15. April 2022
Passion According to St. John
Pilate therefore said to Him, “Are You a king then?” Jesus answered, “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?” And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews, and said to them, “I find no fault in Him at all.”
In Name of the + Jesus. Amen.
How can you know what is good? How can you find out the truth? What is the right thing to do? Everyone has an ethical framework that guides how they live. Everyone has a moral code that teaches what they do. Everyone has sources of knowledge and wisdom which they trust to instruct them in what is good, right, and true.
Philosophers ancient to modern have asked how we know what we know. They want to provide that framework to guide their thoughts, words, and actions. They seek to understand knowledge, where it comes from, and its limits. They desire to understand their beliefs and opinions, whether individually or collectively as groups. They look within themselves and out to nature for wisdom to live, breathe, and have their being.
But what if you haven’t integrated the wisdom of the ancients Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle, or the medieval thinkers Aquinas, Scotus, and Ockham, or the more recent intellectuals Locke, Hume, Descartes, or Leibniz? And today, you have Jordan Peterson or Brene Brown. You still seek knowledge and wisdom. You live by a moral code and make daily decisions about what is right and wrong. But where did it come from?
Everyone is born with a conscience that guides them. You are born with an innate sense of right and wrong, good and evil. But this conscience has been corrupted since Adam’s rebellion against God. It does not choose what is best or right. It calls what is good, evil and what is evil good. It believes lies and lives according to falsehood. Seek the good as much as you want, you’ll always be flawed in your thinking, saying, and doing.
That’s why parents constantly inform or reform the conscience of children from birth. Given a choice, the child will choose what is pleasurable, satisfying, and exciting, regardless of the moral code of the family or community. They do so without knowing the consequences, or the wisdom to see forward to their decisions’ third and fourth-order results. They don’t understand how one wrong decision can affect their life catastrophically.
Teachers, pastors, employers, and governors continue this work of informing the conscience of those who are under their authority. Because of this perversion of the conscience, it must be reformed for there to be harmony, tranquility, or peace in your family, community, and world. We still are asking with Pilate, “What is truth?”
But the opposite can also occur when the conscience is misinformed and is led into more significant error, encouraged to give in to temptation, and told lies that enslave. The conscience is hardened and brought into captivity to evil and the Evil One. And the bad conscience needs affirmation so that it will infect others. Corrupt knowledge, foolish behavior, and falsehood are shared, promoted, and encouraged. Misery loves company.
This Holy Week, we are given to see the consequence of a misinformed conscience vividly. The Pharisees, scribes, Sadducees, and the rest of the religious and political leaders are convinced that Jesus is a threat to their moral order. Their consciences have been misinformed by decades and centuries of false teaching, moral decline, and unethical lives.
Moses and the Prophets preached to reform their conscience, call them to repentance, and amend their life. But they refused to listen and double-downed in error and foolishness. That’s why they enlisted the help of Rome and stirred up a mob of people with bad consciences to cry out for Jesus’ death. They “shot the messenger” and crucified Jesus.
As corrupt as first-century Jerusalem was, we are warned that everyone is susceptible to the same decline. St. Paul warns Timothy, “Know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (2 Timothy 3:1-7)
Sound familiar? You have God’s Word, the Scriptures, to inform your conscience. For example, the Holy Trinity spoke through Moses and tells you that God has made humankind male and female from the beginning, disqualifying the alphabet soup of gender nonconformity. God tells you that the best family is composed of husband and wife, father and mother. You might find the millennia of philosophical speculation helpful, but the defining word of the Creator Himself is even better.
He gives Ten Words that express the fullness of what it means to have faith in God Father, Son, and Spirit. These Ten Words inform your conscience about what is good, right, and true for you, your family, your community, and your world. But like the religious leaders, political authorities, and the enraged mob of Good Friday, so your conscience refuses to hear, listen, and trust in the way Jesus informs your conscience. There’s one more thing needed, love and, more specifically, the love of Jesus Christ’s forgiveness.
Jesus said to Pilate, “For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” No matter how hard you try to live a moral and ethical life, even as God’s Word informs you, there’s only one way to have a clean conscience. You need your conscience free from the guilt and shame of what you have done and left undone. You need your conscience unburdened of evil thoughts and careless words you speak. And this clean conscience is yours in the absolving blood of Jesus, proclaimed in Christ’s church, pronounced into the ears of repentant sinners, and given in the body and blood of Jesus under the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper.
This gift is for all, even the hardened hearts that cried out, “Crucify Him!” It is even for the Roman soldiers who beat, whipped and mocked Jesus. It’s even for the friends who abandoned Him in His hour of need. As Jesus proclaims before giving up His dying breath, A clean conscience is yours, “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they’re doing.”
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
St. John Ev. Lutheran Church & School – Sherman Center
Random Lake, Wisconsin