Ever been on trial? Ever been a part of a real trial?
They are not fun.
I was called as a witness twice in civil trials. I once served as a juror in a criminal trial for the NYS Supreme Court. That was intense! Thankfully, l have never been on trial, accused of some wrong doing, although l have felt l was on trial (under accusation) by others. It’s not enjoyable. A person only has to experience the personal and formal accusation of others once and they will never forget the tension, threat, and shame of it.
Jesus was on trial for His life. He appeared first before a body of religious leaders who falsely accused Him of absurd things and then secondly, He appeared before Governor Pilate, the Roman official sent to oversee the land of Judea. In those days, Romans ruled that part of the world and had conquered Judea. It is Jesus’ appearance before Pilate that l want to examine today.
Jesus would be crucified on a cruel cross later in the day. The background: the Jewish leaders would have killed Jesus on the spot but they couldn’t without getting in real trouble with the Roman Government now in control of their land. The Romans had told the Jews that no one could be executed without their say so. In other words, the Jews had to get Pilate on board. Pilate had to ‘sign off’ on the execution.
So, early Friday morning, they brought Jesus to Pilate in an effort to convince him to order Jesus’ execution. In his short experience with Jesus, there were 4 conversations. In each of them, Pilate asks revealing questions and sadly for him, he never came up with the right answers though Jesus provided them.
The question and topic for us today is found in John 18:38 where Pilate asks, “What is truth?” Pilate is surprised by some angry religious Jews early one Friday morning demanding he sanction an execution of a certain man (Jesus) accused of vague crimes without proof or witnesses. Pilate knows nothing of the Jewish faith and/or the religious gripes the Jews had with Christ.
Totally ignorant of faith in God (Pilate was probably a multi-deist) he sees this event as trouble for him and his governorship. Pilate’s position was not a plum assignment but a dreaded, ‘dead end career’ position with few possibilities for advancement and lots of chances for troubles that could end his political career. In talking with Jesus, Pilate attempts to find out what is really going on as he perceives the whole thing to be a sham. It is amazing to note that Pilate figured out what was going on pretty well.
Sadly, though Pilate saw right through the Jewish hatred of Christ and their plot to destroy Him, he never saw or understood what was actually going on. Instead of Jesus being on trial, Pilate was (among others). One can see that easily by reading all 4 Gospel accounts of the exchange between Jesus and Pilate. As Jesus speaks with Pilate, He declares that He is a King with a purpose, that being to reveal and proclaim The Truth (Jon.18:37). That is when Pilate responds with his question, “What is truth?”
It is not that Pilate wants to know the truth, or that Jesus might have something of worth to listen to. It is a rhetorical question of ridicule. In our language, it would be a cynical response. We might say it – “I already know all I need to about life and truth. I am the governor. You are just a man who needs me to save his life.
What truth can you tell me? What truth is there anyway? According to whose opinion?“.
Yet, Jesus brings Pilate a challenge to believe and follow the truth. And Pilate could care less. Think of that! Pilate had the chance to hear a truth so great, so pure, so powerful that his course of life, even his eternal future would be forever changed. But Pilate was a prisoner in his own world of thinking, too proud and self-interested to listen.
Let’s examine this truth that Jesus speaks of for a few moments. What did Jesus mean by His use of the word, ‘truth’? When we think of truth, we often relegate it to telling the truth (honesty/integrity). Or, we think of scientific truth like gravity, weather, medical knowledge, the accurate report of events. But Jesus was speaking of a life principle. His principle, or better yet God’s view point about the world, us, life, and what God intends to do about all of it.
Jesus was bringing a message of the best possible news.
That news: God loves us and has planned a rescue for all those who will come to Him and trust Him. Mankind is in deep trouble but God has come to help us out of our terrific jam. And God (in Christ) is the only One who can get the rescue done. Pilate’s point, “I don’t care. That kind of truth is not important to me.”
There is a curious verse found in 2 Thess.2:10. The 2nd half of it reads, “They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.” (NIV). The context (recommended reading) speaks of delusions, deceptions, and people who believe lies. Deception is terrible because one does not know they are deceived! A person is tricked into believing something not true and getting harmed by their trust in what is false.
It is the LOVE of the truth that keeps us safe. That love of truth is found in those humble enough to admit that they do not know all there is to know and that they need to learn. This is true about life and especially true about God and His Gospel rescue mission. He is bringing in His Son Jesus!
And God will grant the truth about the true nature of Jesus and His mission to anyone who wants it and will humble themselves to learn. The way parents can explain life saving truths to their children if they will but listen and trust, so God will SEE to it that anyone can know the TRUTH about God, us, the future, our sinfulness and need of His rescue, plus His loving plans for us.
Let us ask the question, “What is truth?” Not as Pilate, as a scoff or an arrogant mocking of the challenge to Jesus’ offer of the TRUTH. Let us ask and trust that He will show us that great truth. Hear it from the words Jesus said to Pilate that day, “Jesus answered, ‘You say that l am a king. In fact, the reason l came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.’”.
The safest position, the wisest position, the most truthful position, is to say to Jesus, “Teach me the truth about You!”