"What is truth?" This is the question that Pilate asked Jesus 2000 years ago. A number of years ago, a gentleman named George Parks visited Grace, Alvin. He put on a 'one-man' play called, "And what is truth?" The only character was Pilate, a number of years after the crucifixion, talking to an unseen visitor about the events that occurred in Palestine on that fateful day. And in this play, Pilate is still asking the question, "What is truth?"
It is a question well worth asking. What is the truth about what happened in that small province, in the eastern portion of the great Roman Empire? What did that truth mean then and what does it mean to us now? In our human view of the world, very few people see the same 'truth' in any situation. Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the light." In the gospel of John, Jesus said, "I tell you the truth..." 26 times. It is very important, our very life depends on it, that we seek out the truth that Jesus brings to us and seek out the truth concerning his death and resurrection, and seek out the truth of his place in our life.
Pilate had a very difficult job. He couldn't help feeling slighted to have been assigned to such a backwater province, trying to keep the peace among such a odd people with their strange god and ridiculous customs. And in this case, he found himself caught between the proverbial "rock and hard place." This rag of a man who stood before him didn't seem worth the time and effort that he was having to expend. A king? Now that was a laugh. Why did these people want him dead? He was obviously no threat. But still they pressed. Pilate tried to free Jesus, but they wouldn't let him. They kept yelling and shouting - and then they threatened Pilate - threatened to go to the emperor - so Pilate gave in to their desires. For Pilate, the truth was that this man did not deserve to die, but to keep peace among this people (and to keep from being reported to emperor as unfaithful), he gave in to their desires.
What is truth? For Caiaphas, the high priest, truth was much more serious. As high priest, it was his job, not only to perform the sacraments and rituals of the temple, but also to defend the faith as he knew and understood it. Here was this Jesus who was challenging every belief that Caiaphas held to be truth. Here was a man who was gaining popular support, not only in Jerusalem, but throughout the land. Here was a man who was perverting the faith, the laws, and even the prophets as Caiaphas understood them. Caiaphas, in his role as high priest, was also the acknowledged prophet of the faith. And as with all who are anointed to a position of authority under God, he fulfilled that role as prophet, even unto this prophecy about Jesus. When the Sanhedrin met, they said: "What are we accomplishing? Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation." Caiaphas spoke up to the Sanhedrin and said, "You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish." Caiaphas prophesied truly in the power of God, but he misunderstood the meaning of his prophecy. Truth for Caiaphas meant that, if this Jesus continued to gain the support of the common people and caused rebellion, the Romans would come in and destroy them and their temple. It was imperative that he be stopped.
And there was Peter. What was truth for Peter? Peter the fisherman, the first called, the staunch defender of the faith. Peter, alternately praised and reprimanded by the teacher and master he had grown to love and trust. When faced by armed men in the garden, Peter drew his sword and was ready to lay down his very life to defend Jesus. After being made to lay down his sword and leave, far from running away, Peter followed at a distance, right into the courtyard of Annas, father-in-law and advisor to Caiaphas. For Peter, Jesus was truth. Jesus was every good that had ever happened, and yet, three times during that long night watch, Peter denied the truth.
And Judas? We will never know what Judas saw as truth. The one thing that is almost certain, Judas never intended for Jesus to be crucified. Maybe Judas thought that if he could just get Jesus and the Sanhedrin together, that they would be persuaded to believe Jesus. Maybe Judas had grown disillusioned by Jesus pacifism and wanted to force him into action. Whatever the reason, Judas' visions had not been realized. And the truth of what actually happened drove Judas to despair and self-destruction.
In today's society, we are quick to find someone to take the blame for the ills that befall us. We are told, "Never admit culpability." Even in looking back 2000 years, we want to find a villan to blame. But this idea of fixing blame is nothing new. It began in the garden with Adam and Eve. Adam defended himself before God saying, "It was the woman." and Eve defended herself saying, "It was the serpent." In that same spirit we look for someone to blame. It was Judas, it was the Jews, it was Caiaphas, it was the Romans, it was Pilate. Yes, all these played their part, but the sin was not theirs alone.
The final player in this story is the victim, Jesus. What did truth look like for Jesus? Truth was knowing God's plan, and knowing that regardless of the cost, that plan must be fulfilled. Truth was redemption for all the sins of all the people in the world. Truth was following God's will, through the pain, through the suffering, and even into death. Truth is embedded in every fiber of this story. But to understand the truth, we must first understand the difference between a free-will offering and a miscarriage of justice. Did Jesus have to die? By human standards the answer is "no". Did Jesus deserve to die? Again by human standards the answer is "no". Jesus could have stopped Judas, but instead Jesus told him, "What you must do, do quickly." Jesus didn't have to be arrested in the garden, but he told his disciples, "Put away your swords." Jesus went freely and willing to trial and death.
Was this a miscarriage of justice? Again the answer is "no". Justice was carried out that day, but it was not the justice earned or deserved by Jesus. It was the justice that rightfully belongs to every person who ever lived or ever will live. In our sinful nature, we are not worthy to enter God's presence. The sacrifices offered by the people to atone for sin were not enough. Therefore, Jesus became the sacrificial Lamb. Jesus took upon himself, every sin ever committed by humankind: every murder, every theft, every hatred, every greed, every pride, every lie, every envy, every covetness, every unkind word, every uncharitable act, every neglect. He took all this and more, and he carried it to Golgotha. When he fell on the path, it wasn't from the weight of the cross, but from the weight of our sins. He allowed himself to be spit upon and ridiculed for our sake. He freely accepted the punishment for our sins, yours and mine, and for all the sins of the whole world. He allowed those sins to be nailed to the hard wood of the cross with him. The scourging and death that we deserve, Jesus received unto himself.
What is truth? That unless a man, a man without sin or blemish, freely and lovingly went to his own death, the world would remain in the same state of sin as it had been since the fall in the garden. To heal the wounds of the world, perfect man must take the sins of the whole world on himself and present it as a free offering before God. But there was no perfect man. So, God sent down his Word, as a Son, to become that perfect man. Jesus is God incarnate, the Word made flesh. His perfect birth, perfect life, and perfect sacrifice gives us the right to be called sons and daughters of God. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. He paid the ransom for our sins, and he laid down his life for us. It is only by his action, that we now are made worthy to stand before God and enter into his eternal joy.
This is truth.
By The Rev. Nan L. Doerr