Reading for this Sunday - John 18:28 - 19:3
He was a mid-level government functionary assigned to a backwater post far away from culture and modern civilization. If that wasn’t bad enough, this particular backwater had been a hot bed of turmoil and unrest – simply ungovernable – since long before anyone could remember.
His job had just been made more difficult by a major policy change regarding affairs in his part of the world. The party in power in his country – his party by the way – had its own turmoil. One of the chief advisers to the country’s leader was found to be plotting to against the leader. Cast out in disgrace, every policy he had instituted was under a microscope. And most were completely changed.
Including the policies by which he had operated for the past few years. In fact, he himself was under review for past handling of certain situations. Put on notice that if there was one more altercation, one more complaint, he would be recalled.
This morning he had cases to hear. In addition to the petty criminals and civil disputes, he had two big cased on his docket. There was sentencing for two low level members of a group of extremists. They had been caught in a robbery sting – their activities were providing funding for their cell. Yesterday’s trial had run so late. The sentencing had to be postponed till this morning. And then there was the trial for a major terrorist leader. This one would go fast. By any luck, there would be at three crosses up on the hill outside town by noon!
It was just another day in Jerusalem at Passover in the life of Pontius Pilate. (1)
But today would be different. There had been a series of extraordinary events last night - events that Pilate would discover would disrupt his day, and even his life.
The sun was barely up and he was finishing his morning meal when he received the news that the high priest and Sanhedrin were at his gate demanding to see him. They had a case he had to hear RIGHT NOW!
It might seem odd that a Roman governor would go out to the priests, but one of the big policy changes Pilate had to accommodate was how to treat the Judeans. When he had left for the province, he had been advised that they were hard to govern and tended to rebellion. So he needed to be firm, hard handed, give no quarter. But now, the powers that be had reversed this stance – he needed to accommodate their religion and even protect it. So as not to offend the leaders, he went to them.
And found that they had conducted a hurried, trial over night. The proceeding itself was illegal, and now they wanted him to ratify their verdict and put the accused to death. It sounded like a religious squabble between factions and Pilate could not be too careful when dealing with their religion.
So it wasn’t so extraordinary that he decided to do a little more investigating. What was extraordinary was that he didn’t postpone it. The docket was full. But the priests pressured him, and aware of his tenuous position, he accommodated them.
And thus started another extraordinary event – Pilate, the Roman governor, waffling back and forth between Jesus and the religious leaders.
Pilate asks Jesus "Are you a king?"
Jesus replies, "My kingdom is not from this world –make no mistake, if it was, my followers would have already risen up to defend me."
Knowing now that there would be no revolt Pilate wants to just get this matter out of his court. But the easy answer to the dilemma is to charge Jesus with treason – if he claims he is a king.
Again he asks, "Are you a king?"
And Jesus responds, "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice." (John 18:37-38)Then Pilate asks the now-famous question, "What is truth?"
Truth is a fluid thing in Rome. For over a 100 years, as political factions rise and fall, the truth about who serves Rome and who is treason changes with the tide. Men govern more or less faithfully, and then get hauled into extortion court and treason court simply because they are affiliated with the leader of the former faction.
There are many gods – Greek gods co-opted into Roman gods. Ancient deities and new deities from conquered people. As long at the state god are revered, go ahead and worship who you want.
There are many philosophies to guide one’s life - Stoics and Cynics, Eclectics and Epicureans, Neo-Platonists and Sophists – and more besides. Plenty of truth to sort through, to find something one could call one’s own.
What is truth?
It’s not something you believe.
It’s not information or a set of facts.
It’s not concepts.
It’s not a proposition.
It’s not doctrines, or teaching or religion or even the Bible.
Those things contain truths that point to the Truth (capital T) – The One Truth. (2)
What is truth?
The Truth stands there before Pilate - just stand there, silent.
This is Truth – the One who is the way, the truth, the life.
The One who is the truth about who God is, and God’s love and mercy, and who we are created to be.
Truth is a person – Jesus. Knowing the truth is in the relationship and the relationship is a gift of grace. (3)
Jesus has invited Pilate into the truth and tragically Pilate turns away.
Things go quickly now. The religious leader won’t accept Pilate’s judgment of innocence. So he offers give Jesus the Passover amnesty, but the crowd won’t stand for it. Instead the known terrorist with unassailable evidence proving his guilt goes free and an innocent man is charges in his place.
Pilate has Jesus flogged and mocked. Bloodied, beaten, wearing a purple robe, and a crown of thorns, Jesus stands there, as Roman soldiers mockingly salute ‘Hail, the King of the Jews.”
What is truth?
The truth is - the King not just of the Jews, but of the Universe, the Son of God, stand before them – it is his coronation day.
And those soldiers don’t know the truth - they have just crowned Christ the King. That they and Pilate are subject to his judgement, but instead he dies for them.
During Lent we come to terms with the truth – about ourselves, about our world, about life.
About God and God’s love and grace and mercy.
And when we come to terms with the truth, we find ourselves standing before Jesus.
And we discover Truth - God's grace, God's love. That the God lays down life for friends will stop at nothing to bring us back:
The awesome Truth that God knows us, God loves us, and dies for us.
(1) (This portrayal of Pilate is gleaned from Paul Maier’s historical novel "Pontius Pilate"
(2) This sections is composed with ideas gathered from the working preacher podcast for March 30, 2014 and from a video created by Dan Bollerund "What is Truth? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YEHDptdtS5g&feature=youtu.be
(3) Also from Dan's video. Thanks so much Dan!