03/11/18 – JV – Which King? Which Truth?


March 11, 2018
Jazz Vespers Homily
John 18:28-40
Rev. Denise Clark-Jones


It’s hard to know what to believe these days. For the past few years, the Washington Post has kept a record of lies politicians tell. There are different levels of lying, but the highest level is the bald-faced, indisputable lie. Pinocchio Awards are given to the elected leaders who have the highest tallies of lies. The New York Times regularly posts a feature entitled “Fact Checks,” in which truths, misleading statements, and out and out lies told by the President are placed beside verifiable facts. It seems as if we are growing numb to lies. If you want to hear lies and pretend they are truth, you can listen to a news program or tune in to radio or TV commentators that will tell you what you want to hear. We now know that Russia has barraged our social media with lies to incite division within our country. So, we know what is at stake when we read that Pontius Pilate asked Jesus: “What is truth?”

Pilate recognized that there were two different truths vying for legitimacy. The Jewish leaders claimed one truth: Jesus was not King of the Jews. Jesus claimed he was the truth – God’s truth. What was a poor mignon of the Caesar to do? The other truth in question was “Who is the King of the Jews?” “To whom did the Jewish leaders who saw Jesus as a threat really bow down?”

Jesus had no time for those who would not accept his truth. Jesus was cagey. He would not answer Pilate’s question when he asked: “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus would not claim power, yet it was clear he was controlling the conversation, not Pontius Pilate. It was Jesus’ own religious leaders who wanted him crucified. But, because of their strict laws on preserving life, these Jewish leaders could not have Jesus killed. They were willing to join with their arch enemy, the Roman government, to stop Jesus’ message from spreading and his followers from increasing in number and power.

Jesus got the Jewish leaders to admit that they had ceded power to the Roman Imperial throne. God was not their king, Caesar was. Today we see Muslim extremists whose god they serve is quite a different god from the God of Scripture who is the God of Jews, Muslims, and Christians alike. Muslim extremists who commit terrorist acts serve a god of brutal cruelty and murder. They value revenge and triumph in the misery and death of their own people. Yes, the victims of Muslim terrorists are mostly fellow Muslims they have deemed infidels because they serve the truth of the Koran.

Jesus said to Pilate: “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Islam, which honors Jesus as a prophet, does listen to his voice — in the Koran. Jesus is mentioned far more in the Koran than Mohammed. Mohammed is a revered prophet because God chose him to receive Scripture. Jesus was the one who truly lived the life of a man who had received the Word.

Islam does not rack up barbarous deeds as trophies for Allah. Islam does not glory in beheadings, assassinations, bombings, or the reverential raising of Russian assault rifles to the heavens. Islam, as defined in the Koran, honors submission. Faithful Muslims kneel and bow their foreheads to the earth five times a day to honor God.

In this country we have watched many white, Evangelical Christians create a nationalistic God in the image of their own political and social beliefs. To paraphrase the Christian writer, Anne Lamott: ‘Their god hates the same people they do.’ They have created a god who allows them to condone the sins they once abhorred as “ungodly.” They have become like Pilate. Pilate committed barbarous acts in his service to Caesar, who was more than their leader but considered to be divine because of his brutal military dominion.

Jesus entered Jerusalem without fear. He suffered Pilate’s brutal torture in service to the truth he knew, but Pilate did not. The truth is that eternal life cannot be ended by cruelty, oppressive injustice, or even death.

The miscalculation of the Jewish temple leaders and Pilate was that they looked to see who had the Imperial power and failed to see Jesus’ divine power. “What is truth?” Pilate asked. He didn’t have a clue.

After Christ’s resurrection, the women who came to his empty tomb discovered truth. The disciples who met the risen Jesus on the road to Emmaus learned truth. Paul, who Jesus confronted on the road to Damascus, found truth.

Those who seek only facts from the Bible miss the truth that God has given us. There is nothing in life or in death that can separate us from the love of God. Armed with that truth, we are freed and inspired to give all authority to God and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Yes, the truth will always set us free. Amen


© Rev. Denise Clark-Jones, 2018, All Rights Reserved
Westminster Presbyterian Church – Peoria, Illinois