Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

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"Can We Handle the Truth"

John 18:33-38a

John 20: 11-18

        One of the challenges we preachers face is coming up with an Easter morning message that is  true to the gospel story of Jesus’ resurrection, while at the same time offering some fresh perspectives and insights that might make the resurrection story real and alive for today’s listeners; for you.  Years ago, I was approached after an Easter service by a particular parishioner who I have the privilege of seeing only once a year.  He shook my hand, told me he enjoyed my “speech,” then added, “You know pastor, I think you’d do well to change up your messages occasionally.  Everytime I’m here, all I’ve ever heard you talk about is resurrection.” My temptation was to say something snarky like, “Maybe if you’d stop by on one of the other fifty-one Sundays, you’d get lucky and hear a sermon on a different subject.”  Instead, I simply smiled and said, “Thank you for that suggestion.  I’ll take it under advisement.”

      Well this morning, in deference to those who are wearying of the same old, same old every Easter Sunday, I’m going to try to change it up.  Of course, we’re going to talk about resurrection, but from a different angle.  And we’re going to begin by reading a story that chronologically precedes Jesus’ crucifixion, and resurrection from the grave on the third day.  According to John’s account of things, Jesus was in the headquarters of Pontius Pilate, governor of Judea.  At that point in Jesus’ trial, Pilate was trying to determine if what Jesus had been accused of by the Jewish leaders warranted having Him condemned and crucified.  By this time, Jesus had been roughed up; the worst yet to come.  Simon Peter had already denied knowing Jesus, not once, but three times. The other disciples had fled and were in hiding.  So Jesus stood alone before a leading political figure; Pilate himself; the only one standing between Jesus and the cross.  

          (Read John 18:33-38)

     I’ve always had this guilty little secret wish: that when Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth?” Jesus would morph into General Nathan Jessup from that movie A Few Good Men and say something snarky like, “You can’t handle the truth.”  Instead, Jesus said nothing at all.  And that silence was as deafening as anything else in the entire gospel.

      What is truth?  Pilate’s question arises out of his confusion.  He’d no doubt heard a lot about this Jewish Rabbi; how Jesus had been stirring up the people with His teaching and preaching; how Jesus had subverted the authority of the Roman Empire by suggesting to His disciples that they owed no tribute to Caesar, but only to the God of the Hebrews; how Jesus had darn near incited a riot when He and His disciples came riding into town earlier that week; how Jesus had dissed the leaders of His own religion, especially when He wreaked havoc in the temple upon His arrival in Jerusalem; how Jesus had  the audacity to say that if that temple was destroyed, He would rebuild it in three days.  This is what Pilate had heard to be true.  And he was given the chance to go eyeball-to-eyeball with this Jesus to find out for himself.

     The conversation between the two was fascinating.  Pilate’s questions were political in nature; the first being, “Are you the King of the Jews?”  There was no safe answer for Jesus to give.  If he had replied “No,” He would be denying His own identity and mission.  If he had replied “Yes,” Pilate would have every reason to have Jesus crucified on the basis of treason against the state. Instead, Jesus turned the question back on Pilate:  “Did you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me.”  Think how loaded this is.  The question is essentially, Do you look for truth on the basis of your own observations, or do you depend on others to tell you what the truth is?  Do you seek the truth?  I want us to bracket that question and come back to it later. Pilate knew what Jesus was getting to, and he didn’t like it.  So he deflected. “I am not a Jew, am I?  Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me.  What have you done?

      In response to Pilate’s politically-charged question, Jesus offered a spiritually-charged answer: “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews.  But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”  I think this was entirely lost on Pilate.  Maybe politics and spirituality just don’t dialogue very well.  At any rate, Pilate returned to the political, trying again to get Jesus to incriminate Himself.  This would, after all, make Pilate’s job a whole lot easier.  “So you are a king?” Jesus went spiritual again, but took it a step further:  “You say that I am a king.  For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.  Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”   By this time, the back of Pilate’s neck was probably hot and red.  In a last ditch effort to get to the bottom of this, Pilate asked, “What is truth?”  It is there that the conversation between the two ended.  And I have to wonder if Jesus’ silence was His way of saying loud and clear to Pilate, “You can’t handle the truth.”  Or maybe, “You don’t really want the truth.”  As it turns out, on the third day – in spite of every effort to silence it; every effort to crucify it; every effort to bury it, the truth came forth.  Jesus rose from the grave.  And all those who belong to the truth listen to the voice of Jesus; to all He taught and lived out in His earthly ministry; to all He spoke following His resurrection.  To his dear friend Mary of Magdala: “Woman, why are you weeping?  Whom are you looking for?”  Then simply: “Mary.”  To she and the other grieving women: “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”  To two dejected disciples on the road to Emmaus: “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!  Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” To his BFF Peter, who had betrayed him thrice: “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?....Feed my lambs.”  To His gathered disciples, and to all of us: Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.  And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  I would suggest that all these post-resurrection statements made by Jesus, and all He taught in the years leading up to that first Easter are, in themselves, answers to Pilate’s question:  “What is truth.” 

      But the fact is, Pilate couldn’t handle the truth.  Moreover, Pilate didn’t really want to know the truth.  So at that moment, Jesus remained silent, perhaps resisting the temptation to be snarky.  He knew that truth is only for those with ears to hear and eyes to see; with minds to understand; with hearts to discern; with spirits open and willing to accept the truth; those of a childlike faith who seek truth with the intensity and purpose that a toddler seeks out her mother.  To all others, truth would forever remain a mystery.

      What is truth?  That’s of course been a question for the ages.  But I think in our day, that question has taken on greater meaning, and is of greater urgency.  For I don’t believe there’s been a generation which is inundated with more confusion about what is truth than ours.  Untruths to the left of us.  Untruths to the right.  Untruths told and perpetrated by some of the top leaders of our nation.  Untruth from the Democrats.  Untruth from the Republicans.  Untruth from the justice department. Untruths from conservative media.  Untruths from liberal media.  Untruth on Facebook; on Twitter; on Instagram.  Do we dare ask the question Pilate asked of Jesus?  And as we seek the truth – elusive as it seems -- how do we go about it?  Do we look for truth on the basis of our own observations?  Or do we depend on others to tell us what the truth is?  Do we really seek truth?

      You may not like what I’m about to say, but I’m going to say it anyway.  With regard to seeking and finding truth, many of us have become lazy.  Rather than taking the hard route of engaging our God-given gifts of reason, logic, wisdom, discernment, good old common sense, indeed our very faith which has sustained us for millennia of generations, we instead take the easy route of chasing every talking head on television and radio, and are all too quick to buy into their political, and social, and religious agendas -- their spins on truth; especially when it aligns with our own presuppositions, be they right, wrong, or indifferent.  We read posts on Facebook and elsewhere, and make friends and enemies based on how a particular post rubs us, or where a thread of posts leads us.  We engage debates in the workplace and elsewhere over our points of disagreement; less concerned with getting to the truth; more concerned with justifying our position and protecting our pride.  Sometimes it seems that all too often, truth really has little to do with it.  Could it indeed be that we can’t handle the truth, or that we really don’t want the truth?  I think the answer is “Yes” and “Yes.” Like Pilate who was asking the question -- but who in reality took the easy route of deflecting, justifying, protecting – do we “belong to the truth?” Do we listen to the “voice” of “truth”; that truth which came forth from the tomb on the third morning?  Considering the present condition of our society and culture, we don’t appear to “belong” to the truth, or have any real desire to listen to the “voice” of “truth?” 

      Jesus comes forth as truth; it’s voice; its incarnation; its resurrection; its eternal quality.  Either we choose to listen, or we choose not to.  That’s the choice that stands before us on this Easter Sunday, and every day of our lives.  The easy route is to let our truth be determined by others, and by our own unexamined presuppositions.  The hard route is to seek and find truth for ourselves, wherever that may lead us; even to an empty tomb.  Will we take the easy route of Pontius Pilate, or the hard route of those genuinely seeking truth?  Therein will lie our answer, or lack of it. 

Almighty God, truth is in such short supply.  Surrounded by a million voices, we struggle to sift through it all.  May Your voice – the voice of ultimate truth -- be the one we listen to; a voice calling us to live humbly, justly, righteously, mercifully, and honestly.  Hear this our prayer, in the name of the One who is the way, the truth, the life, even the resurrected Christ.  Amen.

 

 

Central Presbyterian Church

47 Second Street NE
Massillon, Ohio 44646

Telephone: 330-832-7455
Fax: 330-832-7102