[Jesus said:] “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.” Pilate asked him, “What is truth?”John 18:37-38
“What is truth?” – Pilate asks Jesus, in the Passion of Our Lord according to John. If you were asked that question, how would you answer it? It seems that truth has fallen on hard times these days. It has even been said that we now live in a “post-truth” world. In fact, the word “post-truth” was declared the international word of the year by Oxford Dictionaries in 2016. So, Pilate’s question seems more relevant than ever, and even more difficult to answer than ever.
Truth, though, is an important theme in John’s gospel, going back to the beginning. And I thought it would be worth reminding ourselves of this tonight.
Back in the first chapter of John’s gospel, we are told that the word became flesh “and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). The Word who became flesh, John tells us, is full of grace and truth. Jesus is full of grace and truth. But, still, we might ask: What is this truth?
We learn more in the eighth chapter of John’s gospel, when Jesus says: “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:32). By continuing in his word, we will know the truth; and once we know the truth, it will make us free. So, the truth is not only found in Jesus, it also has the power to set us free. But, still, we might ask: What is this truth?
And then, in the fourteenth chapter of John’s gospel, we are given a very clear and simple answer to this question, “What is truth?” Jesus has just told his disciples that he is leaving soon, to go and prepare a place for them. But that he will come again and take them to himself. And they know the way to the place where he is going. But Thomas says to Jesus, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” (John 14:5) Jesus simply answered him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him” (John 14:6-7).
And there it is, in clear, simple, and powerful language. Jesus is the truth. He is the way, and the truth, and the life. What is truth? Jesus himself. Not just what he teaches, which is full of grace and truth. Not just his word, which has the power to set us free. But Jesus himself is the truth.
So why didn’t Jesus just say that to Pilate, in this famous exchange? When Pilate asked him, “What is truth?” Why didn’t Jesus simply say, “I am.” The reason, I daresay, is that Pilate would not have accepted it, and would not even have understood it. Because he didn’t believe. He was already living in a post-truth world. Pilate would not have believed the truth about himself – that he, like us all, is captive to sin, and his only hope for true freedom is found in the one standing before him. And Pilate would not have believed the truth about God, either – that God so loved Pilate – even Pilate – and so loved the world that God gave us Jesus, God’s only Son, to be our way, and our truth, and our life.
What is the truth? The truth is not simply a teaching. The truth is Jesus himself, our way, our truth, and our life. The truth, then and now, is Jesus, on a cross, dying for you and for me.
We will be reminded of the great and glorious truth of the resurrection soon enough. The truth that God’s love is stronger than death. The truth that Jesus was victorious over sin and death, forevermore. But tonight, we pause at the foot of the cross – to give thanks for the truth that lies at the very heart of our lives, to give thanks for the word who became flesh for us, who is full of grace and truth, to give thanks for the one who came to teach us the real truth, and to set us free from our sins, and to give thanks for the one who is the way, and the truth, and the life.
What is truth? Better to ask, Who is truth? And to give truth a name, a name that is above every name: Jesus Christ, our Lord and our God. Amen