by Frank Luke
What is Truth? This is Truth!
FCF: Because all people have fallen from our created state, we must rely on revealed truth.
Scripture Intro: Turn to John 18:34-40. We are familiar with much of Pilate’s story in the trial of Jesus. According to all the Gospels, Pilate tried to let Jesus go but succumbed to pressure from the Jewish rulers. In this one time, he was indecisive. However, Pilate’s record as prefect was one of distinction. Others held the prefect office for three years. However, Pilate held it for 10 years, from AD 26 to 36. In that time, Pilate ruled over taxes and construction projects. He was determined to rule well.
Notice that once he was warned do this, “or you are no friend of Caesar.” The Caesar referred to was Tiberius, an exceptionally authoritative ruler who removed his opponents with all due haste. Pilate had to rule well or he would be removed as a failure and possibly executed. One thought on why Pilate was sent to Judea (a punishment) is that he had backed the rebel Sejanus but was too powerful to execute for treason. Failing in Judea would strip him of that power. This may be why the threat of “no friend of Caesar” struck Pilate so hard.
We know very little about the man. We don’t even know the circumstances of his death. There are several possibilities, but none are certain.
Here in John, we see more of what makes Pilate tick. Read with me the account of Pilate questioning Jesus in John 18:33-40.
John 18:33-40 33 Therefore Pilate entered again into the Praetorium, and summoned Jesus and said to Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Are you saying this on your own initiative, or did others tell you about Me?” 35 Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests delivered You to me; what have You done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.” 37Therefore Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” 38 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 guilt in Him. 39 “But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover; do you wish then that I release for you the King of the Jews?” 40 So they cried out again, saying, “Not this Man, but Barabbas.” Now Barabbas was a robber.
Sermon Intro: Standing in judgment of Jesus, he asks the most important question any man can ever ask: “what is truth?” To our utter astonishment, he turns away before Jesus can answer.
What do we learn of Pilate from this? We know he was a powerful Roman and well educated. Most Romans of his standing would have a favorite philosopher that they considered their teacher, even if the philosopher was long dead. We know that Pilate was open to the supernatural speaking to humanity because he married a mystic. His wife has dreams where she believes she hears from the other side. Pilate does not listen to her.
Pilate knew that the most important question is truth, but he didn’t think Jesus had the answer. Did he think anyone had the answer? Probably not. If he did, he would have waited for an answer.
However, we need to ask that same question. “What is truth?” Everyone on earth needs to answer that question. Then you have a second question you need to ask. “What do I do with Truth?”
Point 1: Truth Must Be Recognized
John uses the word “truth” 27 times in the Gospel. It is John who records Jesus saying, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” It’s an important concept to John. Where do we get truth? People generally make three options for the source of truth: 1) Reason and logic; 2) Authority; 3) Scripture.
Every one of these has a place in life. We use reason and logic everyday when making hundreds of decisions. Do I want cappuccino? Depends on how much I’ve had this week and how late in the day. Which way do I go to work? How foggy will it be to go through the bottom today? For most decisions in a day, this is a fine answer. Reason it out. This is using the brain that God gave you.
However, reason can only go so far. Science, which claims reason as its base, has limitations built into the system. Science can only work with what can be measured and repeated. Look at that, right away the nature of miracles rule them out of science. Miracles are unique events and not repeated. History is the same. Do you realize that you cannot prove George Washington lived by the scientific method? Historians have a different method, but since there was only and will be only one George Washington, the scientific method cannot prove it.
Science also runs into a limit with descriptions. Imagine being born blind and someone describing the color “blue” to you. Even if you were a scientist yourself who know everything that a man can know about light, you won’t grasp the color. The same thing happens with someone born deaf. Even if they knew every scientific thing about how sound travels through air, the experience of voices raised in praised or a symphony will be missed.
Reason cannot be the ultimate authority because it cannot deal with unique events or the unmeasurable. So much of what is truly important it unique and immeasurable.
The second option is authority. Authority means taking the word of someone else that they are speaking the truth. If the person is trustworthy and wise, this is a valid option. When the mayor tells you to stop burning your trash in town, you had better. When you go to the pastor for counseling and he tells you to stop the smoking, listen. Teachers, professors, law officers, church leaders. When you ask your plumber about the new faucet, you are listening to his area of expertise. Agree with them or not, these are authorities, and we have to pay attention to them. An authority may lose his standing with us by incorrect advice or moral failing. This is listening to who God told you to listen to. As our ultimate authority, Jesus falls into this category.
But authority runs into the problem that it is human and thus itself broken. What do you do if an authority tells you to do something against the word of God? This was even a problem in the early church as Jude, the half brother of Jesus, warns us:
Jude 1:1-4 Jude, a bond-servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, To those who are the called, beloved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ: 2 May mercy and peace and love be multiplied to you. 3 Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints. 4 For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.
The third category is revealed truth. We take Scripture to be the revealed word of God. Scriptures, both the Old and New Testaments, are verbally inspired of God, and are the revelation of God to man, the infallible, authoritative rule of faith and conduct (2 Timothy 3:15-17; 2 Peter 1:21; 1 Thess 2:13). In the Assemblies of God, this is our first fundamental truth.
The first bit of truth in this world is that God exists. He has revealed himself through nature and our conscience. The heavens declare the glories of God. Inwardly, we know what is right and wrong. The existence of this conscience, and that it is so consistent across the world until people learn how to sear it shut, testifies to God’s existence.
What we learn from the Bible that reason alone cannot tell us we call “special revelation.” From studying the trees and stars, we can know that God exists. By our conscience, we know that we are broken. But we cannot know that God sent His Son to make us whole. We know this from special revelation.
Truth from Scripture is different in that it is inspired, that is “God breathed” (2 Tim 3:15-17). God breathed means that the Holy Spirit moved upon the writers so that what they wrote was exactly what the Holy Spirit wanted them to write (2 Peter 1:21). In some cases, He spoke to them audibly. In others, He gave dreams. Others, the Spirit moved on them as they wrote, taking their love of writing and giving wisdom that would last the world over.
There is much more that could be said about Truth. How God’s Word will stand forever. How it cannot fail. It is also fascinating to study how the books of the Bible were recognized by the early church as the Scripture they were. God moved so that the inspired books could not be stopped from being recognized.
Point 2: Truth Must Be Understood
When Jesus spoke, he spoke in the language of the common people. That means in the Land, He taught in Mishnaic Hebrew, Aramaic, and Koine Greek, because all three languages were used. Not only in their language but in the type of teaching they were used to. He gave sermons, as the people were used to, and the Gospels records more than 35 parables. The Jewish people were used to parables, short stories, a couple of paragraphs at most that take everyday items and situations and give them a spiritual meaning. If you read other Jewish writings, there are hundreds of parables.
If Jesus lived today and was asked to teach on gossip, I believe he would give this parable:
“What is gossip like? To what does the thing compare? It is like a dandelion gone to seed. Once you blow upon the head and scatter the seeds, you can never pick them all up again.”
That’s an image everyone who has ever picked a dandelion can understand. You simply cannot pick up all the seeds once they all fly. And now you’ll think of that in a situation when gossip is an option.
With Scripture being the truth revealed to us, we have to understand it. The Old Testament was written mostly in Hebrew with about 200 verses in Aramaic. When those who followed the Torah spoke those languages, there was no need for anything different. However, after the exile, a large number of Jews lived in Alexandria, Egypt. They spoke Greek more comfortably than Hebrew, and they wanted their Scriptures in their language.
To that end, between 250 BC and 150 BC, the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek. This had a bonus that the Greek-speaking Jews in Alexandria had not foreseen. Now others could read the Hebrew Scriptures and meet the living God there. Discovering Judaism became easier than ever. And people did convert. This version, called the Septuagint was used even in Judea and Galilee. Jesus and the Apostles quote from it.
And as the Greek language was the common language throughout the Roman empire (yes, more so than Latin, people knew Greek), when Christianity came with its Scriptures in Greek, it spread like wildfire.
However, over time, Greek was used less and less. For those in Rome, the Scriptures were translated into old Latin and then into the common man’s Latin, called the Vulgate. As missionaries went out into the world, one of their first tasks would be to translate the written word of God into whatever language these people spoke. The people always wanted God’s word in their tongue. It does no good if no one can read it, and a written word lasts beyond the spoken word.
That’s why even today, missionaries translate the Bible into new languages for the people they want to reach. And the act of translating, of learning a new language and then translating the Bible into it, shows the people how important the missionary views their conversion and how much God cares for them. Loved them enough to die and rise again far away? Okay. Loved them enough to send a missionary to spend years translating the Scripture into their language so they can read how he died and rose again? That’s important.
Point 3: Truth must be Acted Upon
The final point is that truth must be acted upon. First you have to recognize it. Then you have to understand it. But the first two acts will only leave you stranded on third base. Once you understand truth, you have to chose to act on it.
Imagine finding a chest in your backyard that contained one million dollars. Would you rebury it? No. You’d claim it and take it to the bank. Truth is the pearl of great price that any merchant would sell all he had to gain.
In the ancient world, philosophers were respected. It was recognized that they sought truth. They wanted to know what truth was. Some of them oddly denied that truth was knowable or denied it was the same from person to person. Amazing how old fallacies never die.
The first step you take towards acting on truth is to accept Jesus as your savior. Once you’ve done that, you have to read his instructions. Many ask about which translation as there are so many these days. But we should remember that “the religious problems of this world are not caused by people reading different translations; the most serious problem is that many read no translation.”
As people read the Bible, the Holy Spirit will illuminate their minds to the meanings and how to apply it their life. I cannot tell how many times I have read a passage and then feel that nudge that I need to change a line of thinking or attitude because of it.
That same Spirit who helped the authors first write it will help us understand it. Don’t believe it? Read John 16:12-15 and 1 Cor 2:10.
John 16:12-15 12 “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. 14 “He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you. 15 “All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you.
1 Corinthians 2:10 For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God.
The believer is promised that the Spirit will help him understand while reading.
God gave us His Word as truth, and the Spirit is pleased to shed light on that truth.
Conclusion: In conclusion, we ask the final question: “What do I do with truth?” What happened to Pilate here was a tragedy. He was forced to make a decision. He could either stand for truth or he could surrender truth. Pilate chose to surrender. He allowed the charge of treason to stand and even had a sign placed on Jesus’ cross that read “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” Calling oneself king of a Roman territory was rebellion.
Pilate surrendered in the war on truth. What will you do? Will you take truth as your guide and let it lead you? Will you reject it and seek other truth? I do not mean seek more truth. There is a difference in more truth and other truth. More truth adds to what we have. Other truth seeks to replace it.
Jesus is truth and gave us truth. What will you do with Jesus this day?
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Featured Image: What is truth? Christ and Pilate by Russian painter Nikolai Nikolaevich Ge.