Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1341
March 11, 2018 John 18:33-38a
Rev. Dr. Ed Pettus
“To Bear Witness to the Truth”
33 So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” 35 Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” 37 Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” 38 Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”
Protesters at Heart
If you have been paying any attention to the college campuses across the country in the past year, you have probably seen various protests and the new terms that have come forth like snowflakes or safe spaces and such things at that. We might think that such protests are unwarranted and have accomplished nothing except more problems and we might be correct, but we are a people of protest. Not just “we” as in human beings in general, but “we” in this sanctuary. We are protesters because we are Protestant. So I guess it is guilty by association! Protestantism began with the protest against the corruption and mishandling of Scripture in the Catholic Church 500 years ago. It is part of our identity as the group that broke away from Catholicism.
Jesus was also something of a protester. Jesus protested against people like the Pharisees, not with placards or in violent ways, and not all of the Pharisees, but against the institutional system that smothered the living Word of God under a blanket of rules and regulation that became so dense with detail that the words the rules sought to protect actually separated people from keeping those words. Jesus actually protested against all positions of authority that welded power in unjust ways or evil ways. Jesus protested all that was false and evil and self serving and unjust.
In essence Jesus has called all believes to protest the same kind of things. How we protest is one thing, that we protest is another. We are to protest injustice and threats to the sanctity of life and all things that oppose truth, just to name a few things. It is even in the nature of the Psalms to make our protest to God when He does not act against such things and evil and injustice. We call that prayer!
Protesters are often seeking truth and for the practice of truth in any system or authority. At least, that is what we seek in our protests. We may not protest in the ways we have seen on TV or Youtube, certainly not with senseless acts of violence, but we protest by telling the truth and by revealing the Truth, that is, giving witness to the Truth who is Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Truth and He also gave us truth in His words and stories and in the Holy Scriptures. Anytime we speak the gospel or tell the truth about something, we are also protesting against that which is not true and against all that is idolatry and falsehood.
To Tell the Truth
Some of you will probably remember the TV show, To Tell the Truth, that started back in the late 50’s (before my time!). It’s main sponsor was Geritol. The show has had several runs throughout the years and might even be on again. It’s premise is for a panel of judges to ask questions of 3 contestants who claim to be the same person. So, two are liars! They call them impostors. Maybe that is a little nicer than liars. The show ends after the judges vote on who they believe is the real person. The real person is then asked to stand. If any of the impostors got votes it increases their prize. It’s all in fun but it could also be a metaphor for what we see in the world, lots of impostors.
I suppose that part of what we do when we tell the truth is to also expose impostors. We stand upon the Word of God as the authority for truth and we give testimony and pray that all those who are liars and impostors will come to know the truth. All who do not know Jesus Christ are living a lie. They are lost in sin. They may only be lying to themselves and this may be even more dangerous because they do not realize the lie. Impostors know they are lying and they seek to manipulate reality or the perception of reality by telling lies. Their greatest danger, perhaps, is that they believe their lies to be truth.
The Bible is our sourcebook to combat both the self deceived and the deceivers. Scripture gives us the truth in the words and stories and revelations of who God is and who we are. Scripture teaches themes of truth. But Scripture also reveals Jesus who is Truth. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” Jesus says earlier in John 8 that the truth is what sets us free. “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free”(John 8.31-32) To tell the truth is to know the One who is Truth and to know the truth of His Word. This is what we seek to reveal to the liars and impostors of our time.
We are the truth tellers. Christians always have been. We cannot tolerate lies. We cannot accommodate lies. We cannot compromise with lies. This is partly why we believe the Bible, why we are in the EPC, why we cringe when we hear the lies of television, internet, or print.
Listen to these words from Proverbs 12.17-26
Whoever speaks the truth gives honest evidence, but a false witness utters deceit.
18 There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.
19 Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue is but for a moment.
20 Deceit is in the heart of those who devise evil, but those who plan peace have joy.
21 No ill befalls the righteous, but the wicked are filled with trouble.
22 Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who act faithfully are his delight.
23 A prudent man conceals knowledge, but the heart of fools proclaims folly.
24 The hand of the diligent will rule, while the slothful will be put to forced labor.
25 Anxiety in a man's heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad.
26 One who is righteous is a guide to his neighbor, but the way of the wicked leads them astray.
Purpose: Bear Witness to the Truth
Jesus Christ came to this earth to bear witness to the truth. His presence bears witness to God’s love. His life bears witness to God’s Word. His sacrifice – to God’s forgiveness. His resurrection – to eternal life. There is much more that all those things tell of truth, but that is just a few big ones! Jesus says to Pilate, “For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth.” Jesus brought the truth. He spoke with an authority people had never heard. He opened the world to know the kingdom of truth. He exposed the lies of the world and the corruption of the human heart. He testified to God’s truth in ways that moved people to change their lives. Some rejected the truth, denied truth, or questioned truth.
The Church and each believer is called to carry on with the truth that Jesus revealed. In this period of history, there are lots of theories as to how we are to bear witness. They range from being a faithful presence in the world, something like a shining light on the hill, to being a powerful voice in places of power, like seeking political offices.
We must first of all know the One who is Truth. Know the truth to which he bears witness. But not just to know the truth, we must also be shaped and identified by it. To know Christ is in us and we in Christ. The problem with so many protests we see in America today is they have no identity in the causes they seek to defend or protest against. It is mostly protest for the sake of protesting. Or it is protesting against something without any clue to what they would advocate instead. Or it is protesting against truth with falsehood and just being so blind that they cannot not see it.
Here is at least one thing we do with the truth: Every single claim to reality must be measured against this claim, that Jesus bears witness to the truth. Every political viewpoint, every law, every practice of medicine, every purchase made, every decision pondered, every move we make or word we utter. We will fall short from time to time, but our proclamation is that Jesus is Truth and the what Jesus (and the whole of the Bible) has said is the truth. We proclaim that truth in the face of falsehood. We stake our claim to the foolishness of the world.
Paul gives this great warning to the Church about engaging in the truth of Jesus Christ in
8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. 9 For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. 11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.
First off, don’t be deceived by the lies of the world (2.8). Secondly, only in Christ do we know and have truth (2.9-14). Third, Jesus has disarmed all the impostors (2.15). We have to guard our hearts against the falsehood of the world by loving the truth of God, His Word. In Christ we set free in the truth to proclaim the truth. Christ has already won the victory in His triumph over all the lies of rulers and authorities. Jesus killed Roman rule without using the literal sword. He dismantled their power with one weapon, truth. This too is our only real weapon against all the nonsense we hear in the world.
Do Not Lose Heart – Listen to His Voice
I want to consider one last thought about our journey in the truth. There are at least two main concerns these days, fear and discouragement. Fear can lead to discouragement. We are afraid to speak our hearts and minds. We might be afraid to get something wrong. We might be afraid of being rejected. In this day and age, we could pay a heavier consequence than we once might have, but we cannot let that fear determine our path. If we look closely at the social discourse today, very few...very few have enough sense to get out of the rain but they are willing to spew their vile claims all over the news and internet. It is up to us to tell the truth.
We get discouraged sometimes because it looks like the lies and deceptions are winning the day. It appears that impostors are running the show and shaping the culture. To some degree that might be that case, but we cannot become discouraged. Paul says in multiple places in the Scriptures, do not lose heart (2 Cor. 4.1, 16). He says in Galatians 6.9, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” We are doing good when we tell the truth!
The author of Hebrews also reminds us that we are surrounded by many witnesses who have gone before us and their testimony is an encouragement to our testimony.
Heb. 12.1-3 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.
Will the truth prevail? Yes! Truth captures our hearts, perhaps even more than our minds. It is precisely because of the cross and resurrection that we are able to continue in encouragement. In the cross and resurrection we have the Good News that disarms all the false narratives of our day and all the principalities and powers that seek to abuse power and usher in kingdoms of injustice and oppression. Jesus gave the disciples a promise that we believe is also given to the Church and to every believer,
and you will be my witnesses
in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria,
and to the end of the earth (Acts 1.8).
The great power we have over all the impostors and liars is the power of God through the Holy Spirit. As we grow in Christ and in His Word, the Spirit will use that growth to tell the truth to people and in places we might least expect. For this too is our purpose in Christ, to bear witness to the truth.