The Truth Stands (February 14, 2018)
The Truth Stands
John 19:19-22; Matthew 27:35-44
It’s becoming almost ridiculous, really. The lengths we have to go to now to prove that something is true. IDs and signatures, sworn statements and truthful witnesses – and even still we have to question or doubt what we hear. What happened to the days of a simple handshake and “my word is my honor”? It’s almost a battle to be taken seriously, and to have your statement recognized as truth.
In the case of Jesus, the battle between the Jewish Sanhedrin trying to accuse Jesus and Pilate trying to defend his innocence didn’t end at the verdict of crucifixion. Pilate had one last comeback against the Jews. It wasn’t uncommon for criminals sentenced to crucifixion to bear a sign indicating their crime. Often it went with them from their trial and through the streets as they made their way to the execution site. It remained with them as they sat there, waiting… watching as the soldiers prepared the cross they would hang upon in their last hours of life. And that sign would be clearly displayed on the cross as they struggled for breath and suffered. It was a powerful deterrent to anyone who might consider that same crime.
But for Jesus it was different. Pilate couldn’t find any basis for charging him. In fact, Pilate tried to release him at least 6 times! Each time stating that he couldn’t find a basis for a charge against him. Yet because of the mindless rage of the Jews, he was sentenced to crucifixion. No sign hung around his neck as he was beaten by the soldiers. No sign accompanied him on his way to Golgotha. No sign sat with him as his cross was set firmly into the ground. Because of the place these verses fall in the narrative, it seems like this inscription was an afterthought of Pilate’s. As Jesus hung there, a sign, which typically stated the person’s crime, was fastened to the cross. “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” (Jn 19:19) is all it read.
Immediately the chief priests protested the sign. But Pilate responded, “Isn’t that the charge you brought against him? Didn’t you come to me in righteous anger because this man declared himself a king?!” “What I have written, I have written” (Jn 19:22). So there it hung, preaching a powerful message. And since it was written in three languages, it was a message preached to the world! Aramaic, the common language of the Jews. Latin, the language of Rome, making it official. And Greek, the universal language of the time.
It stood out in sharp contrast to all other notices. For those hung next to Jesus, the people could have read “murderer,” “thief,” or “treason.” But above Jesus, it simply said “King.” And people took notice! Many Jews were in Jerusalem for the Passover at that time. Many Jews going in and out of the city walked past the cross. And many Jews read the sign. They began to talk about this. You could just imagine over the next few hours a murmur started to wash over the city about this Jesus. And the chief priests and members of the Sanhedrin were possibly getting hot in the collar as they wondered if people would believe that sign.
They couldn’t let that notice stand. They couldn’t risk anyone taking that inscription for truth. Some, undoubtedly scoffed at the sign. And understandably so. I mean, Jesus certainly didn’t look like a king, and certainly not the Son of God. “Save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” (Mt 27:40) were the insults they heard. The chief priests, teachers of the law, and elders joined in, “He saved others, but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him” (Mt 27:42).
Do you see what they were doing? They were taking the true statement hung above Jesus’ head and propagating doubt. It’s essentially peer pressure. If you believe that Jesus is actually the King of the Jews or the Son of God, you are a fool! No one else believes it. And in doing so, not only were they making themselves comfortable in their lie, they were also avoiding judgment from others by making others believe the lie!
And that right there, broadcasting lies and avoiding judgment is what we still do to this day. We read statements from the Bible that are meant to cut us to the heart, but instead we turn it into a rubber blade. “Love my neighbor, sure, I love those in my circles and care about them. But go out of my way to show love to a random stranger? I don’t know him from Adam! He’s not my neighbor.” “Do not bear false witness. Well, it’s not false witness, if it’s truth. And besides, I’m not really hurting them or spreading gossip if I just tell one or two people.” And we’re not just content to keep these practices to ourselves, we encourage others to do the same. We encourage others to bring up some juicy details about so and so. We casually laugh off that person in need with our friends so that they join in the practice and therefore can’t judge us for going against what God’s Word plainly says. We have created a comfort zone for ourselves where God can’t touch us with his truth, and others support us in our lies.
It’s even come to a point where people are ok with lies. You have your life, I have mine, and that’s fine. You have your way of raising kids, I have mine, and that’s fine. If you want to do that thing I know is wrong, that’s fine – as long as you don’t involve me. Do you see yourselves in these words? Even turning a blind eye to something you know is wrong is sin! Yet our society is fine with it, even applauding it and wrapping it with the nice sounding title of “tolerance.” I know that word rings negatively to you, but that doesn’t mean you and I don’t practice it. It doesn’t mean we aren’t content to propagate a society of lies.
But the truth remains, untouched, and unaltered. I find it amazing that although the chief priests tried to nullify the truth that Jesus is the King, the truth remained. “What I have written, I have written.” God proved it to be true too! Jesus was raised to life, because being true God meant that death could not hold him. He ascended into heaven and retains his place of authority over all things. And he will come back truly a king! Then every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. The truth stands unshaken.
I see a lot of truth in the words we confessed earlier. I see it ring true for myself. To forgive others as I have been forgiven – I can’t measure up to God’s forgiveness of me. I know the truth of how I have grieved the Holy Spirit because I have been deaf to my call to serve as Christ served us. Manipulation, envy, negligence… all these words can ring true for me. You could sum it all up with one of the last lines from that confession, “What we think or say or do is at variance with your will.” Despite how hard I try to twist it or take away its bite, the truth stands.
That’s good news. Because although we can twist and contort the truth, the Holy Spirit uses that truth to break through to our hard hearts. Every once in a while, he is going to strike a nerve, and our self-made comfort zone will be shattered. Suddenly we realize that we are standing in opposition of God’s truth. And when we confess the sin of our rebellion, we are met with another truth. “All your sins are forgiven.” That truth stands because Christ truly did go to battle for us. Like a true king he defended you, his people, from your enemies. He took the fall, and the responsibility for your sin. And there’s a striking picture of this in Revelation. “I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him” (that’s you and me) “riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean” (Rev 19:11-14). There’s only one who bears the marks of battle. Only one whose robe is stained with blood. Jesus took on the wrath of sin, so you wouldn’t have to. Jesus shed his blood for sin, so that you could be cleansed from every sinful stain. Your Savior is truly a king who fights for you. That truth stands. Your sins are truly forgiven. That truth stands. Amen.