Sermon: To Testify to the Truth

November 25, 2018
Twenty-seventh Sunday after Pentecost
Reign of Christ Sunday
2 Samuel 23:1-7
John 18:33-37

I take comfort in the mystery novel. It has a pleasant predictability – not that I can predict whodunnit, no. What’s predictable is that whodunnit will be exposed. The criminal will be caught. Justice will be served. Truth will out.

A mystery novel is like a long bus trip, or better a train trip. You know exactly where you’re going, and you have a pretty good idea of the route. You just look out the window to see what the sights will be along the way.

It’s comforting. Truth will out.

John wrote his gospel over 1700 years before Das Faulein von Scuderi by E. T. A. Hoffmann or The Murders in the Rue Morgue by Edgar Allan Poe. He had no notion of creating that sightseeing experience, of holding the identity of Jesus in suspense. How did he begin his gospel? “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” In a book intended to show who Jesus was, he led with the foundational truth, the ultimate truth: God had come to us in Jesus.

Reading, we watch others struggle to understand this, but we have been left without a doubt. We know the truth.

Pilate, of course, did not. His job was actually fairly easy. Was there enough to show that Jesus of Nazareth had claimed to be the Messiah, the King of Israel? Truthfully, there was enough to demonstrate that without speaking with the accused at all. The charge came from people in leadership; their word was trustworthy. If they needed supporting evidence, they only had to remind Pilate of the previous Sunday, when crowds hailed Jesus, riding on a donkey, as the One who had come in the name of the Lord.

For a Roman governor, big public demonstrations meant trouble. He  wouldn’t have hesitated much. Demanding a confession of Jesus was mostly pro forma. He didn’t need Jesus to say anything.

So he asked, “Are you a king?” and got the surprising answer, “My kingdom is not of this world.”

About a thousand years before, the shepherd, poet, and monarch King David wrote a poem which later historians called “The Last Words of David.” He probably intended it as a song of thanks to God, and also a summary of his life. Surprisingly, he did not list his victories and successes, as we find on Egyptian monuments. Instead, he made three claims:

First, that he had been chosen by God. Indeed, it would be difficult to say differently. He had been the youngest son of a  family not in the royal succession. Though he had been initially welcomed into the service of King Saul, that troubled monarch had become convinced that David was plotting against him. Saul drove him from court, and in doing so, set David up as a rival to the throne. David survived several years as a fugitive rebel before Saul died in battle against the Philistines and the people turned to David. It’s not quite a rags to riches story, but the hand of God was not hard to see.

Second, that the king’s first responsibility was justice for the people.

“One who rules over people justly,
ruling in the fear of God,
is like the light of morning,
like the sun rising on a cloudless morning,
gleaming from the rain on the grassy land.”

It’s the most lyrical section of this ancient poem. It’s the part that sings.

Third, David asserted that God’s promise was not just to him but to his descendants, but that there was a qualifier: if they did not rule justly, if they did not rule in the fear of God, then they would be like weeds plucked up and burned.

The historians writing centuries later would do so knowing that David had been absolutely right, for the sins and errors of the kings caught up with them and the Babylonian empire destroyed the City of David about 400 years after he died. David himself knew that he was right, as he had not been an entirely just king; he had not ruled entirely in the fear of God.

When the IYAA was studying First and Second Samuel this year, we kept running into things David had done, and the question would run around the room, “Is this really what God intends for chosen people to do?”

David sort of left that out of his poem.

A thousand years after David, Jesus stood before Pontius Pilate and added another idea to the notion of kingship: truth. “I came into the world to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

Ah, truth.

Pilate promptly demonstrated that he was not one who belonged to the truth. You remember his famous line, right? “What is truth?” he said, and he walked out of the room. A few years ago comedian Stephen Colbert coined the term “truthiness” to describe the way some politicians would get comfortable with something false as long as they could make it sound true.

And then there’s the 3,800 false things that the President of the United States has said since taking office, according to the Toronto Star.

Ruling in the fear of God. Not exactly.

Karoline Lewis writes, “Of course, ‘What is truth?’ has everything to do with Jesus as king, for Jesus is the truth. His Kingdom is not, therefore, about determining the truth but is the truth. His Kingdom is not content but character. His Kingdom is not ruled by a king but by commitment. His Kingdom is not a thing, but a person.”

Jesus testified to the truth by being the truth.

What is that truth?

The truth that power is made perfect in weakness. Jesus demonstrated that truth, standing beaten and uncowed before the man who would crucify him.

What is that truth?

The truth that neither casual dismissal nor cruel violence against truth wins the day. We worship a crucified and risen Savior.

Truth. Truth may be upon the scaffold, as James Russell Lowell wrote, and wrong forever on the throne.

“But that scaffold sways the future,
and behind the dim unknown
standeth God within the shadows
keeping watch above his own.”

What is that truth?

The truth that lies and falsehoods also cannot endure. Truth will out.

What is that truth?

The truth that God so loved the world. The truth that God did not send the son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

Ruling in the fear of God.

In the midst of falsehoods, in the midst of power, let us cling to Jesus, the truth.


Listen to the Recorded Sermon:

Ah, truth. The prepared text and the recorded sermon… don’t match. That’s truth. It’s unlikely that they ever will. That’s true, too.

Drawing of King David writing a psalm from a Georgian psalter by Anonymous – Center of Manuscripts, Tbilisi, Georgia., Public Domain,

Categories Sermons | Tags: , , | Posted on November 25, 2018

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