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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. So Pilate came out to them and asked, "What charges are you bringing against this man?"
"If he were not a criminal," they replied, "we would not have handed him over to you." Pilate said, "Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law." "But we have no right to execute anyone," the Jews objected. This happened so that the words Jesus had spoken indicating the kind of death he was going to die would be fulfilled. Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, "Are you the king of the Jews?”
"Is that your own idea," Jesus asked, "or did others talk to you about me?"
"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?"
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."
"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."
And Pilate said: “Whatever.”
OK, that’s not the word he used in verse 38, but that’s precisely what he would have said today if he were trying to capture the same thought. Our Bibles translate the words: “What is truth?” but the spirit of his statement be captured in that one word which we hear so much today: whatever.
That word “whatever” has become verbal shorthand for a particular response to life. It is a sigh of resignation, a denial of meaning and purpose. When a person offers you a response of “whatever,” they are essentially saying that the topic doesn’t matter, their response doesn’t matter, or perhaps you don’t matter.
We are living in a whatever world -- a culture in which truth has been stripped of its meaning and replaced with personal preference.
What does a whatever world look like? It’s an age, a culture in which all ideas, all lifestyles, all behaviors are considered of equal value.
~ You cheat, I don’t. Whatever – what’s valid for me isn’t necessarily valid for you.
~ Frank worships Jesus, Terry worships Buddha, Sheila worships the goddess Sophia, and Bud worships the tree in his backyard. Whatever -- all religions are the same. What’s true for you may not be true for me. It doesn’t really matter what you believe so long as you’re sincere.
Some call it postmodernism, but the relativism that seems so characteristic of our age isn’t all that new. It’s as old as Pilate, playing politics on Good Friday. As old as the Romans, who didn’t care if those early Christians worshiped Jesus, so long as they also worshiped Caesar. It’s as old as Eden, where a smooth-talking serpent convinced the residents that one tree is pretty much the same as another, no matter what God may have said.
Yet never before has the spirit of whatever been so pervasive and destructive of an age and a culture. As one commentator has observed, “Reality isn’t what it used to be.”
That’s the idea behind Walter Truett Anderson’s example of the three baseball umpires. One says with certainty, “There’s balls and there’s strikes, and I call ‘em the way they are.” The second umpire, with a bit less assurance, says, “There’s balls and there’s strikes, and I call ‘em the way I see ‘em.” The third umpire, a thoroughgoing postmodernist, says, “There’s balls and there’s strikes, and they ain’t nothin’ until I call ‘em.” So reality is boiled down to what I perceive it to be, and nothing more.
Although few people would frame it in precisely those words, that’s the prevailing worldview in the western world: you can believe whatever you want because all ideas are pretty much equal. There’s no authoritative truth to which we all hold; each person becomes his or her own authority, determining our own values, our own beliefs, our own truth. If reality is simply a human construction, no better or worse than what others have constructed, then the appropriate response can be nothing more or less than: whatever. And that is indeed how we have responded:
The Barna Research Group, through its surveys, show us the result of such a worldview:
~ Three-fourths of all adults believe “there is no such thing as absolute truth; two people could define truth in totally conflicting ways, but both could still be correct.”
~ Less than half of all born-again adults (44%) and less than 10 percent of born-again teenagers (9%) believe in the existence of absolute moral truth.
~ Nearly half of adult Americans (47%) believe that “to get by in life these days, sometimes you have to bend the rules for your benefit.” If that’s the attitude of their parents, is it any wonder, then, that some 70 percent of American teenagers today admit to cheating on exams and don’t see anything wrong with it?
Because our culture has rejected the concept of absolute truth, all moral claims have been reduced to the level of personal opinion. No one’s views are right or wrong – they’re just subjective expressions of personal preferences. As a result, we have entered a period of moral anarchy, and the price is being paid by our children and our families:
~ A million children a year see their parents divorce.
~ In the last four decades, pregnancies out of wedlock have increased by 600 percent.
~ In less than 40 years, cohabitation by unmarried couples has increased almost 1,000 percent.
A New York woman disappeared without warning, leaving behind her husband and children. Some time later she was discovered in Hawaii, where she worked at a store selling hand-dipped chocolates. Asked why she left, she explained that she had finally realized she had to “find herself.” And in a whatever world, where the individual’s desires trump all other values, who has the authority to say she was wrong? Your truth is your truth, and my truth is dipping chocolates in Hawaii.
A whatever world is more concerned about personal therapy than personal morality. A generation ago the bestselling book was I’m OK, You’re OK. Today, the sequel would be entitled I’m OK -- and That’s All That Matters.
A whatever world is one in which teenagers can walk into a school and murder their peers and teachers without any sense of moral compunction. After all, if there’s no authority to provide a framework of values and beliefs, who’s to say they are wrong? In a whatever world, every man is a god . . . and a devil.
That’s what it’s like living in a whatever world. It’s a world in which there is no authority higher than my own desires . . . a world in which life has no meaning beyond personal fulfillment because there are no values higher than my own choices.
But is that really the kind of world we live in? Despite the claims of sociologists, new age theologians and the media, there is another word which stands in contrast to the spirit of this age.
In the 14th chapter of John’s gospel, Jesus made a most astonishing statement when he said: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” It is one of the most audacious statements ever made -- unless it is true. And if it is true, then it makes all the difference in the kind of world in which you and I live. If Jesus is Himself truth, then it changes everything. It means . . .
He is Truth for Your Mind
The way we think determines the way we live. If we think of ourselves as the ultimate authority in determining right and wrong, then it’s easy to reach the stage where there is no wrong -- at least not for me. But if we recognize there is a God who stands over and above us, and that through Christ He wants to enter into relationship with us, then it changes the way we think: it changes the way we determine our values, our priorities, our commitments.
That’s why Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37). The Old Testament passage (Deut. 6:5) behind Jesus’ statement is a little different; it says to love God with heart, soul, and strength. Why did Jesus instead use the word mind? Perhaps to remind us that it is essential to bring our minds under the authority and lordship of God; otherwise our faith will make little impact on us or anyone else. The way we think determines the way we live.
When we accept Christ as Lord and Savior, he wants to be Lord not only of our behavior but of our minds. A Christian worldview helps us see that God’s revelation of His truth through scripture is the foundation of every part of our lives. As we submit our minds, our thought processes, to the Lordship of Christ, the way we think determines the way we live.
Suppose after working hours you find yourself on an elevator in a large but fairly deserted office building. You are on the elevator all alone, but just before the doors close three tough-looking young men jump on the elevator with you. You’re now alone with these guys for the next minute or two. Now be honest: would you rather know that they were on their way to a burglary or a Bible study? Why does it make a difference? Because the way we think determines the way we live. We feel safer around people who have a Christian worldview than those for whom the only authority is their own ego or desires.
Of course, there are those in our day who wish to reinterpret scripture to fit it neatly into accord with the latest cultural trends. If the Bible contains some dusty old moral judgements that would be looked down on by The New York Times, better to re-write scripture -- or simply ignore it -- rather than be burdened by divine intolerance. The problem is, the writers of scripture -- inspired by the Holy Spirit – don’t seem to be overly concerned with appealing to our latest cultural trends. Even as many among us would like to stand in judgement of scripture, the reality is that God’s Word stands over us, judging us in light of God’s truth.
Through God’s Word, we have the opportunity to better understand the mind of God, and thus the purpose and meaning of the world in which we live. Jesus Christ is Lord of all, and that includes our minds. He is truth for your mind. Further . . .
He is Truth for Your Life
Not only does Christ provide the truth that helps us understand reality, He also provides the truth that allows us to live lives of meaning and purpose and fulfillment.
I don’t know about you, but I’m terrible about reading directions. The owners manual of anything I own tends to go on the shelf until there’s a crisis, then I furiously search for the manual and try to learn how to fix whatever the problem is. Of course, the thing probably wouldn’t be broken in the first place if I’d just read the manual! I don’t suppose anyone else here has that problem, do they?
In His Word, God has provided the manufacturer’s directions for our lives. Our creator God has provided us with the guidance and wisdom we need to live in a way that will honor Him, and that will bring life’s greatest satisfaction. In God’s Word we have truth for our lives.
In our whatever culture, where each person is an authority unto himself, God’s Word is overlooked or ignored by untold millions, and the news reports tell the tale. What happens when we ignore God’s truth for our lives? We end up in a nation where Gideon Bibles are turned away at the schoolhouse door but condoms are freely distributed . . . a nation where millions of children grow up in homes without two parents . . . a nation where we cannot physically build prisons fast enough to accommodate the growing population of inmates.
How does this happen in a nation where, at least on the surface, it would appear that a large percentage of the population claim to be Christian believers? A major part of the problem is that too many of us take the religious dimension of our lives and put it in a box to be pulled out only on Sunday. The rest of the week we tend to get along and go along with the world without letting our faith inform our day-to-day lives at the office, the shop, the school, or the neighborhood. Your faith isn’t one more item to put on the To Do list. You and I are called to let our commitment to Christ shape and guide everything we do in every facet of our lives. It is the truth from which everything else flows.
As Christians, committing our lives to Christ as Lord and Savior involves submitting ourselves to obey His truth. Suppose I ignore the manufacturer’s guidelines for my car, by never changing the oil or ignoring the air pressure in the tires? It’s only a matter of time before I’ll find myself sitting on the side of the road, going nowhere and wondering what went wrong. If you’re going to drive a car, you ignore the maintenance guidelines at your peril.
Our manufacturer -- yours and mine -- has also provided some guidelines to insure smooth functioning of the equipment, and we ignore them at our peril. What does that mean in the day-to-day world in which you and I live? It means bringing our lives into accordance with God’s will, not the latest cultural trends.
If you’re a Christian man or woman and someone asks you to enter into a sexual relationship outside marriage, is that something you have to think about? Not if you’ve read the manufacturer’s guidelines; they are quite clear on the subject.
If you’re a Christian and someone asks you to commit fraud -- juggle the books to save the company some money -- is that something you have to think about? Not if you’ve read the manufacturer’s guidelines; they’re very clear on the subject.
Recognizing Jesus as truth for our lives means acknowledging that all we have belongs to Him; that we are stewards of what we have on His behalf. Will that make a difference in the way you set priorities for spending money and accumulating possessions? You bet it will.
When we understand Jesus is the only authentic truth for our lives, it will change everything about the way we live: how we do our jobs, how we treat our families, how we spend our money, how we allocate our time, and on and on. It will mean being different in some significant ways from the path taken by many of those around us. It will sometimes lead to criticism by those who don’t understand why we don’t demonstrate tolerance, why we don’t just go along – we’ll be subject to attack by those for whom truth is less important than acceptance. Yet as we surrender our lives to His direction -- as we allow God to shape our lives into the image of Christ through the truth of His Word – we’ll find our lives taking on a new and greater sense of purpose and fulfillment.
Jesus Christ is truth for your mind, and He is truth for your life. But there is one more reality we need to see:
He is Truth for Your Future
Predicting the future is hard, isn’t it? Some of my friends who were thinking about early retirement a few years ago now wish they could have had an advance look at the stock market!
In 1946, Darryl Zanuck, head of 20th Century Fox, offered this astute observation: “Television won’t be able to hold on to any market it captures after the first six months. People will get tired of staring at a plywood box every night.” My favorite prediction was from the baseball expert who commented at the time, “Babe Ruth should have never given up pitching.”
It’s hard to know what’s going to happen a few days from now. A couple of years ago I had my hair cut at my regular shop and visited, as I always do, with Carol, a lady who worked there. Just a month later I went back to get my hair cut, only to learn that Carol was in the final stages of lung cancer. A month before she didn’t know she had the disease; now the hospice counselor was telling her to put her final affairs in order. We cannot predict what a day will bring.
But as Christians, there are some truths we can know -- some things that are absolutely, ultimately true.
1. We know that everything starts with God. (Gen. 1:1 – “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”) All that exists is here because God has created it. The entire created order is here because God sustains it. Our lives are gifts of an eternal God. God is the foundation of everything that exists. Unlike our secular colleagues, we can know that existence has a meaning and purpose because we know Who brought it into being. But that’s not all we can know is sure and certain.
2. We know that we stand guilty before a holy God. Romans 3:23 tells us that “all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory.” Though we live in an “I’m OK” kind of world, inside we know that everything’s not really OK. That’s because we were created to live in fellowship with a holy, loving God, but sin has broken that relationship, and we stand on the other side of an awesome gap that separates us from God. Yet the good news of the gospel is that there is something else we can know for sure:
3. We know that in Christ, God has bridged the chasm caused by sin. The most famous passage in all of scripture tells us, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Jesus Christ took upon Himself all the guilt that was rightfully ours, and on the cross paid the price that should have been on your head and mine. And when, on the third day, Jesus burst forth from the tomb as the risen Lord, he brought each of us out with him -- victorious over death, able to enjoy a living and dynamic relationship with God through Christ. Finally . . .
4. We know that in Christ, we have hope for the future. Did you know that word hope is one of the most powerful words in our language today, perhaps because so many people sense so little hope. But if you have surrendered your life to Christ, He has promised you a blessed hope, a future with Him.
As the songwriter said, “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow. Because He lives, all fear is gone.” We can know new life, new power, new purpose because we know Christ and the power of His resurrection. He is our future, because He is truth.
1. J. Richard Middleton & Brian J. Walsh, Truth Is Stranger Than It Used to Be (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1995), p. 31. Quoting from Walter Truett Anderson=s book, Reality Isn=t What It Used to Be: Theatrical Politics, Ready-to-Wear Religion, Global Myths, Primitive Chic and Other Wonders of the Postmodern World (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1990).
2. George Barna, Virtual America (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1994), p. 77.
3. The Year’s Most Intriguing Findings from Barna Research Studies@ from Barna Research Online, December 12, 2000.
4. Ibid., p. 86.
5. Ibid., pp. 41-42.
6. Ibid., p. 139.
Michael Duduit is Editor of Preaching magazine and Director of the National Conference on Preaching, which will be held April 7-9, 2008, in suburban Washington, DC. (www.preaching.com/ncp) Effective June 1, 2008, he will also serve as Dean of the Graduate School of Ministry at Anderson University in Anderson, SC.