And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
The Word is full of grace and truth. Truth is a major theme in the Fourth Gospel. The claim by Jesus to be the way, the truth and the life (Jn 14:6) springs easily to our minds. We have already reflected on the Old Testament background to this phrase and, with that in mind, we can broaden our thought to the notion of truth.
What is Truth?
It is Pilate who raises the question of truth in his extended dialogue with Jesus in John 18-19. Initially the discussion is over the nature of authority and kingship, as Pilate seeks to establish the threat that Jesus poses. It is in this context that Jesus accepts the title of King, suggesting that in fact he was born to be a King. The incarnation and Jesus’ kingship are thereby linked.
Yet, as Jesus has already stated, his Kingship is not of this world (Jn 18:36). Rather his Kingship is one that testifies to the truth (Jn 18:37). In response Pilate utters his famous and curiously contemporary question, ‘What is truth?’
The Truth-Telling King
Jesus comes as the truth-telling King. He is the opposite of Satan, whom he calls the ‘father of lies’ John 8:44. Those who reject him show that they are children of the devil (8:39-45); while everyone who is of the truth listens to Jesus (18:37).
What is the truth that Jesus tells? In the Fourth Gospel Jesus’ constant topic of conversation is himself: his identity. The truth he proclaims is his own identity as the divine Son, who has come from above. This is not self serving propaganda—it is the path to life. In John 8 Jesus tells his listeners that unless they believe who Jesus says he is they will die in their sins (very 23-24). Jesus is in constant debate with his opponents in the Gospel over who he claims to be: in not so many words: the divine incarnate Son. In knowing this is life as Jesus prays in John 17:3. To know God is to know life. Therefore to know the Son whom God has sent, in whom is the fullness of God, grace and truth, there is life.
High stakes indeed.
Truth for a Post-Truth World
We hear these words in a world that has recently been described as post-fact; post-truth. This description signals the nadir of a long downward trajectory, as notions of truth have been increasingly lost in an ocean of relativism and personal ‘truths.’
Yet, when it comes to the truth of God, the truth of Jesus, and the truth of the Gospel, we may justly observe that it has always been a post-truth world in thrall to the ‘father of lies’.
Living for the Truth
Nevertheless, if we claim to follow Jesus, we follow the truth-telling King. The implications for our speech, relationally (Eph 4:25) and in terms of testimony (1 Peter 3:15-16) are worth pondering in a world where lies abound and testimony is desperately required.
That testimony will not always win us friends. The message of the truth-telling King is a hard word and difficult to understand and accept (Jn 6:60). But, as the disciples did, we will stick with the words of the one who, in his incarnation, reveals the Father. We will stick with him because he is full of grace and truth; and because we know that we have nowhere else to go: he alone has the words of eternal life (Jn 6:68).
Thanks be to God that the word became flesh and dwelt amongst us and we beheld his glory, the glory of the unique one from the Father full of grace and truth!
Photos: (Body) Staci Flick, flickr; (Head) Jim Choate, flickr