Responding to the Truth
Conversations with Jesus Responding to the Truth John 18:28-19:16 Pastor Pat Damiani March 31, 2019 NOTE: This is a manuscript, and not a transcript of this message. The actual presentation of the message differed from the manuscript through the leading of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, it is possible, and even likely that there is material in this manuscript that was not included in the live presentation and that there was additional material in the live presentation that is not included in this manuscript. We now live in what many are calling a “post truth” culture in which debate is framed largely by appeals to emotions and in which facts are largely ignored. We certainly see that in our political system where “feel good” proposals to give people all kinds of free stuff are advanced and people are told not to worry about the details of how those programs are going to work or how they will be paid for. But the problem is that we aren’t going to see an end to that any time soon, because those tactics largely work and the people who use them often get elected. We see the same thing on social media where people share posts that make a point they want to make without ever taking the time to see if the information they are sharing is factually correct. And unfortunately, that same “post truth” culture even impacts the way that those who call themselves Christians live their lives. According to a recent Barna Group study, 57% of Americans believe that knowing what is right or wrong is a matter of personal experience and, as one would expect, the numbers are much higher among younger generations. But even more disturbing is the fact that 41% of practicing Christians agree that truth is a matter of personal experience rather than absolute truth. So it’s not surprising that 91% of all Americans and 76% of practicing Christians agree that “the best way to find yourself is by looking within yourself.” For nine weeks now we’ve been taking a look at some conversations that Jesus had with mostly ordinary people just like us. And each week, we’ve developed a “gospel takeaway” from those conversations. And if some of the statistics I’ve just cited are true, and I have no reason to think they are not, then it’s likely that some of you here this morning view those gospel takeaways kind of like items on a menu that you are free to either accept or reject based on your own personal tastes. But in this last message of this series, we’re going to see that is not the case at all. There is only one truth and our gospel takeaways from the last 8 weeks are merely aspects of that truth. So you must either choose to embrace that truth as a whole or you are actually rejecting the truth. And as we’ll see this morning, your eternal destiny rests on what you do with the truth. Today’s passage is longer than most we’ve looked at in this series, but it’s really important that we read it all at one time because while some of the details in this conversation are important, it is the story as a whole that is most valuable to us. [Read John 18:28-19:16] In addition to Pilate and Jesus, there are also some other important characters in the account that I just want to mention briefly: • First, there are the Jewish religious leaders who accompany Jesus to Pilate’s headquarters. They refuse to enter because they believe that would make them unclean and therefore they would be unable to eat the Passover meal later that day. What is so hypocritical about that is that these same men have no problem at all bringing false charges against an innocent man in order to protect their own power. They are so blinded spiritually that they don’t even consider that is a lot more defiling than entering the home of a Gentile. • The second character is a robber named Barabbas, a man whose name means “son of the father”. What is interesting about Barabbas is that he actually represents all of us in three significant ways: 1) He was guilty and deserved to die. 2) He did nothing to earn his pardon 3) Jesus died in his place • Third were the soldiers who mocked and flogged Jesus. We’re going to see that, just like Pilate, all three of these people or groups of people reject the truth. That brings us to Pilate. To me, the gospel accounts make him out to be a sympathetic character who is thrown into a situation he really wants nothing to do with. While that is probably true to an extent, historical records paint a different story. Pilate was a native of Seville, Spain and after serving in the Roman army, he returned to Rome where he married the granddaughter of the Emperor Augustus. That proved to be a shrewd political move that earned his appointment as procurator of Judea, a post he held to a little over a decade. During that time, he was anti-Semitic to the core a fact that was confirmed by three major confrontations he had with the Jews during his reign. Like his predecessors, he resided most of the time in his comfortable palace in Caesarea along the Mediterranean coast. But during Passover he would go to Jerusalem along with a large contingent of soldiers in order to help maintain the peace. At the time of this conversation with Jesus, he was essentially “under report” with the Roman government because of his ineffectiveness in ruling the people of Judea. So when the Jewish leaders confront him with what he views as basically an internal religious matter, all he really cares about is making sure that he doesn’t do anything to upset the Roman government. And the Jewish leaders are apparently aware of that and use it to their advantage. We really don’t know how much Pilate knew about Jesus prior to this encounter. Obviously he had heard the Jewish religious leaders’ opinions about Jesus, but I doubt he knew a whole lot more than that. Not surprisingly, Pilate is most interested in whether Jesus and His followers are going to cause him problems. So the first thing he wants to know is if Jesus is claiming to be a king. In our English translations it’s really difficult to judge the tone with which Pilate questions Jesus. Essentially Pilate looks at the man before him and can’t believe that anyone could possibly mistake him for a king. So he mockingly asks the question something like this: “You? You are the king of the Jews?” One of the things we noted on Monday morning is the way that Jesus treats Pilate with both grace and truth here, something we have seen Jesus do in every single conversation we’ve looked at in this series. He treats him with truth by not letting Pilate off the hook here. He asks Pilate if he is asking that question because he really wants to know or just because he is repeating what he heard from the Jewish religious leaders. But he also treats him with grace by giving Pilate the opportunity to respond to the truth. Pilate skirts around the edge of Jesus’ question and basically says to Jesus: “Since I’m not a Jew I have no idea what’s going on here. But you must have done something pretty bad for your own people to hate you so much that they have turned you over to me.” Jesus then answers Pilate’s initial question. He is indeed a king, but not the kind that is going to threaten Pilate’s rule. If He were, He wouldn’t be standing before Pilate because His servants would have been powerful enough to keep Him from being arrested by the Jews and brought before Pilate. And he could have easily raised up enough soldiers to overthrow Pilate’s small force. He is the king of a kingdom that is not of this world. Pilate is, not surprisingly, pretty confused now. “So you are a king?”, he asks. Jesus’ answer to that question in verse 37 is the key to this entire passage and the basis for our gospel takeaway today. Jesus is indeed a king, but His purpose is completely different than that of any other king. He had not come into the world to obtain power and to rule over others – at least at His first coming. He will indeed do that some day when He returns to this world. But at His first coming, his purpose was to bear witness to the truth. And those who are “of the truth” listen to His voice as He does that. Jesus makes it really clear here that there are only two groups of people in this world: • There are those who are “of the truth” and who listen to His voice. • Those are those who are not “of the truth” and who therefore do not listen to His voice. With Pilate’s response, we very quickly find out which of the two camps he is in. When he asks, “What is truth?”, it is clear that he asks that in a mocking way. He really isn’t interested at all in the answer to that question as indicated by the fact that he doesn’t even give Jesus a chance to answer before he returns to talk to the Jewish religious leaders. Before we proceed any further, this is a good time to pause and identify… TODAY’S GOSPEL TAKEAWAY Even though Pilate is not willing to embrace the truth that Jesus has just laid out before him, he also recognizes that Jesus has done nothing that would merit his crucifixion. But he is so spineless that he also begins to look for a way to wash his hands of his own personal responsibility. He goes back to the Jewish leaders and says, for the first of three times, that he finds no guilt at all in Jesus. But he offers the leaders an alternative and offered to release one prisoner for the Passover. But that backfires on him when they ask him to release Barabbas instead of Jesus. So he figures maybe if he just has Jesus flogged, that might satisfy these Jewish leaders. And so, even though he had no legal right to flog an innocent man, he instructs the soldiers to do so. And for the second time, he declares Jesus’ innocence. But when he parades Jesus before the religious leaders, they shout “Crucify him”. Once again, Pilate tries to wash his hands of any personal responsibility by declaring Jesus’ innocence for the third time and telling the religious leaders to handle the matter themselves. But they now make another charge against Jesus that really scares Pilate. When Pilate hears that Jesus has made himself out to be the Son of God, he begins to rethink this whole matter. As a superstitious Roman, Pilate believed that sometimes the gods came incognito to earth and that if you treated them well, they would look out for you in the future. But if you mistreated them, they would make life miserable for you. This would have only added the angst that Pilate already had because his wife had warned him to have nothing to do with Jesus because of a dream that she had. So Pilate asks Jesus where he is from. And when Jesus refuses to answer, he shouts at Jesus in frustration: “Don’t you know that I have the authority to either release you or to crucify you?” And Jesus, still full of truth and grace offers Pilate one more chance to receive the truth. He tells Pilate that whatever authority he has comes from God. God is sovereign over this entire matter. Because he knew that Jesus was innocent, Pilate kept looking for a way to release him. But he was so afraid of losing his own power that he let himself be bullied by the religious leaders until he finally relented to allowing Jesus to be crucified. Unfortunately, the Jewish religious leaders, the soldiers and Pilate all stared truth in the face, but rather than accept and embrace Jesus, they chose to reject them for their own selfish reasons. That was a mistake that had eternal consequences for all of them. Jesus tells us in this passage that He came to this earth to bear witness to the truth. One of the ways he did that all throughout His earthly ministry was in the conversations that He had with people. As we’ve looked at nine of those conversations over the last nine weeks, we’ve been exposed to various aspects of the truth of the gospel. And there are several possible ways that you could choose to respond to that truth: • It’s possible that like the Jewish religious leaders, you are reluctant to embrace the truth because there is something in your life that is more important to you than Jesus – some possession, some position, some power – that you are not willing to give up. • It’s possible that you’re like the soldiers who were just indifferent to the truth. They didn’t really have anything personal against Jesus, but they weren’t willing to stand up for Him either. • It’s also possible that you’re like Pilate. Jesus has come to you on multiple occasions and given you the opportunity to embrace the truth. But even though you can find no fault with Jesus, for the sake of your own comfort, you are not willing to go “all in” and embrace that truth either. • And fortunately, there are many, if not most of you, here this morning, who have embraced the truth of the gospel and even though you don’t do it perfectly, you are committed to living your life according to the truth. So in order to help you make an honest evaluation of how well you embrace the truth of the gospel in your life, I’m going to ask you to consider the eight gospel takeaways that we’ve developed over the last eight weeks. Before we review the individual takeaways, let me ask you a couple of broader questions about those takeaways: Questions to ask myself: • Do I view these aspects of the truth of the gospel as options to choose from based on my personal preferences and desires or do I view them all as indispensable pieces of the truth? Another way to approach this question would be to ask if I consider these to be absolute truths or if I evaluate their truthfulness based on my own experiences and feelings. • Have I made any changes in my life over the last eight weeks based on what I’ve learned? Jesus said that those who are “of the truth” “listen” to His voice. As we’ve discussed frequently in the Hebrew mindset the idea of listening is more than just hearing the words. It is listening with the intent of putting those words into action. So if you are “of the truth” then I’m pretty sure that you’ve heard something over the last eight weeks that should have caused you to make some changes in your life. With those questions in mind, let’s close by taking a few minutes to review… EIGHT GOSPEL TAKEAWAYS Nicodemus: What I believe is more important than what I achieve. I cannot ever do enough to earn favor with God. The only way to be “born again” so that I can enter the kingdom of God is to believe in Jesus. To believe in Jesus means to adopt His words and actions as the foundation for my words and actions. If we want to put it in simple terms we can probably all grasp, it is betting my entire life on Jesus. Woman at the well: Jesus makes it possible to come as you are, but impossible to leave as you came Jesus does not require us to “clean up” our lives first before we come to Him. But once we do put our faith in Him, He also loves us too much to let us remain as we are. Sinful woman at the home of Simon the Pharisee: My love for Jesus will be in direct proportion to my sense of my own sinfulness I will never fully appreciate the greatness of my salvation until I first understand the depth of my own sinfulness. Demonized man: Only Jesus has the power to free me from my bondage to my sin Jesus is willing to free me from my bondage to sin, but I need to let Him do it His way. Woman caught in adultery: Jesus loves with the perfect balance of grace and truth and that is how He wants me to love others Jesus never excuses or ignores sin, but He also treats sinners with grace and mercy. And that is how He wants us to love others. Martha and Mary: The “one thing” that is necessary in our relationship with Jesus is to listen to and respond to His words. If I want to grow in my relationship with Jesus, the most important thing I can do is to spend time in His Word on a consistent basis. Rich young man: You will need to give it all up, in order to gain it all. If there is anything or anyone in my life that is more important to me than Jesus then I will miss out on all that He wants for my life. Zacchaeus: Genuine salvation requires making Jesus “Lord” in both words and deeds While it’s important to acknowledge Jesus as Lord with my words, that proclamation alone, if not accompanied by my actions, is not sufficient to save me. I’d be really surprised if there is anyone here this morning, who has made some kind of practical application of all 8 of these gospel takeaways over the last 8 weeks. If you have, you are to be greatly commended. But for most of us, we probably already do a pretty good job of applying at least some of these aspects of the gospel truth in our lives, so at least some of them don’t require any drastic changes to our lives. But at the other end of the spectrum, if you haven’t made any changes in your life over the last 8 weeks based on these aspects of the truth of the gospel, then you need to consider why not. Is it because you’re treating each of these as optional based on your own personal experiences and preferences and you just don’t think you need to deal with some of them? Is it because you’re more concerned about what you might have to give up or what you might lose if you were fully committed to applying these truths in your life? Is it because you honestly don’t know how to apply them or you could use some help? If that’s the case then let us know because there is nothing we would love to do more than come alongside you and help you apply this truth. Most of us here are probably somewhere between those two extremes. We’ve made one or more significant changes to our lives over these last 8 weeks, but as we go through the list again this morning, we realize we could probably do more. So I want to encourage everyone to pick out just one of these 8 gospel takeaways and commit this morning to taking one concrete action to put that truth into practice in your life this week. My prayer for you this morning is that these words of Jesus will be true in your life: So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31–32 ESV) Discussion questions for Bible Roundtable 1. How would you address someone who claims that there is no such thing as absolute truth? 2. Why do you think that many who claim to be Christians think that truth is based on personal experience? How do we prevent falling into that kind of thinking? 3. How does the Bible define “truth”? 4. What are some of the barriers that keep people from embracing the truth? What are some effective ways to overcome those barriers.