The Very Revd John Irvine November 2022
John 18 v.33-37 and 1 Samuel 8 v.4-20 20th November 2022
Heavenly Father, thank you for your word. We pray now that you would open our minds to its truth and our hearts to respond in obedience, for Jesus sake, Amen.
It’s so good to be with you this evening. My wife and I spent four happy years in Cambridge and enjoy every excuse to visit again.
I spent the first six years of my working life as a lawyer, a barrister in London, particularly practicing at the criminal bar. I used to call myself a criminal lawyer but that led to some misunderstanding.
What I particularly enjoyed in those days were trials and the opportunity to cross-examine witnesses and see which were telling the truth and which were being evasive.
In John 18, Jesus is on trial at the court of Pilate, the personal representative of the then all-powerful Roman Empire. Jesus is not the least intimidated. When asked by Pilate the direct question “Are you the King of the Jews?” (v33).
If I’d been representing Jesus, I would have advised him to reply.
“I have never said that.” Or
“Bring one witness or single piece of evidence to show that I made that claim”.
Instead, Jesus does not back away from the title. He is the head of a kingdom, but not one Rome needs to fear as a political rival. His Kingdom is not as the world understands the term. It does not take its origin from this world.
His kingship is defined by his mission to testify to the truth; his kingdom is a kingdom of truth.
Jesus makes an extraordinary claim v37 “the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
Jesus, the prisoner, offers his judge true freedom.
Pilate evades the issue with his famous answer “What is truth?”
In 21st century Britain, we are strangely inconsistent about truth.
We want to know the truth about some things - global warming for example or climate change and we have little time for big businesses that come up with research papers that conveniently show everything those businesses are doing is beneficial and nothing needs to change.
It’s the same in politics. We want to know the truth about the economy. We don’t want the statistics to be fiddled. We mistrust our politicians when they accept no responsibility and blame everything and everyone else.
But when it comes to still more important truths like moral truth, for example what is right and what is wrong In our relationships or honesty about our motives, we often hide our real reasons behind other arguments.
So, as we heard in our Old Testament reading tonight, Israel in Samuel’s day was warned about the dangers of seeking a King but the truth was they didn’t want to submit to God. They wanted to be “like other nations” and have a king. Peer pressure still often wins the day over truth.
We may be driven on by a desire for academic achievement, sporting prowess, career prospects or a lasting loving relationship. All good things but none deserve first place in our lives. God alone should be King.
Or take spiritual truth – what God is like and how I can get to know him. Many people stop looking for truth. We say ridiculous things like “It may be true for you but it’s not true for me.” As if the truth can be bent or warped. We live in what some have called “a post truth generation”. What counts is how I feel rather than the facts.
Jesus came to this earth because he knows the truth. He knows about peace and what can bring us peace. He knows who God is and how we can become a son or daughter of God loved by God.
Many people of his day became convinced that he knew what he was talking about. And that’s been my experience. In my early 20s as a young lawyer, I examined the evidence concerning the claims of Jesus. It took some time and a lot of discussion, but I gradually became convinced that he was telling the truth. Since I became a Christian, I have read the words of Jesus often and the more I read, the more I am convinced that he knows what he is talking about.
He's utterly straightforward and he’s honest about the truth.
He’s honest about the uncomfortable truths of how we have all rejected God and the serious consequences that result.
He also makes clear the wonderful truth that God is a loving God and wants relationship with us and has made that possible.
I’ve had the privilege of travelling all over the world and everywhere, I’ve met people of very different cultures brought up as Buddhists or Muslims, as Jews or Hindus, as atheists and as ancestor worshippers who have become followers of Christ. When asked why, the answer is often in effect “He speaks the truth.”
As John recorded earlier in his gospel Jesus pointed to himself and claimed “I AM the truth” and “the truth will set you free”
It's clear therefore that anyone who cares for the truth listens to Jesus words. – v37
So the question we need to ask ourselves is “Do I want the truth? Do I want, not to be fobbed off with endless speculations about God but to discover the truth and through that come to know God. Am I willing to resist the herd and examine the evidence for myself?
If so, says Jesus, listen to me.
How do we do that? Well there are two obvious and very practical ways.
- Read one of the gospels. When I was first struck by the person of Jesus, I determined to spend some time reading what he said. It took me a little while but gradually I too became convinced that he spoke the truth. Next Sunday is the beginning of Advent, the start of the church’s year. What a great time to determine to start reading one of the gospels. Why not begin with this amazing record of John’s account of the life of Jesus?
- Another way of listening to Jesus is through preaching. Coming to church or chapel and listening to more experienced and trained Christian preachers expound the truth of Jesus. Or on line – there is so many good preachers to enjoy, preachers like Tim Keller, freely available.
If you’re a believer here tonight, you have the right to be confident. You have listened to Jesus and been set free by the truth. Don’t be robbed of that confidence by the scorn or ridicule of others.
Also be encouraged that the truth that set you free is true too for your unbelieving friends. Christmas is a great time to invite such friends to hear more.
It’s a good opportunity to ask friends and family to Christmas carol services and events to hear about the one whose birth is celebrated, the one who said “the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth.”
If you’re not sure about Jesus tonight, may I encourage you to seek the truth about him. Don’t be like Pilate and evade the issue. Use that mind of yours. Investigate, read, think, listen to what Jesus said. You might well discover a true freedom under his kingship.
Let’s be quiet for a moment and ponder these things. Are we willing to listen to the truth even if it might lead us to uncomfortable conclusions? Let’s pray.
Lord Jesus Christ, King of glory, help us to listen to you that we might be set free by your truth, Amen.