As Jesus stands before Pilate, who incredulously questions him along the lines of the charge that he is the King of the Jews—and therefore a threat to Rome—we are presented with an interesting situation. At the level of the appearance of things, Jesus of Nazareth appears to be a rather weak and unthreatening candidate for king. The truth, as every believer knows it, is quite different. Far from being the powerless prisoner of Pilate, Jesus is the high King of heaven, who is crowned with many crowns and whose power a scepter sways.
However, Christ’s power does not operate according to the appearance of things. Because his kingdom if not of this world or from this world, it does not fit neatly into the standards according to the world. In the first place, Christ brought his kingdom by bearing witness to the truth instead of through military conquest. While at the level of the appearance of things a testimony to the truth might not seem all that powerful, in truth it is quite powerful indeed.
With that said, I want to spend some time reflecting on the power at work in the truth to which Christ bears witness, for we should not think that just because Christ’s kingdom is “other-worldly” it doesn’t work actively and powerfully in this world. Quite to the contrary, the truth of Christ and his kingdom works powerfully in at least two ways.
First, it persuades Christ’s subjects to obedience. Here we must acknowledge that while all sorts of coercive power is being applied to Christ, his own power (at least at this point in redemptive history) resides not in coercive power but the power of the Holy Spirit to persuade rebels to obedience to the truth. In the language of systematic theology, we are talking about the power of regeneration through God’s effectual call. Among the presentations of this idea, one of the best, in my opinion, comes from the Canons of Dort, which should sound familiar to anyone who has worshiped for some time at CPC:
This grace of regeneration does not treat men as senseless stocks and blocks, nor takes away their will and its properties, neither does violence thereto; but spiritually quickens, heals, corrects, and at the same time sweetly and powerfully bends it; that where carnal rebellion and resistance formerly prevailed, a ready and sincere spiritual obedience begins to reign, in which the true and spiritual restoration and freedom of our will consist.
The point is that very often the appearance of things is that the only way to fix something is to break it first, but when it comes to the application of truth to the heart of a rebellious sinner, something far more mysterious and magnificent happens: the sinner is not broken but “sweetly and powerfully” bent from an inward curve to an outward, God-ward extension. To listen to Christ’s voice is to be persuaded by the truth to an obedience of the truth, and that persuasion is tremendously, even irresistibly, powerful for those destined to believe.
But that’s not all. There is a second power at work in the testimony of the truth: the power of the truth condemns Christ’s enemies to death. This is the less delightful, though no less real and important, complement to the first powerful working of the truth. To frame this second aspect, we can ask a couple of questions: “How is it that we all hear the same words, but those words powerfully save only some? What is the power at work in those who hear but don’t obey?”
An answer begins with the truth that God’s word never returns to him void but always accomplishes God’s good purpose (cf. Isa 55:11). One of those purposes is the revelation of God’s justice in condemning those who reject the truth. Paul speaks about this power of the truth as “a fragrance from death to death” “among those who are perishing” (2 Cor 2:16). At least one point of this second aspect of the power of truth is that Pilate’s dismissive question, “What is truth?” is not the final word.
Turning to a brief note of encouragement, this reflection, I hope, reminds us that when Christ bears witness to the truth, even through the proclamation of the gospel by the church, the truth never does nothing. It always has an impact of some sort. Let this, then, encourage us to carry on bearing witness to the truth of Christ.