Sermon for Good Friday
Friday, March 29, 2013
When I was studying at the University of Texas, I read one verse of scripture just about everyday. Words from Jesus in the Gospel of John stood at the heart of the UT campus. On the magnificent tower building are etched these words: “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” Those words became stitched in my mind, and I learned that yes, indeed, the truth will set me free. And just as the words were etched in stone, I came to learn that the truth is unchanging.
Yet in today’s society, and in today’s culture, truth seems to be fluid. Indeed, I imagine many students at the University of Texas have no clue that those words come from a poor, uneducated carpenter. And I know that the truth is often questioned, that a new definition of truth has arisen. Many will say that the only truth is that there are many truths. We live in a society and a culture that has become unstitched; we are a people who have lost sight of the truth. And we have begun to live by our own truths. As a society, we have decided to follow our own hearts. To let our emotions rule. We live by our own passions and desires.
But this is not a new phenomenon. We cannot blame university professors or political activists for destroying our notion of “the truth.” The truth has been under question for centuries. In today’s heart-wrenching gospel narrative, we catch a glimpse of truth under fire.
Jesus is hastily summoned to stand before Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor. It appears that Pilate is hesitant to punish Jesus, for it seems Jesus has done nothing wrong. It all boils down to this: if Jesus says that he is a king, then he stands in open rebellion to the Roman Emperor, Caesar. Pilate asks Jesus, “So you are a king?” 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.” Pilate then asks a haunting question, a question still asked by today’s skeptics, charlatans, and hedonists: “What is truth?”
It’s a question that Jesus does not immediately answer. The story shifts back to Pilate’s interaction with the crowd at Jerusalem. Then comes the death sentence. Since Jesus claims to be a king, he must be executed because the Roman Empire will have no other kings but Caesar. Then Jesus is led away and crucified. Jesus instructs the disciples he loves to care for Mary, his mother. Jesus dies. His side is pierced and out springs blood and water. Joseph of Arimathea takes the body of Jesus away, and buries him in a new tomb. And still, still Pilate’s question hangs in the air, “what is truth?”
If we read too quickly, or if we are not paying attention, we’ll miss the answer to Pilate’s question. Jesus does not give his answer in words. Jesus offers no pithy reply to Pilate. In a divinely ordained twist of irony, Pilate answers his own question. Pilate puts a sign above Jesus on the cross, a sign that tells the truth. The sign reads, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”
That is the truth. The truth is that this poor, uneducated carpenter from a town about as exciting as Cleveland, Texas is the King of the Jews; the one who was in the beginning with God, and through him all things came into being. This is the truth. That Jesus of Nazareth, dying on the cross is the very one who has come to set us free. The truth is that Jesus loves his disciples so much he is willing to wash their feet like a slave. The truth is that Jesus and the Father are one, and that as his disciples we are invited into that relationship. Jesus did not have to answer Pilate with words. The life and death of Jesus is the final answer to every skeptics’ question in every age. What is truth? That Jesus of Nazareth is the King of the Jews.
As a society, we are seeking for the truth. And the truth seems to be elusive. But I tell you this: we know where the truth is. The truth is with Jesus of Nazareth. The truth is that God loves the unlovable, dies for sinners like us, and cares for all his sheep, all his sheep. This will not change. The truth is stable and constant, because the truth has been nailed to a cross.
And on this day, Good Friday, we are reminded not only that Jesus is the truth, but that we are to live by the truth. When you have decisions to make, or when difficult problems present themselves, do not follow your heart. Do not allow your basest emotions to run your life. Because our feeble minds and weakened spirits will always succumb. Without Jesus, we become captive to our own emotions. But the truth will set you free.
Where is truth? What is truth? Who is the truth? Good Friday answers all questions. Nail your heart to the cross, and there you will find the truth.