Deuteronomy 5:20

You Shall Not Bear False Witness

“Quid es veritas?” is the question that Pontius Pilate asks of Jesus during their private interview during Jesus’ trial. What is truth? Pontius Pilate founds himself in the middle of a political powder keg. He knew the truth to be that Jesus was guilty of no crime against the Roman Empire. Yet, at the same time, he risks all out rebellion incited by the Jewish religious leaders if he does not condemn Jesus. Truth, objective truth, became a casualty that day in Jerusalem some 1,986 years ago (as most biblical scholars believe that Jesus died around 30 AD). Truth became fluid that day. Truth became whatever was the most political advantageous or least damaging. Although it was part of God’s redemptive plan and he was not caught unaware by any of the actions of the people involved, but Jesus’ earthly conviction and sentence of death by scourge and crucifixion is one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in human history. The truth was cast aside for what was politically expedient.


The Jewish religious establishment wanted Jesus out of the way for several reasons. Jesus was a threat to the status quo. He had directly called them out on their misguided leadership of the people where their rules and regulations had so far twisted Scripture that you could not recognize it anymore. He was causing the common man to question Jewish leadership integrity. Jesus was saying that their time was done and that a new era had begun where He was the central figure and not them. With Jesus’ large following among the people, he was also a threat to the détente that existed between the Jewish religious elite and the Roman overlords. The Romans would let Israel rule its own internal affairs as long as commerce, taxes, and the peace was uninterrupted. They feared a Roman crackdown if Jesus became a larger and larger political force. Jesus’ rhetoric was that of the truth of God and it was getting everybody stirred up either for or against Jesus. For the Jewish establishment, Jesus was a problem of growing proportions on many levels. It did not matter that He was speaking the objective truth of God. He was a threat to the commerce of the Jewish temple system. He was a threat to the political power that they had carved out for themselves with the Romans. He was a threat to centuries of tradition that had developed around the Jewish faith of which they were the arbiters of what was right and wrong. He was a threat to the social order of Israel of which they were the top dogs. In this way, to them, Jesus was a rabble-rousing revolutionary that threatened to change their whole world. In this sense, the truth did not matter. Truth became a political casualty to them.


To Pontius Pilate, losing control of Jerusalem and of Judea was something he did not want. He did not want to have to call to Rome for more troops for a backwater district of the empire. The Jewish leaders deftly backed him into a corner by turning Jesus’ crime into one against the state of Rome by declaring that Jesus had said He was the king of the Jews. Now, it became an issue of whether Pilate was loyal to Caesar. Pilate saw his governorship in Judea as either his way up the food chain in the Roman hierarchy or his way to political oblivion. If he did well in the frustrating province of Judea, he could step up to more wealthy and more peaceful districts. If he allowed Judea to descend into anarchy requiring a large deployment of troops and much bloodshed to re-establish Roman control, he would be finished as district governor and would be relegated to an even lower post, imprisonment, or death. This was a critical moment for Pontius Pilate. He had to do whatever was necessary to maintain the status quo, the peace, the flow of Roman taxes, and the peace. At this moment, the truth did not matter. The truth was a casualty.


What is truth? Pontius Pilate did not know how profound his simple statement was those 2,000 years ago. When you analyze Jesus’ trial and crucifixion from a purely historio-political standpoint, it does not sound too different from the world in which we live today. Recently, I read some statistics recently that are alarming. In his sermon, “The Face of Deception” (see, Pastor Tim Peck states,


“The 1992 book The Day America Told the Truth found that 91% of us lie routinely about things we consider trivial. 86% of children regularly lie to their parents. 65% of married people lie to their spouses regularly. We lie about our weight, our income, our grade point average, our work experience, our age, even how many fish we caught during our last vacation. We hate it when people are dishonest to us, but most of us can’t resist being dishonest to other people.”


It was the trial of Jesus Christ and how things have not changed and may have actually gotten even worse today is what I thought about when I read today’s passage/verse, Deuteronomy 5:20, which reads as follows:


20 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.


We live now in a day and age where there seems to be no objective truth. Your truth and your reality may be different from mine. What works for you, what is truth for you is OK as long as it does not infringe upon what I perceive as the truth. We condemn our politicians for being politically expedient but they are simply a product of the culture in which we live. Truth is shapable. Truth is a sound bite. Truth is a video recorded on a cell phone. Truth is what I declare it to be. Truth is who gets to the media outlet first. Truth is what serves my or my group’s political ends. Truth is what serves the interest of protected groups. It does not matter the objective truth of a situation. What matters is how the situation plays into the generalized narrative of the culture. For example, shout racism and truth can be damned. Play the race card and regardless of the actual truth of a situation, those who are the targets of the racism claim are vilified and crucified by the press and those who are shouting the loudest.


Another example is that Christians are condemned for believing that Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven. We live in a world where all roads lead to heaven. All religions can be right and true at the same time. They are all after the same thing, right? All of us getting to heaven, right? It does not matter what avenue you choose. You do not even have to choose an avenue also. How can all these things be true at the same time. There can only be one truth. Jesus cannot be just a prophet to some and the Son of the Living God, God in the flesh, the one and only way to the Father all at the same time. Either Jesus, as CS Lewis said, is liar, a lunatic, or the Lord. There is no middle ground. We cannot be at one with the universe by achieving a higher level of consciousness as Hinduism and Buddhism would claim and be basically sinful by nature and in need of an intervening Savior as Christianity claims. We cannot achieve heaven through good works as Islam claims and be saved by grace only as Christianity claims. We cannot be good enough and what works for you may not work for me as humanism claims and be wholly condemned before God without Jesus at the same time. We cannot believe that God does not exist and have the promise of eternal life through Jesus Christ at the same time.


Saying that the truth is in the eye of the beholder does not make universal truth any less universal. I am betting my eternity on the fact that there is one truth and it is found through Jesus Christ. If we believe that there are universal truths and those truths are expounded in God’s Word, then, we are measured by it and not what is politically expedient. The truth is the truth and it will always be true regardless of whether I want the truth to be what I want it to be. The truth has existence outside of my perception. The truth comes from God and is independent of what I think. Therefore, I believe God to be the arbiter of truth and not me, and not the media, and not the culture, and not who is shouting the loudest. I believe that God’s Word gives us objective truth standards by which He measures us. And we have been found wanting. It is only through the saving grace of Jesus Christ that we are not condemned by the objective truth of God, by His absolute and unchanging moral standards, by His holiness and purity compared to our lying rags of existence that we are in the absence of Jesus Christ.


So how do we apply these high-minded ideals to our daily lives? Yes, we are sinners and we have the propensity to twist the truth to our advantage. Yes, we are liars, thieves, and cheats by nature. The takeaway to me is that truth is independent of me and it comes from God. I must live my life as if I do not fashion the truth myself. I must live as though the truth is that I will be on the wrong side of truth at times. I must accept the consequences of violating God’s truth and not try to minimize its impact on me. I must live to guard the truth even when the truth is not popular. God is truth and we must honor God with living our lives in truth and spirit. When we believe that truth is from God and not from our perception, it makes God’s Word the guiding force in our lives in whole and not just in the parts that we like. When we believe that the truth is independent of us and that it is from God, we strive for truthfulness when it comes to our dealings with others. When we believe that truth is concrete, absolute, and independent and that God’s Word is His truth, then, we must believe that Jesus Christ is the only way to the Father. If that is then true, then, we should be moved to tears and to action to a world that believes that all roads lead to heaven and any belief system will get you there. If there is absolute truth and that it comes from God and Jesus said that the only way to the Father is through Him, then, we have urgent work to do.


Quid es veritas? What is truth? Truth is from God and God says that we are sinners by nature and that we fail when it comes to our relationship with Him and with others. The truth is that we are condemned by the truth. The truth is that we need Jesus Christ as the living expression of God’s truth. The truth is that we need to be covered in the truth and the mercy of Jesus Christ. The truth is that is truth is what our existence is all about!


Amen and Amen.

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