John 18:28-40

(sermon note: 03-27 sermon note)

Then they took Jesus from Caiaphas to Pilate’s headquarters. It was early in the morning. They themselves did not enter the headquarters, so as to avoid ritual defilement and to be able to eat the Passover. So Pilate went out to them and said, ‘What accusation do you bring against this man?’ They answered, ‘If this man were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you.’ Pilate said to them, ‘Take him yourselves and judge him according to your law.’ The Jews replied, ‘We are not permitted to put anyone to death.’ (This was to fulfill what Jesus had said when he indicated the kind of death he was to die.)

Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ Jesus answered, ‘Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?’ Pilate replied, ‘I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?’ Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.’ Pilate asked him, ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘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 asked him, ‘What is truth?’

After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, ‘I find no case against him. But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover. Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?’ They shouted in reply, ‘Not this man, but Barabbas!’ Now Barabbas was a bandit.


This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about a man who was pulled over by a police officer. As the officer approached the vehicle he noticed a large number of knives on the back seat. Looking at the driver he asked, “Sir, do you have a good reason for needing all those large knives?” Smiling, the driver said, “Why yes, I juggle them.” Realizing the officer was giving him a skeptical look, the driver said, “Sir, with your permission I’d be more than happy to give you a demonstration.” Cautiously the officer stepped back and said, “Alright, but you’d better be telling the truth.” A few seconds later, the man was on the side of the road tossing the knives high into the air with ease as the police officer watched, mesmerized. Two old men happened to drive by and both gazed in astonishment. The one looked at the other and said, “Sure glad I gave up drinking…these sobriety tests are getting ridiculous!”

When you think about it, this awkward encounter between the police officer and the knife juggler isn’t all that different from the interaction between Jesus and Pilate. The knife juggler must have done something to warrant getting pulled over. We don’t know, we don’t need to know, whatever it was simply sets up the opportunity for the awkward encounter to occur. The police officer probably didn’t know the juggler had the knives on the back seat, let alone that the driver was a juggler of knives. The officer was merely doing his job and stumbled onto something that was potentially much more dangerous. But when he let the juggler prove his skill, sure enough, he could perform as he said he could. Pilate wasn’t unlike that officer, simply doing his job and stumbling onto something potentially much more dangerous. And Jesus isn’t unlike that knife juggler either! Jesus juggles all sorts of things…all sorts of people and situations, some more dangerous than others. But be assured that he is very much in control of whatever it is he’s juggling. It might look dangerous to us but to an experienced juggler, nothing is really all that dangerous. The danger is nothing more than an illusion.

Before the juggler was able to perform, the office made a cautious statement: “alright, but you’d better be telling the truth.” Why? Because he didn’t want to get hurt or for the juggler to get hurt. Pilate expressed similar concern when he asked Jesus, “What is truth?” Now some may hear snarkiness behind Pilate’s words but let’s allow for the possibility that he, too, didn’t want to be hurt or for anyone else to get hurt, Jesus included. Pilate was primarily concerned with maintaining peace and order. He didn’t want to hurt people, certainly not innocent people as he had found Jesus to be. Perhaps when he asked Jesus, “what is truth?,” he was asking Jesus to present a solution to the situation that didn’t involve anyone getting hurt. Unfortunately, Jesus didn’t give him such a solution, someone had to get hurt, either Jesus or whoever the crowd took their anger out on. Pilate knew it and Jesus knew it so the question was ultimately moot.

Moot in that situation but a profound question nonetheless…what is truth? Pilate raised it in an attempt to save himself from a no-win situation but we all invariably ask ourselves this question throughout life. So what is truth? We reflected on this in Bible study earlier this week and came up with an evolving definition. Truth is larger than any one person can understand. We all have a small understanding of truth, much like looking through holes of a box at an elephant. I might see an ear, someone else might see a foot, another person might see a tusk. It’s hard to know it’s an elephant without sharing our collective perspectives. But there is an absolute truth that there is an elephant in the box and we can only reach that truth together. So truth is larger than you or I can understand on our own but we can grasp it together. 

Pilate and Jesus didn’t have enough time together to answer the question. But Jesus could have easily responded to the question as he does elsewhere in scripture when he said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) Lucky for us, Jesus tells us the truth about the elephant in the box. He is the way and the truth and the life, plain and simple. We all might have different perspectives on who Jesus is for us at any given time but there is an underlying truth: Jesus is the way and the truth and the life. But that only helps us so far. For further understanding, we come to know different aspects of truth elsewhere in scripture. Jesus says earlier in the book of John, “and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (8:32) Truth has the ability to set us free. You might say, “it didn’t set Jesus free from Pilate and his interrogation and arrest.” But remember, Jesus is the great juggler. He used Pilate to get himself killed so that he could then go on to conquer death itself. Jesus was set free after all! And we hear Jesus pray in John 17, “sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” (vs. 17) God’s word found in scripture is truth. Reflect on it, believe in it, trust it…scripture is truth. Finally, we hear David sing in his 119th psalm, “your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (vs. 105) Truth not only frees us. Truth is not only the word of scripture. Truth lights the way through life. Truth guides and protects us along the way. 

Truth is much bigger than you or I can understand. Each of us is nothing more than passerbys marveling at the juggler juggling knives alongside the road. We are blessed to get a glimpse of the truth though. Jesus is the truth, the way, and the life. Jesus sets us free and lights our paths. Let us rejoice in him as we get ever closer to the Easter resurrection. Thanks be to God!

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.