“I tell you the truth…”
Based upon Luke 4: 21-30
Prepared by Carl Schaefer
For Church of the Cross
Sunday, January 31, 2010
(Slide #2) Review of Epiphany:
Incarnation/ Manifestation of Christ
Baptism of our Lord
Power of the Holy Spirit
Love vs. Knowledge
Love is the truth
Opening Thought: “In the early 1900’s George Riddel acquired the sensational London newspaper ‘The News of the World. Meeting British journalist Frederick Greenwood one day, Riddel mentioned that he owned a newspaper, told Greenwood its name, and offered to send him a copy. The next time they met, Riddel asked Greenwood what he thought of The News.
“I looked at it, and (‘to tell you the truth’ – added by Carl) I put it in the wastepaper basket,” said Greenwood, “and then I thought, ‘If I leave it there the cook may read it,’ so I burned it!”
(Today in the Word, November 3, 1993)
(Slide #3) How many times have we said, “honestly…or to tell you the truth” as a response that sets itself apart from the usual response to the question “how are you?” to which we politely say almost mindlessly, “Fine, how are you?”
When we are comfortable, or willing to be more vulnerable, we “let our defenses down” and “speak from the heart” so to speak. Truth? About how I really feel, or what I really want you to know about something or about me? And then, the internal dialogue: what is the cost for me to tell the truth or the more selfish internal dialogue that argues, “what’s in it for me?”
We all desire to know the truth, not live a lie or base decision based upon false circumstances. Of course we want to hold others to be factually honest with us. We appreciate a news report that put opinions aside and reports the facts without human contrived distortions.
We grow up hearing that telling the truth is a basic standard of life that defines who we are and what we stand for. Yet, we experience most of life held to a much lower standard where truth is held hostage to consequences and low level of accountability, complicated by a need for leverage, power, and/or the need to win at all costs. Everyday we experience the evidence of the conflict between truth and lies, reality vs. fiction, distortion vs. clarity.
(Slide #4) There were two candidates running for the same office and it was their first time to face off at the local town hall with about 300 people in attendance. Candidate A went first and began describing himself as a candidate with credentials and accomplishments that bore little resemblance to the facts, to whom he really was; in other- words, an inflated resume. Candidate B, knowing Candidate A, knew right away that his competition was being reckless with his personal facts. B had two choices: stick to an honest representation of himself despite the fact that he would look a lesser candidate, or fall into the same pit as his competition and inflate his own resume. Candidate B decided to stick to the “high road” and tell the public who he really was. Then the debate questions began and the pattern continued. Candidate A exaggerated his platform and made promises he knew he couldn’t keep, while B stuck to a more honest set of responses that looked on the surface a little lame against that of A. The news media picked-up on A’s advantage and his apparent potential and portrayed him to the public as the one to beat. Rewarded for sacrificing truth to an enhanced view of himself as a candidate, A went on to win the election by one lie at a time. In truth, Candidate knew it would only be a matter of time before the public would find out who candidate A really was.
(Slide # 5) It was Pilot then who two thousands years ago struggled with truth asked Jesus “what is truth?” (John 18:38). When I think back upon the circumstances under which Pilot was likely appointed to the post far from Rome, not an ideal post and what we might today call a dead end job. I want to believe that Pilot really wanted to know the truth when he asked Jesus if he were a king? It was Jesus answer, “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
That likely made Pilot wonder where in the Roman political world could he find the “truth,” a world built on deception, betrayal, lies, and a winner takes all attitude.
(Slide # 6) It was a world when truth was in a short supply that Jesus came into to confront a people that had little to believe in. They had heard the prophesies about a Messiah, but had become skeptical about anyone individual having the qualities that people could believe in. It was that kind of world that God sent His son to tell those in search of the truth that “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14: 16).
It was Jesus who wanted all who would listen that he came to tell them the truth about who God is, who they are, and who they can be. In the four gospels he said, “I tell you the truth…” 84 times. I don’t believe his figure of speech was an accident. I believe the phrase referencing himself as the source of truth was one of the ways Jesus connected the listener, the Jews, and now us, to source of everything they already knew to be true …God – the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God revealed to Moses and now to them.
(Slide #7) The first reference in Luke to the “truth statement” and follows the temptation of Jesus and the announcement of his mission at the synagogue in Nazareth when he quoted from Isaiah 61 and claimed God’s plan for salvation would reach beyond the Jews. That “truth” would repeatedly challenge the assumptions of the Jewish religious establishment and in this case would lead to Jesus being driven from town where He grew up. The truth is not always welcome, especially when it does not fit our paradigms or world-view.
(Slide #8) Yes, Jesus had claimed His identity from God’s pronouncement at His baptism, you recall from the 2nd Sunday of Epiphany when the Father announced at Jesus’ baptism, “You are my Son…” (Luke 3: 22 NIV), and revealed that God’s grace would extend beyond the Chosen of Israel and that the “hometown crowd” would not be the only recipients of God’s grace. The importance of this “truth” statement coming this early in Luke’s version of the story cannot be underestimated. Jesus we getting the truth out that God’s grace is “borderless.” We got that impression last week in the story of Jonah when he had to deal with the truth that God was willing to save even the sinners of Nineveh. Jonah ran from the “truth,” and so have I at certain times in my life. More on that in a minute.
(Slide #9) Let’s just take another one of Jesus’ “truth” statements. In Matthew 18 when the disciples were still struggling with their own identity, and asked Jesus, “Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven?” Now keep in mind that by now they had seen him perform miracles, preach the “Sermon on the Mount,” heard him share numerous parables as teaching lessons, and witnessed the humbling of Peter when Jesus had to rescue him from drowning, and they still didn’t get their place in the Kingdom. (Let me pause here and lift up again one of the what I would consider the three most important questions of life for which we seek answers: “Where do I fit in the Kingdom of God, and/or What does God expect of me?) Jesus proceeds to place the “for whom” hierarchy paradigm of Jewish life on its ear by telling them, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the Kingdom of heaven.”
Wow! Jewish life is build upon training a child to become a good and faithful Jewish adult, not to inherit the most precious gift by becoming a child again? Now we know that Jesus was not speaking literally, but the truthful response to their question was that life is not about position, or power, or title, it is about faith and trust in God’s purpose and plan. Any parent who has been asked by his or her child if everything is going to be OK realizes that point that Jesus was making about surrendering your life to the one you trust. Jesus was saying that it is not always about how much you know – that we strive after as an adult, but how much you trust in the little you know. Let me repeat that and say that the truth to inheriting the Kingdom of heaven is not about how much you think you know about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, but how much you trust and have faith in the little you know. I don’t need to know that God is omniscient to be saved. I don’t need to know that Judas possibly betrayed Jesus for political reasons to be saved. I don’t need to know that Moses was first called into God’s presence by a burning bush to be saved. I don’t need to know when I will die to be saved. I need to have faith and complete trust in the simple but powerful truth that as Paul said in Romans 10: 9, “That if you confess with you mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him (Jesus) from the dead, you will be saved.” That’s the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. And that despite all my theological knowledge about God and the Bible, God is telling me that what is more important is that I accept his love and grace like a little child would trust their parent that the food they were fed was OK to eat.
Another one of these you can count on it to be true statements comes later in Matthew 25, when He was describing the end of times to his disciples, He said, “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it for me.” I can only speak for myself to say that the truth hurts to know that despite the many I have helped, I have passed by others who were the least of my brothers because of some judgment I made about their need. The truth hurts to know that Jesus will hold me accountable even though maybe like you I have at times come up with all kinds of justifications for my actions or lack of them.
(Slide #10) Yes, there have been times when the truth and/or reality of a situation have been too much for me to deal with. My late wife saw the proverbial “righting on the wall” that the end of my corporate career was coming to a close long before I was willing to accept the truth of the matter. I could come up with all kinds of excuses why my dedication to my work of almost 30 years would make me a keeper with the International Company that bought us out and certainly they would recognize my value to their worldwide strategy. My paradigm was caught up in my own desire of what the corporate world of manufacturing should be like and not what it had become. She was right. I had heard the truth and denied it. I had preferred to dwell in another reality, and the day of reckoning had come. Hearing the truth and accepting the truth is not always due to the source, it has a lot do to do with our own willingness to accept a new reality, a new honest to goodness fact.
(Slide #11) God in Jesus Christ can be trusted to show us the “way, the truth, and the facts of life.” God love can be trusted to include even us in His plan for salvation. We must trust that this incarnate “baby” does have the power to save us; that the Holy Spirit is capable, if we let Him, to change our lives; that God’s love is perfect and that His loving ways are greater than our human ways; and that regardless of whom we think God should save, His mercy and love are perfect to save all those who accept Him; and lastly today, that that of which He speaks and is recorded in the Bible is the truth, the whole truth, so help us God.
And the next time someone says to you, “to tell you the truth….” Listen carefully, especially if it’s God.
I close with this bit of humor about truth:
“A couple of hunters chartered a plane to fly into the Canadian wilderness. Two weeks later when the pilot came to pick them up, he saw the two animals they had bagged and said, ‘I told you fellows I could only take you and one moose. You have to leave the other behind.’”
“But we did it last year in a plane that size,” protested one of the hunters, “and the other pilot let us take two moose.
“Well, okay,” said the pilot. “If you did it before I guess we can do it again.”
So the two moose and the hunters were loaded in the plane took off. Because of the heavy weight, it rose with difficulty and was unable to clear an obstructing hill. After the crash, the men climbed out and looked around.
One hunter said to the other, “Where are we, anyway?”
His companion surveyed the scene. “(To tell you the truth – added by Carl) I think we got about half a mile father that we got last year!”