Posts Tagged ‘Truth’
This is the third in a series of preliminary sermons I have preached from the book of Hebrews during Lent. You can download the manuscripts at my box.net (I have provided the links.) I will be preaching through the entire book starting in May 2009.
Sermon one is: Listening to and Thinking about Jesus
Sermon two is: Resting in and Holding Fast to Faith
Sermon three is: Growing in Jesus and our Understanding of His Work
Sunday, March 15, 2009 (PM)
The Imperatives of Hebrews, 3
The Book of Hebrews
This past Wednesday evening we talked for a few minutes about Matthew 24-25 and Jesus’ long answer to the disciples question, ‘when will it happen, what will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age?’ So the disciples essentially asked three questions.
When will ‘it’ happen is the first question they ask. By this I assume the ‘it’ refers to the statement Jesus made ‘Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.’
The other two questions they ask seemingly come out of nowhere and yet, for some reason, the disciples must have associated the ‘it’ with the ‘coming’ and the ‘end.’ And it certainly appears that Jesus was not averse to answering all three questions as if they were related to one another even if we happen to be somewhat confused about why they would associate the ‘coming’ and the ‘end’ with the ‘it.’
Well, I’m revisiting that conversation from Wednesday evening so that I can bring up an article that I also made more than a passing reference to. In his essay The Coming Evangelical Collapse [you can find this by searching at Christian Science Monitor–jerry] blogger Michael Spencer wrote:
We are on the verge – within 10 years – of a major collapse of evangelical Christianity. This breakdown will follow the deterioration of the mainline Protestant world and it will fundamentally alter the religious and cultural environment in the West.
Within two generations, evangelicalism will be a house deserted of half its occupants. (Between 25 and 35 percent of Americans today are Evangelicals.) In the “Protestant” 20th century, Evangelicals flourished. But they will soon be living in a very secular and religiously antagonistic 21st century.
This collapse will herald the arrival of an anti-Christian chapter of the post-Christian West. Intolerance of Christianity will rise to levels many of us have not believed possible in our lifetimes, and public policy will become hostile toward evangelical Christianity, seeing it as the opponent of the common good.
Millions of Evangelicals will quit. Thousands of ministries will end. Christian media will be reduced, if not eliminated. Many Christian schools will go into rapid decline. I’m convinced the grace and mission of God will reach to the ends of the earth. But the end of evangelicalism as we know it is close.
I have a friend who is skeptical of Mr Spencer’s claims. I think I told you Wednesday that I don’t particularly care one way or another about the collapse of a major, in my opinion defunct and corrupt political institution; I do care about the local church.
Then yesterday I got a couple of books in the mail. I glanced through the first couple pages of one book because the forward is written by my hero Eugene Peterson. When he writes, I read. He wrote, then, in the book Christianity Beyond Belief: Following Jesus for the Sake of Others, words very similar to those of Mr Spencer:
We live in a country that is becoming less and less Christian by the day. People who make a living compiling statistics on these kinds of things tell us that we have an epidemic of people leaving the church. Recently I was told that one of these pollsters has concluded that nonbelievers are the fastest growing ‘faith’ group in America. The alarm has been sounded and panic is widespread. There is considerable finger-pointing at the failure of the church to stanch the hemorrhage of membership. (9)
We can deduce, from these two readings, that there is a significant problem with the church in America. Frankly, I think the damage is done and there is very little that can be done to stop the bleeding on a national level. With some giving us ten years and others suggesting that it has already come upon us, who knows what the next step really is.
Here is where the book of Hebrews, I believe, makes strong inroads into the wound that we have undoubtedly been the cause of. I shudder to think what the church would be like if the Gospel hadn’t been so watered down in a previous generation. But the very thing that the church thought was its measure of success, was actually its very undoing. Thus it seems the church thought it could afford to scale back on the things that the Gospel seems to suggest we most certainly cannot afford to scale back on-such things as, Gospel content, the faith once delivered, core doctrines, and foundational beliefs.
But I submit to you that we have allowed certain aspects to become so watered down and we have paid such close attention to those who would undo the Gospel with skepticism and lies that we have no foundation upon which to stand. This is why I am fond of saying that once Genesis 1:1 is done away with, nothing else really matters. Genesis 1:1 is foundational. You can say, Genesis through Deuteronomy is the Bible and everything else is commentary. But you get my point, once we have reduced the stories to mere local myth, upon what will we stand?
Into this the author of Hebrews has insisted on an allegiance to those very stories ‘we have heard’ in order to prevent the very thing that Spencer and Peterson (among others) warn us of. If we fail to listen, fail to pay attention, fail to hold on to the faith we once confessed, we will drift away; slowly, but surely. Or we will ‘fall short’ of the intended and expected goal. And how, in chapter 6, as we encounter our 5th ‘imperative’, we see that the results might be even more disastrous.
5. The fifth marker found along the way is in chapter 6, verse 1: “Therefore, let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity…”
Well, the first thing that stands out to me about this passage is that if there are ‘elementary teachings’ there must be elementary teachers. It seems to me that there must have been teachers in the church who were content to continue wrangling over the same foundational teachings over and over again. Well, don’t misunderstand, I think it is terribly important for there to be foundational teachings in the church. I also believe we should revisit those teachings periodically in order that we don’t forget (‘listen to’) what we have been taught. But I also think it incredibly naïve to think we can stay in those places. Why? Because then we never mature.
And so the author here says something like this: You are babes. You are stuck on milk and cereal. You need to be teachers now, but in fact you are still itty-bittys when it comes to the faith. I can’t even begin to teach you about meat, and righteousness, and the High Priesthood of Jesus Christ. You haven’t constantly trained yourselves in the Word so as to be able to sufficiently tell the difference between good and evil. Listen to The Message translation of chapter 5:11-6:3:
I have a lot more to say about this, but it is hard to get it across to you since you’ve picked up this bad habit of not listening. By this time you ought to be teachers yourselves, yet here I find you need someone to sit down with you and go over the basics on God again, starting from square one-baby’s milk, when you should have been on solid food long ago! Milk is for beginners, inexperienced in God’s ways; solid food is for the mature, who have some practice in telling right from wrong.
1-3So come on, let’s leave the preschool fingerpainting exercises on Christ and get on with the grand work of art. Grow up in Christ. The basic foundational truths are in place: turning your back on “salvation by self-help” and turning in trust toward God; baptismal instructions; laying on of hands; resurrection of the dead; eternal judgment. God helping us, we’ll stay true to all that. But there’s so much more. Let’s get on with it!
The gist of what the author of Hebrews is saying is this: We need to grow up in Christ and to do this we must progress in our learning and understanding of the work that He did. What happens if we don’t grow up? Look at verse 6: “…and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.:” Now I’m not going to unpack all that because for now it is enough to say that the person who refuses to grow up will eventually ‘fall away.’ This is no mere ‘drifting away.’ This could mean ‘to commit apostasy.’ It is, at minimum, a radical departure from the faith.
During Lent, I am preaching a series of sermons on the essential unity and oneness of the church, forged in the cross of Christ. I will be providing excerpts of those sermons here and also links back to my box.net account where they might downloaded in full. The sermons are drawn from 1 Corinthians. These sermons are born also out of the experiences of my current congregation and include historical references to the Restoration Movement church of which I am a member. The congregation is also reading a book called Together Again by Bob Russell and Rick Atchley. Thanks for stopping by. May you be blessed in the Lord’s Word. I will update this post each week. jerry
1. A Common Plea, 1 Corinthians 1:10-17
The problem is easily identifiable. People. People were the problem at Corinth. Their quarrels and schisms were nothing more than power plays, power grabs. They were the human attempts to accomplish something in the church that could not be accomplished by the means of power. Paul lays this out for the reader in verses 10-12. People were elevating other people over other people. It became a matter of territory, a war cry of ‘my guy is better than your guy’ or ‘my guy has more authority than your guy’ or, worse, ‘I was baptized by a guy who is far superior than the guy who baptized you.’ Paul is quick to the draw: Such an attitude in the church is wrong.
There were people who were trying to construct a church community on the basis of externals. In this case they were trying to build upon the idea that baptism by one person was more important than baptism by another. What ended up happening? Well, what happened was certainly not the betterment of the church, the growth of the church, the expansion of the kingdom, or the filling up of the cross. All these external building blocks did was contribute fuel to the quarreling and divisions that were and had formed in the congregation.
What we see here is a stark, cold reality. There will be times when we have issues in the church that cause us discomfort and pain. There will be times in the body when we, let’s not sugarcoat it: There will be times when we fight. There will be times when we simply do not get along. The apostle wisely confronts the issue right out of the box: I hear there are divisions among you. This shall not be because quarrels and divisions never get the church or those involved what they think they want or what they hope: power.
2. A Common Savior, 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5
You and I, we have this in common. We are bound together under the weakness of a foolish message, a foolish word. This is what he is saying here. One group looks for signs and wonders; another group looks for wisdom; but all that we have to offer is what God gave us: Christ Jesus crucified. This word is a stumbling block to some; it is foolishness to others; but this is all we have. We cannot preach or proclaim something we have not been given. (And as a side note, I would say that we need not offer anything else. The Gospel has more than enough to offend everyone.)
And this is the confounding part of our message: It is not our message. It is God’s message. It is his word to us and this is why Paul cannot speak of anything else: He has nothing else to say. This message goes out to the world and it draws in all the misfits and losers. “Think of what you were when you were called.” We were called. We were called. Then it says this: “God chose…” God did! Thank God that he did the choosing! He chose all the weak, broken, battered, un-things. He chose the despised things and gathered them all up and together he did this: “Because of Him you are in Christ Jesus.”
And this is the message: It is the same for everyone. We preach Christ crucified because we cannot preach anything else. We are bound together in this common Word, by this common Savior. We preach Christ crucified and some will stumble, others will scoff, but all will be called. But we have only one message to proclaim
3. A Common Truth, 1 Corinthians 2:6-16
Apart from the Spirit of God there is no communication between Gospel and human. Apart from the Spirit of God there is no growth into maturity. Without the Spirit of God the very truth we claim to have in common is incomprehensible. But for all this, Paul writes, ‘we have the mind of Christ.’ We. We. We have the mind of Christ. The Spirit Paul said earlier who searches the mind of God and reveals his thoughts to us is in us and has revealed to us the mind of Christ. This is the Spirit in us. In We.
Is it any wonder that the apostle is frustrated with this church? Paul writes that we have the very mind of God, revealed to us by the Holy Spirit of God, the deepest mysteries of the heavens are ours in Christ, it is the power unto salvation…and we? We are bound together in Christ and by His Spirit. Those who love God are those who have been brought into fellowship and who have received the wisdom of God as revealed in the cross of Christ…and we? Those who have submitted and acted unto the obedience of the message spoken have understood the deep things of God, have heard things spoken that the wisest and most advanced among the human race cannot fathom, are those who are among the wisest fools on the planet…and we?
“There are quarrels among you.”
And do you think the apostle was disappointed? And do you think God is?
4. A Common Gospel, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Third, see the grace of the Gospel (8-9). The grace of the Gospel is that it may accept us as we are, but it doesn’t leave us that way. This is what he said in the sixth chapter: “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders 10nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” Yes we might sing ‘Just as I am’ but our song of triumph is something more like, ‘He’s changing me.’ Takes us from persecutors of the church and makes us into promoters of the church.
5. A Common Mission, 1 Corinthians 3:1-23
Why would nations want to flow to a place that is ravaged by the same problems that men in the flesh are ravaged by? We can go anywhere for quarrels and jealousy and division. Where can people go for unity, oneness, and brotherhood?
We are the temple of God which means that we are the habitation of the Holy Trinity—the essence and completeness and perfection of Unity and essential oneness. So when we are jealous and when we quarrel do we seriously consider God among us? God in us? And when we are jealous and quarrel and follow mere men do we consider how we are destroying God’s temple? What do you think it means that we ‘destroy’ the temple of God?
God’s temple is holy. We are the temple. We are holy. How can God make other holy people, add to his holy temple, when we are acting in a manner that is contrary to a holy God? God’s spirit lives in us so how can we act and live and behave in a manner that is contrary to the Spirit of God? The temple is the very place where the Oneness of God is on display before the world. What does the world think when they see a divided temple, a divided church? A divided God?
6. A Common Bond, Ephesians 4:1-16
Fifth, again Paul states that the purpose behind such gifts is that the church might grow up into Christ. This is really the only sort of maturity that is required or necessary or the goal. He writes, “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the head, that is Christ.” You see, our goal is Christ. He is the goal of the unity we are preserving, he is the maturity of the unity we are preserving. We are not growing up into some man made idea of what it means to be one and unified and united and whole. We are growing up into a Spirit driven, grace provided, Christ called, humanly preserved unity and oneness.
Soli Deo Gloria!
A professional golfer did the right thing while at Q School: He told the truth about playing an unapproved ball over two strokes on one hole.
The only thing more ridiculous about this story is that it is a story. Imagine living in a culture so devoid of truth that someone telling the truth becomes a headline story at ESPN.com. A commenter made this wry observation:
If Hayes didnt have more than $7 million in career earnings, status as a veteran player and past tourney champion, as well as sponsors’ exemptions, he would have kept his mouth shut.
This is no slight to Mr Hayes. He did the right thing. It is a slight to silly news reporters who think that we need to know this sort of stuff and that telling the truth is news. Oh, wait. It is news. My bad.
Here is Voddie Baucham discussing theodicy. Here I am doing my part to help spread the word concerning the wrath of God. This is powerful stuff and it rightly reforms the question. Pay close attention to this re-framing of the question to reflect the real problem on this earth: the evil that men do. It’s tough to swallow, even tougher to digest. I don’t suppose too many will appreciate that he reminds us that we are the problem on earth, not God.
Here’s an interesting story concerning JI Packer’s membership in the Anglican Church of Canada. Says the story:
Packer, 81, who was named one of the 25 most influential evangelicals in the world by Time magazine in 2005, quit the Canadian arm of the global Anglican Communion with 10 other B.C. Anglican clergy last week, he said, according to The Vancouver Sun. They joined the more conservative and orthodox Province of the Southern Cone in South America.
The Oxford-trained theologian said he can no longer serve under Vancouver-area Bishop Michael Ingham, arguing that he “appears heretical.” Ingham had sanctioned in 2002 same-sex blessings in the British Columbia diocese of New Westminster, sparking international uproar.
The story goes on:
“This is about the fundamental question of how we derive any kind of Christian truth,” he said, according to The Canadian Press.
Packer, who has outlined a conservative Christian theology in his 1973 bestseller Knowing God, described the Bible as “absolute” authority on divine truth and that it clearly describes homosexuality as a grave sin, as reported by The Vancouver Sun.
The Rev. Kevin Dixon, priest at St. Mary’s Anglican Church in Kerrisdale, meanwhile believes Packer is adopting a “literalistic” reading of the Bible.
“It’s important for people to understand that the holy scriptures is a very nuanced document. I think we need to allow people room to come to a new understanding,” said Dixon, the local newspaper reported.
“I have not always held the view that same-sex relationships are consistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ, but now I do.”
I am currently writing a post in my 90 Days with Jesus series from Colossians that deals with this issue of how we derive truth from the Scripture. I wonder if Scripture agrees with Mr Dixon that the ‘holy Scriptures is a very nuanced document’? If the document is so nuanced, then how can any of us come to salvation and a knowledge of truth? (See 1 Timothy 2:4) Furthermore, if it is so nuanced, then how can any one or any two or any three (etc.) interpretations be correct? If there is no such thing as observable truth in the Bible, then we might as well say that anything goes. Right?
This is a matter of how we come to the truth. I agree 100%. Where I disagree is that the Scripture is so nuanced that we can’t make heads or tails of it as if it speaks of no truth or that it is thoroughly vague at most points. The Scripture, by its own testimony, is a revelation which means that it is an unveiling, not a darkening, of the truth. And truth cannot be both truth and lie. That is, this issue of homosexuality (or any sin for that matter) in the church is not quite as vague as some would lead us to believe. This issue is not whether or not it is a sin; clearly the Scripture declares it to be so. The issue is how much homosexuality in the church is too much homosexuality in the church: where is or should the line be drawn? Where is grace being taken advantage of?
This is an issue of grace. Packer would not deny God’s grace, but neither would he say it is a license to sin. So, I’ll open up the can of worms. Where should the line be drawn when it comes to sin in the church? Where does grace give way? How do we derive truth? How vague is the Word of God on this issue? I’ll appreciate any thoughts you may have to offer.
Day 5, Colossians 1:5: Faith, Hope, and Love in the Truth
“…the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel [that has come to you]…”
“ ‘The Gospel’ for Paul, is an announcement, a proclamation, whose importance lies in the truth of its content. It is not, primarily, either an invitation or a technique for changing people’s lives. It is a command to be obeyed and a power let loosed in the world (Rom 1:16-17), which cannot be reduced to terms of the persuasiveness or even the conviction of the messenger. It works of itself to overthrow falsehood.”—(NT Wright, Colossians, 52)
What I see here is that faith, hope and love are all, in one way connected with the truth which is the Gospel. Their faith, hope, and love are all based upon whether or not the message that came to them was truth. If it was truth, then there is some substance and validity to the hope they have. If what came to them was not truth, then their faith, hope and love are based on a lie and are rather meaningless. Hope that is not based on truth is no hope at all. Faith in something that is a lie is not faith but stupidity. Love that is not based on truth self-serving and empty and a vague sentimentalism. How can anyone have a faith that is not based on the truth? How can I trust the love of anyone if that love is not based on truth? How do I know that love is sincere, actual, authentic? And what is hope if not based on truth? Will I really be any more hopeful if I have no guarantees of the veracity of that which I hope for?
He also said this: our hope is stored up for us in heaven. This is very similar to what Peter wrote to his congregations:
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, 5who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:3-9)
We have not yet fully taken hold of that which we have set our hope upon. It is not ours yet, but we persevere in love and faith because we know that we are looking to something that has been promised to us by God. And if this were not true, then we would be hopeless. Our hope is stored up in heaven for us: It is in the place where God is. It is protected by the God who is. It is surrounded by the grace of God and no one can take hope from us. People can come along in our lives and take everything away from us. Tragedy can come along in any of a million different forms but tragedy can never take away our hope. How can hope be stolen? How can hope be crushed? How can hope, protected as it is by Almighty God and guaranteed by the work of Christ, ever, ever, be snuffed out of our hearts? I thank God that he is the one guarding our hope and not me. It is a strong hope that He guards but in my hands it is fragile, susceptible to fracture. I will trust in Him.
So what is the content of that which we hope for? Is it mere eternal life? Is it the mere expectation of something better? Is it the wishful thinking and joyful rejoicing about the day when we shall be free from the shackles of this present darkness? Is it the mere glimmer of a life without pain, suffering, and death? Is it the glad thinking that someday all of our questions will have answers? Well, I suppose it is to an extent all of these things. But I also suppose that it is far more than we can possibly imagine. Paul later says in Colossians, “For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for Him” (Colossians 1:16). You see the fullness of our hope is not any of those things I mentioned above, but rather Christ himself. He is our hope: He is what we expect, He is why we persevere, He is why we have faith, He is why we love; He is our hope and nothing short of Christ can even compare or satisfy. We expect someday at the last trumpet to meet Christ. I have to be honest here, nothing short of Christ would be at all satisfying to me. I couldn’t care less if my questions are answered, if my suffering ends, or if I have eternal life if I have not Christ.
Finally, we see that our faith, our hope, our love all spring what we have learned in the Gospel—the Good News of Jesus Christ—which has come to you. The Gospel came to us; truth came to us. I don’t suppose that we went out of our way to pursue it even if we did accept it when we heard it and turned to the Lord in repentance calling on His Name. Nor do I suppose that we went out of our way to create truth. But here we see the Gospel as the pursuer, the hunter, the hound tracking us down. Truth comes to us and the truth is contained in the content of the Gospel, but I would also add this: The Gospel is Jesus Christ and not merely the sum total of the stories or traditions gathered around him. The Gospel cannot be separated from the person of Jesus Christ. I scoff at those who say stupid things like, “Well, it doesn’t matter if Jesus was real or not. What matters is that I hope he was. But either way…” Blah. Blah. Blah. Mindless drivel is what that is. If you take Jesus out of the picture there is no Gospel, and it certainly isn’t truth. Further,
“Neither Christians nor churches are created by accident. They do not emerge of themselves from the social milieu of any generation, nor fall unheralded from the skies. The creative agency can always be identified: “the word of the truth of the gospel. The power that convicts of truth and kindles life is the power of the Holy Spirit; the means He uses is the good news of Christ, the record of divine redeeming events, interpreted in light of prophecy and confirmed in the testimony of transformed men.”— (In Him the Fullness: A Study in Colossians, R.E.O. White, Fleming H Revell Co, 1973, 16)
I’ll close by nothing this: The truth, the Gospel came to the Colossians. I think this is a direct reference to missionary activity. Given the opportunity, most will be content in the bliss of their ignorance. Most are not going to go on a spiritual quest in the hopes of finding truth that saves, gives hope, motivates faith, and drives love. The Gospel must go and the Lord said through the prophet Isaiah, “My Word will accomplish the purpose for which it is sent.” (Isaiah 55:9-11). The Lord is active in sending out his Word to the places where it needs to be preached, to the places where it needs to be heard, the places of darkness where people are living hopeless, faithless, truthless, loveless lives. The Gospel goes and the Gospel does its work.
“And I put my hope. And I put my Trust. And I put myself in you, Lord.”—‘My Hope,’ David Crowder.
Soli Deo Gloria!
Terribly disconcerting quote this is:
If we believe that the Spirit of God is the only fountain of truth, we shall neither reject nor despise the truth itself, wherever it shall appear, unless we wish to insult the Spirit of God…All truth is from God, and consequently if wicked men have said anything that is true and just, we ought not to reject it, for it has come from God.”The Institutes II, ii, 15 translated by John Allen. 2 Vols. Philadelphia Presbyterian Board of Publications, 1909 and Commentary on Titus, 1:12; as quoted by David Seamands, Healing Grace, 187)
Now I am really, really afraid.
Soli Deo Gloria!
John 18:28-37 (90 Days with Jesus, Day 82
Then the Jews led Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness the Jews did not enter the palace; they wanted to be able to eat the Passover. 29So Pilate came out to them and asked, “What charges are you bringing against this man?” 30″If he were not a criminal,” they replied, “we would not have handed him over to you.” 31Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” “But we have no right to execute anyone,” the Jews objected. 32This happened so that the words Jesus had spoken indicating the kind of death he was going to die would be fulfilled. 33Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” 34″Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?” 35″Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “It was your people and your chief priests who handed you over to me. What is it you have done?” 36Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” 37″You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” 38″What is truth?” Pilate asked. With this he went out again to the Jews and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him. 39But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?” 40They shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” Now Barabbas had taken part in a rebellion.
Crucifixion was a Roman form of capital punishment. Had Jesus remained under the auspices of the Jewish delegation he would likely have been stoned to death. Under Rome Jesus would be crucified. “This happened so that the words Jesus had spoken indicating the kind of death he was going to die would be fulfilled.” He had indicated that he would be ‘lifted up’ (John 3, 12). The type of death had been indicated as far back as Genesis 3, Genesis 22, Psalm 22, Isaiah 53 and others. It would be a bloody affair. It would be unpleasant to say the least. Nothing was going to prevent that from happening.
Obviously, there is a lot going on in this rather lengthy passage I have chosen for this meditation. I’m not going to comment on the entire passage except for a couple of very short notes. First, there is something to be said about Jesus’ conversation with Pilate and his point about truth. Truth is a hot commodity in today’s world. Everyone, and I mean everyone, claims to have or be on the side of truth. But this is necessarily impossible; not everything can be the truth. This is especially so when it comes to religion. It is not even close to the truth to say: Christianity is right for those who believe it and atheism is right for those who ‘believe’ it. We can also say something like, Christianity and Islam cannot both be true. There may be elements of truth in Islam, but in had fact, the claims of Jesus must be dealt with. It seems difficult to think in such black and white terms, but Jesus was either telling the truth or he wasn’t. Ajith Fernando wrote:
We have seen how the pluralistic mood makes people today skeptical about the idea of knowing absolute truth. Into this environment of uncertainty about truth, the biblical Christian comes with the claim that we can know Absolute Truth. We say that we have found it in Jesus; that Jesus is the truth as He Himself claimed in John 14:6. This means that He is the personification, the embodiment of truth. Jesus did not only say, “What I say is true;” which means, “I am True.” He said, “I am the truth,” the ultimate reality. (The Supremacy of Christ, 27)
So Jesus said, “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” This means that we are on His side. It doesn’t mean that he defends us or that we can suppose that we are right. It means that Jesus is right. It means that to the best of our understanding we align ourselves with Jesus: Not religion, not a denomination, not a teacher. Only Jesus. I suppose this is more difficult than assumed, but ultimately, Jesus Christ will judge our hearts and our intentions. And only our faith in Him by the grace of God will we be saved. DA Carson notes, “Similarly, only those who are rightly related to God, to the truth itself, can grasp Jesus’ witness to the truth” (The Gospel According to John, 595).
Second, Jesus speaks of a Kingdom. Originally it was brought up by Pilate. He ‘accused’ Jesus of being a king and Jesus agrees: “For this reason I was born.” Then he ties his Kingship to the Truth. He thus ties his Kingdom to the truth and, consequently, all of his subjects are bound to the truth. But this is not merely a matter of cosmic avoidance of ‘little white lies.’ This is a matter of “nothing less than the self-disclosure of God in his Son, who is the truth” Carson, 595).
In Christ are all the mysteries of the universe explained and understood. His Kingdom is based on this fact of history. This is a Kingdom that is incompatible with lies. This is a Kingdom that cannot be severed from the truth. And this means that any other kingdom set up is necessarily set up in opposition to Christ’s. It also means that all other kingdoms, even if containing an element of truth, are built substantially on lies. There is not room in the universe for more than one kingdom.
Andreas Kostenberger notes, “Even so, the only thing Jesus says about his Kingdom is what it is not: it is not of this world” (JETS, 48/1, March 2005). Carson notes, however, that this “should not be misconstrued as meaning that his kingdom is not active in this world, or has nothing to do with this world” (Carson, quoting Beasley-Murray, 594). It means that Jesus’ Kingdom does not have its origins in this world. So Carson brilliantly writes that this world is
“…locked in persistent rebellion against its creator (1:10, 11). It is the sphere of darkness, of rebellion, of blindness, of sin. The kingships of this world preserve themselves by force and violence; if Jesus’ kingship finds its origin elsewhere, it will not be defended by this world’s means. And if it resorts to no force and no fighting, it is hard to see how Rome’s interests are in jeopardy.” (The Gospel According to John, 594).
But this doesn’t stop the world. We are talking about two kingdoms that are diametrically opposed to one another. And the world knows it. Pilate mutters, “What is truth?” and walks away. Why? Because he doesn’t care. His concern is not for truth any more than the people of this world are concerned about truth. This is why I constantly point out here at this blog that Christianity and Darwinism cannot both be true. They are opposites because one is the Kingdom of God and the other is the Kingdom of man. One Kingdom grows red in tooth and claw. The other grows in secret like seeds spread in a field. One grows according to the ideas of men. The other grows according to the will of God. One grows for the sake of man. The other for the sake of God. They both grow, simultaneously, often times in the same field; however, one is doomed to utter failure, the other is bound to eternity.
Pilate walks away and all we are left with at the end of chapter 18 are the screams and cries of people shouting, ‘Barabbas! Give us Barabbas!’ This is the world’s way of saying, ‘We want the lie! Don’t give us the truth! Don’t give us Jesus! Give us the lie! Give us the devil!’ The world is content in its bliss. The world is satisfied to live in the emptiness of ambition, pride, and self-absorption. The world is satisfied to live in the depths of the ‘get all you can in this world’ lifestyle. The world desires to live in the unhappiness of self-direction. The world is at peace to live in the warzone of the flesh. And the world will persist in this way until the Day comes when people will no longer shout to Barabbas and the Devil but will bow before the Exalted Christ Jesus and Worship Him and Him alone.
What I see happening around the world is that many churches are buying into the lie. Too many churches nowadays are shouting out with a chorus of ‘Give us Barabbas!’ Too many churches are content to live on the plane of this world’s ambitious pride and melancholy. Too many churches are not on the side of truth, are not listening to Jesus, are not part of His Kingdom. “What is truth?” Pilate asked. Then the next thing Pilate heard was this: “Give us Barabbas!” This is the truth of the world we live in: People would rather choose recklessness, unrighteousness, and sin over Jesus. And Pilate never spoke to Jesus again. Pilate never again heard the truth. Let me ask: What are the last words you will hear from Jesus?
Truth has a power of its own, a power that in the long run proves stronger than the usurped authority of the institutional power. Jesus embodies this hope, the hope of the ultimate triumph of truth in the reign of his Kingdom. (Andreas Kostenberger, What is Truth? JETS 48/1, March 2005)
Soli Deo Gloria!