This past week was spent with my extended family in a cottage on the shores of Rice Lake. This is something of a family tradition (if four years counts as a tradition) and it’s always an interesting experience (and a good deal of fun). One thing that always come from it is a push for Emily and me to pray for opportunities to share Christ with our unbelieving family.
This year as we packed, we prayed for opportunities. When we arrived, we prayed for opportunities. While we were there, we prayed for opportunities.
And yet it seems no opportunities came. If anything, most lines of conversation that could lead that way were shut down.
As you can imagine, this was a bit discouraging. But should it be?
Strangely, I found a lot of encouragement considering the conversation between Jesus and Pontius Pilate in John 18:28-38. Here, we read that the religious leaders led Jesus to stand before Pilate to be sentenced to death (John 18:30-32). Pilate calls Jesus to himself and asks, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered,
“Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” (John 18:34-37)
Now think about this for a second: Here’s Jesus Himself right in front of Pilate. Pilate asks Him who He is, if He is the King of the Jews. And Jesus answers him in the affirmative. He tells Pilate that His kingdom is not of this world and that the reason He came into the world was to bear witness to the truth—and “everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”
Maybe it’s just me, but this seems like the ultimate set-up for an amazing gospel conversation, doesn’t it? You expect Pilate to say, “What do you mean? What is this truth you’re talking about?” You almost want an exchange like the one between Jesus and Nicodemus in John 3 or between Jesus and the Samaritan woman in John 4.
You want Jesus to unpack the gospel and for Pilate to drop to his knees in submission to the Lord.
Instead, we see something absolutely shocking:
“Pilate said to him, What is truth?'” And then he went back outside. Understand, he’s not asking, “Hmmm, what is truth?” as though he were curious. He’s speaking rhetorically. HIs pessimism toward “truth” rivals that of the most ardent post-modernist.
Yet before him is Truth incarnate.
Jesus had the perfect set-up. And He got shut down, all according to the predetermined plan of God.
Now, I want to be careful here: There’s a chance we just completely blew it and missed a great big huge opening, but I’m not sure that happened. When my niece came over to our cottage to play a card game, she mentioned that she and her mom hide every time the Mormons or the Christians come to the door. She also said she’s kind of embarrassed because the leaders at the evangelical church in town know who I am. But when we tried to dig a little deeper, we couldn’t get anywhere. Again and again through the week, we hit a wall.
So what can we learn from this? Probably the key thing is to remember that sometimes there isn’t going to be a nice, clean way to get to a gospel conversation. You might just have to go for it and say, “Okay, I need to talk to you about Jesus. When are we going to do that?” I have a hunch that for many people in our family, this might be the approach we’re going to have to take. It may still get shut down, but it might also be the thing God uses to bring them from death to life.
And wouldn’t that be something?