Rev. Dr. John J. Lolla, Jr.
February 25, 2018
Text: I Peter 3:21, O.T.: Genesis 9:8-17, N.T.: I Peter 3:18-22
Court rooms are unpleasant places. They’re places of accountability.
On trial is more than just an individual’s guilt or innocence. Truth is on trial in every court room. What is the truth?
We swear oaths as witnesses to “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” Judges and juries make decisions based on finding truth. Lessons about truth can be learned by reading court room testimony. Read the record of trial testimonies over history. Juries’ beliefs about truth change over time.
Pontius Pilate, the judge presiding over Jesus’ trial, had no concept of truth, and admitted it. “What is truth?” he cried. He openly stated his decision about Jesus’ guilt did not come from belief in moral decency, or social righteousness that was rooted in God’s care for the weak and afflicted. Jesus’ guilt and innocence hinged on whether Jesus was threatening Rome. Jesus’s accusers said He attacked Roman authority. Pilate didn’t see the threat. But he went ahead and sentenced Jesus to be executed. His decision wasn’t based on knowing truth.
Roman law lacked a concept of truth. Pilate was unable to judge Jesus based on knowledge derived from truth. His experience with truth was incapacitated by a society which made its judgments based on power. The powerful determined truth.
Our Scriptures, on the other hand, make quite an appeal to truth. Truth is the basis for unbelievers to make a decision for or against Jesus Christ. Truth is the basis from which Jesus’ execution was fore ordained. Pontius Pilate didn’t make the decision to execute Jesus based on atoning the world’s sin. Pilate had no knowledge of sinfulness as Judaism and Jesus understood sin. He was honest. Pilate didn’t know the truth – sin exists. Death is sin’s punishment.
But the ultimate Judge, the Ruler of the Universe, the sovereign God who gives life and can take life from His creation – the one who was actually presiding over Jesus’ trial – this judge only makes decisions based on truth. Sin exists. Proof of its existence is evident in how people disobey God who created them.
We disobey our creator God every time we take the goodness of God’s creation and use it to drain God’s gift of life from others and ourselves. Goodness’ gift is thrown away by disobedience. What had been goodness is squandered in decisions and activities that rob the world of God’s spiritual gifts of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Most of all, the goodness of our creation that worships and trusts God is disfigured and harmed by acts of sin. Scars and stains of sin mar our appearance before the great Judge in life’s court room.
The Judge who was adjudicating the truth about human sin was actually the one in charge of Jesus’ trial. It was His court room and His alone. Pilate had no clue about what was going on. Neither did anyone who testified in Jesus’ trial, or acted as a public jury that day. Jesus was on trial for everyone’s sin of not caring for the truth.
We live in a heavenly court room every day. Daily we face evidence about Jesus that demands God’s verdict. In each instance, truth is on trial. Every day we face a decision about Jesus Christ. God places in our hands the roles of judge and jury in the court of our conscience. God holds us accountable for finding the truth to several questions. “Who is Jesus? Does it matter if I don’t know or care who He is? Are there consequences if I don’t know or care who He is?”
We arrive at a verdict about the truth of Jesus, like God does about us. Is it possible to find the truthful answer to any of these questions about Jesus if there’s no concept of sin by which to make our judgment?
It was only after Jesus’ execution, with the miraculous gift of Jesus’ resurrection by the Father Creator, that the Apostles knew the truth about Jesus. It was only when Jesus returned from the grave to explain what really transpired before Pilate and the Sanhedrin that they realized the truth about Jesus.
If the Apostles thought they could avoid sin’s penalty by obeying God’s laws so perfectly that they could save themselves, they realized after Jesus’ resurrection this was not truthful. The Apostles’ goodness before Almighty God wasn’t the result of their own efforts. They realized in a way they had never before, they could not just be good Jews and avoid the penalty for disobedience. They needed an advocate.
Jesus was their Advocate. Every aspect of His life had been an advocacy for the Apostles’ behalf – for everyone’s behalf. He appealed God’s verdict of death for sin so that Almighty God would grant them mercy. The Advocate had saved the blind from blindness. The Advocate had healed the diseased from illness. The Advocate had freed the tormented from their hellish imprisonment of sin. He had defended them before the great Judge of life appealing for God’s mercy.
There is in American Christianity today, a trend to present Jesus without court room accountability to the truth. Across countless Church sanctuaries sermons are preached that invite listeners to take it on their own shoulders to live a happy life. Jesus isn’t presented as the advocate for sin – for their sin – because the idea of sin is missing. Among many trends in our modern society the self-esteem movement has robbed us of the truth about what was required for the Advocate to save us from sin.
Countless clergy and church members believe talking about sin is a downer. It’s not optimistic. It’s prejudiced and judgmental. Sin is removed from sermons.
Instead of the Gospel, they preach or want to hear preached a self-esteem gospel that lacks repentance. It lacks a need for a Cross. They want God’s love without a price to be paid for a debt that is owed God by humankind.
Love without cost diverts our attention from the life and death matters of coming to a verdict about Jesus Christ. Soothing words and music of compassion avoids the Advocacy Jesus undertook to overcome the evidence against us.
Christianity without an advocate is a God of love without a Son dying on the Cross. It’s religion that is free from guilt. American Christians are trying to have God’s mercy without first facing the truth about why that mercy was necessary.
Our freedom from guilt doesn’t come from saying there is no guilt. Our freedom from guilt doesn’t come from saying there is no sin. Freedom from guilt doesn’t come from our capacity to rectify the situation by our own efforts to be good. Freedom from guilt comes from Jesus’ personal, intimate, compassionate appeal to the great Judge of Life on our behalf.
Jesus didn’t only do it with words. He personally accepted the verdict for our transgressions. That’s the truth about our Advocate’s appeal.
As a nation we are still staggering about what happened in Florida two weeks ago. We are a people full of self-esteem and radiating with freedom’s glow. We have every opportunity to pursue life, liberty, and happiness.
We possess wealth beyond the imagination of most of the planet. We have beautiful natural resources and possess the ingenuity to unlock the secrets to the universe. Yet we have children taking the lives of other children in schools.
We are educated by the world’s finest institutions of learning to use common sense and reason. We are trained not to bully others as an act of common sense. Yet our reason is divided over whether we need new laws to stop an unrelenting bloodshed, or do we just need to administrate better the laws that already exist in order to bring peace to our blood-stained land.
In either case, law is the salvation for our land, not God, not Christ. Not the hope of the Cross on Calvary’s Hill.
In the heat of our emotions, we are losing the truth about ourselves and the truth about God. The truth is sin exists. The truth is we are helplessly divided about how to respond to sin’s rampage through our schools. The truth is even when an officer is on the premises with the legal means to stop the bloodshed, that officer can freeze in the shock of the horror.
The truth is that with all our wariness over school safety, administrators and law enforcement officials can learn about a child’s unhealthy behavior ahead of a terrorist act and minimize that behavior as a genuine threat to a school. The truth is that all the courses and training in bullying have not ended acts of violence in Americas schools. Reason has not prevailed over sin.
The truth is we can have sincere legislators who are law-abiding citizens with expertise in law and justice totally disagree in how to address the evil before them and us. Rather than face the truth that we collectively need to teach repentance before God to our children and teens, legislators and the public want salvation from school violence in a legal definition of “the truth.”
And what truth does the law state that will be a 100% preventative to school violence? The truth is the law, or laws in general, cannot guarantee a lasting outcome. There will always be a sinner who writes the law, or a sinner who games the law, or a sinner who is responsible to uphold the law, or a sinner who disagrees with the law who will argue over the truth in God’s assessment of humankind.
They will argue the problem is not enough law enforcement, not enough education, not enough economic equality, not enough mental health care, not enough parental supervision, not enough public interest, not enough congressional support, not enough political commitment. It’s always something but what it is.
America is not above sinning. Our inherent goodness and self-esteem isn’t enough to prevent sin from occurring. And the justice in our law won’t save us from sinning.
Only Jesus can save us. Only His advocacy on our behalf with the divine Chief Justice will save us from our sin. Only His appeal to our conscience as individuals and our collective conscience as a nation can save us from sin.
It is Jesus to whom we ought to appeal for forgiveness and hope as a nation.
Maybe then we will be in better position to know the truth. What our people need more than our goodness and our law – is Jesus!