We are now only two short weeks away from celebrating what was once called Resurrection Day but we now know it under the more common name of Easter Sunday. On our way to Easter Sunday these past weeks, we have been looking at the question, “What is truth?” We have seen that truth is often ridiculed and violently opposed before it is accepted. We have seen that truth depends upon which world or kingdom who choose to live. In the mortal kingdom of humanity, truth often is simply whatever you want it to be. In philosophy, the approach of individualized truth follows the coherence theory of truth. In this manner, what is truth is defined by you so long as your beliefs are consistent with one another. No one belief needs to be based upon objective evidence so long as all your truth statements cohere, agree, with each other. Let’s say you believe all the presidents of the United States are corrupt, that all presidents are evil, and that any attempt to convince you otherwise would be based on lies. These beliefs reinforce one another and therefore there is coherence in your statements. This would be your truth and there is nothing outside of yourself that could counter your truth. Often, when people are operating on individualized truth, they will say something like, “It does not matter what you say, you cannot change my mind. This is what I believe to be true.” To say this is in a humorous manner, we might say, “Don’t confuse me with facts, my mind is made up.” Such truth, whether held by one individual, a group of people, or a nation can be an incredibly powerful force, most often to the detriment of others. The Jewish people suffered under the coherence of Nazi “truth” that the source of all the ills of Germany rested upon the behavior of the Jews. This type of “truth” started with one individual, then to a small group, then on to a political party, and ultimately became a widespread belief in the entire country.
Humans lean toward the coherence theory of truth by creating their own beliefs and their own gods. I believe this one reason why so many people today reject the Bible. They reject the Bible because the Bible claims to be inspired by God, a being who is outside of all individuals, groups, and nations. As such, the words and teaching of the Bible necessarily challenge the construction of individualized truth. In many cases, the Bible calls humanity’s self-made beliefs false or lies. Such words do not set well with many people.
If we accept the Bible, then we quickly come to realize that God created us, we did not create God. And if God created us, then He is the source of truth, not us. For many people, and here I mean genuinely good people with kind hearts and pleasant smiles, cannot accept that God contradicts their sincerely held beliefs. They prefer to hold onto their sincerely held beliefs even if they believe in things that are not are true. They feel that if they do not hurt anyone, as they define hurt, then there is no harm in holding onto a sincerely held false belief.
The problem with sincerely held false beliefs is they contradict God. Think of this way. False beliefs create a multitude of false gods for us to follow. The problem with sincerely held false beliefs is that we do not keep them to ourselves. Like the contagion we are faced with today, those false beliefs are taught to children who then perpetuate them. The problem with sincerely held false beliefs is they cause us to miss the mark. Think of it this way. Let’s say you were walking a great distance and you were only 10 off on your trek. If you traveled 60 miles, starting just one degree off, you will miss the mark by 1 mile. The world is full of people missing the mark because they do not believe in the truth of God.
As we return to our question, “What is truth?” we find these words of comfort in the opening words of the Bible from Genesis, Chapter 1, verse 1, אֱלֹהִיםבְּרֵאשִׁית, (re'shiyth bara’ ‘elohiym). “In the beginning God created.” The truth is God existed and then he created all there is. God created humanity, we did not create God. To help humanity to seek truth from God and not from other sources, God spoke to humanity directly, through prophets, and through His own son, Jesus. Directly, we heard God say in our reading from Exodus 20:3-7, “3You shall have no other gods before me. 4 You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God…7 You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.” God knew our desire to have other gods, make images of those gods so that we could worship them, and then to diminish God by misusing His name. God is jealous because He knows how dangerous it is if we put other things ahead of him. So God spoke directly these words and inscribed them on tablets of stone.
The people of God obeyed God’s command found in Exodus, at least for a while, and then slowly, without hurting anyone else, slipped into their own ways. God then raised up a prophet to speak to the people. The prophet’s name was Jeremiah. We read earlier from the book bearing the prophet’s name these words, “The Lord sent me to prophesy against this house and this city all the things you have heard. 13 Now reform your ways and your actions and obey the Lord your God. Then the Lord will relent and not bring the disaster he has pronounced against you” (Jeremiah 26:12, 13). God spoke directly in Exodus and now spoke through his prophet Jeremiah to the people that they reform their ways and actions and obey God. God is the source of truth. Truth will not be found in religious practices, temples, or sacrifices. The truth, God, will only be found in Him.
The people listened to Jeremiah, for a while, and then slowly, believing they were hurting no one, the people slipped into finding truth in institutions, practices, and beliefs of their own creation. What was God to do? We have read God’s response from the Gospel of John, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 14The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1). The Word was Jesus. Jesus said, “The reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me” (John 18:37). God spoke the need to come to him for the truth, he did so through his prophets, and now through his son who was living among the people with the expressed purpose of revealing the truth.
Despite all of God’s efforts, people, powerful people, the best and brightest of Israel, hung onto their sincere beliefs and sought to destroy the truth, Jesus, who was God, the truth, in human form. We read in our New Testament reading today that, “13 Later they sent some of the Pharisees [respected religious leaders] and Herodians [powerful men from the king’s court] to Jesus to catch him in his words.” The powerful people wanted to find something in Jesus’ words that were inconsistent with his teachings so that they could accuse him of false teachings. They wanted to show that Jesus lacked coherence. They wanted to destroy Jesus. By destroying Jesus, the powerful could continue to determine their own truth and because they were powerful, they could determine the truth for others.
This band of powerful men came to Jesus and began speaking words of flattery to Jesus. “‘Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not? 15 Should we pay or shouldn’t we?’” (Mark 12:14, 15). The men applied their buttery words to mask their true intentions of trapping Jesus with a question on whether to pay taxes owed to Caesar, an earthly ruler. This was a trap since to say simply “Yes, pay tax to Caesar,” would be an act of betrayal of the Jewish people to financially support their own oppression by the Romans. To say, “No, don’t pay your taxes,” would be an act of revolution calling the Romans down on Jesus’ head. This is the problem with yes or no questions.
Verse 15 continued, “But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked. Jesus saw the flattery of the Pharisees and Herodians for what it was, hypocrisy; that pretense of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one's own behavior does not conform. Jesus saw the question as a trap and therefore chose to bring everyone back to the earliest of commandments concerning the truth. Verse 15 concludes, “‘Bring me a denarius [a Roman coin] and let me look at it.’ 16 They brought the coin.” I just want to pause there for a moment because we might miss something important. Jesus had no money. Did you notice that? Jesus had to ask his questioners to hand him one of the coins in their possession because Jesus had none. Throughout Jesus’ ministry, Jesus used money as a way of revealing people’s priorities, the self-serving truths that governed their lives. When Jesus sent his disciples to preach the good news he said, “Carry no purse or bag.” Jesus said, “What is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God” (Luke 14:15). “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (Luke 6:24). Jesus had no coin in his possession. His body, mind, and spirit were focused only on God. The little seemingly insignificant fact that Jesus did not have a coin of his own expresses the distinction that there are two kingdoms in play. There is the earthly kingdom centered on money and the eternal kingdom centered on God. Jesus was of the kingdom of God living in the earthly kingdom.
Verse 16, “16 They brought the coin and he [Jesus] asked them [the Pharisees and Herodians], ‘Whose image is this? And whose inscription?’ ‘Caesar’s,’ they replied. 17 Then Jesus said to them, ‘Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.’ And they were amazed at him.”
The smug Pharisees and Herodians stood there with their mouths open, speechless. They came to Jesus to trap him with words of flattery, that they did not believe, only to be shown that their words were true testimony about Jesus. Jesus was indeed a man of integrity, unswayed by others, and able to teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Jesus showed these men that the engraved image on their coin was that of Caesar, a man who was the symbol of earthly kingdoms. The coin was therefore an idol of Caesar’s creation. The idol belonged to Caesar and therefore was rightfully his to ask it to be returned.
But God declared that there should be no idol of Him to be worshiped but only that He be worshipped. Jesus said to these Pharisees and Herodians, and to you and me, “Give to God what He has asked be returned to him.” What is that God wants returned? Why you and me, of course. God is a redeemer; He seeks to reclaim the lost. God is a savior; He seeks to save those drowning in the earthly kingdom with all its beliefs. God is a healer; He seeks to heal those who are sick with sin. God has a kingdom and he wants each person to be part of it.
Jesus opened his ministry to all those who would listen with these words, “Repent [Turn to God], for the kingdom of heaven is near.” Jesus came to speak the truth of this kingdom and shake us out of the truths we create for ourselves. Here are some of the things Jesus said to redeem us, save us, and heal us from our own tidy beliefs.
- Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
- The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.
- Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
- Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.
- Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.
- Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.
- Seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.
We seek to create our own truths in the kingdoms of politics, business, the arts, philosophy, and even religion. We do so because we are seeking to create significance for ourselves. Jesus said if you want significance in your life, then seek first the kingdom of God and all other things will be given to you as well. If you want significance, turn to God for his kingdom is near and in God you will become his child. This is significance beyond anything that can be imagined in the kingdom of the world. Let’s evaluate everything else in life through that truth and see that “The kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17). Amen and Amen.