Who Is Truth?
Text: John 8:31-36
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“What is truth?” Pontius Pilate sneered at this man that the Sanhedrin had woken him up in the dead of the night to try and convict. He knew they were looking for a kangaroo court, a sloppy and fast trial to get this rabbi they clearly hated out of the way. He wasn’t inclined to just give them what they wanted though—as an agent of the Roman Empire he had to remind them who was in charge—but the way this man Jesus kept answering his questions was starting to get on his nerves. “Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice,” Jesus had said. So Pilate, who knew all about what was convenient, what was politically advantageous, who understood the motives that people had behind their actions and that they seldom worried about what was good or true, focused rather on their own wants and desires, answered, “What is truth?” And that cynical question has bled across the world and millennia. What is truth?
We, the children of a corrupt and crooked era, have reaped the fullness of this question, sown so long ago. No longer do our philosophers and thinkers try to determine the truth of anything, asking in an honest way, “What is truth?” Now they ask it sarcastically, believing there is no single truth to any situation. We live in an age of lies, where it seems that the only time people care about lying is when someone who’s not on their side does it. But if it’s a lie told by someone in their own camp, then it’s nothing to get worked up about. In those cases where it’s my side who got caught in a lie, well, then it wasn’t a lie. It was misinformation, or a simple mistake, or misspeaking, or protection against the even more wicked lies of my enemy. The truth gets molded and remolded and spun, cast and recast until it almost says what we want it to say.
Things have progressed to the point that now so often, and without even thinking about it, we talk about “my truth” or “your truth.” “Speak your truth,” we say, as if each of us occupies a different world, a different reality, where different things may be true or false as we deem them to be, with everyone else in it as a mere side character.
But the undeniable reality is that there is just the truth and the lie. We may try to subdivide into half-truths, or perceived truth, or alternative facts, or different perceptions of the world, but it will always return to this reality. There’s a story about a sage of sorts in India who spent years teaching his students that everything was an illusion and that “the truth” was just what we perceived and chose to believe. But, unsurprisingly, when a herd of elephants stampeded past, he ran away and hid himself. When his students asked him why he’d done this, since everything was an illusion anyway, he conveniently said that he hid for their sakes, because they wouldn’t be able to fully comprehend it. Likewise, philosophers in our own hemisphere of the world have quipped that people might think that reality is just what they choose it to be, but if it’s raining, you’ll see everyone grab their umbrella.
The point to this is that there is Truth. And what we have come to learn is that the Truth is not just a set of facts or cold, hard data. No, the Truth is much more than that. The Truth is a Person. When His disciples started to get worried before the events of His crucifixion, Jesus said to them, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” When He said this, He did not only mean that He says true things, or that He sees things as they truly are, although both of those things are certainly the case. What He meant is that He is the Truth. He is the foundation that all reality is built upon. And as we’ve heard today and celebrate this Reformation Sunday, the Truth sets you free. Jesus, who is the Truth, sets you free.
Of course, this is where our old Adam wants to butt in and offer other versions of the truth. When Jesus said these words, “The Truth will set you free,” we may as well have been standing there, answering with the people in the crowd. “We’re offspring of Abraham. We’re offspring of America. We’re offspring of Elmhurst. I’ve been a lifelong Christian. I’ve never been enslaved to anyone or anything. I already know what’s true, what’s good. I’m already free. How can you say, ‘You will become free’?” Oh yes, it may as well be us in that reading, whether we would dare to say those words out loud, or even form them in our minds. But through our behaviors, through our attitudes, through our stubbornness and the things we tell ourselves, the assumptions we make about how good we’re doing, we may as well have been those in the crowd who scoffed at Jesus. We may as well have been the ones saying, “What is truth?”
But Jesus answers our objections. “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” And so that we can be honest with ourselves—that’s just another way of saying that we can recognize the truth about ourselves—we have the Commandments in all their revealing light to show that each of us has indeed become a slave of sin. Every last one of us has their pet sins, the ones we don’t think are so bad; the ones that everyone does, so how enslaving can it be? But rest assured, they do hold you down. They bind you to things that fade, things that demand more, things that erode and wither us from the inside out.
The Truth, and only the Truth, will set you free. Not money, not effort, not any good thing you do that you hope will outweigh the bad, not your reputation, not any shining opinion that the world may have of you. He alone will break the bonds that have you pinned to those fading, decaying things. He alone will shatter the chains of death. He alone will release you from addiction and slavery to sin. When the Son sets you free through His cross and resurrection, you will be free indeed.
That means that you can go forward and live. For freedom you have been set free, so now you can do good things because you want to, not because you have to balance the scales. Now you can serve others out of love rather than obligation. Now you can do more than is required because your heart is light and joyful. Now you can rest in Jesus’ righteousness rather than trying to construct your own. And ultimately, you’ll be free from death, going forward and living forever. That’s the whole point of our faith. It’s what everything in the Church is directed toward—the triumph of Jesus, the Truth and the Life, over the death and darkness. Everything in His Church—whether it’s the baptism of a baby, or the blessing you receive in the Lord’s Supper, or the peace of God spoken over you to be with you always, or the prayers for this life and the next, or a meal enjoyed with God’s people as a practice run for the great feast we’ll enjoy in the new heavens and the new earth—all of it points us to the Truth, to Jesus, and what He has done. It is Truth and Life lived in Him and His blessings.
What is Truth? The better question is, “Who is Truth?” Jesus is Truth. The Truth has set you free. You are free indeed. In the name of Jesus, the Truth made flesh. Amen.