Four Responses to Truth in the Death of Christ.

Belief is point of the Gospel of John, as the author says in John 20:31. But a belief is only as valuable as the thing that is believed in. What John wants his readers to believe – what WE are to believe – must be true. John doesn't want his writer to believe in just anything; “these things are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and believing you may have life in His name.” You cannot arrive at that outcome without the truth, and when you read John’s Gospel, you will be confronted with the concept of truth. It permeates the Gospel from beginning to end.

This week we will look at the death of Christ through the lens of truth, and we’ll look at 4 different responses to truth.

Peter: One Who Denied the Truth

John 18:15-18 and 18:25-27 record the low point of Peter's discipleship. His denials of Christ are recorded in all four Gospel accounts. John's account is notably unemotional; he is trying to capture only the events of Christ’s betrayal and crucifixion.

The questions asked of Peter in his denial are significant because of what they assume to be true.

The first two to ask him (verse 17 and 25) assumed that he wasn’t a follower of Christ. “You are not one of his disciples, are you?” These first denials were simple enough to give to a slave girl with no authority over Peter and a group of people who assumed a negative answer. However, this “little white lie” started the downward spiral as the consequences of telling the truth grew.

The third question came from a relative of the man that Peter assaulted earlier that night. This time the assumption was that Peter knew Jesus and was in the garden that night. Now there was more pressure and perhaps even implication about the assault Peter committed against Malchus, the high priest’s servant. So Peter lied a third time and denied the Lord just as Jesus predicted earlier that evening.

Peter denied Jesus at the time where Jesus was on trial. By protecting himself, he offered no support, no allegiance to “the Christ, the Son of the Living God”, the “one who has the words of life” (in Peter’s own words).

But at its most basic level, Peter lied. He did not tell the truth – the truth about himself and his connection to Jesus. Proverbs says that there are certain things that are an abomination to God, and two of them refer to not telling the truth: the “lying tongue” and the “witness that tells lies.” Even our world understands the value of being able to trust what you say.

Even so, praise God for His grace! Later in John's account, Jesus gave Peter the opportunity to affirm 3 different times that He loved Jesus, and Peter proved it by doing what Jesus told him to, by giving his life to feed the sheep of Jesus.

Pilate: One Who Questioned Truth

In John 18:33-38, Pilate interrogates Jesus about His kingship, and what Jesus tells him is significant (18:37). Jesus makes Himself the focal point, the epicenter, of truth. He is also inviting Pilate to receive the truth. When Pilate responds, “What is truth?”, we can observe several things. Pilate didn’t really care about the answer to that question, for as soon as he asked it, he turned and left. His question was to make a point. Pilate’s present situation was hardly about getting to the truth. It was more about political expediency and finding the easiest path to dealing with this Jewish problem.

Pilate's question captures the spirit of our age. Truth is perceived as personal and subjective. The cultural narrative holds that one person has no right to say that their truth is superior to someone else’s truth. But that’s what Jesus is saying to Pilate. If we can define truth according to our own personal tastes and experiences, then who gets the ultimate say?

When ultimate truth is held to the same standards as a customer review, we have a serious problem. In a very real sense, Pilate is on trial. Jesus confronts him with truth – the words that come out of Jesus’ mouth should be listened to by Pilate. He is the expert on truth because He is truth, and whether Pilate acknowledges it or not, He is the standard by which “truth statements” should be held.

The Sanhedrin: Those Who Rejected the Truth

The Jewish leadership is held to even greater responsibility than Pilate to whom they handed Jesus over. They didn't just question the truth; they rejected it.

Jesus' responses during his trial in John 18:19-23, 19:13-16, and 19:19-22 are worth noting. The Sanhedrin's accusation wasn’t that Jesus had lied; the Jewish leadership rejected Jesus’ claim to be Messiah. His works and his words showed openly who He was; there wasn’t an intellectual deficit or lack of information. The Sanhedrin didn’t need any more data, as if they would have realized their mistake and sent Him on His way if Jesus would have given them a little more insight.

This was a heart issue – Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin was bent on crucifying Jesus (not stoning him, which they could have done). They wanted Rome to crucify him to show Him as one who is cursed (John 1:11).

Still, at least one member of the Sanhedrin eventually became a follower of Jesus: Nicodemus (John 19:39). This foreshadowed the disciples' ministry when other Jewish leaders repented and came to Christ. Sometimes we mistakenly believe that once a person knows the truth, they will act upon it. Salvation is not a simply an intellectual exercise; it is a spiritual activity whereby God changes the heart and the will of a person, who then in turn repents and believes. God controls the timing of how that all takes place, causing them not only to understand the truth of the Gospel, but to welcome it.

John: One Who Preserved and Proclaimed the Truth

John is an eyewitness to the events of the crucifixion and affirms the truthfulness of his account in John 19:35 and 21:24. He is not lying; he is telling the truth. the Gospel of John is an evangelistic book; its purpose is that its readers will believe (John 20:31). The truthfulness of John’s testimony was directly connected to the believability of the Gospel. John is telling them the truth so that they will believe. If he did not tell the truth, then any belief would be in something that was not true.

As Christians, we want others to believe us when we share the Gospel with them. We are telling them the truth of Jesus Christ, and we want them to believe us. Thus, we should be living and speaking in a way that does not create obstacles to believability.

Application Points

  • If you are a Christian, you are named after a person who is the embodiment of Truth. That means that what we say must be true. We should be willing to apologize when we have said something that is not true. Here's a rule of thumb: don’t share something with someone else if you aren’t willing to go back and apologize if you are found to be wrong. We strengthen our testimony and our believability when we do this, showing that we are willing to admit that we were wrong and that we willing to put off those things which call the truth into question. We want to be like Jesus, and when Jesus spoke, he was able to be trusted. When you speak, you should speak what is true.
  • As Christians, we should try to persuade others to believe the truth and not simply to prove that we are right (and they are wrong). 1 Corinthians 8:1 says that having “knowledge makes one conceited; but love edifies people.” 2 Corinthians 5:11 says if we know the fear of the Lord, we will seek to persuade people. We ought to be those that point people to truth and want them to join us in believing it.
  • If we want others to believe us when we share the Gospel with them, we should be living and speaking in a way that does not create obstacles to believability. The next time you receive a link to some new theory or explanation about a coming agenda or the combination of world events (which is prone to leave you more fearful than trusting in your King who said that he has overcome the world), think before you share. Christians, when we share or promote or are loud about things that are questionable, we undermine the believability of what is true.

Tools for Further Study

Cross References to Explore:
  • John 1:14, 3:3-11, 14:6, 14:17, 15:26, 16:13, 21:24 – the concept of truth in John's Gospel