Christ Came For Truth

Original Date: 
Sunday, December 23, 2012

John 18:37 A Stable Influence: Jesus Came For Truth

Two Scenes
The scenes could not be more different.

In one, the setting is a rustic stable. A crude home for livestock, filled with foul odors and musty straw. In the other, the setting is a Roman palace, with marble colonnades and fluttering imperial banners.

In the first, Jesus is but an infant. Tenderly swaddled in soft blankets and attended to by rough shepherds and doting parents. In the second, He is a grown man. Shackled at wrists and ankles and violently attended to by an angry mob and a cynical Roman governor.

In the first scene, Jesus is celebrated and admired. Though the setting is impoverished, His presence makes those surrounding Him feel rich. In the second, Jesus is mocked and scorned. Though the setting is lavish, His presence has brought out the ugliest nature of those surrounding Him.

The first scene represents the beginning of a much anticipated life. The second: a trial for that very same life.

Two very different scenes. And yet, they are forever linked. For in the second, the adult Jesus says that this is the very reason the first happened. Standing on trial for His life, Jesus looks back to His infant nativity and says that this very moment—this tense, unjust encounter with Pontius Pilate—was why He was born: “To testify,” He says, “to the truth.”

The Question
We are in the middle of a series of messages we have entitled: A Stable Influence. We’re asking: What is the meaning of Jesus Christ? This is a question that every Christmas forces us to ask. What difference should this man make in our lives? Why did He come, and what difference does He make in my marriage, my work, my leisure, my thinking, my understanding of the world?

To answer those questions, we’ve been listening to Jesus in His own words. We’ve been looking at those passages of scripture where Jesus says: “this is why I have come.” Already we’ve heard Him say that He came into the world not to be served, but to serve. We saw that the gospel is not a help wanted sign, but a help available sign; that we must serve like Jesus and allow Him to serve through us. The second week, we heard Him say that He came not to bring peace, but the sword. We heard His warning that following Him would not always be easy, but it would be worth it; we were reminded that being a Christian is not a guarantee of comfort. And last week, we heard Him say that He came to bring light. His coming is a call to believe in God and get out of the darkness.

And now, today, we go to the end of His life to find Him talking about the beginning. In the only place in John’s gospel that talks specifically about Jesus’ birth, Jesus tells the man who will sign His death warrant:

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.

Words spoken at the end of His life, but they are about Christmas. “For this reason I was born…” For this reason there is Christmas. Jesus came to testify to the truth.

John 18:28-38
The verse where Jesus says those words—and the verse that is going to serve as our focal point this morning—is John 18:37. But to help you get a sense of what was going on when Jesus said this, I’m going to read John 18:28-38.

28Then 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.

<
>

I’d like us to focus our attention on verse 37 today. And I’d like to look with you at two implications that grow out of this verse, and then close with an exhortation. Two implications, and an exhortation.

There is Truth
So first, implication #1. Christmas means that there is truth. There is truth and it is possible to know it.

Jesus says: “For this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.” He says: THE truth. Not a truth. THE truth.

There is truth in this world. Truth that comes from outside of our world and gives meaning to it. Truth that is true in all circumstances and all situations. Not a variety of truths for a variety of people. Not personal preferences and different opinions for different scenarios. There is one, single truth—THE truth—for all of us. Unchanging. Absolute.

There was a time when a sermon on this passage could be preached and this would go virtually unsaid. Asserting that there is truth—truth outside of my own mind, truth that I don’t create but discover, truth that I don’t control but submit to—would have seemed rather obvious. But not today.

Today, to say that you believe in truth—truth that applies to everyone—is a stunning and controversial statement. Today, it is taken as a matter of established fact that there is no such thing as absolute truth—truth that everyone should believe and follow. Today it is considered impossible and irresponsible to expect that everyone can and should agree on anything.

Today, the dominant view of truth is that it is relative—that is to say, truth looks different or has different meaning depending on who holds it. The idea is that we must all find our own version of truth.

This view of truth is best represented by Oprah Winfrey, who likes to say: “Stand still inside yourself and know the truth.” Oprah has been quoted as saying: “One of the biggest mistakes we make is to believe that there is only one way. There are many paths leading to God.” (quoted in Colson, Being the Body, p. 180) And millions upon millions of people agree with her.

Writing in the 1980s Dr. Alan Bloom said: “Almost every student entering the university believes or says that he believes truth is relative.” If that was the case in the ‘80s, it is even more the case today. More recently, a George Barna survey of people who said they were Christians found that 67% of them did not believe there is such a thing as absolute truth. (Colson, 183 and 199) In all likelihood, many of you here today are not sure it is right to say that there is truth that is true for all people and all places and all times.

The primary value in today’s world is tolerance. A word that has come to mean, as Charles Colson says, “the jovial broad-mindedness that purports that any and all values, if sincerely held, are equally valid.” (Colson, p. 185) Any attempt to assert that your claim is superior or normative is dismissed as bigotry. John Piper writes: “The general guideline in this culture is simply: keep your monkey off my back. If it works for you, fine. But don't lay it on me.” (Jesus Came to Be Trusted, 12/25/1988)

And so we fall into line. “Whatever works for you” becomes the slogan of the times. We don’t want to be intolerant. We don’t want to force our beliefs on anybody. So yeah, we think, the idea of one truth that applies to everybody seems pretty out there.

Except, Jesus says, “For this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.” In Jesus’ view, there is truth, and it is knowable.

What we need to see is that the idea that truth is relative is inherently flawed. It does not cohere with reality, and it contradicts itself.

For one thing, any attempt to say that there are different truths for different people flies in the face of everything we know about our physical world. If I pick up a book and then let it go, what happens? <>

It falls to the ground. Why? Because of the physical law of gravity. And it happens every time I do it. <>

And, here’s the thing: if you all take a hymnal, and we all drop them on the count of three, what do you think will happen? Let’s try it… <>

Here’s the point: Gravity is true, and it is true for everybody. It doesn’t matter if you prefer a different truth, or if you feel like my idea of gravity is holding you down (literally), gravity is still true.

“Sure,” somebody might say, “there is truth in the physical world. But what about the world of ideas? The world of morals and values. How can you say there is one, absolute truth there?”

Well, try this little exercise, a favorite illustration of theologian R.C. Sproul: Suppose you are standing on a street corner and there is a frail old lady with a heavy shopping bag in front of you. Trucks, buses, and cars are zipping by. You have three choices. You can ignore her. You can help her across. Or you can push her into the ongoing traffic. Which is the right thing to do?

I think we all know the right answer—and the wrong one. How do we know? Because there is truth in our world. None of us would want to live in a world where it is o.k. for people to push old ladies in front of buses because that’s “what works” for them. (Colson, 201)

Anybody who thinks seriously about this world will realize that it is a world where there are certain, non-negotiable, absolute truths.

Plus, the whole idea that truth is relative is self-contradictory. If someone says: “There is no absolute truth that everybody should believe” he contradicts himself; because he is making a statement he wants people to believe, even as he is saying that there is no such thing as a statement that everybody should believe. As Piper says, “The hidden agenda of relativism is that it wants to relativize everybody else's claim to truth, but not it's own.” (Jesus Came to be Trusted)

This is vividly illustrated by Christian scholar Walt Kaiser, who tells a story of his experience when he was a graduate student at Brandeis University. After a lecture by a professor who contended there was no absolute truth, Kaiser asked the question, “Are you saying there is no case in which a truth can be said to be absolute?” “That’s correct,” the professor replied. “Are you absolutely sure?” Kaiser asked. “Absolutely!” the irritated professor snapped. (Colson, 184)

The professor’s answer disproved his own point. His world-view was self-contradictory. It’s a testimony to the fact that we can’t live without absolute truth.

And so, Jesus says that He came for truth. He says that He came into the world so that we would know there is such a thing as truth.

The greatest obstacle we face as we proclaim the message of Christmas in America today is not that people have taken Christ out of Christmas; but that they have taken the idea of truth out of reality. Instead of looking for THE truth that can make sense out of life and history, everybody is trying to find their own little truth that will help them achieve their idea of happiness.

But we must not be seduced into this sloppy way of thinking. The first implication of Christmas from our passage is that there is truth--truth that comes from God outside the world and gives the world its meaning, truth that is absolute and unchanging, truth that everyone should seek for and submit to and believe.

Jesus is the Truth
Second. Implication #2. Christmas means that Jesus is the truth. You cannot fully know the true nature of the world without knowing Jesus.

That’s the even more radical thing about Jesus’ statement to Pilate. He’s not just claiming that there is truth in the world. He’s saying that He is it. That everyone on the side of truth listens to Him.

In the context of His conversation with Pilate, the specific “truth” that is in mind in verse 37 is the truth that Jesus is a king. Pilate is trying to figure out if Jesus is a revolutionary; if He has proclaimed Himself king in an effort to overthrow Rome. Jesus clarifies that He has no immediate interest in earthly politics—“My kingdom is not of this world” He says in verse 36—but affirms that He is, indeed, a king. In other words, Jesus is the one we should follow and obey and honor.

But Jesus takes it even farther. By saying that “everyone on the side of truth listens to me”, Jesus is demonstrating that He is not merely talking about one specific truth claim, but the bigger, wider idea of truth—that idea of absolute truth that I was just talking about—which helps us understand reality. Any formulation of truth that does not take Jesus into account and include his claims is not an accurate picture of the world. As Jesus said in John 14:6: “I am…the truth.”

Commentator and scholar D.A. Carson writes:

In this context, truth is understood in more than an intellectual sense; it is nothing less than the self-disclosure of God in his Son, who is the truth. Disclosing the truth of God, of salvation and of judgment, was the principle way of making subjects, of exercising his saving kingship. (The Gospel According to John, 595)

Charles Colson writes:

Christianity is not some religious structure or social institution. It is not merely a set of beliefs or creeds about the nature of reality. The Christian faith rests on the truth; ultimate reality. It is, therefore, a world-view: an explanation of all of life, of how the world works and how we fit into that world…Jesus does not claim to be just one truth or one reality among many, but to be the truth—that is, the ultimate reality, the root of what is and what was, the point of origin and framework for all that we can see and know and understand. It is the assertion that in the beginning was God, that He is responsible for the universe, for our very existence, and that He has created the order and structure in which life exists. Everything we know—all meaning—flows from Him. (Being the Body, 175; 170-171)

The implication of Christmas, then, is that we must listen to Jesus if want to have an accurate understanding of the world. We must hear his words—and the words of the Bible which from beginning to end point to Him—and follow them if we want our lives to truly make sense. That, rather than look inside of ourselves for the best way to live, we must listen to Jesus to find a truly meaningful life.

And so, Jesus came for truth. So that we could hear what He says about God and sin and salvation. So that we could hear what He says about service and sacrifice and suffering. So we could find our calling in life—to love God and to love others. He came, as He says elsewhere, so that we could know the truth, and the truth will set us free. (John 8:32)

Don’t Be Like Pilate
Finally, a closing exhortation: Don’t be like Pilate. When you hear the truth, don’t do like Pilate does.

Pilate’s response to Jesus is cynical, or perhaps hopeless: “What is truth?” Pilate is non-committal. It’s not so much that he doesn’t believe that truth exists; it’s just that he’s not sure he can know it or that it will make any difference if he does. And so he walks away from Jesus. He has a chance to bend his knee and recognize his savior, but he turns his back and allows himself to be a pawn in a tragic miscarriage of justice.

And I want to say: don’t be like Pilate. Don’t dismiss everything I’ve said this morning as a philosophical, out-there discussion that has no bearing on your life. Don’t say: “What is truth?” as though it doesn’t make any difference.

When you think about it, all of us care quite a bit about the truth when our personal interest is at stake. If somebody punches you in the nose and you go to court and the judge says “Not guilty because truth is relative and for him it was a good thing to punch you in the nose and you can't put the monkey of your absolutes onto his back," then you would say that this judge is a bad judge. It matters a great deal to you that you were punched in the nose, and you want everyone to recognize that was a bad thing for that person to do to you.

The point is this, Pilate may say -- you may say, "I don't know what absolute truth is, and I don't think it really matters one way or the other”--but the truth is, when your own personal interest is at stake, it’ll matter.

So I plead with you this Christmas that you realize how much is at stake in Jesus' claim to bring the truth. It is a matter of eternal life and death. Your life is on the line.

Jesus says “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” The implication is obvious: if you don’t listen to Him you are the side of falsehood. You are on the side of lies.

This truth matters quite a bit. Jesus was not born to keep secret the truth of God. He was born and came into the world to bear witness to the truth, the unchanging absolute truth of God. Realize how much is at stake. Don’t be like Pilate.