“You can’t handle the truth!”
These memorable words are bellowed by Col. Nathan Jessup, played by Jack Nicholson in the movie, A Few Good Men. Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee, a rookie military lawyer played by Tom Cruise, represents Marines accused of murdering a colleague, Santiago. Behind the murder lies the truth. Santiago’s murder was not a random act, but was ordered by higher-ups. The highlight of the film comes when Kaffee cross-examines Jessup in a courtroom. Obviously disgusted by the line of questioning, Jessup finally reaches his boiling point.
Kaffee asks directly, “Colonel Jessup, did you order the Code Red?”
The Judge warns Jessup, “You don’t have to answer that question.”
But it’s too late. Jessup, boiling over, yells, “I’ll answer the question. You want answers?”
“I think I’m entitled to them.” Kaffee volleys.
Jessup repeats even louder, “You want answers?!”
“I want the truth!” Kaffee goads him on.
Veins popping, Jessup explodes, “You can’t handle the truth!” This is followed by a forceful speech defending military honor and an eventual proud confession of guilt. As it turns out, Jessup, a confessed murderer, is ultimately handcuffed by his own truth.
Truth is a central element of the Christian faith. Jesus, who calls himself “the truth” prays to the Father, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:17 NIV) If we don’t have the truth as believers, then what do we have left? Unfortunately, we don’t always seek the truth as we should. It’s all too easy to set the truth aside for convenient lies.
The Bible tells us of one of the kings of Israel unable to handle the truth. He paid dearly for it. The king’s name was Ahab. The truth was the word of the Lord delivered through a brave prophet named Micaiah. But Ahab wouldn’t listen.
This story begins when Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, visits Ahab. It’s rare in those days for Judah and Israel to cooperate. In this case, they have an enemy in common in the king of Aram to the north of Israel. Ahab sees an opportunity to strike Aram and retake the city of Ramoth-Gilead. He invites Jehoshaphat to join him.
Jehoshaphat, eager to team up, says, “I am as you are, my people as your people, my horses as your horses.” (1 Kings 22:4 NIV) He has only one request before they saddle up. “First seek the counsel of the LORD.” (1 Kings 22:5 NIV)
Ahab assembles four-hundred of his preferred prophets. They are all yes-men. They approve of his plan without reservation. While this is comforting to Ahab, Jehoshaphat needs to hear from the Lord.
He asks Ahab, “Isn’t there a prophet of Yahweh here anymore? Let’s ask him.” (1 Kings 22:7 HCSB).
Reluctantly, Ahab calls for Micaiah. Micaiah is not one of Ahab’s preferred prophets. In Ahab’s words, “I hate him because he never prophesies anything good about me, but always bad.” (1 Kings 22:8 NIV) We are beginning to catch a glimpse of Ahab’s distaste for the truth.
Micaiah does not disappoint. Summoned to the throne room, he warns, “As surely as the Lord lives, I can tell him only what the Lord tells me.” (1 Kings 22:14 NIV)
The messenger warns Micaiah that all of the other prophets unanimously spoke in favor of Ahab’s plan, and that if he knows what is good for him, he should do so, too. And so, when Micaiah appears before the thrones of the two kings, he parrots the company line, “Attack and be victorious,” he answered, “for the Lord will give it into the king’s hand.” (1 Kings 22:15 NIV)
Ahab wasn’t born yesterday. He sees right through Micaiah’s bluff. Ahab scolds him, “How many times must I make you swear to tell me nothing but the truth in the name of the Lord?” (1 Kings 22:16 NIV)
Micaiah then prophesies the truth Ahab can’t handle, “I saw all Israel scattered on the hills like sheep without a shepherd, and the Lord said, ‘These people have no master. Let each one go home in peace.’” (1 Kings 22:17 NIV) Micaiah predicts that Ahab will not return home from Ramoth-Gilead alive.
For the crime of proclaiming the truth, Micaiah is thrown into prison and put on a bread and water diet until Ahab returns safely. Ahab is killed in battle. His corpse is returned to Samaria. Micaiah’s fate is left untold.
Sometimes the truth is difficult to stomach. We would rather live in the ignorant safety of our own illusions. But when the truth comes calling, be prepared. Geoffrey Chaucer is credited with the proverb, “Time waits for no man.” It can equally be said that truth waits for no man.
The end times, according to Paul, are populated by people who “turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” (2 Timothy 4:4 NIV) What do we have to gain in the last days by embracing myths? Myths make us feel comfortable. They deflect our attention away from painful realities. They blindfold us to facts that hurt our feelings, like the child who covers her ears and cries out, “la la la la laaa.” If we surround ourselves with prophets who say only what our itching ears want to hear, we find ourselves like Ahab. Confidently clueless.
In days like these, truth is a commodity worth mining. We must plumb the depths of Scripture to find truth for ourselves. We must sidestep easy answers to discover facts. We must brush aside layers of confirmation bias in favor of authenticity. We need to question everything. We live in the information age. Facts are available in constant supply. It’s our responsibility to filter the facts for truth. The truth you can’t handle may be the truth that sets you free.
All of us make mistakes in our lives. Sometimes your mistakes come to define you. You can’t stop thinking about them. Others won’t stop reminding you of them. And the consequences are long and painful. They lead you down paths where you get lost and can’t find your way back. They cripple you from ever becoming the person God would have you to be.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Your mistakes don’t have to trap you for a lifetime.
Last Sunday morning at Quaker Gap, we looked at the letter Paul wrote to Philemon. Paul sends a slave named Onesimus, whom he has led to faith in Jesus, back to the slave-owner he ran away from – Philemon. The letter is a commendation of Onesimus and a plea to Philemon to welcome, forgive and ultimately free Onesimus from slavery. The letter fits neatly into Paul’s teaching from Galatians that “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus". Faith in Jesus changes everything – and Philemon needs to wrestle with what this means for his relationship to Onesimus. A beautiful letter that opens our eyes to the fact that faith in Jesus cuts deeply across every area of our lives.
At the end of the letter, Paul sends greetings to Philemon, his family and the church that meets at Philemon’s home, from some of the fellow believers ministering to Paul in Rome. The list is eye opening…
Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you greetings. And so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my fellow workers. -Philemon 1:23
Without identifying each of these fellow workers, the one I’d like to highlight as eye-opening is Mark. Mark is now a fellow worker alongside Paul in Rome. The word for fellow worker in the Greek is sunergos, from which we get our English word synergy. Mark has come a long way. His story is one of how someone can go from expendable to essential.
In Acts 12, we meet him for the first time. Peter is miraculously set free from Herod’s jail. The first place he goes is to the home of a woman named Mary, where many believers are gathered praying for him,
When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying. – Acts 12:12
Luke draws our attention to the son of Mary: John, also called Mark. In those days, many Jews went by two names; a Jewish name and a Roman name. John was his Jewish name. Mark was his Roman name. He was raised in a Jewish household, and his mother is one of the influential women of the church. She believes that Jesus is the Messiah, and is willing to risk a gathering of Jesus-followers in her home for a prayer meeting. In one of his letters, Peter calls Mark, “my son,”
She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you her greetings, and so does my son Mark. 1 Peter 5:13
We can only guess that Peter led John Mark to the Lord.
As it turns out, Mark finds himself in the company of not only Peter, but also Paul. Paul and Barnabas are headed from Jerusalem to the church at Antioch, and they take John Mark with them.
When Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission, they returned from Jerusalem, taking with them John, also called Mark. – Acts 12:25
Nicknamed, “the son of encouragement,” Barnabas was commissioned by the Holy Spirit to help resurrect Paul’s reputation. Now, as they head to Antioch, he includes Mark, who is his cousin. Eventually, he departs on the journey of a lifetime. Paul and Barnabas are chosen by the Holy Spirit and the church at Antioch to go and plant churches in Asia Minor. They take John Mark with them.
John Mark sails to the isle of Cyprus with his cousin Barnabas and the Apostle Paul. What an exciting voyage, and a great opportunity for him to experience. Their first port at Cyprus is Salamis. Things are going well.
When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues. John was with them as their helper. – Acts 13:5
Travelling the whole island of Cyprus and experiencing many things along with Paul and Barnabas, the missionary group next sails from Cyprus to Asia Minor. Upon arriving at the port of Perga, John Mark returns to Jerusalem. No explanation is given for his departure. Luke simply gives us the facts.
From Paphos, Paul and his companions sailed to Perga in Pamphylia, where John left them to return to Jerusalem. – Acts 13:13
Three years later, after their journey is over and plans are underway for the next, the details of John Mark’s departure are discussed. Unfortunately, it’s a heated discussion that ends in division.
Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord. -Acts 15:36-40
Mark’s mistake resulted in a split-up between Paul and Barnabas. He was the reason for a sharp disagreement between these godly men. Paul viewed Mark as a liability due to his desertion at Perga. Barnabas stood up for his cousin, wanting to give him a second chance. Their conflict separated them. Paul teamed up with Cyrus instead of Barnabas. Barnabas sailed back to Cyprus with his spurned cousin, Mark. The rest of the book of Acts follows the story of Paul, leaving us with very little news of the ministry of Barnabas and Mark.
Let’s not run too far ahead, though. This is a good place to pause and consider Mark. As he stands on the deck of a boat sailing across the Mediterranean toward Cyprus, he experiences many emotions. He feels the sting of shame from his last encounter on a missionary journey. His role as a wedge between Paul and Barnabas is awkward. There’s the growing hope that comes with a second chance. The strongest emotion, to my way of thinking, is the relief that comes from grace. Barnabas joins Mark on deck and slaps him on the back with a broad, encouraging smile. Mark’s eyes fill with tears as he ponders all his cousin has forfeited for him. The glow of grace warms his heart, even on a windy sea. I wonder if it was there, with a spark of encouragement, that Mark begins his dream of telling the story of Jesus? A story that would become the first written of four included at the beginning of the New Testament. Yes, John Mark is that Mark.
The gamble Barnabas takes on his cousin, Mark, pays off in the end. Mark’s story is a story of redemption. Later in life, even Paul comes around, as we see in Philemon where he calls him a fellow worker, and in 2 Timothy 4:11 where he writes, “Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.” It’s not his mistake early in life that defines him, but God’s grace.
Whatever mistakes you’ve made, don’t let them define you. In Christ, there is forgiveness. Let His grace define you. Surround yourself with encouragers, like Barnabas, and push forward. Redemption is a common theme among the people of God. There’s a little bit of John Mark in all of us.
Dr. Jack Darida