Pilate said to him, What is truth? And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews, and said to them…
(Text and John 19:5): —
1. As out of the mouth of babes and sucklings, so, out of the mouth of a witness as unconscious as they, God has ordained strength because of the enemy. It is said that in nature the stinging nettle is closely attended by the healing blade, so here the sceptic's question with its most appropriate answer. It may be worth while, for once, to get a sermon from the Procurator's chair.
2. Though the preacher is ancient, the subject is not, for the sceptical question which he answered so well is a question of the day. The truth doubted is the same which unbelief doubts now. For Pilate did not doubt his senses or his reason on the reality of the plain palpable facts of observation, but the truth which Christ had been speaking, the truth about God and eternity and duty and destiny. And his position was not one of denial, only of agnosticism. He asks the question and does not wait for the answer, a method of investigation which is by no means obsolete in the nineteenth century.
3. Now let us look at the answer; and as we think of it, we remember what Christ said the very day before: "I am the Truth." There is —
I. THE TRUTH ABOUT HUMANITY. What is man? What are we to think of human life? Come now, ye biologists, here is a life to study! Come, ye anthropologists, "Behold the man!" By all means study all kinds of men, the most degraded specimens you can find if you choose; but do not consider your induction complete till you have given as much attention at least to the noblest and the best. You know the common reference to the play of Hamlet with Hamlet left out. Surely you do not intend to reach a conclusion as to man's place in nature with THE MAN left out? Why should attention be fixed so exclusively on the facts which belong to the lower phases of life? So long as one keeps working mainly amongst molluscs or even among troglodytes, it is not difficult to think that all is only "living matter." But when we come to the higher ranges of life we cannot dispose of them in so easy a way. It is impossible to do it honestly in dealing only with ordinary men; the difficulty is greatly increased when we are confronted with great minds and noble souls; but when we look at the greatest of all, it becomes nothing less than an insult to reason to suggest it. It is impossible to believe that we are looking at a mere phase of the animal life flickering up for a moment and falling back again to be "cast as rubbish to the void." It becomes manifest that in Him there is life clear out of the range of protoplasm and its variations, infinitely higher than any conceivable mode of living matter. See how the life shines out in contrast with the poverty and meanness of its setting, a demonstration that spirit and not flesh is the ultimate truth of humanity. See Him before Pilate, His form scarred, to all appearance a common criminal. And then think of that great soul of His, see it in its awful and majestic loneliness; compare the magnificence of this spirit with the shame of the flesh; the glory of the life with the abjectness of the living matter; and then say, if you dare, that the real truth of that manhood is to be found in the paltry matter of it, and not in the magnificent, glorious Divine Spirit. Behold the man, and see that spirit lords it over matter, and life triumphs over death. And, accordingly, when we read a little further on of His resurrection from the dead, we cannot be surprised. It is the survival of the fittest. Is He not, of all men that ever lived, the very fittest to survive, and can we suppose that nothing in that noble soul survived after He bowed His head and gave up the ghost? It is not possible. The Apostle Peter was certainly right when he said it was not possible that He should be holden of death.
II. THE TRUTH ABOUT GOD. As we continue beholding the "Man" He grows upon us wonderfully, as He grew upon His first disciples who began by asking: "What manner of man is this?" and ended by seeing in Him "the glory of the Only Begotten," &c. We find that noble life reflecting all of the glory of God which it is possible and needful for us to see. Elsewhere in nature we can, as it were, touch the hem of His garment, but we cannot know Him till we look upon His face. The face is nature's mode of revelation and recognition. Your face is not yourself, it is only the outward expression or incarnation of your spirit; but if I refuse to look into your face and will not listen to your voice, I must remain unacquainted with you. In the same way, the Man Christ Jesus is the face of God to us. By looking at Him we become acquainted with our Father in heaven; not otherwise. "No man cometh unto the Father but by Me." Hence present day agnosticism. The agnostic is perfectly right in saying that God cannot be known by the pure intellect, but neither can we know one another in any such way. "Behold the man" is the gospel for the agnostic.
III. LIVING, SAVING TRUTH. It has a wondrous power on the beholder. As we look and listen we are brought to our knees, constrained to cry out for pardon and for purity. And as we watch Him through the shame and agony of that awful day — crucified for us — our hearts are won. Divorced from sin, the hatefulness of which is seen in the awful sacrifice as nowhere else; divorced from sin we are yielded unto God and have peace, and hope, and life. And as still we follow Him through the gates of death up to the throne on which He now is seated, we find as deep a meaning in the second word of Pilate as in the first — "Behold your King." And now we know Him as our life, for His Spirit takes the throne of our heart, and as we still continue beholding in the Man Christ Jesus, as in a glass, the glory of the Lord, we are changed into the same image, from glory to glory by the Lord, the Spirit; and thus there is developed in us true life, not the mere agitation or fluctuation of living matter for a few years; but life indeed.
(J. Monro Gibson, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Pilate saith unto him, What is truth? And when he had said this, he went out again unto the Jews, and saith unto them, I find in him no fault at all.