Publication: Pastoral Letter, June 2002
Dear Friend in Christ:
In recent letters I have been writing about how we handle, or fail to handle the truth. Our society has muted the prophetic voice in favor of being overly sensitive to people’s feelings. We have gone even further, to the point of redefining truth to be “whatever people want it to be.” We have moved “truth” from objective reality to subjective preference. The tragic result is that those who trust false assumptions are devastated by the very reality that they choose to ignore.
Sadly, it seems that only the occurrence of disaster and devastation motivates real seekers of truth. Our only hope is to create a new generation of truth detectives and discerners who will not accept mere imagery and void feelings, but will pursue the truth with ruthless determination.
John chapter 18 describes the scene when Jesus stood on trial before Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Jerusalem. The city was still reeling from the events of that fateful day.
The trial was the culmination of three-and-one-half years of Jesus’ ministry of truth and love. From the outset, His ministry was a war between good and evil. John the Baptist, himself a recognized prophet, had declared Jesus to be the Messiah and Hope of Israel (see John 1:29). John the Baptist was a devoted truth-teller, admired, but not emulated by Israelis of his day. He was later beheaded for speaking the truth to Herod.
Jesus was more than a truth-teller. John 1:14 says that He was “full of grace and truth.” He was divine love and truth made flesh, dwelling among us to be heard and beheld. He was the full revelation of God (see Colossians 1:15; 2:3,9). In John 14:6, Jesus said, “I am the truth.”
When Jesus finally stood before Pilate, eternal truth appeared to be on trial; in fact, humanity itself was on trial.
“Are you the King of the Jews?” Pilate asked.
Jesus answered, “My Kingdom is not of this world” (meaning, “not derived from this realm”).
“So, you are a king?” Pilate persisted.
“You say correctly,” Jesus replied. “I have been born and came into the world to bear witness to the truth.”
Then Pilate asked the ultimate question, “What is the truth?” Obviously Pilate did not know it; neither have countless others who have asked the same question. But it is the right question. The truth stood before Pilate to see, hear, and even touch, but he could not receive it.
He tried to avoid the truth and wash his hands from it; his wife warned him to not handle it, but he could not escape the issue. Tragically, he mishandled it. In a sense, Pilate represented all of us; in facing the truth, he was on trial. Truth always puts us on trial.
What kept Pilate from accepting the truth? What keeps mankind from accepting it? I will name three issues that governed the governor:
Pilate was afraid of the Jews, the Romans, and most of all_Jesus. He admitted, “I find no fault in this man.” He offered to release Jesus. But the mob cried, “Crucify Him!” So he did.
Self-interest is a close ally to fear. It seemed to serve his own interest to give into the mob. Pilate had the power to release Jesus. But he followed the path of least resistance in order to stabilize his own position. Even powerful people lie under oath to protect their position.
Pilate was politically motivated. He wanted to be governor more than he wanted the truth. Ambition perverted his judgment. He chose a lie over the truth that he saw.
I heard a funny story once of a man who misquoted Proverbs 12:22_“A lie is an abomination to the Lord_and an ever present help in a time of need.”
It is human nature to be afraid in a time when the truth is needed. Fear, self-interest, and ambition contribute to mishandling the truth as do many other motives. But any motive that comes between us and truth will ultimately bring evil upon us and others.
Embracing the truth may bring immediate pain, but it will bring long-term salvation. What kind of truth are we talking about?
Many religions and philosophies reject the crucifixion of Jesus. In so doing, they emulate Pilate and in effect crucify truth again. Many people have opted for a philosophy that avoids human guilt. In so doing, they only prove it. John writes in chapter 19:35, that he was an eyewitness to the truth of the crucifixion and writes about his witness so that we might believe.
Jesus, the truth, was crucified between two thieves. That shows us two ways to respond to truth. One of the thieves challenged Jesus, “If you are the Christ, save yourself and us” (see Luke 23:39). It is easy to see his selfish motive.
The other thief accepted the truth about himself and Jesus, saying, “We are getting what we deserve, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he turned to Jesus and said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into Your Kingdom!” Jesus replied, “Truly, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”
The latter thief is a clear example of how to handle the truth correctly. By embracing his own judgment and God’s truth, he was guaranteed mercy and resurrection life. One thief sought to escape his judgment without accepting truth; the other escaped through judgment by accepting it.
You can appear to kill, buy, and forget truth, but it always comes back. Most of the witnesses to that awful day figured that it was over. Some were relieved. Others were greatly distressed and afraid. Some fled the whole scene. The sun was covered in gloom and the earth trembled the day that truth was crucified. Jesus had put it this way, “Do not weep for me, weep for yourselves and your children.” Rejecting truth does not harm God, but it assures that weeping will follow those who reject it.
As it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, angels came and rolled away the stone that had been placed to cover the truth. Divine reality again walked among men and women: Jesus Christ rose again! A woman saw Him first and worshipped at His feet. Then He appeared to the disciples who had been confused and afraid. He invited them to “touch and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” Truth is not an apparition, it is real (see Luke 24:39).
<h2>Demonstrating the Truth</h2>
The truth is not only something to be seen and believed, but something to receive into ourselves and to be lived. Jesus lived and demonstrated the truth; He proved Himself faithful. He therefore is worthy to be trusted. True spirituality is not erratic and illusive. It is provable, consistent demonstration. Jesus reveals to us that truth is not something that we innately possess; it is a gift from God that comes to us because He loves us. Only in renouncing trust in ourselves, can we know Him and the truth He offers.
Jesus demonstrated that fear, self-interest, and personal ambition prevent us from responding to the truth–even when it stands right before us. If we trust that God is love and truth in an inseparable embrace, we abandon our own position and become part of that embrace. We can forsake our own insecurities and find security in acknowledging our need for His truth and love.
Jesus declares that we who follow Him are the Light of the world. Therefore, He warns us that we will often be treated as He was. The light still hurts those eyes accustomed to darkness. So, we will be put on trial for the truth, unless of course, we deny Him as Peter and the others did that day.
We are charged with telling the world that there is no hope for resolving human conflict until we resolve our conflict with God and truth. Our only hope is to accept the truth that was offered in love. The truth will not die–but we must “die to ourselves” in order to receive it. Then we can really live.
The Palestinians and Israelis give us a current example of rejecting truth. They must both embrace the truth in that very city where it was once rejected. (I realize that my saying this will anger some people.) And we who call ourselves Christians must also embrace truth daily.
No arbiter will bring lasting peace until the Divine Reconciler is embraced. The cross is the path to peace. So it isn’t politically correct to tell Muslims, Jews, Hindus, or Buddhists that Jesus is the truth and the way to the Father. But what shall we do…deny the truth, or love the world enough to tell it?
Scripture Reference: John, Colossians, Luke
Charles Simpson is an internationally-known author, Bible teacher, and pastor, serving in ministry since 1955. He is also Editor-in-Chief of One-to-One Magazine and ministers extensively throughout the United States and the nations.