John 18

Our lives are full of questions. As we move through the years we find ourselves confronted with questions great and small. But no matter the importance of these questions they shape our lives:

“Is she the one for me?” “Will this be on the test?” “What sort of career should I go into?” “Where will I get the money to pay the bills?” “What neighborhood should we live move to?” “Should we go to the doctor?” “Who are you going with?” “Adjustable or fixed rate?” “Where will we go to church?” “What if it is cancer?” “How should I vote this time?” “Am I getting enough exercise?” “Did I take my medicine this morning?” “What if they find out?” “Will God forgive me?”

Most of the questions we ask seek truth. We want to know. [Yesterday – CNN featured The Amazing Kreskin. Why is a mentalist interesting to us? Because he lets us know answers to our questions.] We can respond to the questions we ask with particular truths, but even if we could know everything or be in a position to always make the right decision, we would still ache and hunger for the truth.

That’s because knowing particular truths is not the same as knowing THE truth. Particular truths are simple facts, or gossip, they may even be personal admissions or beliefs or statements about faith.

The speed of light is 186,281 miles per second. Green tea aids in digestion. Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban are dating. The resale in that neighborhood is very low. Admitting to being an alcoholic. If I give all I possess to the poor, but I do not have love, I gain nothing.

Knowing these may be important but they never satisfy. We can drink water to satisfy our thirst, but we will get thirsty again. The Truth is different. This is the truth that Pilate is asking about. “What is THE truth?”

Pontius Pilate’s life was full of questions. “How could he rise in the ranks and win favor with the emperor?” “Was his wife crazy or were her dreams really divine revelation?” Pilate was a military man, a government man. He very likely confronted questions with discipline and creativity. “Should he release Jesus or Barabbas?” Jesus is the innocent one, but Barabbas is the popular choice. Pilate answers his question my removing himself from the choice. He washes his hands of the responsibility.
Confronting the questions of life as he did, Pilate gained a position of authority. He was the representative of the Roman Emperor in Judea. Which raised a question that may have been on Pilate’s mind: “Was this an honor or a punishment?” Everyday he was confronted with questions from others. He is asked to make a decision on behalf of the government. “How should these criminals be punished?” “How do we respond to the lack of funds to support works projects in Jerusalem?” “The Jews do not want the official symbol of the Emperor near their temple.” “What is to be done about the Galilean rebels who worship in open defiance to the Emperor?”

When the bruised and bleeding man from the hill country up north is brought in chains before the authorities, Pilate, whose life is just as full of questions as any of our lives, does what he had done so many times before. Dealing with a bandit who claimed to the new Jewish liberator was getting to be routine. (And there’s something comforting about routine. It can serve as the truth we create in the midst of our nagging questions.)

It really doesn’t seem possible that this beaten up carpenter with the thick accent could be a king. That just doesn’t seem like it could be true. Nevertheless, Pilate starts there because that is the basis of the legal charge – treason against the rule of the Roman Emperor. He was weary of the doublespeak of the Jewish leaders who avoided his direct questions (“If he weren’t a criminal we wouldn’t have brought him to you.”) So he gets to the facts with Jesus – “Are you King of the Jews?”

Jesus has a question of his own. He wants to know why Pilate is asking this. Pilate however is into his routine. He is not a Jew and he has no interest in their internal politics. He just wants to know of Jesus, “What is it that you have done?”

Perhaps Pilate expects a simple plea of guilty or not guilty. That would simplify things. He has a full schedule today and he has no time to waste on this schoolyard fight. So when Jesus tells him that his kingdom is from another place, Pilate is still trying to cinch up the whole deal. “You are a king then!” says Pilate. That’s good enough for him. Claiming to be the king is enough to convict.

Pilate doesn’t expect the reply of Jesus: “You say I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

Don’t we all want to be on the side of truth? In our lives full of questions don’t we all want to know THE truth. Pilate expects a humbled prisoner to beg for mercy or spit at him in angry defiance. Something that he can use to discern the truth and answer the question “What do I do with him?” But instead he encounters a man who had purpose and mission. A man who can reveal the truth. Not a mentalist or soothsayer who can reveal particular truths that are hidden, but a man who testifies to THE truth with his words and deeds.

Pilate has no answer. Just another question! But it may be the most honest question he has ever asked - “What is truth?”

Why doesn’t Jesus answer that question? Why doesn’t he extend the invitation or tell Pilate THE truth? Why is Jesus silent?” Why? Because the truth that Jesus bears witness to isn’t a proposition or a proverb or a plan. It isn’t a particular truth that is easily converted to a slogan. Jesus does answer Pilate’s question, but it cannot be answered with a word spoken. It can only be answered with a Word made flesh.

Back when the slogan “Jesus is the answer” was popular (before WWJD ["What Would Jesus Do"]) it became even more popular to ridicule this Christian slogan by saying “If Jesus is the answer, what was the question.” Maybe people stopped using that slogan because of the ridicule. Pilate has the question. You and I have the question. “What is Truth?” Jesus is the answer. He is the Word made Flesh.

In our lives full of questions, do you know the truth? As another old saying goes, “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” The gospel invitation is not to know a secret, but to know God. To know Jesus and listen to his voice – then you will find yourself on the side of the truth.

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 1 January 2006

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