd. And in that day, "shepherd" was a frequent metaphor for "king," so there's a connection beyond Pilate's query, So you are a king?
Okay, then. Where in our culture these days do we see examples of belonging to the truth? Certainly, we can cite many instances of good deeds being done, of people caring for "the least of these." Those doing such acts are often motivated by listening to Jesus' voice. Such deeds are not only worth noting, but also worth emulating -- adjusted, of course, for the circumstances & people we encounter. I think most folks would agree that Billy Graham belonged to the truth.
But perhaps another way to learn about belonging to the truth is to consider when we may not be listening for Jesus' voice. This is a relevant consideration. Why? Because if we're not listening, we are not belonging to the truth.
For example, we are not listening to the voice of Jesus when ...
- We do not show love for one another (see John 13:34-35).
- We do not repent of sin (see Matthew 4:17).
- We do not pray for our enemies (see Matthew 5:44-45).
- We do not take up our cross (see Matthew 16:24-25).
- We are not involved in making disciples (see Matthew 28:18-20).
- We do not pray (see Luke 21:36).
- We do not forgive (see Matthew 18:22).
- We are consumed with being materially & financially successful (see Matthew 6:19-21).
- We express anger & verbal abuse (see Matthew 5:21-22).
- We commit adultery or visit Internet porn sites (see Matthew 5:27-30).
- We seek revenge on those who have wronged us (see Matthew 5:38-42).
- We seek the favor & applause of the public (see Matthew 6:1-4).
- We are consumed with worry & anxiety (see Matthew 6:25-34).
- Or we judge others (see Matthew 7:1-5).
When we turn off Jesus, we turn off the truth. When we turn off the truth, we turn off from that full & abundant life that Christ has promised.
Years ago, the Danish philosopher & theologian Søren Kierkegaard commented on this What is truth? passage from John. In his comments, Kierkegaard gets at this idea of listening for Christ by noting that the truth that is Christ is more important than even what Jesus taught. Kierkegaard warned that we can abolish truth by accepting Christ's teachings without accepting Christ. "We want truth the easy way," Kierkegaard wrote. "This is to abolish truth, for Christ the teacher is more important than the teaching."
So, What is truth? It turns out it is not an unanswerable question. Christ is the truth. He didn't answer that question when Pilate asked it, because Pilate wasn't interested in the truth. "You can't handle the truth!" Jack Nicholson's character booms in A Few Good Men. Jesus might have said the same thing.
But he answered it elsewhere when he said, I am the way, & the truth & the life. And he answers it in what we experience within ourselves when we receive him into our lives. Christ is the truth. And the lesser truths of what should be done in the complex situations of life can best be found not just by consulting the rules & the precedents, but mostly by listening for Christ's voice.