The Second Sunday after Easter April 25, 2004


What Is Truth?

John 18:37-38

Scripture Readings

1 Corinthians 10:1-13
Luke 13:1-9


198, 13, 260, 44

Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted

Lord, I believe were sinners more
Than sands upon the ocean shore,
Thou hast for all a ransom paid,
For all a full atonement made.

[TLH #371:5]

Grace and peace be yours as you continue to celebrate the glorious resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. God grant that each one of us might live each day as though yesterday were Christmas, today is Easter, and tomorrow is Judgment Day. Amen.

Today we take a page from our recently completed Lenten services as we center our thoughts around the rather infamous question asked of Jesus by Pontius Pilate, “What Is Truth?” Our text gives the setting at which this question was posed, and is found recorded in the Gospel of John, the 18th Chapter:

Pilate therefore said to [Jesus], “Are You a king then?” Jesus answered, “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?” And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews, and said to them, “I find no fault in Him at all.”

These are the verbally inspired words of our Holy God. We can and should have full confidence that these words are true and right in every respect, and that our God desires to fill us with truth and life through these words. In confidence that through these words God the Holy Spirit will also now so fill and strengthen each one of us, so also we pray, “Sanctify us through Your truth, O Lord. Your Word is truth.”

Dear Fellow Christians:

I would like to begin by sharing with you some facts concerning myself and my history—some things many of you might not know. I am now, as you know, a Lutheran Pastor. I was not always a pastor. In fact, I used to be a United States Marine. Before that I served with the Coast Guard and before that I was a big-game hunter in Africa. Before that I served as governor of the State of Wisconsin.

You are not believing any of this, are you? It is, however, all true. It is true because I just happen to define things my own way. With that simple adjustment, everything I just told you is absolutely without error of any kind. A United States Marine, according to my new, personal definition, includes any US citizen who has ever been in a boat and shot a rifle. That’s just how I’ve chosen to define it. The Coast Guard I define as anyone who has ever walked on the beach of any ocean and looked out over the water. As to the big-game hunter in Africa, I have chosen to think of south-central Georgia as Africa and I have hunted deer there. Governor of the State of Wisconsin? I define “governor” as anyone who lived in a state and voted there.

You are thinking that none of this makes any sense and you are right. It makes no sense because words, titles, occupations, and geographic names all have accepted meanings. They all have accepted attributes and create certain images or impressions in the mind of the listener. Human speech would have no basis or function if words and terms had no accepted meaning. Real communication would be an impossibility. For that reason, no one is free to make up his own definitions for such things and certainly not definitions that go contrary to the common, historically accepted designations we have all come to know and upon which we have all come to rely.

Yet that is precisely the sort of thing that we see taking place in our society every day. The godless have so distorted and garbled what were once simple words and concepts that murder is now interchangeable with choice, irresponsibility has been replaced with freedom, perversion is called art, rebellion is self-expression, euthanasia is dignity, and marriage means just about anything any obscure judge or mayor says it means. Two lesbians could murder an unborn baby in a public abortion in broad daylight in the middle of the town square and the headline could read: Married Couple Exercises Artistic Freedom of Self-expression and Choice. Do you see the problem? That’s not communication, that’s propaganda and indoctrination. It is pure foolishness!

We live in a society that has cast off the moorings that have held in check every civilization since the beginning of time. Our society has, quite simply, abandoned every civilized concept of absolute truth and has, as a result, become a rudderless ship, blown hither and yon by the fickle winds of Hollywood and our cultural elite.

The word that comes to mind to describe the current state of affairs in our world is “pitiful.” Pity and compassion are the emotions we ought to feel for those who know absolutely no standard of right and wrong; whose morality changes day by day because it is based on shifting impulses and fancies. Those who do not recognize the Bible as God’s statement of absolute truth for all time are doomed to stumble through the darkness of unbelief until the dawn of the great Day of Judgment. You, Christian servant, represent the only hope they have.

There can be little doubt then that the problem or dilemma articulated by the infamous question of Pontius Pilate is as applicable today as it was when it was first voiced. Perhaps more so than at any other time, humanity is now foundering with this same question: “What is truth?

What did Pilate mean or imply when he first asked the question? The question probably wasn’t a question at all. It was more of a statement of philosophy than a question. (Notice that he doesn’t seem to expect an answer from Jesus, since he speaks the words and walks away.) Pilate is not really searching for answers in his examination of Jesus. He had long since determined that Jesus was innocent. In the same way our text indicates that Pilate was not asking Jesus a question when he said, “Are You a king then?” (The NIV translation did a better job of translating this with its “You are a king, then!”)

Think of a prosecuting attorney who, catching a witness in an apparent lie, pounces on him with an “Aha! So you were in the house at the time of the murder!” This is an accusation, or a statement of what Pilate believes to be fact, more than it is a question. Jesus had just told Pilate that his kingdom is not of this world, and Pilate seized on that statement with his “You are a king, then!” Jesus himself verifies that Pilate did not ask a question but made a statement, for His reply to Pilate was, “You say rightly that I am a king.[v.37]

In much the same way, Pilate does not really ask Jesus a question with the words, “What is truth?[v.38] He is, again, making a cynical social or philosophical statement. His meaning is clear: “There is no such thing as truth—certainly no concept of religious or spiritual truth that is universally accepted by mankind, and reliable.” To Pilate’s cynical Roman mind, spiritual beliefs were far too subjective and wholly without verifiable foundations to be called “truth.” So, Pilate awaits no answer from Jesus. In his mind, there is no answer.

That was then…this is now. Is there any connection? Any relevance? Any application to today? It would be hard to argue that anything has changed at all from Pilate’s day to ours. In fact all evidence indicates that a solid majority of citizens in our world share Pilate’s cynical skepticism of absolute spiritual truth. Most seem to deny that there is standardized truth of any kind, religious or otherwise. The results are seen all around us in a society that has no idea what to call right and what to call wrong.

Here is just one example. When hearings were underway in the Episcopal Church concerning the election of V. Gene Robinson—an openly homosexual cleric—to the office of bishop, it was reported that the confirmation process was halted for a time while committees investigated certain allegations made against the candidate. Those charges allegedly included downloading internet pornography and making improper advances toward a male member of his parish. These charges were later either dismissed or proven false, but the point is this: What gave those charges the potential to undermine this man’s election to the office of bishop when open homosexuality did not? How is it that downloading pornography might disqualify him, but living without repentance in the open sin of homosexuality did not? The only possible answer is that man, not God, is now calling the shots as to what is and is not sinful. This, in turn, indicates that our society has indeed adopted Pilate’s cynical view of absolute moral and spiritual truth or absence thereof.

Now, the fact that our Godless society today stands in agreement with Pontius Pilate is all very interesting, but what exactly does that have to do with us? How does rehashing the perversions of others benefit God’s children?

Plainly stated, the truth of God’s Word is under assault also in our own hearts and lives. To fail in our understanding of this attack is to doom ourselves to eventual acceptance of error as truth. What is worse, the most destructive and most influential attacks are coming from within the Christian Church itself. Acceptance of homosexual spiritual leaders (both men and women) among Christian denominations is just the tip of the iceberg. Every single perversion of truth is a path that leads inevitably back to Jesus Christ and a denial of Jesus as the only viable Savior for mankind.

Here is one example of how the Devil’s plan is succeeding. By promoting perversions that shock and disgust Christians, sins that are less perverse in our minds are actually elevated and gain acceptance. Christian parents learn that their son is living with a woman outside of marriage, and their reaction today might well be: “At least he is living with a woman.” They are actually relieved that their son’s sin is not an even greater perversion. The next logical step for such a family is to seek out a church that will support this “lifestyle choice” and declare it holy and acceptable in the eyes of God. Invariably those involved will associate themselves with a church that denies the verbal inspiration of the Bible since such a denial would obviously be necessary for that church to justify what the Bible clearly condemns. Again, almost by definition, the souls that join such a church will hear a mixture of Biblical fact and human invention in every sermon. The end result? They hear little or no true Law, and without the Law, the Gospel becomes meaningless and irrelevant. Who needs a Savior if we have no sin? Inevitably, the wide disparity of views among the many members of such a church will categorize Jesus as just another spiritual advisor in a very long list of similar “good men.”

That’s how the Devil’s game is played. That’s how he is successfully undermining the Gospel within the Christian Church today.

Precious Children of God, do not allow the Devil’s plan to succeed in your heart! Do not allow a wrong or false humility to rob you of your grasp of ultimate, spiritual truth. You have in your possession, at this very moment, the very thing that escapes the rich, powerful, educated skeptics. You have the truth.

How do I know this? Jesus himself said so—in our text for this morning and elsewhere. Listen carefully to his words to Pilate, “For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.[v.37] Remember Jesus’ High Priestly prayer, recorded in the chapter before our text? There he said, “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your Word is truth(John 17:17)

The truth is neither relative nor subjective. It is not malleable, nor is it unknowable. It has been entrusted to you and to me and to the rest of all creation by God the Holy Spirit on the pages of a single book, the Holy Bible. Ultimate, divine truth has as its very foundation this one, simple fact: Jesus Christ, God’s Son, is mankind’s only hope for salvation. This is the truth that Jesus taught. No one comes to the Father except through faith in Jesus Christ.

Was Jesus qualified to make such a claim? Who better? Jesus spoke as true God, eternal and all knowing. There was never a time that he did not exist. Nor is he ignorant of the true battle that is raging between good and evil in our world. That battle is against spiritual forces, and Jesus not only understood the nature of the conflict, He waged the battle in our stead. He conquered our enemies through His death on the cross. As a result, you and I have inherited nothing less than the full and absolute truth, clear and pure and unchanging. Never, dear Christian, apologize for or diminish the gift that you have been given. Cling firmly to this promise from our Lord Jesus in John 8:31-32: “If you abide in my word, then are you my disciples indeed; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” Amen.

—Pastor Michael J. Roehl

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