Preached October 30, 2011
The Kingship of Christ
St. John 18:33–37
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Today is the last Sunday in October, the Sunday traditionally designated to observe the feast of Christ the King. This is a day when we focus particularly on the kingship of our Savior.
The feast of Christ the King interrupts the normal sequence of Trinitytide, for which today is also the nineteenth Sunday after Trinity. Special lessons are provided for the feast of Christ the King which will form the basis of our meditation this morning, and which you have heard read earlier, displacing the lessons regularly appointed Trinity 19. You will notice, however, at the end of Mass, the Last Gospel lesson will not be the familiar prologue to the Gospel of John, but instead is the Gospel lesson appointed for Trinity 19. Thus the regular lesson sequence is mostly, but not entirely, lost today.
Over the main entrance of the University of Texas at Austin are written these words: John 8:32 And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. Elsewhere in John’s Gospel, we read, John 14:6 Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. One verse past the end of our Gospel lesson for today, we hear Pilate ask the crucial question, John 18:38a Pilate saith unto him, What is truth? Truth is the common theme running through all of these familiar Bible quotes, and yet Pilate’s question is as relevant today as it was two thousand years ago. We seem to have very little understanding of what truth is today.
The University of Texas at Austin is a decidedly secular institution, so we may wonder what these words from John’s Gospel mean in that context. What did the founders of the University intend in placing this quote over the University entrance? What truth did they have in mind when they engraved this Scripture quote over the facade of the main building? More important than what the builders intended is the question, what did our Lord Jesus Christ intend when He made this statement? What is this thing called the truth which has the power to make us free? This, of course, brings us back to the question of Pontius Pilate, What is truth?
What is truth? If your friend asks you, “what is truth?,” what do you tell him? Truth is one of those things that we think we recognize when we see it, but it is not entirely easy to state in words. Sometimes, we try to describe things in terms of what they are not. When we apply that to truth, we say that truth is not error. This, of course, immediately raises the question as to what is error, which we might say is incorrect understanding, or simply untruth. And suddenly we are caught in circular definitions for truth and error.
We can in fact do a little bit better than this for truth. We can say that we know the truth, or that our understandings are true, when our understandings are completely congruent with all the external facts. Thus if we understand the situation or thing as it actually exists in all respects, then we know the truth. Thus full, correct knowledge is truth. This is not a prescription for how to obtain the truth, but rather only a statement of what the truth is. I should emphasize that this includes all of the facts, including facts that may be unknown, which is one reason why it may be impossible to know the full truth in many circumstances.
In the second of the quotes that I gave earlier, Jesus Himself answers Pilate’s question, although He is not speaking to Pilate at the time when He says, John 14:6 Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. Jesus tells us that He is The Truth. This is a radical concept; we do not think of The Truth as embodied in a Person, but our Lord Jesus Christ has told us that He is The Way, The Truth, and The Life. No man comes to the Father except by His Son, Jesus Christ. Let us try to connect what Jesus has said here with what we have put together previously.
Jesus is telling us that He, and only He, is the full correct understanding of reality, the only way to come to the ultimate reality which is God the Father. We were created for God, we are made to return to Him. As St. Paul says, 1 Corinthians 13:12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. When we try to understand life apart from Christ, we are looking through that darkened glass. It is Christ that provides the clear vision because He is The Truth. It is this ability to see clearly that will enable us to return to the Father as we are destined to do, but only through the channel of Jesus Christ, The Truth and the Way.
To return to the quote over the University’s main entrance, we can now see what Jesus is telling us when He says John 8:32 And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. He is saying that as His people, we will know Him, because He is The Truth, and knowing Him will set us free. It is Jesus Christ who has broken the bonds of sin and death in His rising again from the dead, and He gives that same gift to all who belong to Him. This freedom from the power of sin in our lives is the greatest freedom that we can imagine, true freedom in this life. This is the freedom that comes from knowing The Truth, Jesus Christ.
Our Gospel lesson for today is the scene of Jesus before Pilate. In that interrogation, Pilate is looking for something to charge against Jesus, perhaps a challenge to Roman authority, that might be used against Him. The lesson opens with Pilate’s question, John 18:33 Then Pilate entered into the judgment hall again, and called Jesus, and said unto him, Art thou the King of the Jews? We eventually get to Jesus’ clear answer a couple of verses later, John 18:36a Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: In that brief statement, Jesus tells us much. He tells us that He is indeed a King, an absolute monarch, the ruler of His people with unlimited power, but at the same time, that His kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. This sounds somewhat like double talk to Pilate, so we have the next verse, John 18:37 Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice. Look at what Jesus says in His answer: Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice. He says He is in fact a King, and that the particular defining characteristic of His Kingdom is Truth. It will be heard by all those who belong to His Kingdom, and we should understand the converse, that it will not be heard or understood by those who are not of His Kingdom. We cannot expect to be a part of His Kingdom if we do not recognize and prize The Truth because this is Jesus Christ Himself.
It is not surprising that Pontius Pilate asked What is truth? It seems most unlikely that Pilate will be found in Christ’s Kingdom at the end of time. He did not recognize Jesus Christ, The Truth, when He stood there in Person before him. Countless others will be in the same situation as Pilate. Let us make a point to greatly value The Truth and thus assure that we are members of the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us always hold to The Truth!!
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
The Last Gospel
The Continuation of the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew:
Matthew 9:1-8 1 And he entered into a ship, and passed over, and came into his own city. 2 And, behold, they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee. 3 And, behold, certain of the scribes said within themselves, This man blasphemeth. 4 And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts? 5 For whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and walk? 6 But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (then saith he to the sick of the palsy,) Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house. 7 And he arose, and departed to his house. 8 But when the multitudes saw it, they marvelled, and glorified God, which had given such power unto men.