- The Power of Truth
- Lyndol Loyd May 19, 2019
The last several weeks we’ve been exploring powerful forces in our lives. We have looked at how grace, forgiveness, and love inform who we are, how we relate to other people, and how we experience the world around us. This morning I want to take a stab at the Power of Truth. Truth is one of the highest ideals in just about any culture at any time in history. Human beings seem to know that there is an inherent value in truth. We may speak different languages, eat different foods, dress differently, organize our governments and social structures in ways that don’t look anything like. But every society that I am aware of values truth telling. No one likes a liar.
One of the 10 Commandments Moses received from God was, “thou shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” In other words, tell the truth. I’ve noticed that relationships strained by conflict can be restored…healed, even if the conflict resulted in deep wounds for one or both parties, as long as there was the belief that the other party was acting in good faith. Even if we deeply disagree with someone we can usually – with time – get past the hurt as long as we believe the other person really thought they were doing the right thing. Now, we may totally disagree with them. Time may not change our feeling that the other person was wrong. But, eventually we may agree to disagree as long as we believe the other person was acting in good faith. On the other hand, if we believe the other party has intentionally betrayed us – knowingly and willfully manipulated us with lies – the wounds are much harder to heal.
Truth is important to us. I think we can all agree on that. But, since the beginning of time human beings have asked the question: what is truth? I’m not going to get into the study of philosophy. We would have to get someone a lot smarter than me to do that. But I will say people much smarter than me have asked the question, what is truth? without much success. Men like Socrates, Plato, Aristotle – you may have heard of those guys. No? Hmmm…Thomas Aquinas and Immanuel Kant? Somebody more recent, more modern. Oh, I know! Johnny Cash.
I obviously forgot the #1 rule in communication: know your audience. When in Lubbock, lead with Johnny Cash not Socrates!
Well, none of these great philosophers or others like Bob Dylan or Beyonce from different generations has been able to adequately answer the question: What Is Truth?
I’m no philosopher but I’m going to suggest to you this morning one reason we struggle with this is because we always start with ourselves. “The truth” is often what I want it to be. It’s something that will benefit me. All of us have a bias toward ourselves. Even honest people, people who have no desire to deceive, tend to see the truth as something that benefits and/or makes them look better.
Another way that we start with ourselves is that we tend to overestimate our own experience. We fail to recognize that while sometimes we may have some of the facts – and those facts may very well be true – we don’t have all of the facts. The legal system in our country requires someone who is giving testimony to solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. A person can give testimony and fully believe they are being faithful to that oath. The problem is, unbeknownst to them they don’t have the whole truth. There are things they were unaware of. Possibly things they couldn’t have known. They gave testimony to all of the truth that they had. The catch is, they didn’t have all of the truth.
I have spent a fair amount of time talking about the problem of truth rather than the power of truth. As a matter fact, some of those philosophers throughout history who grappled with the nature of truth have come to the conclusion that there is no such thing as absolute truth. Truth is something that I determine for myself. My truth can be different from your truth.
I’m sure it comes as no surprise that I believe the truth is found in the pages of this book. God has given us his word and it contains the truth. Now, before we dig into a part of his word I want to acknowledge one more thing that I believe to be true. I see it all the time and I’m going to guess you probably do as well. Good, intelligent, well-meaning people can take this book, read the exact same passage, and come up with two different interpretations. We see that all the time. I’m going to leave that for now. We’ll come back to it.
Open your Bibles with me to the Gospel of John chapter 4 verse 19.
John 4:19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21 “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” 25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” 26 Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”
We need to touch on a bit of background here. Jesus was traveling with his disciples and they were going through a region called Samaria. His disciples leave him to go by supplies. While they’re gone he encounters a Samaritan woman at a well. Jesus, being a Jew would be expected to avoid this woman. Partly because she is a woman, partly because she is alone, but mostly because she is a Samaritan. Without going into too many details, Jews and Samaritans shared a common heritage but the Jews of Jesus’ day despised the Samaritans because they had intermarried with other groups and adopted some of their religious practices. It is important for us to note something that we often misunderstand about Samaritans. They shared a common religious heritage with the Jewish people and worshipped Yahweh. The main difference between the two was where they believed the true worship of God should take place. Samaritans had a temple on Mount Gerizim and the Jewish people worshiped at the Temple on Mount Moriah which is in Jerusalem. There were other differences, some of them significant, but that was the main distinction. What’s critical is Samaritans were shunned by the Jews. To say they were despised would not be an exaggeration.
Consequently, this is a very sketchy encounter between Jesus and this woman. But Jesus, as he often did, broke through those barriers and asks this woman for a drink from the well. The woman is quite surprised. Most Jewish men wouldn’t even look at her much less speak to her. During their conversation, Jesus reveals things about the woman that he could never have known unless it had been given to him supernaturally. She is amazed by the things he tells her.
That’s where the Scripture I just read to you picks up in verse 19 with the woman saying to Jesus, “Sir, I can see that you are a prophet.” Later, she would run into the town and tell everyone about this encounter describing Jesus as “a man who told me everything I ever did.” The woman obviously recognizes Jesus as someone special. She doesn’t know exactly who this man is but it’s very clear to her, he has demonstrated by being able to speak into her prophetically, that he carries the presence of God. As a result, she makes a statement that is really more of a question. “Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.” Her statement is interesting because it’s comparing two competing truth claims. Samaritans say that the true place of worship is on Mount Gerizim, which by the way would’ve been visible from the place where they were standing, she could have literally pointed to it on the horizon, while the Jews claim that the true place of worship is in Jerusalem.
Again, the woman’s statement is more of a question. She clearly recognizes Jesus authority. He has demonstrated an ability to have supernatural knowledge so she poses a question. Which is true? There can only be one TRUE place of worship. Which is it? Mount Gerizim or Mount Moriah in Jerusalem?
Jesus, in true Jesus fashion, doesn’t answer the question directly. He doesn’t select one of the two choices she has given him. Instead, essentially he says, “woman, you’re asking the wrong question.” In our humanness we tend to ask questions that go something like this, “who’s right? Me or them.” Earlier, I suggested that our difficulties with finding “the truth” stem from the fact that we start with ourselves. I want the truth to line up with my experiences and what I already think. Often we don’t really want to know “the truth.” We want someone to agree that I’m right. In some ways, the woman’s question is like that. She wants to know who’s right, us or them?
Instead of picking one of the choices, in v21 Jesus points her to a larger truth. There’s a time coming when the worship of God is going to have nothing to do with which mountain you’re standing on. Nothing to do with geography or nationality. It will not be about Jews or Samaritans…Methodists or Baptists…Americans or Russians, white or black, rich or poor.
He doesn’t avoid the distinction altogether. Jesus makes it very clear that we don’t get to make up our own truth. In the next verse (v.22) he doesn’t dodge or deny that salvation will come through the Jews. God has ordained it that way. He has made that selection.
I want to pause here and make an important point. Without veering off and preaching a whole different sermon I want to point out that whenever God established the covenant through Abraham in Genesis 12, 15, and 17, and when he repeats it to Isaac and Jacob in chapters 26 and 28 he repeatedly says, “I am blessing you so that you might be a blessing to the whole world.” In Isaiah, which is of course an Old Testament book, God repeatedly says that he will accept the alien or the foreigner who turns to him and acts faithfully. God is not racist. He created all of mankind in his image. The entire New Testament speaks to God’s covenant of love and forgiveness being extended to the Gentiles.
Jesus acknowledges the truth that God has chosen and salvation will come through the Jews. However he’s telling the Samaritan woman, a person who would be despised by other Jews, the time is coming when all of these divisions are not going to matter. He goes on to elaborate on that in the next two verses. “A time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the father in the Spirit and in truth for they are the kind of worshipers the father seeks. God is spirit and his worshipers must worship in the spirit and in truth.” John 4:23-24
We meet God on his terms. We don’t get to make up our own truth. We will know the truth when we meet the one who is the truth. And, by the way, you won’t meet him on a mountain. There was a saying that we used in my family for someone who struggled with telling the truth: he wouldn’t know the truth if he met it in the street.
Jesus seems to be saying here that to know the truth is to meet the one who is the truth. You won’t meet him on a street or on a mountain. Are you ready for this? You won’t meet him just by being in a church. You’ll only meet the truth by worshiping him in the spirit. Worship is not coming to a mountain (church) and having the expert stand up and tell you the answer to all of life’s questions. If we put our confidence in what a philosopher, a teacher, yes, a preacher tells us, we will still be left with a lot of questions. The truth can only be found when we meet the Creator of the entire universe in the spirit. I believe you can best do that among the body of believers who are coming together seeking the same thing. A church that comes together in community to worship together. Seeking not answers from each other or an expert but seeking to come into contact with the living God.
The woman at the well hears all of this and responds in a way that tells us she is starting to understand the truth but still doesn’t quite get it. She says, “when the Messiah (called Christ) comes he will explain everything to us.” Jesus then declares, “I, the one speaking to you – I am he.”
She didn’t have to go to her special mountain and go through any particular ritual. She encountered the truth just going to draw water from a well. Everywhere we are – God is there. He is spirit and he is truth. He has revealed himself to us just as he did to the Samaritan woman in the person of Jesus Christ. Seek him and you will know the truth.
You don’t have to be a woman or a Samaritan to relate to the woman at Jacob’s well.
I want to leave you with two suggestions. I say I say “suggestions” because, while I believe they are truths, I’m not the arbiter of all truths. I believe that my calling as a pastor and as a preacher is to point you to the truth. That’s not me! My job is to always point you to Jesus. I hope that’s what I’ve done here today. My two suggestions can be illustrated from a story that is centuries old. Some of you have probably heard it before.
It’s the story of five blind men and an elephant.
A group of blind men heard that a strange animal, called an elephant, had been brought to the town, but none of them were aware of its shape and form. Out of curiosity, they said: “We must inspect and know it by touch, of which we are capable”. So, they sought it out, and when they found it they groped about it. In the case of the first person, whose hand landed on the trunk, said “This being is like a thick snake”. For another one whose hand reached its ear, it seemed like a kind of fan. As for another person, whose hand was upon its leg, said, the elephant is a pillar like a tree-trunk. The blind man who placed his hand upon its side said the elephant, “is a wall”. Another who felt its tail, described it as a rope. The last felt its tusk, stating the elephant is that which is smooth and sharp like a spear.
The differing perspectives ended in an argument that led to violent conflict. Just as the men began to fight, another man with sight intervened. He said, “Gentlemen, please listen to me. I am able to see the elephant, let me describe what I see.” He then began to explain how the elephant was a very large animal and, just like the men who had hands and fingers and feet and ears, the elephant had different parts and each of the men had simply experienced one of those different parts. The men sheepishly apologized to each other realizing that no one was lying. No one was intentionally deceiving the others. All of them had part of the truth, but none of them had all of the truth.
So, the two suggestions I would like to leave you with are these:
- and like to leave you withTruth is bigger than you. The elephant in the story is real. The fact that those men only had bits and pieces didn’t make the elephant any less real. I would caution you against buying into the philosophical and sometimes cultural notion that truth is only what I make it. The truth is not dependent on you. You and I don’t get to determine truth based on our own experience. Everyone of us has blind spots and we often will have a part of the truth but not all of it. Live with enough humility to recognize that the truth is bigger than just you.
- The truth is a personThe truth is a PERSON – not a set of rules or guidelines. Jesus Christ is the way the truth and the life. Seek him. Worship him in spirit — and the truth will become evident. The Samaritan woman left Jesus and immediately went and told everyone about him. Being in the presence of Jesus changes us. The truth is a person, not a set of rules or guidelines, but that doesn’t mean that our lives will not be changed. Trying to do all the right things never works. We always end up failing. Seek Jesus first. Desire more of him. When you encounter the real truth – the person of Jesus Christ – your behavior will naturally follow. I’m not saying you’ll never be tempted or that you’ll never make a mistake in sin. What I’m saying is that when you encounter the truth that is Jesus Christ that will no longer become the overriding desire in your life. Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you.