Today is Palm Sunday, the day when Jesus made His triumphant entry into Jerusalem riding on the back of a donkey with the crowds full of excitement as they welcomed Him. John tells us,
13 They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna! ” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the King of Israel!” (John 12:13 NIVO)
That is the story many of you are familiar with, the story that is being shared on this day all across the world, but I would like for us to continue our study of John’s Gospel where we left off last week. Last Sunday we followed Jesus and His disciples into the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus went out to meet those who came to arrest Him. That was Thursday evening. The Scripture we will take a look at this morning, John 18:12-40, Peter’s denial that he even knew Jesus while Jesus was on trial for His life. These events happened in the early, early hours of Friday morning. Let’s read our Scripture for this morning.
12 Then the detachment of soldiers with its commander and the Jewish officials arrested Jesus. They bound him 13 and brought him first to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. 14 Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it would be good if one man died for the people. 15 Simon Peter and another disciple were following Jesus. Because this disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the high priest’s courtyard, 16 but Peter had to wait outside at the door. The other disciple, who was known to the high priest, came back, spoke to the girl on duty there and brought Peter in. 17 “You are not one of his disciples, are you?” the girl at the door asked Peter. He replied, “I am not.” 18 It was cold, and the servants and officials stood around a fire they had made to keep warm. Peter also was standing with them, warming himself. 19 Meanwhile, the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. 20 “I have spoken openly to the world,” Jesus replied. “I always taught in synagogues or at the temple, where all the Jews come together. I said nothing in secret. 21 Why question me? Ask those who heard me. Surely they know what I said.” 22 When Jesus said this, one of the officials nearby struck him in the face. “Is this the way you answer the high priest?” he demanded. 23 “If I said something wrong,” Jesus replied, “testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?” 24 Then Annas sent him, still bound, to Caiaphas the high priest. 25 As Simon Peter stood warming himself, he was asked, “You are not one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it, saying, “I am not.” 26 One of the high priest’s servants, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, challenged him, “Didn’t I see you with him in the olive grove?” 27 Again Peter denied it, and at that moment a rooster began to crow. 28 Then the Jews led Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness the Jews did not enter the palace; they wanted to be able to eat the Passover. 29 So Pilate came out to them and asked, “What charges are you bringing against this man?” 30 “If he were not a criminal,” they replied, “we would not have handed him over to you.” 31 Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” “But we have no right to execute anyone,” the Jews objected. 32 This happened so that the words Jesus had spoken indicating the kind of death he was going to die would be fulfilled. 33 Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” 34 “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?” 35 “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “It was your people and your chief priests who handed you over to me. What is it you have done?” 36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” 37 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” 38 “What is truth?” Pilate asked. With this he went out again to the Jews and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him. 39 But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’”? 40 They shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” Now Barabbas had taken part in a rebellion. (John 18:12-40 NIVO)
The irony of all ironies is that Pilate asked the most important question any of us can ask, “What is truth?” while he was standing before Jesus, the One who declared in John 14:6 to be “the truth,” and Pilate, before Jesus could ever answer his question, turned and walked away.
A remarkable thing happened in 2016 as the Oxford Dictionary declared “post truth” as its 2016 International Word of the Year. They say “post truth” is thought to have first been used in 1992, but the frequency of the usage of the word increased by 2,000% in 2016 compared to its usage in 2015. Oxford Dictionary defines “post truth” as “Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”
The first use of the word “post truth” might well have been 1992, but the concept has been prominent among people for a long time before 1992. In 1878 the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, wrote a book called, “Human, All Too Human.” In his book Nietzsche wrote, “There are no eternal facts, as there are no absolute truths.”
That my friend is a snapshot of the “post truth” culture that you and I find ourselves immersed in today. We have come to a time and place in our society where most people believe that truth is an illusion, that truth is only truth because you value what you believe, what you feel. It is nothing more than an illusion to believe that we can find or know any objective, eternal, transcendent truth. I want to consider all of this as we take a look at five characters who are in our story for this morning: Simon Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples, Annas and Caiaphas, the religious leaders at the time of Jesus’ trial, and Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, and Jesus.
Let’s begin by taking a look at Simon Peter. Was Peter true to his beliefs? Was his word his bond? Well, we know Peter loved Jesus. We know Peter had given up his career as a fisherman to follow Jesus. We know Peter was part of Jesus’ inner-circle. All of that is true and yet when push came to shove and Peter felt threatened, his “truth” shifted, did it not? Let me refresh your mind. In Mark 14, Jesus and Peter had a conversation in which Peter made some bold statements. Take a look at Mark 14:27-31.
27 “You will all fall away,” Jesus told them, “for it is written: ” ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ 28 But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” 29 Peter declared, “Even if all fall away, I will not.” 30 “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “today– yes, tonight– before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times.” 31 But Peter insisted emphatically, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the others said the same. (Mark 14:27-31 NIVO)
We read earlier in John 18 where Peter was waiting outside the door of the courtyard to the high priest’s house. John came back to get Peter and he was walking through the door when he was spotted.
17 “You are not one of his disciples, are you?” the girl at the door asked Peter. He replied, “I am not.” (John 18:17 NIVO)
As John tells the story, the trial of Jesus before Annas and Caiaphas was going on at the same time that Peter was denying he even knew Jesus. Peter denied he was a disciple of Jesus in John 18:25. Then we are told that a relative of Malchus, the high priest’s servant, challenged Peter. He said, “Didn’t I see you in the olive grove?” Peter for the third time denied that he was Jesus’ disciple, that he even knew Jesus…and Peter heard the rooster crow. Matthew tells us,
75 Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: “Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly. (Matthew 26:75 NIVO)
Truth doesn’t fluctuate because of circumstances. Truth isn’t dependent on the situations we face in life which threaten us. Truth is truth regardless of any other factor. Peter believed. He is the one disciple who spoke up when Jesus asked, “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered Jesus by saying, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16 NIVO) When he felt threatened, Peter’s passion for the truth failed him.
Is there any of us who can’t relate to the gut-wrenching feeling Peter felt when he heard the rooster crow and realized what he had done? Surrounded by brothers and sisters in Christ whom we know love Jesus, desire to serve and honor Jesus, we find our passion strong and our faith resilient. Yet, outside of the shadow of the steeple and stained glass our bold proclamations and resolute faith do seem to weaken don’t they? Sometimes we find ourselves in a crowd where God is the butt of jokes, where Jesus is spoken of in less than flattering ways, and His followers are described as ignorant at best, and we, by our silence, deny we even know Him…and the rooster continues to crow.
Let’s turn our attention to Annas and Caiaphas. Annas had served as high priest of the temple from 6 A.D. until he was removed from office by Valerius Gratus, Pontius Pilate’s predecessor, in 15 A.D. After his removal from office five of Annas’ sons and one of his grandsons served as high priest. Caiaphas, the high priest at the trial of Jesus, was Annas’ son-in-law. Caiaphas served as high priest from 18 A.D. until he was removed from office by the Romans in 36 A.D. Everyone knew that even though Caiaphas held the title of high priest, Annas held the power. Alfred Edersheim, in The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah writes about how unscrupulous Annas was as high priest.
Annas was a proud, ambitious, and notoriously greedy man. He received a share of the proceeds from the sale of sacrificial animals; frequently those brought by the people would be rejected and those for sale at the temple (for exorbitant prices) would be approved as an offering. Annas also profited from the fees the money changers charged to exchange foreign currency into the Jewish money that alone could be used to pay the temple tax. So infamous was his greed that the outer courts of the temple where those transactions took place, became known as the Bazaar of Annas. (Edersheim, Alfred, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. pg. 371-372).
As high priests these men should have been more familiar with the Word of God than anyone else in all of Israel these two men should have recognized and celebrated the coming of Jesus. Instead they were so threatened by Jesus and His popularity that all they could think about was preserving their own power. The desire for truth was trumped by an even greater desire for power.
Could the problem of Annas and Caiaphas be our problem today? Are we more concerned with our status, our position in society, the power we possess in our circle of influence than we are with standing up for truth, speaking up for Jesus, and seeking to be faithful to His teachings? Power is attractive. Power is addictive. We love power and the more power we get the more we want, and we love it. The desire for power can lead us to turn a blind eye to God’s Word and convince ourselves that what we do is necessary for us to hold on to the power we’ve worked so hard to acquire.
The late Chuck Colson went to prison for his part in the Watergate fiasco that took place during the presidency of Richard Nixon. Mr. Colson said the seduction of power is subtle, and that fine, well-meaning Christians fall under its weight daily. He said, “Power corrupted me once and I know how easily I can be corrupted again, so I constantly relinquish it.”
Let’s take a look at the political leader in our Scripture for today, Pontius Pilate. Pilate was appointed governor in 26 A.D. by Emperor Tiberius and he ruled until 37 A.D. Being named governor of Judea was one of the worst appointments he could have been given because the Jews were notorious for their resistance to Roman rule. We don’t have a lot of information about Pilate from Scripture, but we can learn details about his rule from the Jewish historian Josephus and Philo of Alexandria.
Pilate never got along with the Jews and his actions were one of the major reasons why this was so. Philo, a Jewish scholar from Alexandria, wrote that Pilate caused great upheaval among the Jews when he displayed metal shields at the palace that had the image and name of the emperor on them, as if he were a god. Josephus tells us about a similar incident when Pontius Pilate brought images of the emperor carried on poles into Jerusalem. He also tells us that Pilate took money from the temple treasury to pay for the building of an aqueduct to bring water into Jerusalem. Pilate had been called to Rome to give an account of his actions and was urged to give the Jewish people their religious freedom.
The Jewish authorities brought Jesus to Pilate. Pilate quizzed Jesus. He asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?” John gives us Jesus’ answer.
36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” (John 18:36 NIVO)
I mentioned to you last week that Jesus didn’t flinch in the face of the powerful Roman soldiers who came out to arrest Him, Jesus went out to meet them. When Jesus stood before the religious power brokers and the governmental power of Rome, He didn’t stumble, fumble His words, or change His story. He knew who He was. He knew why He had come. Pilate, after hearing Jesus speak about His kingdom, said,
37 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” (John 18:37 NIVO)
“I came into the world to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” That led to Pilate saying, “What is truth?” When Pilate finished examining Jesus he went back to the Jews and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him.” (John 18:38 NIVO) The charges were trumped up. If Johnny Cochran would have been there he would have said, “If the charges don’t fit, you must acquit!” Yet, you and I both know the charges weren’t dropped, the defendant wasn’t acquitted. How could Pilate have had Jesus flogged if he could find nothing with which to charge Him? Worse yet, how could Pilate have given the people the option of freeing Jesus or Barabbas, a “notorious prisoner,” as Matthew tells us. Pilate didn’t want to crucify Jesus. He found no crime that Jesus had committed. His wife had told him to have nothing to do with Jesus. She sent a note to Pilate while he was sitting on the judge’s seat,
“Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.” (Matthew 27:19 NIVO)
And yet, Pilate handed Jesus over to be crucified. Why? How? How when you can’t find a thing the Man had done wrong could you allow Him to be crucified? The truth was that Jesus had done nothing wrong, but sometimes our own popularity is more important than the truth.
The Jewish people already had a bad taste in their mouth about Pilate because of things he had done to irritate them. There was pressure on Pilate, by Jewish leaders, to have Jesus executed because they couldn’t impose the death penalty on anyone. Pilate caved for the sake of his own popularity.
Have you ever known the pressure of popularity? It manifests itself in all kinds of ways. The group that knew you before you committed your life to Jesus will have expectations of you after you commit your life to Jesus. To remain popular among them you might need to tone down your commitment, compromise your commitment. Your teammates at school might not think as highly of you if, because of your commitment to Jesus, you refuse to participate in some of things with them that you use to participate in. Your sales supervisor at work might not be too pleased if you refuse to shade the truth with your customers for the sake of the sale. Popularity, like power, is attractive, it is addictive, and it can lead us to compromise our commitment to Jesus.
Of all of the people we’ve looked at this morning, Simon Peter, a disciple of Jesus, Annas and Caiaphas, the religious leaders, and Pontius Pilate, the governmental leader of Israel, all of these guy’s lives teach us about our willingness to shade the truth, compromise the truth, and even deny the truth if it will benefit us. Yet, there was One among the many who said He came to testify to the truth. Earlier in John’s Gospel, Jesus called Himself, “the truth” (John 14:6). In John 1:14, John told us that Jesus came “full of grace and truth.” Over and over again, throughout the Gospels, we are told Jesus told the truth (Mark 12:32; John 8:40; 8:45-46; 16:7). The religious leaders sent spies to quiz Jesus, but even they testified to His character when they said,
21 …”Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. (Luke 20:21 NIVO)
And in Jesus’ most intimate prayer that we have recorded in Scripture He prays for His disciples, and what does He ask? Jesus prayed to the Father, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:17 NIVO)
If Jesus is the Truth of God, absolutely true, then He is the Truth for all eternity, for each and every culture, and in every circumstance and situation. The question that stands in front of you and me this morning is, “What will we do with the truth?” Will we join the chorus of our culture and say “truth” is personal, it’s subjective, truth is really nothing more than the opinions of individuals, and there is no such thing as absolute truth? Will we fall in line with Simon Peter and passionately claim Jesus as Ultimate Truth as long our allegiance to Him doesn’t threaten our welfare or well-being? Will we side with Annas and Caiaphas and reject Jesus because of our preoccupation with gaining more and more power? Will we shrink in the face of the crowd with Pontius Pilate and announce that we find no fault with Jesus, but then walk away from Him for the sake of our own popularity? Or will we take our stand with Jesus as the Truth of God, the Savior of lost sinners, the long awaited Messiah, and the only way to be reconciled, and enter into a relationship, with God?
Will we recognize that truth is not so much a concept or a set of standards, but truth is a Person and His name is Jesus. Not only is Jesus the Truth, but He leads His people in paths of truth for His glory and the blessing of His people. Jesus said, “You shall know the truth and the truth will set you free.” You can replace “truth” with the Person who is the Truth and learn the secret of life, “You shall know Jesus and Jesus will set you free.” I pray you will come to know Him today.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
April 9, 2017