At one time King Charles told Oliver Cromwell to pose for a portrait. Cromwell, it is said, was not all that eager to do so, but because the king told him to do it, he did it. As Cromwell sat for the artist, the man studied him for several moments and noticed that Cromwell had a rather sizable wart like growth on his face. He tactfully suggested that Cromwell face the other direction so he would see the other side of his face and that would be a better pose. Cromwell responded, “Mr. Lely, I desire you would use all your skill to paint my picture truly like me, and not flatter me at all; but note all these roughnesses, pimples, warts and everything you see: otherwise I will not pay a penny for it. (Show picture) It is from this quote by Cromwell we get the saying, “warts and all.”
Jesus said, “I came into the world to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” The truth is something like that painting. There are parts of the truth we very much like and admire, but there are also parts which make us uncomfortable. In the book, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis says at one point, “I am trying here to prevent anyone from saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Jesus: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.’ That is one thing we may not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.
The Gospel reading today is one of those sections of Scripture to which Lewis refers. Jesus tells Pilate that the reason he was born was to testify to the truth and that everyone who belongs to the truth listens to his voice. If I were to tell you this you would think I was either crazy or extremely arrogant, wouldn’t you, and rightfully so! Jesus said he was born to testify to the truth. Furthermore just some 12 hours earlier, Jesus had told his disciples, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father, but by me.” So he says he not only was born to testify to the truth but that he is the truth.
What does this mean exactly? How did Jesus testify to the truth and be the truth? Jesus said the truth about who God the Father is and Jesus also tells us the truth about this universe and the way it works. He tells his followers that He is the only way to God. Today if one wants to be unpopular, one has only to say that all other religions have got it wrong and only Christianity is right. How arrogant, how close minded, and how politically incorrect that thinking is, right? Our culture tends to view religions like types of music. One person may like classical, another likes soft rock or jazz, another likes country—there are no wrong choices, there are simply preferences. Jesus though tells us religion is not a preference it is more like a mathematics problem in which one either has the answer right or has it wrong. If Jesus really is who he said he was, if Jesus is indeed God in the flesh, then he knows the ways to God. If he is God then he would know all the ways. The founder of Christianity taught us that God is the God of all and that God is a God of love. He also taught that there are no other ways to God, not one. He, Jesus, is the only way. It is not a matter of preferences; it is a right or wrong answer.
He also said the truth about the situation of humanity. Generally, we would prefer to see only our “good” side, the side without the warts. And, to be sure, Jesus does see our good side. Jesus commends some people for their faith, for their devotion to him, and for their good behavior. But then there is the other side of the coin. Humans, all of us, are sinners. We all need to repent. Jesus does not make up a new type of moral code so that now we get a pass to do whatever we want and it is OK. Jesus tells us that the righteousness described in God’s Word is still the standard; in fact, the standard of Jesus is greater not less. Jesus tells us that to follow him requires not only outward behavior, it requires an inner change of heart. Following Jesus requires faith, obedience, and effort. Jesus shows us our warts. He shows us how weak we are, and that we do not have much faith. He shows us that for the most we tend to be selfish and self-righteous. Jesus shows us that we do need to be saved. He as the physician shows us our illness and that we do need to be healed. That is the truth about humanity to which he testifies.
So there we have it. The truth about Jesus and the truth about us, but that is not the end is it? From this conversation with Pilate, Jesus, the Son of God, God in the flesh went from the presence of Pilate to the soldiers’ barracks and got beaten to a bloody mess. He was ridiculed, mocked, and scorned. Then he was killed. But not just killed, he was crucified which was an extremely painful way to die. So why in Heaven’s name did he go through that if in fact he was God in the flesh? He did it to show God’s great love for us! The Father loved us so much that he gave His only Son so that whoever would believe on him would have life. This too is the truth. It is true love. This is why we follow Jesus. We are drawn to him by his love for us.
It is the last Sunday of our Christian year and it is also the last Sunday of our Stewardship campaign. Hopefully by next Sunday all our pledge cards will be turned in and we will be able to set a budget for this coming year. We are finishing up this budget year and actually things are unexpectedly tight. This past summer we had many unexpected repairs due to lightning damage. (AC units, network components for our computer and phone system, and refrigerator and freezer units) So the church would appreciate people fulfilling their pledge and if possible to give a little more to help us catch back up with our expenses.
(Show picture) In an age where editing our photographs to make us look better is common, the painting of Oliver Cromwell is refreshingly honest, isn’t it? It does in fact show his rather prominent wart. The painting does testify to the truth of how he really looked. The question for us today is do we believe Jesus told us the truth about himself? Is he really the Son of God? Is he really the way, the truth, and the life? Is he really the only way to God? That is what Christians believe. That is what this church believes. That is what I believe. Does it really matter? Yes, because if in fact it is true, then there is a right answer and a wrong answer just like a mathematic problem. There is a way to life and a way to death. There are right ways to live and wrong ways to live. We get to choose. Jesus calls us to follow him. But it is not a sterile black and white sort of choice, no, because he loves us and he loves us so much he was willing to die on a cross to save us. He died and rose again to save us, warts and all. Amen.