Wednesday, November 20, 2013

"What is Truth?" Do Our Rulers Know?

Today is the third day in our 46th week, reading the Bible through in a year.  Our scriptures today are:  Daniel 4-6; John 18.

Both our OT and NT scriptures show the greatness of governments that acknowledge God, and the depravity of rulers who do not recognize God's sovereignty.  

Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, thinks himself to be the founder of his empire, and does not give God glory for his accomplishments.  As a result of Nebuchadnezzar's pride, God humbles him for a time until the king raises his eyes to heaven and praises the One True God.

King Belshazzar of Babylon arrogantly defiles the holy relics of God's temple in Jerusalem, using them as ordinary vessels for his drunken feast.  At the same feast where he dishonors God, he toasts to gods of metal, wood, and stone.  Not for this act alone, but because he has generally been found wanting, God opposes and deposes Belshazzar. 

Darius the Mede, emperor of Persia, shows himself to be a buffoon who can be manipulated by his own advisors.  He does what he knows to be wrong, declaring the death sentence on his best civil servant Daniel.  

In the cases of Nebuchadnezzar and Darius, their foolishness is followed by a moment of realization, recognizing God as sovereign and declaring His praise. But these flashes of realization don't seem to be true conversion experiences.  If they were, then their royal proclamations would be more than a command to "fear and tremble before Daniel's God."  They would be a wholesale recognition of, or even mass conversion to, Judaism--the way that Constantine would later declare the baptism of the entire Roman empire.  Those who had such imperial might had the power to do this, and yet they continued in their pagan ways into the future.

"What is truth?"
In the New Testament we see Jesus shuffled from a midnight court at the house of the high priest, to a predawn court at the governor's palace.  Pilate is the one in authority, yet he kowtows to his own subjects.  Though he finds no fault with Jesus, he allows the people to condemn Him to death.  Pilate takes no responsibility for the verdict, washing his hands of the whole affair. Instead of giving Jesus a fair trial that might determine the truth from lies, Pilate slips into moral relativism, rhetorically asking Jesus, "What is truth?" What a shame, that pagan Pilate didn't even know!

It wasn't just governmental authority that didn't recognize God's truth in Jesus' day.  Spiritual authority in Israel lay with corrupt people in a corrupt system.  A brief reading of John 18 will reveal a confusing fact--both Annas and Caiphas are named as high priest in different places in scripture.  So which one was high priest?  Is there a biblical contradiction here?  Actually, there is no contradiction.  Here are two complementary explanations I found at

Annas was one of the most powerful men in Jerusalem. He had served as high priest for twenty years and for all practical purposes, he had controlled the high priest's office ever since. Five of his sons has already succeeded him as high priest, and now his son-in-law, had the title. Anna maintained control of the high priest office through hiss sons and son-in-law until the end of his life. As the real power behind the office, he also retained use of the title. Therefore, several times in the NT, he is referred to as the High Priest. 
Annas and family had managed to turn the high priesthood into an incredible profitable business, and they has amassed enormous wealth through it. They did this by collecting license fees and commissions from brokers who changed money and sold sacrificial animals on temple grounds. The entire business was crooked. Both the money changers and the animal merchants were renowned for their dishonesty and greed. Since Annas controlled a monopoly on the whole enterprise, the merchants who worked for him could charge exorbitant rates-especially during the seasons of feasts when the city was filled with pilgrims. Of course, Annas himself took a hefty portion of the profits. Thus Anna and his sons had grown wealthy at the expense of people who came to worship God. That explains Jesus outrage over the whole business, which led Him to purge the temple by driving out the money changers and animals sellers on two occasions...

Annas became high priest, but was removed from office by the Roman procurator "for imposing and executing capital sentences which had been forbidden by the imperial government". After a few interim high priests, Caiaphas became high priest. Since Annas hadn't died... he was technically still high priest, according to the Law. But, Caiaphas had become high priest as well. So, although Caiaphas carried out his role as official high priest, Annas retained the authority of high priest as well. Hence, from "a certain point of view", they were high priests at the same time.
(As a follow-up interesting note: Annas' son Annas also attempted to "impose and execute capital sentences which had been forbidden by the imperial government" in 62 AD, when there was no Roman procurator over Judea. He succeeded in executing several of his religious and political enemies, including James, brother of Jesus. This also resulted in Annas' son Annas being removed from office of high priest. Like father, like son.)

While claiming to represent God, the spiritual authorities in Jesus' day were incapable of recognizing Him when they saw Him in the flesh.  Their hearts were hardened to the Holy Spirit's promptings, because their interests were only in tradition, power, and gain.  The fact that they named the name of Yahweh didn't mean that they stood for God's perfect way.

Today's scripture readings all point to one fact--that there is no truth apart from God.  Whether our leaders are governmental, religious, or otherwise, they will never know truth without knowing God.  This is why Paul says:

I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people,  for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.  This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior,  who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
(1 Timothy 2:1b-4 ESV)

Today, I invite you to pray for your leaders and those in authority.  Pray that they won't need to be humbled like Nebuchadnezzar or dethroned like Belshazzar or manipulated like Darius.  Pray that they won't be blind like Annas and Caiphas or lost and indecisive like Pilate.  Pray that they will come to the knowledge of the truth...the Truth whose name is Jesus.  Pray that the Truth will set them free.

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