Does Absolute Truth Exist

| John 1:14-18; 8:30-32; 18:36-38

Week of December 15, 2019

The Point:  Truth is found in Jesus Christ.

The Incarnation of Christ: John 1:14-18.

[14] And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. [15] (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.'”) [16] And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. [17] For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. [18] No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.  [ESV]

“The Word Became Flesh [14]. Verse 14 states the doctrine of the incarnation of Christ. God the Son – the Word – did not come to existence in His incarnation, but He became a human being in addition to a divine being. Christ’s incarnation means that the Son of God became a human in the fullest sense, without losing any of His divinity. Jesus is sinless without losing His full humanity. He is uncorrupted, true humanity. When John speaks of our flesh, he does not refer to our sinful nature, as is Paul’s meaning of this term, but simply our human nature. John means that Jesus gained a human body, which enabled Him to suffer death for us. Jesus also possessed a human mind and heart; He felt all that we feel, including sorrow and joy, weariness and temptation. Because of this, He is able to sympathize with us in our trials. Moreover, Jesus lived a human life in the same world in which we live. Because He truly lived as we live, Jesus sets an example for us to follow. These, then, are the three main reasons why the Word became flesh: to die, to sympathize with us, and to show us how to live. We do not understand how one person can be both God and man. But the Bible shows that Jesus possesses two distinct natures – one divine, one human – without any mingling or confusion between them. What does this say about God’s desire for our salvation – that He actually stepped into our world and became one of us? This shows the value of every human life, given the dignity that God gave to humans above all other creatures. First God created us in His own image [Gen. 1:26]; then He sent His own Son to become a Son of Man, so that we might become in Him the sons and daughters of God. John tells us not merely that the Word became flesh, but also that He dwelt among us. John is directing us back to the exodus, when God dwelt among the Israelites in the tabernacle. Everything about the tabernacle was symbolic of spiritual realities and especially of Jesus Christ, who came as God’s true tabernacle. Jesus must always be at the center of everything we do, everything we believe, and everything for which we hope. In Jesus Christ, God has tabernacled with us. The tabernacle was also called the “tent of meeting.” It was the place where the people met with God and saw the shekinah glory cloud that shined from within. John applies this to Christ’s coming. This supplies a workable definition of a Christian. A Christian is someone who sees in Jesus the glory of God. The word that John uses for we have seen has a rich meaning, including the idea of personal contact and interaction. John means that believers commune with Christ in His glory. This is what makes us Christians, and also makes Christianity so exciting as our growing faith discovers His glory more and more. Jesus showed the glory of God not merely through the power of His divine nature, but also in His human nature through a humble, obedient, servant life. John concludes this great verse, saying, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. Here are two specific aspects of God’s glory that Jesus revealed: His grace and His truth. The cross was the greatest display of the glory of God’s grace. To the world, the cross was the most shameful of all things. It involved physical torture, personal humiliation, and a cursed death. This was God’s way of showing us the true shame of our sin. But because the perfect Son of God died in this way for us, the cross displays the grace of God to the highest glory of His name. Jesus first glorifies God’s grace to us, then He leads us into the glory of God’s truth. People ask: How can we know God? We answer: Jesus Christ came into this world to show us the glory of the truth of God in a human face. Therefore, to reject Jesus is to reject the truth about God. But if we receive Jesus, we come into the knowledge of God for the salvation of our souls. Moreover, Jesus left us His Word in the Bible. It, too, is now our glory. We hold in a book the truth of God in all its glory, provided for us through the ancient prophets and the apostles of Jesus Christ. If we have seen God’s glory in the face of Christ, and if we have received God’s grace at the cross of Christ, then let us love and desire the knowledge of God’s truth through the Word of Christ, so that we might glorify God through our lives of humble, obedient, and Christlike service. The Unique Savior [15-18]. Jesus is the Savior for all who seek a true guide to follow. He is not dead and gone, but He lives and reigns here in us through His Word and by the Holy Spirit. To grow strong and follow the true path, every Christian must nurture a living relationship with Jesus through prayer and the study of His Word. One reason why this is so important is the provision that Jesus can uniquely give. For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace [16]. Jesus has a fullness of all the spiritual blessings we need. There is never a circumstance beyond His ability to provide. He can provide for all our needs out of His infinite, almighty, divine life, and also out of His inexhaustible well of love for us. The grace of Christ takes many forms. He brings us faith, comforts us with peace, encourages us with hope, enlivens us with joy, and inspires us with love. Different situations require different kinds of grace, and we find them all in Christ. Realizing this truth will have two effects in our lives. The first is that we can find satisfaction in any circumstance, because our fullness is in and from Jesus Christ. The only thing for which we should truly crave is more of the grace that Jesus gives. If we have received peace, Jesus has more peace for us to enjoy. If we have found joy in Christ, He has more abounding joy to give. If our hearts have been changed by grace, Jesus has more grace to change us more and more completely into His image. When we realize the fullness that Christ has to give us, the second effect is that we will start to give grace to others. The way to abound in grace is both to seek grace for ourselves and to give it to others. Furthermore, Jesus is unique in the particular resources He provides us. Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ [17]. The term grace refers both to God’s disposition and to His manner of saving sinners. God is gracious in His person: this describes His kindness, mercy, and eagerness to save even those who have sinned against Him. Moreover, God saves by means of grace, offering salvation as a free gift, received through faith alone. Jesus also brings truth. Only Jesus can make the Father known to us [18]. All through the Old Testament, godly men and women longed for an intimate knowledge of God. Jesus came to provide the perfect revelation of God that men could receive. Jesus is Himself very God of very God, one in the divine Trinity. He is in intimate fellowship of love with God the Father. He is the One who can show us God. This means that Jesus is the unique and only Savior for all who long to know God. Jesus gives a full revelation of God in what He taught and what He did. To know what God is like and what God intends for the world, we need only study Jesus Christ.” [Phillips, vol. 1, pp. 53-71].

Abide in My Word: John 8:30-32.

[30] As he was saying these things, many believed in him. [31] So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, [32] and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”   [ESV]

“Truly My Disciples. In the midst of Jesus’ debate with the Pharisees, as John records in chapter 8, many believed in him [30]. How wonderful it is that Jesus immediately interrupted His debate to address these professed believers. This tells us that Jesus is far more interested in the single soul that believes than in empires or institutions. Not only are the words that Jesus spoke on this occasion important for these particular new believers, but they present His essential call to converts in all places and times. Addressing these new believers, Jesus speaks of discipleship proved, discipleship experienced, and discipleship blessed with the freedom that only He can give. Discipleship Proved. All through the Gospel of John we encounter two kinds of belief: true and false. At several places we encounter a false faith that responds positively to Jesus but is not received by Him as genuine. The only thing that proves true discipleship is a faith that endures. According to Jesus, a single condition demonstrates the truth of our discipleship: If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples [31]. It is not enough to have warm feelings toward Jesus or to find some of His teachings agreeable. Instead, Jesus seeks and calls for true disciples, that is, those who abide in His Word. The word abide is a significant one in the Gospel of John, especially in Jesus’ teaching on the vine and the branches in chapter 15. The ordinary meaning of abide is to “remain,” “continue,” or “dwell.” But Jesus also has in mind the idea of a life connection. Jesus’ concern is not merely that we should continue to call ourselves Christians, but that we should abide in His Word in the way that a branch abides in the vine. The branch receives its life from the vine and bears the fruit of the vine. Likewise, Jesus teaches, true disciples are those who find their life in His Word and in that way bear His fruit. Again, linking this abiding to true discipleship, Jesus said, By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples [15:8]. True faith in Jesus receives salvation immediately – anyone who truly believes in Jesus is forgiven of his sins and justified before God on the spot. But the truth of our faith – its validity – is proved only as we continue and abide in the life and Word of Jesus. It is in this sense that abiding is the condition of true discipleship. Jesus seeks and approves only a faith that demonstrates its truth by abiding in Him. Discipleship Experienced. True discipleship is not something that happens only at the beginning and end of our Christian lives. Rather, it is the lifelong experience of all who truly follow Jesus. Jesus described this life: If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth [31-32]. The Christian life is one of increasing enlightenment in truth. Much of the thrill of walking with Jesus is to have our eyes increasingly opened to see truth. We come to Him, having lived in darkness, being deceived by lie upon lie. But as we abide in His Word, we find that God renews us by the transforming of our minds. Are you experiencing this increasing enlightenment? Are you regularly made aware by God’s Word of ways in which you have been misled and deceived? Does your devotion to the study of Scripture make you feel like a man or woman being let out of the basement of this world and increasingly led up the staircase into the well-lighted rooms above? If not, how much you are missing! In what folly and ignorance you must inevitably be leading your life! If you have not experienced this, stop giving your mind to the false teachings of the world. Start devoting yourself seriously and prayerfully to studying God’s Word, and let the light shine into your mind and heart. If you will, truth after truth will build a new foundation for a new life, and you will start to bear the fruit of a true disciple of Jesus. What is “the truth” to which Jesus refers? The truth is first and foremost Jesus Himself. To know the truth is always to know Jesus. This is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent [17:3]. But the truth also involves His gospel and the doctrines of salvation taught in the Bible. Jesus says that by abiding in His Word, we will know the truth of salvation. This is why the church’s life is always impoverished when Christians neglect the great doctrines of the Bible. The disciple of Christ who abides in His Word comes to know the truth generally. He comes to understand life. He knows that the world is bound in sin, and he is not surprised by trials and evil. He looks to the world to come with the return of Christ and places his hope there. In this way, the true disciple abides in Christ’s Word and learns the truth. Since disciple means “learner,” the truth of God’s Word is a genuine believer’s greatest treasure. By the Word of Christ our lives are transformed, and by the teaching of the Word of Christ faith is brought to life in others. Discipleship Blessed. True discipleship is tested and proved by abiding in the Word of Christ. True discipleship is experienced as our lives are increasingly enlightened in the truth of Christ’s Word. This true discipleship is then blessed through this same truth. Jesus concluded, If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free [31-32]. This is the great promise that comes from the lips of Jesus to all who learn from Him as true disciples. Freedom is one of the great words for describing salvation. To be saved is to be set free by Jesus Christ. By shining His truth, Jesus frees us: by abiding in His Word we know the truth, and by knowing the truth our lives are set free. Here, Jesus insists that a true disciple will abide in His Word. Does that describe you? Do you delight in the Bible, even though you once thought it irrelevant or boring? If you do not have a desire to study God’s Word – if your profession of faith has not led you to walk long in the paths of Scripture – then you might ask whether your faith is genuine and whether your salvation is real. But if this is true of you – if you are drawn to God’s Word, if you find that its promises are precious, its warnings fearful, and its truths inspiring to your soul – then you may take comfort that you are a true disciple. Now abide in that Word, as a branch abides in the vine. In this way, you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. You will experience the greatest freedom there is – the only true freedom – to fellowship with God, to offer your life in service to His glorious kingdom, and to experience the spiritual blessings of heaven within your soul.” [Phillips, vol. 1, pp. 537-546].

What is Truth?: John 18:36-38.

[36] Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” [37] Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world–to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” [38] Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, “I find no guilt in him.   [ESV]

“Kingdoms in Conflict. The passage begins as Jesus is led by the Jewish leaders to Pilate’s residence in Jerusalem. Earlier in the morning the Jewish trial had taken place, in which Jesus was falsely accused of various crimes. When that attempt failed, the high priest asked whether He was the Christ and Son of God. Jesus admitted that He was, and on that basis He was convicted of blasphemy [Mark 14:61-63]. On this charge, Jesus was brought to the Roman governor to be executed by him. The discussion concerning Jesus’ kingdom in verses 33-35 sets the stage for an important statement by Jesus regarding His kingdom in verse 36. This statement by Jesus tells us two vital things about Christ’s kingdom, beginning with the words my kingdom [36]. The point is that Jesus Christ is a King. This man, standing as a prisoner before the worldly governor, brought in as a criminal, bearing no emblems of worldly power, is a King. The audacity of this claim was not lost on Pilate. When the governor first questioned Jesus, he emphasized the contrast between the idea of Jesus’ purported kingship and His lowly appearance. In the Greek text a very clear emphasis is placed on the pronoun you. “You,” he says, “are you a king?” [33]. This is a way of thinking that is not restricted to Pontius Pilate. People today think the same way. Jesus might be a worthy fellow, a nice example in a spiritual sort of way, but He is not a power to be reckoned with. Jesus commands no armies, nor does He decide who gets promoted, who becomes rich, or who rises in rank in the world. He might be a nice religious model, but He is not really someone to take too seriously. So, at least, the thinking goes. Yet Jesus insists that He is a King and that He has a kingdom. It is not, however, a kingdom like any other. My kingdom, Jesus said, is not of this world [36]. Jesus’ kingdom is a spiritual one. It is not like the kingdom that Pilate represented. If Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world, then it must be of some other origin, and that origin is heaven. Jesus reigns with spiritual and heavenly authority. That means that it is over the soul that Jesus reigns, through spiritual power and heavenly principles. The Values of this World. This encounter between Jesus and Pilate was not only between two kingdoms and their respective powers, but also between two radically different value systems. In the actions of both Pilate and the Jewish leaders we clearly see the values of the kingdom of this world. The first of these values is utilitarianism, or what we might call pragmatism. Our world believes in and practices whatever works. That is the religion of mankind, and especially of America. This value is clearly present in this encounter between Pilate and Jesus. We see this value exemplified in the behavior of the Jews. They had to bring false charges against Jesus before Pilate. They did this because they thought it expedient to lie; they thought their scheme would work. It did not work, however, for as John 18:38 tells us, Pilate acquitted Jesus of the charges against Him. I find no guilt in him. This was the formal ruling of this court of law. At this point, however, the Jews simply changed their complaint [19:7]. Finally they had to resort to direct intimidation of Pilate [19:12]. In summary, the Jewish leaders threw justice aside, operating by pure expediency, which is the way of this world. The second worldly value that this passage highlights is relativism, which is closely allied to utilitarianism. Jesus was explaining the nature of His kingdom [37]. To this Pilate gave a reply that is both classic and revealing, admirably representing the values of this world. He replied, What is truth? [38]. This might be the motto of our utilitarian, relativistic age which assumes that there is more than one truth, or no real truth at all. Indeed, the great offense of Christianity in our time is the claim that Christ is not merely a Savior, but the only Savior, the only way and truth and life. Self-serving pragmatists cannot afford the idea of absolute truth. Truth is an encumbrance if our highest aim is merely to serve our own apparent good. But for Jesus and His kingdom, truth is not something to be twisted or manipulated but revealed [37]. This explains why Jesus allowed Himself to be falsely charged, brutally abused, and ultimately crucified. Why? To do the work of His kingdom, to reveal the truth. As members of Christ’s kingdom, we take our stand on the truth that is our greatest source of power in this world and measure our success in terms of fidelity to that truth.” [Phillips, vol. 2, pp. 510-520].

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What is “absolute truth”? What is necessary for a truth claim to be considered “absolute”? Why is the God of Scripture the only source of “absolute truth”?
  2. Are you abiding in Jesus’ Word? Is the Word of God the food for your soul in which you constantly abide? Is your “faith” in Jesus high enough among your priorities that you devote yourself to serious Bible study? And is the Word of God increasingly manifesting godly fruit in your life? Is your character changing? Are your habits being reformed? Has your attitude toward time, relationships, money, and speech been molded by the teaching of Jesus?
  3. How would you answer Pilate’s question: “What is truth”?
  4. What is the relationship between Jesus and absolute truth? Since truth came through Jesus Christ, how should you respond to Jesus’ teaching? Phillips writes: “Jesus must always be at the center of everything we do, everything we believe, and everything for which we hope.” What practical steps can you take to continually have Christ the center of your life?

References:

The Gospel According to John, D. A. Carson, Inter Varsity.

John, Andreas Kostenberger, BENT, Baker.

The Message of John, Bruce Milne, Inter Varsity.

John, vol. 1, 2, Richard Phillips, REC, P&R Publishing.