Pastor’s Perspective – October 2013
If I ask you to visualize the truth, what do you see?
Do you see the Ten Commandments? Are you visualizing the Declaration of Independence or perhaps another historical icon? Does your idea of the truth cause to imagine a scientific or mathematic equation or natural law? Are you inspired to consider a philosophy or logical concept? Do you think of the Apostles Creed or the Bible as the Truth, or does your mind bring you to Jesus?
Most people think of the truth as a concept, a creed, or an unchanging law. But in the gospel of John, Jesus makes a claim that He is the Truth when he says, “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life…” Think about how radical that statement is. We quote John 14 so frequently, yet we rarely allow the meaning to sink in. Most religions think of the way as a set of principles that we follow. They think of the truth as an objective set of facts concerning God or the Universe. We think of the life as a lifestyle that we choose to live bordered by rules or laws. But Jesus says that He is the Way and the Truth and the Life.
Don’t be upset if you didn’t think of Jesus when you thought of the truth. Few people do. In fact, in many ways you can consider it a trick question. It is similar to those parlor puzzles and optical illusions where you have to find the boat amongst the blue dots or the face of Jesus in the shadowed ink blot. The great thing about those “tricks” is that once you see it, you can never not see it again. In fact, once you see it, it becomes the only thing you can see.
Peter saw the Truth. He was not any smarter than the others, but for some reason God allowed Peter to see Jesus clearly. He knew that Jesus was the Son of God before anyone else. He did his best to follow, even going as far as following him on the day of his crucifixion. While others ran away, Peter tried to stay close. We often get angry at Peter for denying Jesus three times, but we forget that few others even tried to follow him. Peter saw the Truth and followed it. He didn’t always live up to the Truth, but by seeing and believing and getting up when he fell down, he showed us what discipleship was all about. It was not about being right all the time, but it was about being close. Peter was close to the Truth and he made it his life’s work to stay as close as possible.
In contrast Pontius Pilate could not see the Truth when he encountered Jesus. Jesus wanted him to see the Truth. In fact the Truth was standing right in front of him, yet for all of Pilate’s wisdom and education he couldn’t understand. In the gospel of John, Jesus tells Pilate that, “Every one that is of the truth hears my voice.” Pilate’s response was, “What is truth?” Pilate knows that Jesus is a good man. In fact he goes to the crowd and tells them that he finds no fault in Jesus. Pilate however missed the point, he asked the wrong question. He asked what is truth, when Jesus was trying to tell him Who was Truth.
Pilate couldn’t see because only faith can give you the vision to see through all of the dots and the shadows. It is hard to see Jesus in the world. It is hard to follow Him and navigate life as a disciple. We need the guidance and the illumination of the Holy Spirit to even hear His voice or see His face. It is hard to make people see what they cannot envision. So…many of us cheat. We try showing them an image that they can see or we make an outline of our own image so they can better experience what we so desperately want them to see. We try to make divine revelation easy to see, but instead we create a false image, a practical way, an ethical truth, a religious life.
This is where we can create a false sense of faithfulness, even within the Church. We do this by elevating belief above discipleship. The evangelical Church places a high value on belief. In fact the first question that you might be asked in many Churches is what you believe. The problem with belief as the principle criteria of faithfulness or discipleship is that what we really mean by belief is intellectual assent. In other words to believe is not to have faith in but to assert a reality. I can believe that Jesus died on the cross and not be a follower of Christ.
Many people believe the assertions of the Church. They believe the facts of the scriptures and the Creeds as we communicate them. But they have not seen the Truth. Their eyes are not yet opened. This can only happen with the movement of the Holy Spirit and with faith. Belief is the first and easiest step to faithfulness, but we make a mistake when we conflate belief with faith.
This was the fundamental conceit of the Pharisees and why Jesus often found himself at odds with them. They believed all the right things, but they too often created other Pharisees instead of followers of God. They put their trust in their system of beliefs and lifted high the grandiosity of the temple. They embraced their tradition and their history and somewhere forgot what it meant to be disciples, followers, worshippers. Eventually the things they believed in and the rules they established became more important to the Pharisees than their faithfulness to God.
Sadly many people see the Church as 21st Century Pharisees. The Church knows what it believes, but we have a difficult time showing the world our faith outside of the walls of our cathedrals. This must change if we are to share Jesus in our world. If we are seeking to get people to believe in a set of assumptions then we can continue to share the gospel through tracts and treatises. But if the value of the gospel is a relationship with Jesus Christ and the saints then we must learn to share the gospel through our life and love. Only by living a Christian life of love and discipleship can we expose people to the God who loves and forgives sinners. We do this not by articulating the depths of human depravity, but by loving people and caring for them in their needs.
When we follow Jesus as the Way, the Truth, and the Life of the gospel, then we begin to understand that God is calling us into a relationship with God and each other. This is what we are striving to do at First Baptist Church. We want you to learn and grow and we have discovered that we learn best when following Jesus with our friends beside us. It begins in our time of worship together, but it cannot end there. We must live our faith in the real world, in our homes, schools and coffee shops. We can do this by being a friend, reaching out in love, and following Jesus with one another. You do not need to have a seven point acronym in order to share your faith. You do not need to have a complex creedal statement memorized. All you need is a relationship with Jesus and a relationship with a friend. Then you simply find a way to introduce one friend to the other.
And the great news of the gospel is that we are never doing this work alone. God has given us the Holy Spirit and each other to support, encourage, and direct our work. Let us pray for each other as God opens new avenues of ministry for our community of faith at First Baptist Church. Let us prepare each other to welcome the new voices and disciples that God will send our way.