"What Is Truth?"
Last week we saw that after Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, he was taken first to Annas. Even though Annas was no longer the high priest, he still wielded great influence. And so, Jesus was taken to him first. Annas questioned Jesus, attempting to find something to charge him with, but being unsuccessful, sent Jesus on to Caiaphas, his son-in-law and titular high priest.
John doesn’t describe Jesus trial before Caiaphas, but the other gospel writers do. Caiaphas had already determined that Jesus must die (11:49), but to make everything legal, he called a meeting of the council as soon as it was daylight to have them rubber stamp his decision to have Jesus killed. That done, the leaders of the Jews take Jesus to Pilate, the Roman governor.
That is where our reading begins today.
Before getting to the body of the sermon, I want to note some interesting points in the story. First, note in vs. 28:
Then the Jewish leaders took Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness they did not enter the palace, because they wanted to be able to eat the Passover.
Now, get the picture: the Jewish leaders bring Jesus to Pilate’s palace, but they do not enter the palace because to enter the dwelling of a Gentile would make them ceremonially unclean and they would not be able to share in the Passover feast. Think about it. They are about to commit the most heinous crime every committed by human beings, the murder of the sinless Son of God, their Messiah, and yet, they are worried about ceremonial uncleanness!
It’s ironic but it is often true that when people are out of God’s will, when they are not following him, they depend on religion. They become very fastidious about religious observances—keeping the rules, following the Ten Commandments, etc.
Another interesting thing: They bring Jesus to Pilate and Pilate asks, “What charges are you bringing against this man?” and they answer, “If he were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you (vs. 30).” They don’t actually bring a charge. They say, “Just trust us, he’s a bad guy, or we wouldn’t have brought him to you.”
Pilate doesn’t want to deal with this, so he tells them, “Take him and judge him by your own law.” They answer, “But we don’t have the authority to condemn anyone to death.” And John says something very interesting:
This took place to fulfill what Jesus had said about the kind of death he was going to die (vs. 32).
This refers to what Jesus had said to Nicodemus in John 3:14,
“Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”
Remember the story in Numbers? The Israelites had been complaining about having to eat manna all the time and so, to punish them, God sent fiery serpents among them. Anyone who would look up to the bronze serpent that Moses held up was healed from the snake bite and saved from death. Jesus says, “In the same way, the Son of Man must be lifted up.” Jesus had to die by crucifixion—being “lifted up”—and, even though the Jewish council sometimes executed people by stoning (e.g. Stephen), they could not crucify anyone. For that they needed Pilate.
It was necessary that Jesus be crucified. It was the plan of God. So, we see the plan of God working out, over ruling—even using the wickedness of men to accomplish his purpose.
Note the movement of this passage. The Jewish leaders are standing outside, Jesus has been taken into the palace. Pilate goes out to talk to the Jewish leaders, then he comes back inside to talk to Jesus. He asks, “Are you the king of the Jews?” He’s looking for a charge that he can use, under Roman law, to condemn Jesus. Claiming kingship could qualify as treason against Caesar.
Jesus answers, “Is that your own idea, or is it something someone else told you?” Pilate now is getting a little hot under the collar and replies, “Am I a Jew? It is your own people and your own leaders who have condemned you. What have you done?” He is still looking for a charge that he can use and he’s hoping that Jesus will incriminate himself.
In verse 36 Jesus replies,
“My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
I am a king, but not a king from this world. My kingdom is from another place. Pilate latches on to this and exclaims, “You are a king, then!” And Jesus answers in vss. 37-38,
“You say that 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.”
Pilate answers, “What is truth?” He’s not expecting an answer because the text says that after asking this he immediately went out to talk to the Jewish leaders. Pilate didn’t believe for a moment that there was absolute truth. His question was cynical, but there IS an answer.
The answer is found in the Bible. There are 222 verses in the Bible with the word “truth” in them. We aren’t going to look at all 222 of them. We will focus our attention on truth in the Gospel of John. 22 or 10% of the Bible verses on truth are found in John. So, you could safely say that truth is a major theme in John’s gospel.
This morning we are going to consider the answer to Pilate’s question, “What is truth?” from the Gospel of John.
Outline: The Perception of Truth; The Power of Truth; The Character of Truth
The Perception of Truth
The consensus of opinion in our culture today is that truth is relative—that is, what is truth to one person may not be truth for somebody else. A recent survey found that 67% of adults in American agree “There is no such thing as absolute truth.” 52% “born again” Christians say truth is relative and 75% of professing Christians, “Find it hard to accept the idea of absolute truth.”
But truth is not relative. Truth is absolute.
Take for example the law of gravity. If you believe that the law of gravity is relative, and you jump off a 50-story building, I can guarantee you it’s going to be a bad day for you.
Abraham Lincoln sometimes used riddles to get his point across. One time he asked a group, “How many legs does a sheep have if you call its tail a leg?” The people shouted, “Five!” Lincoln replied, “No, a sheep has four legs. You can call a tail a leg, but that doesn’t make it so.”
Truth is absolute. There are certain things that are true and certain things that are not true.
And truth can be known and understood. Jesus said to Pilate, “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me” (vs. 37). If we are on the side of truth, if we believe in Jesus and the Holy Spirit has come to live within us, we can hear his voice and listen to him.
Three times in the Gospel of John, Jesus calls the Holy Spirit “the Spirit of truth” (14:17; 15:26; 16:13). Let me read John 16:13 for you,
But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come (16:13)
When the Spirit of Truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. Truth can be known and understood by the teaching of the indwelling Holy Spirit. But, there is a problem:
The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (2 Corinthians 4:4).
The world cannot know the truth because they don’t believe, and Satan has blinded their eyes to truth.
What is the perception of truth? Truth is absolute.
The second is . . .
The Power of Truth
When truth comes into your life through the Holy Spirit, it gives you power. There is power that comes from knowing the truth.
The first is the power to liberate.
Jesus said in John 8:32, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (8:32).
Having knowledge of the truth give power to deliver us from bondage to sin. Jesus has power to mend broken souls. Many today can testify to the power of the truth to deliver them from destructive lifestyles and habits.
Christ can liberate from fear and give us peace. But you say, “Peace is nice, but I’m going through a lot of stuff right now, and peace doesn’t seem to be present.” Well, Jesus is talking about salvation. We have peace because the issue of our salvation is settled. Paul said that nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:39).
Secondly, the truth has power to separate.
In John 17—Jesus’s “High Priestly Prayer”—he prays for his disciples and for us, “Sanctify them by the truth (17:17a)”. Sanctify means “to set apart” of “to make holy”. We are set apart by God; made holy to him. The truth sets us apart from the world. Paul said we are “in the world, not of the world”. We belong to him, he has done the work, and the closer we draw to him the stronger this truth will become in us.
Thirdly, truth has the power to invigorate.
Jesus told the woman at the well, “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth” (4:24). The Holy Spirit in you will create a desire to worship God. When you know the truth and allow the truth to grow in you and possess more of you, you will desire to worship God.
It is why we were created. Christ desires us to worship him, but until we know the truth of who he is and what he’s done, it is hard to truly worship him.
If there are times when worship is not something you desire to do, you need to examine your walk with Christ. As you get closer to him, as you love him more, you will desire to worship him more. The Holy Spirit will build in your life a desire to worship him.
We’ve talked about some attributes of truth: it is absolute. And we’ve talked about what it does: it has power to liberate, separate and invigorate; but we haven’t really said what truth is.
So, now we will examine . . .
The Character of Truth
This gives us the answer to that question Pilate posed to Jesus, “What is truth?” The answer is found in the words of Jesus.
God’s word is truth.
Jesus said, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (17:17). God’s word is truth. If we want to know what God wants us to know, we find it in this Book—the Bible. If his word is not truth, then what are we doing here? If this book is not true, then we have no authority, no basis for belief.
Paul writes in 2 Timothy 3:16,
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness
If the world is right and truth is relative—if the Word of God is not truth, then the foundations we have stood on are destroyed. We have raise a generation, probably two generations, in American who have been raised to distrust God’s Word. As a result, human life has been devalued. What the Bible says about the value of human life is discounted. So, it’s no wonder that we have so much violence in our culture.
Think about this, if the world believed that the Scriptures are truth—what would life be like? I can’t help but think that it would be like heaven on earth by contrast to today—not perfect, but a whole lot better.
How could this be? How could it be possible that the world accepts the truth of the scriptures. It could happen if the world believed . . .
Jesus Christ is the truth
Jesus told his disciples,
“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (14:6).
You say, “That’s pretty narrow.” Yes, but they’re not my words, they’re the words of Jesus Christ. It is one of the “I am” statements of Jesus. Another “I am” statement is, “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved” (10:9). It is narrow. It is exclusive. Peter said,
Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).
If you believe that truth is absolute . . .
if you believe that truth has power to liberate, separate and invigorate.
If you believe that God’s word is truth – the only sufficient rule for faith and life. . .
If you believe that Jesus Christ is the truth and that no one comes to the Father except through him . . .
Why would we not share that with others? Why would we not live so that people will see that this truth lives within us?