************ Sermon on John 17:17b ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on March 13, 2005
"What is Truth?"
I What is Truth?
In his book "Up from Slavery," Booker T. Washington explained that in the period following the Civil War, many people became teachers thinking it would be an easy way to make a living. One such fellow went from village to village, teaching for awhile and receiving pay for it.
As he entered one town, the people asked if he taught that the earth is round or flat. His reply: "What do you want it to be, and I will teach it that way."
"What is truth?" When we look ahead to John 18, we see that Pilate asks Jesus this question.
"What is truth?" We echo Pilate's question this evening. We wonder if truth is something relative, something that changes with the time and circumstances? Is truth different today than it was 50 or 100 years ago? Is truth today the same as truth tomorrow or next week or next year? Is truth whatever we make it to be, whatever we declare it to be? That is how many today understand truth.
B "What is truth?" Many worldly people today try to deny the existence of truth – especially the truth of the Bible.
GOD SAYS: "All have sinned" (Romans 3:23).
THE WORLD SAYS: Everyone is basically good.
GOD SAYS: "Fear him who...has power to throw you into hell" (Luke 12:5).
THE WORLD SAYS: There is no hell, so there's no need to be concerned.
GOD SAYS: "I am going...to prepare a place for you" (John 14:2).
THE WORLD SAYS: Heaven is not a real place.
GOD SAYS: "Man is destined to die...and after that...judgment" (Hebrews 9:27).
THE WORLD SAYS: There is no such thing as life after death.
GOD SAYS: "You may know that you have eternal life" (1 John 5:13).
THE WORLD SAYS: We cannot be sure of salvation or our destiny when we die.
GOD SAYS: "Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable" (Lev 18:22).
THE WORLD SAYS: Homosexual orientation and practice are okay.
GOD SAYS: "But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity ..." (Eph 5:3).
THE WORLD SAYS: Sex before marriage and outside of marriage are okay.
GOD SAYS: "No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6).
THE WORLD SAYS: Jesus is not the only way to salvation and heaven and everlasting life; other religions and other paths also lead to God.
Many people do not realize this, but it is "Secular Humanism" that says these kind of things.
These are the basic beliefs of Secular Humanism:
* Denies the deity of God, the inspiration of the Bible, and the divinity of Jesus Christ.
* Denies the existence of the soul, life after death, salvation and heaven, damnation and hell.
* Denies the biblical account of creation.
* Believes that there are no absolutes, no right, no wrong -- that moral values are self-determined and situational. Do your own thing, "as long as it does not harm anyone else."
* Believes in the removal of distinctive roles for male and female.
* Believes in sexual freedom between consenting individuals, regardless of age, including premarital sex, homosexuality, lesbianism, and incest.
* Believes in the right to abortion, euthanasia (mercy killing), and suicide.
"What is truth?" Secular Humanism tells us there is no absolute truth. Secular Humanism goes so far as to say all truths are equal, no truths are superior, anyone's truth is as valid as anyone else's truth. So the truth of a Jehovah's Witness is as valid as the truth of a Christian. So the truth in the Book of Mormon or the sayings of Confucius is as valid as the truth in the Bible.
I have a yard stick here (HOLD IT UP). When I hold it this way (HOLD FLAT EDGE TO AUDIENCE) it looks like I can use it to draw a line or measure exact distances. When I hold it this way (HOLD SHARP EDGE TO AUDIENCE) it looks badly flawed – notice how it bends and curves – you notice I cannot use it to for exact measurements or to draw lines. The world measures truth with a yard stick that bends and curves, with something that changes and is not all that exact. The Christian measures truth with something as rigid and unbending as this level (HOLD IT UP) – it doesn't curve, it doesn't change
C "What is truth?" To believe there is truth, absolute truth, truth that does not change, is to believe in heresy. To believe there is truth is to believe there also are lies or falsehoods.
GEMS, let me illustrate this by asking you a question: "How many legs would a sheep have if you called its tail a leg?"In the same way, calling a lie the truth does not make it the truth. It is still a lie.
GET SOMEONE TO ANSWER: "Five."
RESPOND: "Wrong! You are mistaken. The sheep would still have just four legs. Calling something a leg doesn't make it a leg."
Do you know what we need today? We need heresy. We need false doctrine. We need apostasy. We need unfaithfulness. You might be saying to yourself, "Where are you going with this Pastor?" Hang on a moment and you will see!
The biggest problem with a large part of the Christian Church today is that there is no heresy, no false doctrine, no apostasy. Anything is accepted. Everything is tolerated. Nothing is out-of-bounds.
Let me give you some examples. It is easy to point to liberal mainstream churches or to cults and sects. But let me give you some examples that come way too close to home.
A couple of years ago First Toronto CRC announced that practicing gays in committed relationships will be considered for church office. Now, this means they have practicing gays in their church. And, this also means those practicing gays are considered members in good standing because only members in good standing can be considered for church office. What has First Toronto CRC done with the truth of the Bible that condemns homosexual practice? It says this truth no longer applies, or this truth does not apply to gays who stay with one guy or lesbians who stay with one girl. The net result is that homosexual practice is no longer considered a sin in First Toronto. What bothers me even more is that the Christian Reformed Church refuses to say First Toronto is flat out wrong and disobedient and heretical. What is truth in First Toronto? It is not the truth we find in the Bible!
About ten years ago the Reformed Church of America had a minister who was asked to recant his views on Scripture and salvation apart from Christ. This minister said, "I am not prepared to say there is no salvation apart from that mediated by Jesus Christ ... Even the Polish Pope agrees with me on that issue, and so do many, many others, so I'm not really that far off in that area." Notice, he said can be saved apart from Christ and he appealed to the pope in saying this. Instead of declaring this minister's views to be heresy one member of the Classical Executive Committee proposed that Classis commit itself to a year of study and prayer over the issues raised. Another minister in that Classis said, "There are more of us here who are part of the debate" and admitted to similar views. [Only after much discussion did Classis decide by a majority vote to ask the minister to recant his views, with the understanding that peaceful separation would be sought if he does not recant.] What is truth in this situation? It is not the truth we find in the Bible.
Truth is truth only because of falsehood. There is truth and truth means something only if men recognize that there also is heresy and falsehood and lies. So I say again, we need heresy, we need false doctrine, we need apostasy, we need unfaithfulness.
There is a fantasy that the Christian community can have a circle without a circumference (HOLD UP TWO PAGES, ONE WITH CIRCLE AND ONE WITHOUT). Since we gather around Jesus, it is argued, it is our center, not our boundaries, that matter. But this is an illusion. Without boundaries, a circle is not a circle; there is nothing there. Likewise, the circle of faith cannot identify its center without recognizing its margins. A community with no boundaries can neither have a center nor be a community.
II Jesus is the Truth
A "What is truth?" In the Bible truth is not relative. Truth does not change. Truth is not determined by survey or majority opinion. The truth is not something you guess at.
I have a jar of jelly beans here. How many jelly beans are in this jar? If you get the right answer I will give you the jar of jelly beans. GET SOMEONE TO ANSWER. GET SOMEONE ELSE TO ANSWER. Which answer is right? Which answer is truth? Is the truth something we guess at? Or, is the truth something that is absolute and sure? GIVE THEM THE JELLY BEANS.
"What is truth?" In his Gospel, the Apostle John lets us know that truth has to do with Christ. Remember what Jesus said? He said, "I am the way and the truth and the life ..." (14:6). And, at the beginning of his Gospel, the Apostle John tells us that the Word become flesh is "full of grace and truth" (1:14) and is also the source of "grace and truth" for men (1:17). The Apostle John tells us that John the Baptist, in bearing witness to Christ, bore witness to the truth (5:33).
"What is truth?" Truth is what Jesus said and taught. Truth is what we find in the Bible. Truth is Jesus Himself.
B "What is truth?" When we look ahead in John's Gospel we see that Jesus never did answer Pilate in words. But He did answer Pilate in deeds. He answered Pilate with the cross and the grave, His suffering and death, His crucifixion and resurrection. He answered Pilate when He showed Himself to be the Good Shepherd Who laid down His life for the sheep.
"What is truth?" Truth is the lifting up of Jesus. Remember what Jesus said to Nicodemus? "Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up ..." (3:14). We can distinguish three separate stages in the lifting up of Jesus. First, He was lifted up to die upon the cross. Second, by the power of God He was lifted up out of the grave. Third, after 40 days He was lifted up to glory at God's right hand. That is truth! This is the truth that does not change. This is the truth that is not relative. This is the truth that is firm and fixed. This is the truth that does not change with the times and the circumstances.
III Responding to the Truth
A "What is truth?" The Apostle Paul tells us in his first letter to Corinth that the truth about Christ is a stumbling block to the Jews (1 Cor 1:23). Their view of truth says it is blasphemy and heresy for a mere man to claim equality with God. Their view of truth did not and does not allow them to believe in a Jesus Who suffers and dies. They could not comprehend a Messiah Who willingly laid down His life and went the way of the cross and the grave.
So what happens when the Jews are confronted with the truth of Christ? They reject it, they reject Him, they reject His mission. They reject the truth and believe a lie. They reject the truth and ask Pilate to kill Jesus.
C "What is truth?" Jesus says, "Everyone on the side of truth listens to me" (Jn 18:37). Truth is heard by those who have a part in Christ's kingdom. Truth is accepted by Christ's disciples. Truth is recognized by Christ's followers in the same way as sheep hear and recognize the voice of the Good Shepherd (10:3-5).
The sheep of Christ believe and accept the truth that Christ was lifted up to die upon the cross, that He was lifted up out of the grave, that He was lifted up to God's right hand. They believe that Jesus is the Good Shepherd Who laid down His life for the sheep.
The point is this: those who follow Jesus recognize the truth and accept it and believe it.
"What is truth?" Truth is Jesus. Truth is Jesus crucified and glorified. Truth is Jesus on the way to the cross and the grave. Truth is Jesus lifted up.
If this is truth, then this is something we should believe, something we must believe. So, GEMS, the biggest and most important question I want to ask tonight is this:
-Do you believe it?
-Do you believe the truth about Jesus?
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