“What is truth?”
I struggled with the answer in believing the claims of an itinerant teacher named Jesus, whom some called a rabbi. He taught of a coming kingdom that would never end. He claimed that he was the promised Messiah, the Son of God prophesied in our Scriptures.
As a resident of Jerusalem, I became acquainted with some of his followers who told me of his ministry, his crucifixion and a compelling account of his resurrection from a tomb sealed with a large stone and guarded by Roman soldiers. But I questioned these claims. I was searching for the truth, and for the facts in order to know the truth. And whose facts to believe.
It was a poorly kept secret that the chief priest and religious lawyers wanted to “get rid” of this Jesus, a troublemaker who threatened their authority.
The events leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus began shortly before Passover, the day when we celebrate God’s deliverance from our ancestors’ enslavement in Egypt. One of his disciples, a seditionist named Judas, had approached the religious leaders in Jerusalem with a plot to identify Jesus when he was alone and without the large crowds that generally surrounded him.
The leaders sealed the deal with Judas by promising a generous bounty once Jesus was in their custody.
They launched their plan on the night before Passover. Jesus was camped with a small band of his followers outside Jerusalem in a garden of olive trees. Judas led the religious police, acting on the authority of the chief priests, to the garden where they found Jesus.
A quick trial before the high priest was held that night. The next morning, they led Jesus to an audience with Pilate, the Roman governor of the region, who had the authority to order an execution. It soon became obvious that Pilate was troubled by the lack of facts to support the claims of the religious leaders.
The chief priests and lawyers arranged for witnesses to testify that Jesus claimed he would destroy the temple, although their testimony proved inconsistent and contradictory. They claimed that Jesus was fomenting insurrection and advocating that people not pay their taxes to Caesar.
The repeated trials were becoming something of a scandal as it became increasingly clear the charges lacked factual merit. Pilate even arranged to have Herod, a governor of another region who was in Jerusalem for the holiday, to hear the case. But he, too, found no basis in the allegations. Pilate looked for ways to free Jesus.
The accusers were undeterred. They had their man, and they had their allegations. And they believed those allegations despite the repeated denials by those adjudicating the case. With each trial and with each rebuff of their petitions, the accusers became increasingly vehement in their accusations and claims. In their mind, their cause justified their claims.
“What is truth?” Pilate asked rhetorically of Jesus. Forced into adjudicating the claims repeatedly pushed by these authorities, Pilate had struggled with the answer. Were their repeated claims valid? Or were they lies motivated by self-interest?
Now the religious leaders amped up their threats. “We have no king but Caesar,” they chanted in unison in response to the claims of Jesus. “Anyone who claims to be king opposes Caesar.” The accusations became personal as they shouted to Pilate, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar.”
Exasperated by the persistence of the religious leaders and the absence of evidence to support their claims, Pilate first invoked the tradition of releasing a prisoner at Passover. But the accusers would have nothing of it.
He then turned to torture to appease their quest for justice. After a brutal flogging and placing a humiliating robe and crown of thorns on Jesus’ head, Pilate hoped this would appease the impassioned crowd. It didn’t.
Their repeated claims became even more brazen and vocal. The religious leaders of the day rallied the crowd into chanting “crucify him!” The crowd was now teetering on violence.
Pilate knew the truth. But political expediency prevailed. He acquiesced to the allegations, washed his hands of the affair, and ordered that Jesus be crucified. As a final gesture of what he knew to be just and in defiance of Jesus’ accusers, Pilate placed a sign on the cross proclaiming “Jesus of Nazareth, The King of the Jews.”
Jesus was buried on Friday in a borrowed tomb. On Sunday, his friends went to the tomb to perform a ceremonial anointing of his body only to find his grave clothes neatly folded and the large stone covering its entrance rolled back. The tomb was empty.
Multiple witnesses attested to seeing the risen Jesus, talking with him, listening to him speak, and watching as he ascended into heaven.
What is truth? That is a question we each must answer. Based on the record of witnesses, I believe that Jesus is Christ the Lord, the Son of God, the risen savior who sits at the right hand of God.