ST. STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH AUGUST 11, 2013
TRUTH OR ERROR
1 John 4: 1 – 6; John 16: 7 – 15
Years ago my father was given a ticket for a traffic violation. He was guilty. However my brother, the police officer, looked over the ticket and found the code on the ticket was for a different offence. My Dad went to court. The violation was read. My Dad pleaded not guilty and since the ticket was incorrect, the charge was dismissed. He came home gloating like he was Perry Mason or perhaps more apt – the lawyer for OJ Simpson. When I hear such stories about other people I’m frustrated that a guilty person has gotten off on a technicality. The flip side is even more horrible – sometimes an innocent person is sentenced to prison. It leaves me wondering, what roll does the truth have in the distribution of justice?
The passage we read today from John’s gospel recalled the words of Jesus just before he was arrested and brought to trial. Jesus was aware that his trial was biased, with the outcome decided before it began; he knew the evidence against him would be distorted. Nothing short of a death sentence would be acceptable to the prosecution. He was preparing his disciples for the worst. The disciples were filled with sadness at the thought of Jesus leaving them and probably felt sick and powerless at the prospect of his conviction and death. Instead of patting his friends on the back, saying “there, there” and getting them a warm beverage, Jesus used that moment to hit his loyal followers with the harsh truth. He initiated what is now called “a crucial conversation”. He told them, “Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate [the Holy Spirit] will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” (John 16:7). Earlier Jesus had spoken of the Holy Spirit’s coming after his death. He had described the Spirit with terms that translate into English as “the Comforter, the Helper, the Paraclete, the Consoler, the Encourager, the Uplifter, the Refresher and the Spirit of Truth” Here the Spirit is the Advocate. He is the defence attorney in the courtroom of God’s Kingdom. The Sadducees and Romans would declare Jesus to be guilty so Jesus was appealing to a higher court, in fact the highest court there is. The Spirit, his Advocate, would reveal “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth”. As a good representative of his client, he will only “speak whatever he hears” (vs. 13.) What has he heard? That Jesus is the rightful heir to the Father’s throne, all that the Father has is his.
His lawyer, the Holy Spirit, was known to be very persuasive. In his opening argument he would cast dispersions on the world which would reveal their sin. In this scripture passage Jesus re-defined sin as rejection of himself – “About sin, because they do not believe in me.” (vs. 9) By Jesus death he would become the way to God, the bridge that brings us back into relationship with God. So, “sin”, that which separates us from God – becomes the rejection of Jesus. From here on, all other moral and spiritual failures would be symptoms of that rejection.
Jesus’ lawyer, the Holy Spirit, would prove to the court that Jesus was in the right. He would show that Jesus’ resurrection proved his innocence. Although the world had tried Jesus as a blasphemer and insurgent, his resurrection was evidence that he was the only, true Son of God. He was “going to the Father” (vs. 10.) where he would be exalted to his rightful place as king of a “kingdom that is not of this world” (John 18:36). In this court Jesus would be vindicated.
Jesus’ lawyer, the Holy Spirit, would shed the merciless light of truth on the world which had judged Jesus wrongly. In doing so the world brought guilt and judgment on itself. After Jesus was arrested he went through a worldly trial; but in this higher court there is a spiritual trial taking place. In the earthly trial, people condemned Jesus. Spiritually, they were placing their allegiance with Satan who aspired to take over the world God loves and make himself supreme ruler. In this spiritual trial, the Holy Spirit would prove Jesus was the triumphant Son of God, who reigns with God forever. When this legal Heir returned in glory and triumph to claim his throne, all other pretenders would be condemned. Satan would be the first to go. By Jesus death, resurrection and ascension, “The ruler of this world has been condemned” (vs. 11)
However, this spiritual court wasn’t fixed in some time and place. This trial would take place in the hearts and minds of Jesus’ followers. The disciples are the jury. They must decide what they believe about Jesus and which evidence they will affirm as true. If they find him innocent then they become his witnesses. It will be up to them to publicize Jesus’ glory and declare his righteousness. They will become activists for Jesus in and to the world that had previously condemned him. Clearly the disciples acquitted him.
In the world today, Jesus is still on trial. Despite the evidence for him in scripture and the brilliant work of his attorney, the Holy Spirit, Jesus is often condemned. Today truth is thought of as relative, if not irrelevant so opinions abound based on personal biases and conjecture. Lately conspiracy theories against Jesus are everywhere. From novels to movies to theologians within and outside the church, people are accusing the Church of lies and cover-ups. Here are some of these theories: Jesus wasn’t really God – he was good guy with a nice message; Jesus never rose from the dead (Hey no one else has!); Jesus was a criminal brought to justice – his death didn’t save anyone; Jesus got off on the charges, married Mary Magdalene (who knew the real spiritual truth), had a bunch of kids and lived in the dessert until he died of old age; Jesus didn’t marry – he was gay; and the most bizarre theory of all – Jesus never existed, neither Biblical nor secular accounts which record his life are true. It’s all a hoax. These theories, when presented as truth with just enough “evidence” to make them plausible, are powerful. They have the potential to corrode faith.
Conspiracy theories are not new; they even existed in the early church. In his letter John speaks of “false prophets” whose theory was that Jesus was Divine but he didn’t really become incarnate – he didn’t really have a body of flesh and blood like the rest of us; he was merely an apparition, a ghostly vision. The trouble is if Jesus wasn’t as fully human as he was divine, he couldn’t have died. If he didn’t die then he couldn’t defeat sin. And he couldn’t have had a physical, bodily resurrection. Therefore he couldn’t conquer death. Moreover, it’s simply not true! John goes so far as to say that those who purport such things are caught up in a spiritual battle larger than themselves. They have the spirit of the Anti-Christ. The trouble is spiritual warfare rarely looks like a Hollywood movie; this “spirit of Anti-Christ” doesn’t appear as a red, fire-breathing, horned, cloven-footed demon. In John’s Church the spirit of Anti-Christ came from the guy sitting next to you in worship. Their theories were subtle and convincing – after all, who really knew the truth?
Well, John for one. His letter began, “We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, seen with our eyes, looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— this life was revealed – we testify as eye-witnesses – and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” (1: 1 – 3) As an expert witness, John suggested the Church retain a healthy skepticism and that they “test the spirits to see if they are from God” (4: 1). The main test was simple “every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.” (4:2). The second part of the test was that the world listens to those who deny Jesus. If these people found an audience with the general population, chances are they weren’t from God. The third part of the test was to consider to whom these people listened; were they open and teachable? John was so certain of his testimony as an eye witness he didn’t hesitate to say, “We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us, and whoever is not from God does not listen to us.” (4:6).
In every generation, in every human heart the trial of Jesus goes on. We are the jury; we hear the evidence and must discern the truth. The trouble is: we weren’t there to witness the events for ourselves. But then again, no jury is. However, we do have the records and stories of key witnesses who were there. These disciples wrote their memories about Jesus – who he was and what he did. They knew what they were talking about. They knew the truth. Yet people today in their pride think they know better, declaring the New Testament to be untrue and corrupted. If only Jesus would show up here and now, in flesh and blood and prove us right. The harsh truth is: it’s good for us that he’s gone. By his death, resurrection and ascension Jesus has claimed his throne and defeated his enemy. Because he’s been glorified, he has sent us his Spirit. The Holy Spirit speaks to our spirits, advocating on behalf of Jesus to prove he is the Son of God. The Spirit guides those who would follow him into that truth. Because of the Spirit we are able to discern the “spirit of truth and the spirit of error” (4:6) making us able to declare in favour of Jesus.
The world is still and will always be the courtroom in which Jesus stands accused. People will spin the story of Jesus to condemn him. They will confuse the jury. They may even scratch away at our faith. The truth is that “the one who is in you (the Holy Spirit) is greater than the one who is in the world.”(4:4) In the highest court, there is no doubt that Jesus is in the right. There is no doubt that Jesus is Lord.