Pilate therefore said to him, Are you a king then? Jesus answered, You say that I am a king. To this end was I born…
This entire conversation with the Roman governor will grow clearer, if, in every instance, we substitute "reality" or "genuineness" for "truth."
I. CHRIST CAME TO THIS WORLD TO INCARNATE THE "TRUTH" IN A LIVING HUMANITY. "To this end was I born," &c.
1. So He was "born." Pre-existence must certainly be suggested, or the expression sounds like tautology. Pilate felt the power of this one word; for afterwards when the Jews told him that Jesus had been proclaiming Himself the "Son of God," he recalled it (John 19:7-9).
2. He was born for one definite or supreme end; He was brought into the world to manifest truth to mankind. Let us discriminate —
(1) Not ultimate truth, but available truth. Man wanted first and needed most what he could use for himself in life. Hence, Jesus Christ always preached religion, and not theology; He was practical, and not either abstruse or scientific.
(2) Not speculative truth, but Divine truth. Christ never wasted time in mere imagination; what He preached was direct as if from heaven. That was why the people were astonished at His doctrine (John 3:31-33).
(3) Not dogmatic truth, but experimental truth. Christ was the only religious leader who embodied His teaching in the living, breathing, moving form of a common man in the pursuit of every-day existence.
(4) Not ethical truth, but spiritual truth. Very wisely once wrote Lord Bacon: "There are three parts in truth: first, the inquiry, which is the wooing of it; secondly, the knowledge, which is the presence of it; and thirdly, the belief, which is the enjoyment of it." A proper place, perhaps, into which our Lord's witness should be cast, is found in this last division. For it was no office of His to put forth a new code of morals for others to prove or acquire; He received His revelations from His Father, and what agitated His mind and heart was the wish to have men true enough to enjoy them. He set to others the will of His Father to obey; but He first showed them it was His will by Himself respecting it (Matthew 3:15).
II. JESUS CAME TO TEACH TRUTH TO THE WHOLE RACE. For this "cause" came He into the "world."
1. Look at this word "world"; what was it? Its three main divisions are indicated in the superscription on the cross (chap. John 19:19-22). All these people claimed to seek the truth.
(1) The Greeks were seeking by philosophy, culture, debate and high art. In the time of Christ, these artists of Athens and Corinth pushed their inquiries into the minutest details. In architecture they were governed by rigid axioms as to proportion; their Parthenon would never have been a "true" building with one less of its curves. In the drama, they insisted on "the unities." They had "the line of beauty" for every feature of a statue, and "the tone of colour" for each shade of the painter's pictures. They even counted the digits, and called only the threes, sevens, and tens perfect. But when they came to conduct, they had no such thing as fixed conscientiousness: the juster Aristides became, the sooner they banished him; and the more moral Socrates' lectures grew, the nearer came the time for him to drink the hemlock.
(2) The Latins were seeking truth by inexorable law. They were going to compel human beings to become true by correct drawing, just as they would triangles or trapeziums. But they had only very poor success; they got nothing in the end but a mere book of laws and a phalanx of soldiers to show the world what truth was. The populace grew rigid and machine-like; the higher classes reacted into vice and ingenious forms of immorality.
(3) The Hebrews were seeking truth by ceremonial devotion. They had the Scriptures; but they exalted the letter above the spirit, and those glosses which tradition had added far above them both. Hence the people waxed false with the prismatic distortions of what was true. They claimed a supremacy over the rest of the world because of these "oracles of God" lodged in their hands; and they displayed the Word on their foreheads, but hid it not in their hearts — phylacteries instead of principles.
2. Look at this word "cause." What was the real cause for which Christ entered this wistful world of ours?
(1) Fix attention upon the facts. He found the race crying out for the truth. Men wanted something they could trust. And just then there was heard a single voice in answer, "I am the Truth," &c.
(2) This was Jesus' "cause;'' what did He get for it? They crucified Him! There may have been Greeks at the passover in Jerusalem; but this crucifixion was offensive. Most of the actors were Jews, and they shrieked for Barabbas instead of Jesus. And Pilate, the leader of the Latins, stood there washing his hypocritical hands! Plainly, Jesus Christ was a failure so far.
III. JESUS CAME TO "BEAR WITNESS" UNTO THE TRUTH, and that He did.
1. In despite of His rejection, He left behind Him a testimony for the true which has lifted into hope the wicked race that slew Him. "Whole centuries," says Schiller, "have shown philosophers as well as artists, busied in embodying truth and beauty in the depths of a vulgar humanity; the former appears often to sink at first; but the latter struggles up afterward, victorious in her own indestructible energy." Jesus' self-sacrifice was not lost upon the world, after all. Men are nobler, and women are happier, even little children are more blest, because the Truth went to Golgotha, and was slain upon the cross.
2. What Jesus declined when, in prosperity, He could now afford to accept, when, in a desperate suffering for truth's sake, God's providence gave it to Him. Pilate's title credited to the Son of man all that He ever claimed. Through pain and ignominy, He was now recognized as the world's monarch. Niebuhr writes: "I do not know what to do with a metaphysical God; I have often said that I want no other than the God of the Bible who is heart to heart with me." When Pilate said, "Ecce homo! it meant, Ecce rex!
3. The only hope of our race is found here in Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the kingdom of truth (1 John 5:19, 20).
(C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.
WEB: Pilate therefore said to him, "Are you a king then?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this reason I have been born, and for this reason I have come into the world, that I should testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice."