The message used …
- a video montage of Nick Saban & Bill Belichick;
- a still photo & quote from Hugh Jackman;
- a demonstration involving Chris Macedo playing Eric Clapton;
- and an exploration into the strategy and psychology behind Pontius Pilate’s question “what is truth”
… all to land at this bottom line:
Truth isn’t a what. It’s a who.
There are so many questions that ultimately can’t be answered. Did you know that? Questions that cut to the core of human life that you can spend a lifetime pondering and will never completely solve. For example . . . (AV, dissolve):
After they make Styrofoam, what do they ship it in?
Before they invented drawing boards, what did they go back to?
What do you call a male ladybug?
Do Roman paramedics refer to IVs as ‘4s’?
Do people in Australia call the rest of the world ‘up over’?
What was the best thing BEFORE sliced bread?
Yep. A lot of questions defy our attempts to answer them. Then you know there are people who are relentless with their questioning. With children, there are two: Why? And Are we there yet? Just relentless. Speaking of relentless, this is what reporters do, isn’t it? Ask question. And I LOVE IT when they ask one too many questions of an already grumpy football coach: (Videos of Saban & Belicheck dismissing). And of course our new one is that if you do that with elected officials, they say, ‘you’re fake news.’ One too many questions. You’ve heard them & asked them.
And something happens in John 18 involving one too many questions and a man named Pontius Pilate. Here’s the situation: We’re getting close to Easter weekend. Jesus has been arrested and that has been mostly the function of the religious leaders in Jerusalem. It hasn’t really gone to the civil (Roman) authorities yet. Look at 18:28-29 and you will see the first of a series of questions that PP asks:
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. 29 So Pilate came out to them and asked, “What charges are you bringing against this man?”
What are the charges? Really: what possible business is this of mine? The answer comes in 18:30-31a:
30 “If he were not a criminal,” they replied, “we would not have handed him over to you.”
31 Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.”
If he weren’t bad, we wouldn’t bother you with him & the pretty logical rejoinder is This is YOUR problem, a religious one, and so deal with it accordingly. Notice at every level there is an avoidance, an evasion, and great desire to pass the buck & delay any action.
Then comes the explanation in 18:31b: “But we have no right to execute anyone,” they objected. DING! DING! DING! Ah! There’s the problem! The religious leaders want this to be a CAPITAL case against Jesus & yet they don’t have the authority to execute. And if they did, it would be by stoning; not crucifixion. So the Jewish leaders needed to Roman authorities to turn this from misdemeanor to felony; from hard labor to death sentence. So then Pilate meets Jesus for the first time and asks his second question:
33 Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
That question is kind of the driver of not only this scene but the whole Gospel of John. Jesus’ reply is so interesting:
34 “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”
Essentially: Pilate, are you OWNING your interest in me or just BORROWING it? Doing the work yourself or relying on others?
In any event, Pilate dismisses Jesus’ question with one of his own in 18:35:
35 “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”
I can’t be bothered; I am so frustrated that someone elses’s IRRESPONSIBILITY has become my RESPONSIBILITY. And then at the end of that verse, he slides in question #4: What have you done? What is so bad that they keep bringing you and bothering me? Jesus answers elusively in 18:36: 36 Jesus said, “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.” Now: this is NOT about being so heavenly minded that you’re not earthly good. It IS about origins. Jesus’ kingdom very much resides HERE but it had its beginnings in another realm. To which Pilate replies with an almost question in 18:37a: 37 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. And I so wish Jesus had answered that with “DUH!” But, alas, Jesus doesn’t say what I want him to say but says what he really said: Jesus answered, “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.” All about truth and listening.
And then, and then, Pilate responds with Question #5. The Question that is really one question too many. Look at 18:38a: 38 “What is truth?” retorted Pilate. What is truth? And the question hangs there in John’s Gospel. Unanswered. Unresolved. Like an unresolved piece of music (Chris Macedo plays Eric Clapton, unresolved). Pilate asks it and leaves it hanging in the air because he doesn’t even wait around for the answer. With this he went OUT AGAIN …
And what is so great about this hanging, unresolved question is the realization that only ppl who don’t want to hear the truth ever ask what is truth? It’s is a classic case of avoiding, evading, delaying any decisive action when it comes to Jesus. It brings up what a lot of you know from experience: many folks ask questions NOT because they want answers but because they want attention. Not because they want information but because they desire leverage, an advantage in the relationship. We know that’s the case with Pilate because he LEAVES.
And isn’t it interesting how John writes the story? Some things are just obvious & inescapable. Like Pilate asking what is truth? … when truth is standing right in front of him. Truth is in fact staring him in the face when he asks his one question too many! Here’s the deal and here’s ultimate what is wrong with PP’s extra question: Truth isn’t a what. It’s a who. Yes! Truth – ultimate, eternal, atom-splitting truth is not a principle. It’s a person. It’s not a concept. It’s a crucified Savior. It’s not a method. It’s a man. Not something you reason out. Something you experience via resurrection. PP’s unresolved question is never answered & never will be answered because it’s built on a faulty premise. Truth isn’t a what. It’s a who.
This is really vital to get deeply in our minds – and this is true if you have already decided to live for Jesus and even if you’re not sure about him. Because, like Pilate, ppl try to evade, avoid, delay dealing with Jesus all the time even today, and they often do so with what seem to be skillful questions. Or even by making him appear more principle than person. And if those of you who are following Jesus aren’t alert, you can be especially vulnerable. Like years ago, when I was living in NJ and talking with a pastor about this call I was sensing into ministry, I remember him saying, “Well, you’ve only been part of the Xn tradition for a couple of years.” And I thought, “Huh? Me? The Xn tradition?” As if I had taken part in a series of rituals or agreed to some words on paper. No! God forbid! I had aligned my life with a guy who as a weekend began was dead on a tree and as the same weekend concluded was bursting out of a grave! That’s what I’ve been doing the last three years! Now: there are traditions & rituals that help reinforce that, but they only augment the MAN at the center. Because Truth isn’t a what. It’s a who.
After all, in this same Gospel of John Jesus says 14:6 REPEAT. He doesn’t POINT TO truth, he doesn’t LIGHT UP truth, he doesn’t REVEAL truth. He is truth. Big, big difference. Truth isn’t a what. It’s a who.
I love what Hugh Jackman, who was raised in Australia by a father who believes in Christ in much the same way many of us do, has to say on the subject:
What is true and will never change, whether it’s in the Bible or in Shakespeare. It’s about oneness. Its basic philosophy is that if the Buddha and Krishna and Jesus were all at a dinner table together, they wouldn’t be arguing. There is an essential truth.
Hey – they might not be arguing but only one of them was cross-dying and then death-defying. Only one. The others at this imaginary dinner table might have some truth, but only one of them IS truth. Beyond that, at that imaginary dinner, two will be bowing and one will bowed to. Only one. Jackman’s words sound comforting, loving, but ultimately they are nonsense. Truth isn’t a what. It’s a who.
This sounds kind of shocking and exclusive, I know. Some of you can’t buy it yet. That’s OK. But if that’s you, I just want this little exposure of PP’s delay tactics to settle in with you. You can think the more questions you ask the more sophisticated you are, but ultimately I suspect you have the information you need to make a decision about Jesus. Kind of like Lew Wallace, the early on governor of what was then the New Mexico territory. He set out to write a book depicting Jesus as just a man – which he was but Wallace wanted to prove that was all he was. And in the course of researching and writing the book, here’s what happened to Lew Wallace:
“In studying his sources — the Gospels — for material to write the romance, General Wallace found himself facing the unaccountable Man Jesus. The more he studies Christ’s life and character, the more profoundly he was convinced that He was more than a man among men.
“He found Christ to be the great central fact in the world’s history. To Him everything looks forward or backward; all lines of history converge in Him and radiate from Him. At last, unable to resist the evidence, Lew Wallace, the infidel friend of the infidel Ingersoll, was constrained to cry, like the centurion under the cross, ‘Truly this was the Son of God.’ So in the writing of ‘Ben Hur,’ a book that was to exhibit Christ merely as a human man, Lew Wallace was converted, and painted Him as the Son of God.
Why did that happen? Why is Ben Hur not a tale of skepticism but a narrative of faith? Because Truth isn’t a what. It’s a who.
You know what happens with you think that all truth is the same in the name of tolerance? When, because of our politically correct age, you equate all forms of belief and all kinds of religious leaders? The loudest voice wins. Not thanks. People: never confuse volume for insight. Actually, the people who yell the loudest usually have the most to hide. Don’t listen for the loud-est. Listen for the empty grave-iest. Truth isn’t a what. It’s a who.
Because I can’t get away from what Pilate is really doing. Asking one more question is the ultimate delay tactic. So I have to ask: are you too smart for you own good? Have you built up a series of question that you think protect you from Jesus but actually just enable some behavior you know you’d likely have to relinquish if you actually followed Jesus? Do you ask questions not because you really want answers but because you want to delay or avoid a decision? Like the best question – for real – is what happens to the souls of ppl who never hear about Jesus? Well I DON’T KNOW. But I do know that YOU have heard of Jesus and your soul will be judged on what you’ve done with you know. Don’t let the lack of information in the hands of a tribal villager in India prevent you from responding to the knowledge that you do have.
Maybe even more to the point: are you getting by on borrowed faith? A faith you have overheard but never settled in? Listen: this is not ceremony here. It’s crucifixion. It’s not a philosophy. It’s history. It’s not something you figure out by reason. It’s anchored in resurrection. I don’t even want you to think you’re living by Christian values! But by Christ, who is your life. It’s not something you do or an organization you join. It’s someone you are and a life you enter in. Like happened to a friend of mine a few years ago. Listen:
I was a very vocal non-believer just a few years ago. I started coming to GSUMC after my son was born with the idea that I would let him make up his own mind. I never had any intentions of changing my views. Sometime a couple of years later that changed. I can’t remember the exact date, maybe after an Easter service when you said, “Get off the fence” or maybe sometime after that. I know that it happened almost instantly. I no longer needed tangible proof of the Savior we call Jesus. I just knew he was there for me and that I now belonged to him. Not sure what shape I would be in now without that piece of mind.