Sunday, April 13, 2014

The TRUTH on Trial : The Business of Christian Education LXXVII

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?
John 18:33-38

            This is an ironic event where Governor Pontius Pilate, who was also the highest judge in Judea, met the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.  Earlier, John reported that Jesus declared to his disciples that he is the Way, and the Truth, and the Life.  Out of envy the religious leaders of Israel dragged Jesus to Pilate’s court and charged him with many accusations.  There the Supreme judge of Judea met the Truth from heaven.  This time, the Truth was on trial.  The duty of a judge is to figure out the truth.  The knowledge of the truth is key for the wise and just ruling of a judge.  It was, therefore, Pilate’s duty to find out the truth regarding the allegations.  The interrogation took place in order to give Pilate an idea of
what actually happened.  Jesus was brought into his court very early in the morning.  The chief priests accused him with so many accusations.  But when Pilate questioned Jesus, he did not defend himself.  Pilate sensed that there was something unusual about this proceeding.  Commonly the accused would become defensive and started to give account of the events being referenced in the allegations according to his perspective.  But not this time.  The accused kept silent.  Jesus did not respond to the accusations.  Jesus’ demeanor showed amazing calmness Pilate never encountered before in his lifetime.  Gradually Pilate became more convinced of the innocence of the man he was interrogating.  To add to his gradual conviction of Jesus’ innocence, his wife sent him an urgent message to warn Pilate that Jesus was innocent.  Pilate’s wife was troubled due to the dream she had regarding Jesus.  Pilate had to make a decision as the Supreme judge of Judea.

            So he asked Jesus: “Are you the King of the Jews?”  This time Jesus did not keep silent.  He answered.  This is typical Jesus.  When false accusations were brought to him, he did not respond.  But when his identity was the subject of interrogation, he had to testify.  So to that question Jesus gave an answer: “Did you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?”  Of course, Pilate, in his pride answered harshly: “Am I a Jew?”  With that answer, Pilate showed his repulsion of the Jews.  He did not wish to be associated with the Jews.  So in other words, Pilate said to Jesus: “Are you kidding me?  There is no way I say it of my own accord.”  Then Pilate quickly added: “Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me.”  Pilate exaggerated the situation to put Jesus on the spot as the accused.  Clearly Jesus’ question made Pilate uncomfortable.  So he turned back to Jesus and asked him: “What have you done?”  Here the question of his works also deserved an answer.  Pilate asked an open ended question.  The question itself did not carry prejudice even though the context might indicate Pilate’s prejudice due to the weight of the allegations carried by the Jewish religious leaders.  To that open ended question concerning his works, Jesus had to give a proper answer.  And his answer is one of the great mysteries of the Scripture.  Scholars and theologians are having difficult times trying to decipher its meaning.  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.  The idea of kingdom is the central theme of the gospels.  When Jesus indicated that he was a King, the world laughed at him.  Pilate for sure did not regard Jesus as king.  The idea of king in the eyes of the world is completely different than the idea of king as spoken by the God of heaven and earth.  Looking at Jesus’ appearance and demeanor, Pilate was not convinced that Jesus was a king of whatever sort.  The definition of kingdom as Jesus mentioned is never understood vividly by the people of the earth.  We don’t have a clue as to the imagination of the kingdom that Jesus had in mind.  Jesus gave many illustrations through his parables to teach his disciples about the kingdom of God.  But even though the parables seem to be easy enough to understand, there is no doubt they contain deep and great mysteries that even the brightest minds could not fathom.  It was clear in Jesus’ mind, but is never clear in our minds.  And so even when we have the parables in our hands today and they have been scrutinized, discussed, researched over and over again, for nearly 2,000 years, we still can’t picture what the kingdom of heaven is actually like.  Our minds have been corrupted by our fallenness so that imagining the true kingdom of God is a giant task that we always fail to tackle.  It is very difficult to get away from the kingdom model the world offers.  Our imagination is filled with images of the kingdom of the world.

            It is interesting that to the question about what Jesus did that brought him to this event, Jesus simply pointed out that he never did any criminal activities.  His kingdom was of a different kind.  Jesus’ answer was clear that he actually was simply being brought to Pilate’s court and charged with obscure accusation simply because he was a king of a different kind of kingdom.  So, Pilate quickly responded to Jesus’ answer: “So you are a king?”  Again Pilate returned to the question of identity.  To this truth Pilate must investigate.  One of his duties as an officer in the Roman Empire was to ensure that there is no rebellion happening within the empire.  Any known king must be made subject to the Caesar in Rome.  Therefore Jesus’ identity as king concerned him.  If Jesus was the kind of king that would compete with Caesar, then it was Pilate’s duty to squash Jesus.  A rebellion can’t be tolerated.  Anyone declaring himself as king with the intention to topple the empire must meet the Roman’s force.  No wonder, Pilate was adamant to find out who Jesus really was.  Even though looking at Jesus’ appearance he already guessed that Jesus could not be the kind of king that would take arm against the Roman Empire.  But he had to be certain.  As the governor and judge of Judea, he had to keep order.  He had to maintain the rule of the empire.  He had to stand guard of the kingdom which he was an officer.  The question he asked Jesus was a yes or no question.  The question demanded Jesus to answer either yes or no.  And because this is a question of identity, Jesus had to give a proper answer.  It was an important moment to testify of who he really was.  So Jesus answered Pilate: “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.”  Jesus acknowledged his kingship.  He did not deny it for he could not deny himself.  But he did not stop at the confirmation of his kingship.  He mentioned something that even more puzzling.  And this puzzle remains to this day.  Our corrupted mind can’t easily reconcile the connection between Jesus’ kingship and truth.  Jesus’ answer was other worldly.  Pilate must be totally confused when he heard Jesus’ answer.  He could not keep up with the wisdom of the simple man from Galilee.  Jesus’ answer was too deep for Pilate’s complicated brain and shallow heart.  To keep his pride and deny defeat, Pilate scorned Jesus’ answer by asking: “What is truth?”

            It must have been tremendously difficult for Pilate to examine the Truth standing in front of him in order to extract the truth of whatever brought to his lap that morning.  Pilate must have been sweating profusely as he was face to face with the Truth himself.  Deep down in his heart he knew that the person standing in front of him was no ordinary person.  His mind was still loaded with Jesus’ words that he couldn’t find a grip of his own standing in the matter.  His heart prompted him to release Jesus for he found no basis to sentence Jesus with any crime.  It didn’t matter what the chief priests said earlier, for clearly Pilate could never find evidence of Jesus committing any illegal activities.  Pilate was sitting on his honorable seat judging the Truth that sustained the whole universe.  Every honest question he asked got a truthful answer.  Not just an answer, but The Answer that every heart longs for.  The depth, the wisdom, the greatness, the majesty, the wonder of Jesus’ answer captivates every living being.  Everyone hearing Jesus’ declaration is forced to respond.  The chief priests responded by suppressing the truth and hardened their hearts and thus sinned even more by condemning the Holy Son of God.  Pilate was now forced to make a response.  He felt uneasy in his heart.  He was puzzled but at the same time he had to rule.  He couldn’t comprehend the meaning and the connection between kingship and testifying to the truth.  He couldn’t grasp the infinite wisdom of God spoken in a few sentences by the King himself, who is the eternal Truth.  Jesus was born on earth with a purpose.  The amazing thing was that Jesus was conscious of his purpose coming to earth.  Nobody born in the world ever said what Jesus said.  At one time we reflect on our life and we regret our being born on earth.  We ponder and we can’t understand why we are given birth in this world.  So we ask: “What is my purpose?  Why am I here?  Who am I?  What must I do?”  Pilate himself couldn’t understand why he was born in the world.  He couldn’t bring himself to a complete and final definition of his existence in the world.  But, now, right in front of him, someone who was very unlikely, seemingly weak, unworthy of provincial attention, but so sure of his purpose in life, declared that he was born to be King.  Not only that, Jesus declared that his being King had something to do with bearing witness to the truth.  Then he added that everyone on the side of truth would listen to his voice.  This took Pilate a back.  It’s just too much for him.

            At this point, it has been established that Jesus was indeed a King.  But not the kind of king that the world would expect or understand.  But the realm of this kingdom was elusive to the mind of the governor.  For Jesus spoke about the truth.  The very thing that Pilate was always struggling.  Truth is a game that every politician plays with.  For politicians, truth is often not something must be honored.  Truth is a tool.  It is a tool for a purpose.  One can twist truth at will in order to achieve one’s goal.  Truth is in the hands of politicians like cards in the hands of poker players.  Play it to win.  Even if it means concealing it or sacrificing it.  Pilate felt the heat.  Just by his declaration, Jesus exposed Pilate’s sin and the deepest motif in his heart.  No accusation, no judgment, not one of them coming out of Jesus’ mouth.  But yet Pilate couldn’t bring himself to the dignity he was supposed to have as an officer of the law.  Pilate was supposed to be the wisdom to weigh in and figure out what was true and what was false.  But he found himself unable to do so.  He was supposed to declare what was true and expose what was wrong.  But he was puzzled.  His training did not prepare him for this moment.  He couldn’t handle the Truth.  In his confusion he asked: “What is truth?”  Sadly, to this question he got no answer from Jesus.  He has been face to face with the Truth for hours, but yet he still asked that question.  His weakness was exposed.  Deep down in his soul, even in his brokenness, he could recognize the truth.  But the cares of the world, the political advantages and disadvantages, the desire of the flesh, the fear and pressure from Rome, confused him.  So in his magnified pride he posed the question “What is truth?” in order to cover his humiliation.  He felt humiliated by his inability to find a satisfying solution to a simple problem.  So he also suppressed the truth.  But he did it differently.  He did not do it like the chief priests.  The chief priests suppressed the truth by attempting to get rid of it.  They wanted to kill the Truth.  But the governor and judge of Judea suppressed the truth by making it floating.  He ended his most meaningful encounter with the Truth with a question which he himself was unsure how to answer.  In the end he made his decision not basing it on the truth, but basing it on the demand of the crowd.  This was where democracy brought Pilate.  In the end, Pilate marked history by giving in to the evil voice of the majority.  He crucified the Truth.

            When the Truth is on trial, he exposed those around him for all the evilness of their hearts.  He was on trial, but yet he was the one who made the right judgment.  He was tried when he was the only truth could be found in that court.  All else was false, full of pretensions, fear, greed, envy, jealousy, evil.  Truth on trial exposes the untruth trying to judge it.  Those on the side of the truth hear the voice of Jesus Christ, who is the Truth himself.  Whose side are you?

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