You Can’t Handle The Truth

John 18

You can’t handle the truth!
Truth plays a central role in this courtroom drama and we learn that truth is real, truth is powerful, and the truth is wonderful.

Find the rest of the messages in this series here.




You can’t handle the truth!
Truth plays a central role in this courtroom drama and we learn that truth is real, truth is powerful, and the truth is wonderful.

You can’t handle the truth!

As a kid I never went to the movies. So most of the movies I saw were on TV or Cable. It seemed like they would show the same movies over and over again. Later in life I realized that was probably due to contracts and royalties, so they were showing movies that they knew were crowd pleasers but weren’t too costly to show.

A movie that seemed like it was on all of the time was A Few Good Men. That’s the military courtroom drama in which Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson have an extremely heated exchange in which Tom Cruise’s character goads Nicholson’s character into losing control and and responding with:
“You can’t handle the truth!”

The point in the movie was that Nicholson felt no one really wanted to know the truth of how dangerous their job was, they wanted to stay comfortable… The reason that moment from that movie came to mind this week is that John 18 is all about Jesus’ trial before the chief priests and the Roman Governor Pilate, but it’s not just because there’s a trial, it’s because the idea of the truth plays a central role in this chapter.

We can’t read all of 18, so hang with me as we skip across some verses that will be key to the purpose of this morning’s sermon.
18:1-6, 19-23, 33-38…

Is John 18 a Christmas text?

It seems like to me that Christmas starts earlier all of the time. I personally am a fan of giving Thanksgiving it’s due, because I don’t think we have enough gratitude in our culture. However, we are looking at a Christmas passage this morning even though we are still in the middle of November. Maybe this didn’t strike you as a Christmas passage because it doesn’t center on Bethlehem and a manger, but in verse

37 Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.

What is truth?

The Christmas narrative isn’t in this passage, but the purpose of Christmas is here. The reason Jesus was born was to bear witness of the truth. Pilate reacts to this as many people today, what is truth? In 1966 Time Magazine had an iconic cover that stuck out in the minds of people for years to come. In 2017, they released a similar cover that reflected the current culture asking is truth dead?

Time Magazine Covers

Time asked that question because as a culture we can’t agree on the most basic of terms, the most basic of ideas, there are very few accepted facts.  In a pivotal moment a couple of years ago, someone from DC was bring interviewed and the correspondent said, but these are facts and the politicians said those are alternative facts… In our present day we have so many people telling stories with spin and slant… We have outside agencies attempting to lead the American people astray, tech companies skewing what we see in our search results as the Washington Post revealed in a major story this past week.

Truth has been on trial for ages.

However, this not new. Pilate had experienced it. Plus, he was experiencing it right then. Pilate found no fault in Jesus and he knew that the High Priests weren’t telling the whole story. He knew that they were skewing the story to fit their agenda. Here Pilate is dealing with the people who were the stewards of God’s temple, the people who were to lead Israel into all truth and they were toying with the truth to accomplish their agenda.

As a politician in the ever expanding Roman Empire, Pilate had seen plenty of politicking and posturing. Based on contemporary histories, we know that Pilate was charged with just keeping the people in line… So Pilate asks, “what is truth” as he walks out to deal with the High Priests…

Hypocrisy of the priests

Let me explain why Pilate is playing this round robin. Jesus is brought in to Pilates courtroom and dwelling, but verse 28 tells us the Jews didn’t want to enter into the dwelling of a Gentile and be considered unclean and unable to preside over the passover feasts.

28 and they themselves went not into the judgment hall, lest they should be defiled; but that they might eat the passover.

As they are angling to kill Jesus, they’re also working hard to maintain their ceremonial cleanliness. Pilate can see through all of this hypocrisy.  You can almost hear the exasperation in Pilate’s voice as he has to deal with this Jewish problem and decide not what’s true, but what will keep the people from revolting. While we live in a world that has a more tenuous relationship with truth than ever, this is not a new problem.

There’s a difference between winning and doing what’s right.

In John 18, they are not searching for the truth, they are searching for a pragmatic solution. They aren’t looking to do right, they are looking to win. There’s a big difference. When we seek to win the argument at any cost, when we seek to prove the other side wrong at any cost, we’ll use anything at our disposal, right or wrong.

We’ll belittle, we’ll slander, we’ll insult, and we’ll share information that we have no idea if it’s true, but we sure hope it is… We don’t have to win, we just need to do right.

Look back at verse 10 – 11.

10Then Simon Peter having a sword drew it, and smote the high priest’s servant, and cut off his right ear. The servant’s name was Malchus. 11Then said Jesus unto Peter, Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?

Peter wanted to win.

He was so desperate that he pulls out a sword against a large group of officials.
Peter wanted to defend Jesus.
In Matthew 26:53 Jesus says, Peter I could call down 12 legions of angels. Jesus doesn’t need Peter to defend Him.

“The Word of God is like a lion. You don’t have to defend a lion. All you have to do is let the lion loose, and the lion will defend itself.” -Spurgeon

Jesus tells the disciples he has overcome the world. He could have brought down all the angels He needed to wage and win a war, He didn’t do that, yet… You want to learn about when he will, attend Wednesday nights… Jesus has won the war, we don’t have to fight to win! Some of the most sage advice my grandfather ever gave me was, “you don’t need to win, you just need to be the good guy.”

What is truth?

Truth is real.

Did you notice that John gives us the name of the guy who ear got cut off? It’s because John wants people to go and ask about this. John is not afraid of the details, and he’s not afraid of people following up on the story. In fact, John is totally comfortable with people going to see for themselves.

God’s Word is real! We don’t have to fear people looking into it too closely. In fact, there have been plenty of moments when people who set out to disprove the Bible have become followers of Jesus.

Nicky Gumbel, the man who started Alpha sat down to read the Bible to convince some friends that they were crazy for becoming Christians. It ended up turning his whole life upside down. In a good way!

All of the details about Jesus’ trial, most of which we can’t cover here, they are all recorded, all of the moments of Jesus life that John, Matthew, Mark, and Luke record, they are all laid out so that you can see for yourself that Jesus is who He says that He is…

Remember, what did John say was the purpose of this record of Jesus’ life?

But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name. – John 20:21

The gospel needs no special effects.

I’ve always been fascinated by behind the scenes type looks at the process of making movies and especially special effects. Today most of this accomplished by computer generated graphics, but the original star wars didn’t have any of that- they had to use real world practical tricks to give the illusion of being in space.  I remember watching a little clip on the huge model they built of the surface of the death star and just being so fascinated.

Of course, these special effects are needed because they didn’t have an actual space ship the size of a moon, so they had to make it look like they did. The High Priests were using spin and angles to make their case, Jesus just says, I am who I am… We don’t need to add window dressing to the gospel. The Gospel doesn’t need special effects. We don’t need to build the illusion that it’s real. It is real.

Truth is Real. Truth is Powerful.

In verse 6 we read “As soon then as he had said unto them, I am he, they went backward, and fell to the ground.”

When Jesus comes up to them to say He is the one that they are looking for, they are knocked backwards. Some have surmised that this because this was unexpected and they were so taken aback by Jesus’ willingness to just give himself up that they took a step back and being in a crowd they tripped over one another…

However, there was a spiritual element to this.  The truth that Jesus is who says He is so powerful that there is a very real, visceral, powerful, physical reaction to the truth.

The truth knocks them back because it is powerful.

When Jesus would stand and preach in the synagogue and in the Temple, the people would respond with, what power and authority He speaks with! When we come in contact with the gospel, it resonates with us. This powerful gospel touches on the brokenness that we have. It touches on the needs of our hearts. The gospel provides the water we’ve thirsted for, it’s the food we’ve been starving for… The message of Jesus is so powerful that we can’t deny it.

It’s so powerful that it transforms us, it reorients our whole lives. More powerful than any other force on the planet is this powerful truth that Jesus is the Son of God who died for sinners and rose again victorious over death, hell, and the grave.

Pilate begins to experience this power. The first 15 verses of chapter 19 are all about Pilate searching for some way to get out of this predicament without killing Jesus.

Pilate could sense Jesus was real.

Matthew tells us that in the middle of this trial, Pilate’s wife sends him word that she has had a dream about Jesus and begs him to have nothing to do with the just man. At the end of 18, Pilate tries to convince the people to take Jesus as their passover pardon. To make it a sure thing, Pilate gives them only one other option. A thief and murderer who was part of an actual insurrection, what they’re accusing Jesus of…

The priests choose Barabbass… In a last ditch effort, Pilate has Jesus tortured hoping that will be enough to satisfy them, so that He can stop short of killing Jesus. Why did Pilate go to such great lengths to save the life of Jesus?  It was real and it was powerful.

In John 17, Jesus prayed for his people to be sanctified by the truth and then prayed to the Father, your word is truth.

You can’t handle the truth! The truth of God’s word is too powerful and wonderful and real for us to ignore! The truth of God will transform us or we will run away.

The word of God is truth and it is real and powerful.

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