Christ Jesus is God’s Truth, and when you abide in him, continue in his Word, listen to his voice, God’s Truth will be known in your lives, for the freeing of the world.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Reign of Christ, Last Sunday after Pentecost, Lect. 34 B
Texts: John 8:33-37 (adding 38a)
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
“What is truth?” Pilate asks.
He wonders if this bedraggled rabbi in front of him has claimed to be the King of the Jewish people Pilate governs. If he has, he’s a revolutionary, and his sentence must be crucifixion.
Pilate might just want an expedient way out of this trial. But John suggests Pilate really wants to know the truth: who is this Jesus? What’s his game? Give me a clear answer.
For Pilate, truth is an abstract, objective thing, a fact. Yes or no. Simple.
Christians often have agreed with him.
When Christians speak of God’s truth in Christ, it’s often meant objectively.
Truth is facts, statements we can agree or disagree on. In the fourth century, serious arguments about the “truth” of Jesus dominated the thought of Church leaders. Was he really God? Was he truly human? Eventually, what we now call the Nicene Creed emerged as “the truth” about the Triune God, and most extensively, about the Son of God.
The problem is that tricky “agreed upon” part. Those who disagreed with the final version of that Creed ended up on the heretical outside, even though they were faithful Christians. That’s how we do it.
Our group writes down five truths we affirm about God in Christ. Then we see some who only believe four of our five. Worse, their fifth is different, and unacceptable. So we mock them or hate them, and break fellowship with them. In the past, when the Church controlled most of European politics, we just destroyed those who disagreed, killing the children of Christians who had a different set of truths, massacring Muslims and Jews.
Objective truth written on the page that can be argued, agreed upon, fought over, is seductive. You can close your book, certain you are right, and that others are wrong, and sleep easily.
You won’t be following Christ, though.
See, what Pilate doesn’t understand is that Truth is standing right in front of him.
This beaten, abandoned man, is God’s Truth, in the flesh. He says, “everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” You can’t belong to a doctrine, a teaching, a creed. You can only belong to a someone.
Jesus also called himself the Truth in John 8. He tells those who trusted in him that if they continue in his word, they will know the truth, and the truth will make them free. Minutes later he adds, “If the Son makes you free, you are free indeed.” The Son is the Truth.
On the night of his arrest, when his followers fretted over his news that he was leaving, and wondered where he was going, he said, “I am the Way to where I’m going. I am the Truth. I am the Life.” Jesus didn’t come to teach a truth about God. Jesus is God’s truth for the universe now and always. In person.
Now, this actually sounds just as abstract as saying God’s truth is a thing to write out and and argue about. How is it different that Jesus himself is God’s Truth? What difference does that make to me? you ask? Thankfully, Jesus anticipated your question.
The only way you can know God’s Truth in Christ is to live in it yourself, Jesus says.
In John 8, Jesus said: “If you continue in my word you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” Living what Jesus taught and lived, makes you a follower, a disciple. You know the Truth in Christ by living in it, not by writing it down and fighting over it.
In John 15, the same horrible night of his arrest, Jesus also told his followers to abide in him. He said, “the commandment I just gave you, to love one another, to wash each other’s feet, to be servants, will be fulfilled when you live in me. Apart from me you can do nothing. Connected to me, like a vine, you will pour God’s love into the world.
And Jesus said to Pilate, “those who belong to the truth listen to my voice.” We know God’s truth when we live it.
And your life, Jesus says, becomes your witness.
The English have a saying, “The proof of the pudding is in the eating.” Christmas pudding is hard to make, and you can’t tell if you did it right until you taste it.
Jesus says to Pilate, if you want proof that I am a King, just look at my followers. They’re my proof. But know that I rule in a very different way than you or other kings in this world do. If I were like you, they’d be fighting to defend me, to keep me from this trial and crucifixion. Those who belong to me, God’s Truth, listen to my voice. And follow. And they’re not fighting.
The only way Christ’s reign is revealed to the world, God’s Truth confirmed, is by the actions, behavior, and love of Christ’s followers.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating.
Do you trust God’s Truth that you are beloved, always, that nothing can separate you from God’s love in Christ? That’s terrific, Jesus says. Now, I’ll know you trust that when you live that. When you, filled with my Spirit, see all of my children as beloved, precious to the Triune God. The proof of your discipleship, your belonging, is in your living.
Do you trust God’s Truth that you are utterly and freely forgiven by God of all that you do, that there is no sin that is not forgiven and forgotten by God in Christ? That’s fantastic, Jesus says. Now, I’ll know you trust that when you live that. When you, abiding in me, forgive all whom you meet, not holding grudges, forgiving even when you’re abandoned or betrayed or hurt or slandered. The proof of your discipleship, your belonging, is in your living.
Do you trust God’s Truth that you are not God’s enemy, that in Christ God has reconciled anything between you and God? That’s wonderful, Jesus says. Now, I will know you trust that when you live that. When you, alive in my Word, love your enemies and seek to be reconciled, pray honestly and deeply for those who hurt you. The proof of your discipleship, your belonging, is in your living.
That’s how the world will know God’s Truth and be free.
Not by us claiming we’ve got all the answers. And certainly not by us fighting with others. The one critical sign Jesus claims today for his followers is that if they follow him, they don’t fight. They don’t hurt. They don’t defend God. Blessed are the peacemakers, Jesus said and meant.
As we continue in God’s Word, listen to Christ’s voice, we live lives of sacrificial love, not power and domination. The proof of our discipleship is in our living that path of Christ we trust for our own lives, that sacrificial love, that vulnerable giving for the sake of the world.
Pilate should have asked, “Who is Truth?”
And for Jesus, the answer goes far beyond himself.
When he rose from the dead he sent the Holy Spirit into the hearts and lives of those who follow, and now Christ does the same and sends you and me into the world saying, “They are now God’s Truth.”
For the world, the proof of the pudding is still in the eating. Who you are, who I am, will either reveal God’s Truth or not.
But thanks be to God for this: when you and I continue in God’s Word, abide in the life of Christ we know and trust for our lives, listen to the voice of Truth, God’s Truth will flow from us. And make us and the whole creation free.
In the name of Jesus. Amen