Sermon delivered by Joel Snider, pastor of First Baptist Church in Rome, Ga., on Feb. 8, 2009.
This passage is typically associated with Holy Week, the week leading up to the crucifixion and death of Jesus but we thank Pilate for helping us focus our attention on a passage earlier in the Gospel, John 14:6, where Jesus says, I am the way, and the truth, and the life. I have previously talked about the way.
If you see a movie of Jesus’ life and this scene comes up in it, depending on who directs the movie, sometimes Pilate asks the question in a cynical fashion. He puts a snarl on the truth. What is truth?
Sometimes if he is presented as a seeker, someone who really wants to know and senses that Jesus is in front of him, and maybe Jesus can tell him, he says, What IS truth? I don’t know which one it was but it is a question that most of us want to know. What is truth?
To say it as simply as I know how, truth equals what really is. If something is true, then it is so. If somebody tells me about a story or something that happened, it is true if it really happened. When Jesus says, I am the truth, then he is saying, This is the way things really are. Look at me, look at my life. If you want to know about God, if you want to know about spirit, if you want to know about life, then I am the way things really are.
I have to confess to you that this is one of those sermons that, in preparation, I am thinking, A lot of the sermons I have heard on this are pretty boring. It sounds more like a dissertation on truth than I care to listen to or give. I tried to think of what would be a way that we could understand about Jesus being the truth that might be different. I thought of taking the opposite approach.
Let’s assume Jesus isn’t the truth. Are you familiar with the Seinfeld episode where George who always has such bad luck with people and relationships decides he is going to do everything the opposite and maybe that will work for him?
I can remember when our children were small somebody usually wanted to do an Opposite Day. Let’s have an Opposite Day. We get to tell you what to do. Let’s have an Opposite Day in the sermon. We are going to assume that Jesus is not the truth. Let’s say that Jesus is not the way it is. What would that mean? What would it mean if Jesus is not the truth?
First, it would mean that sin is not a problem. Sin is no problem because that is why Jesus came was to deal with our sin. If Jesus is not the truth, no sin. Everybody gets off free. That would mean that nobody has any regrets over things that we have said or done. That’s good. Nobody has any guilt because you have not done anything wrong. It means that whatever has been labeled a sin in your life has no ramifications from it. If you had an affair, no big deal. If you told a lie, it is unfortunate if you got caught. If you stole something and did not get caught, no harm, no foul. Greed? That is just amoral; no morality to it whatsoever. Envy? Envy is unfortunate because it made you feel so bad about yourself for a while. That’s it. None of these things do any damage to us. If we have done any of these things, we should have no regrets and feel no guilt because if Jesus is not the truth, there is no sin. Things still might be illegal. Don’t go get excited about certain things, but from the sense of our relationship to God and our relationship to each other on things that are not covered by the law, there is no sin. That sounds like a good world there, doesn’t it?
It has not been that long since Christmas. Credit card bills are still coming in. If you will remember, one of the passages that we read at Christmas, You shall call his name ˜Jesus’ because he shall save his people from their sins. That is what Jesus’ name means. Essentially, the je on the front means Jehovah. Jehovah saves. That is why he came. If there is no sin, then we have no need of being saved, do we? Why on earth would Jesus come?
For the sake of argument, let’s say that there is sin but we don’t need saving. We don’t need anybody to do it. We can do this for ourselves. Jesus did not have to come and do it. Whatever it is that is the experience of guilt that we should not have because there is no sin, we should be able to take care of this ourselves.
If you have been through high school literature, you had to read Macbeth. You remember the scene where Lady Macbeth is up during the night. Because of the sense of murder in her heart, she is washing her hands and trying to wash off the blood. Out, out damn spot. We can wash that clean. We can all take care of that. We can all take care of our sins. We can make our conscience at peace. If there is something that has come between us and our relationship to God, a little self-help will take care of that and we will be just fine.
I haven’t quoted Dr. Phil in a while so let me just ask, How is that working for you? Are you taking care of all your own sins? Do you feel like you have made peace with God all by yourself? You didn’t need Jesus? Were you able to work on that guilt? Do you feel like you have been able to wash yourself clean? If Jesus isn’t the truth, you should be able to.
If Jesus is not the way, we can save ourselves. We have no need for God. We have no need for prayer. Everybody has adequate strength. Everybody has adequate wisdom. If you are worried about your children, it is just a superstition to say a prayer. It is like throwing salt over your shoulder or some of those other things that your grandmother did. The prayer that comes out in a moment of fear or panic is just a superstition. If there is no sin and we can save ourselves, we don’t need God and we don’t need to pray. There is no longing and everything inside of me is satisfying. We are all just fine and at peace with the world if Jesus is not the truth.
None of these things are true, are they? It is not the way things really are.
I have heard that there are two kinds of fools in life. The first kind of fool believes everything. They believe that swamp property in Northwest Florida along the coast is very valuable beach-front property and will buy it. They believe that Bernie Madoff can indeed return 20% a year in up markets and down. They believe anything. We are so afraid that we are going to be that kind of fool that we wind up believing nothing. We are skeptical. We are cynical. We do not want to buy into anything. Of course, the second kind of fool is the kind of person who doesn’t believe the truth when it comes up and bits them.
Everybody has credit card debt. You cannot have too much credit card debt. There is going to be inflation. You are going to be able to make more money and pay it back in cheaper dollars. Do you get what I am saying? Sometimes the truth is told to us and we missed it. What we were really foolish about is that we missed the truth and failed to believe the truth when it was told to us. I think a lot of times when people hear the claim of Jesus, I am the way, and the truth, and the life, they fear they are going to be the first kind of fool. They fear they are going to believe something that is not so. But what really winds up happening is that we become the second kind of fool. It is the truth and it is right in front of us. All we had to do was take hold of it, but we don’t believe it. That’s just too good to be true. You can’t fool me. I know that is not so.
Jesus really is the truth. At the core of this life, there is something that is broken in our hearts and in our spirits, and no matter how hard we try to fix things ourselves, we don’t have any better luck fixing our sin that we do fixing our bad habits. At the core of it, we really do need Jesus to forgive us, to give us that sense of being clean, and to put us back into relationship with God and with other people. This really is the way that it is. If we don’t believe it, we are missing a chance to know the truth.
Whenever people start talking about the truth, I think a lot of people are afraid they are going to get a lecture on Aristotle or Wittgenstein or somebody like that. You are afraid you will need a high IQ or a degree in philosophy. What is the path to truth?
The really good news of the Gospel is that it does not depend on what you understand and it doesn’t depend on how smart you are or what your IQ is. The way we can have the truth is by loving Jesus. Isn’t that what he says that he came for? The No. 1 thing is to love God with all our hearts, with all our minds, with all our souls, and with all our strength.
Maybe accurate quantum physics requires a high degree of intelligence, but the truth that Jesus Christ came to bear witness to, the truth that Pilate wanted to know about, the truth that could save us a lot of heartache in our own lives is love. The only thing we need to do is love Jesus. It is amazing that when we decide that we are going to love Jesus Christ, we find out that he is the real deal. He is the way, the truth, and the life. Amen.
Joel Snider is a coach for the Center for Healthy Churches.