21. Ongoing Provocation

Short Meditations in John 8:  21. Ongoing provocation

Jn 8:21  Once more Jesus said to them, “I am going away, and you will look for me, and you will die in your sin. Where I go, you cannot come.”

There are times when you wonder why Jesus did not just walk away. In verse 19 we saw, “Then they asked him, “Where is your father?” “You do not know me or my Father,” Jesus replied. “If you knew me, you would know my Father also,” but then we don’t see any comeback from the Jews and verse 20 could almost have been the close of this section. It almost seems like they have no answer and so are silenced. But this is Jesus’ ‘turf’ and he decides when to bring things to a close, and it is not yet! He takes further opportunity to drop further enigmatic truths before them, truths that surely they will not understand – as the following verse shows.

Now I think we see this sort of thing many times in the Gospels, Jesus speaking truths that, quite frankly, are going to leave us blinking and wondering unless he tells us more – and of course it is only his disciples, those with open, yearning hearts, who are going to ask him. Will that be you and me? We come across Scripture that leaves us wondering, so what do we do? Clearly some just grumble but the humble of heart seek the Lord further and ask and ask until they get answers. But let’s look at what he is saying.

“I am going away.” To Galilee or where?  Previously he had said, “I am with you for only a short time, and then I am going to the one who sent me. You will look for me, but you will not find me; and where I am, you cannot come.” (Jn 7:33,34), hence the “once more” and then also he had left them hanging.

“and you will look for me.” Well that is fairly obvious; if he goes away they will want to keep tabs on him. But is that all it means? “and you will die in your sin.”  Wow! What does that imply? I think it implies, “I come offering you salvation and you refuse it, so you will lose any future hope.” Now does that, I wonder, suggest that the, “and you will look for me,” refers to a time when he is not with them but they wish he was? Perhaps some of them will hear the reports of his resurrection and wish they could see him again, realizing at last, perhaps, who he was, and now regretting they had missed their chance.

“Where I  go you cannot come.”  We may want to go to heaven but acceptance of Jesus as the Son of God who brings God’s salvation is the only way there so if they reject him, whatever they may think, they will not get it. Lots of people think they can work their way to get God’s approval and a place in heaven but acceptance of Jesus is the only way, and so many deceived people will be disillusioned at the end!

Application: When the word seems clear, when the Spirit draws near and our heart is beating, don’t miss the opportunity that God gives. Take what He offers and give Him your heart in return.

20. Safe

Short Meditations in John 8:  20. Safe

Jn 8:20   He spoke these words while teaching in the temple courts near the place where the offerings were put. Yet no one seized him, because his hour had not yet come.

John presents us with two things here. First, there is the location and then, second, there is the matter of why Jesus has been able to continue teaching without being arrested by the hostile authorities.

First, the location. Some translations say, “These words he spoke in the treasury,” (ESV) or, “he was teaching in the section of the Temple known as the Treasury.” (NLT) It was in fact the Court of the Women, one of the outer courts of the Temple and here there were thirteen trumpet shaped chests in which people placed their gifts and nearby was the hall where the Sanhedrin (the ruling body) met.

It was, in other words, a very public place where many visitors to the Temple would come and it was also right under the feet, so to speak, of the authorities. Put those two thoughts together and you have Jesus teaching in a spot which, by its  location, would have made the authorities even more touchy because it was close to them and a place where people (who they didn’t want ‘infected’ by his teaching) would come across him. It is almost as if he is treading on their toes by his close presence and his blatant teaching.

Second, still free. We saw in chapter 7 how he had first provoked arrest – “at this they tried to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his hour had not yet come,” (Jn 7:30) and then shortly afterwards the temple authorities had sent their guards to arrest Jesus (Jn 7:32), yet after what seems some time passing, the guards give up and return without him (Jn 7:44,45). Compare our present verse: “Yet no one seized him, because his hour had not yet come.”  (Jn 8:20) Jesus himself had used this same phrase to his mother at the wedding in Cana when the wine ran out: My hour has not yet come.” (Jn 2:4)

There is within this a sense of both purpose and plan and security in this idea. There is a plan being worked out and although much of it is seen in the way Jesus provokes – just so far – we are also left wondering if the Father is not speaking in the background – “Don’t you touch him!” It is of course speculation but whatever the truth, John conveys to us this sense that this is a situation all under God’s control and nothing is going to happen prematurely. Jesus is aiming for Passover, because of the significance of that, and the plan and purpose of God that will emphasize that significance will not let it be taken out of their hands. There is a mystery here about the providence of God, the hidden hand of God that seems to be behind some of the things surrounding Jesus: seen but not seen. Amazing!

Application: Do I have a sense of my life being in God’s hands, within God’s plan? Can I have that security that He is in charge, with everything, working for our good if we love God and are fitting into his plans.” (Rom 8:28 Living Bible)

19. Father?

Short Meditations in John 8:  19. Father?

Jn 8:19  Then they asked him, “Where is your father?” “You do not know me or my Father,” Jesus replied. “If you knew me, you would know my Father also.”

There are times when you wonder why Jesus did not answer more directly. For instance, here he could have answered, “God in heaven is my father,” but instead he gives an oblique reply. Why? In the teaching that comes between the teaching and then the explanation of the Parable of the Sower, Jesus explains to his disciples that his teaching is for those whose eyes and hearts are open to him, not for those who are casual about him, and he sums up this approach in, “Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance.” (Mt 13:12) Almost never does Jesus give direct teaching about himself, but rather teaching that needs thinking about to receive understanding.

So he has just spoken about his father who has sent him (v.18) which provokes the question, “Where is your father?”  That seems a funny answer. Perhaps we might have expected, “Who is your father?” Joseph was his natural father but whether the Pharisees knew this is unknown. “Where” seem to ask the wider question, “Where is this one who you say will bear testimony on your behalf?” and maybe even, “Why isn’t he here to bear testimony on your behalf?”

Jesus’ response to this is almost, “There’s not much point me spelling this out to you because you neither realize who I am nor truly know my Father.”  But then he adds a truly enigmatic comment that is one of those that need really thinking about: “If you knew me, you would know my Father also.”  I really like the way the Message version puts it: “You’re looking right at me and you don’t see me. How do you expect to see the Father? If you knew me, you would at the same time know the Father,” and the Living Bible puts it more plainly: “You don’t know who I am, so you don’t know who my Father is. If you knew me, then you would know him too.”

Do you see this very profound statement? For us, onlookers two millennia later, seeing it in the pages of the Gospels, it should be just the same. The person who comes to these pages with an open heart, with no pre-conceived views, should see something of the wonder of this miracle-working, wonder-bringing, amazing teacher that should say, “This is unlike anyone else in history! How can this be? To do these things, say these things, is beyond human ability, this must be God expressing Himself.” But we are blinded by sin and so criticism born our of defensive self-concern, or blinded by preconceived deception, stops that happening so often. Usually it is only when glimmers of the truth permeate our blindness that we pause up to examine this ‘burning bush’ and wonder.

Application: Do I take the trouble to bring God’s word before Him when I do not immediately understand it? Do I persevere with Him to deepen understanding and faith?

18. Father & Son Testify

Short Meditations in John 8:  18. Father & Son Testify

Jn 8:18  I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father, who sent me.”

You want two testimonies? Very well, me and my Father. At the risk of appearing lazy, we need to repeat what we said earlier in Study no.13 when back in chapter 7, Jesus spoke of his authority as having come from the Father: “Yes, you know me, and you know where I am from. I am not here on my own authority, but he who sent me is true. You do not know him, but I know him because I am from him and he sent me.” (Jn 7:28,29) He implied that God gave him credence through the authority He gave him and the miracles He enabled him to do.  Later, on the Day of Pentecost, the apostle Peter would declare, “Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him.” (Acts 2:22) Later on, Jesus himself is going to say, “even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.” (Jn 10:38)

Now what is remarkable is that in John’s Gospel the word father appears 105 times, 13 of them using small ‘f’ referring to ordinary fathers, the rest with capital ‘F’ referring to the Father in heaven, i.e. 95 times the link is made between Jesus and his Father in heaven.

The other feature is the number of times Jesus spoke of having been sent by the Father (4:34, 5:23,30,36,37,38, 6:29,38,39,57, 7:16,28,29,33, 8:16,18,26,29,42, 9:4, 10:36, 11:42, 12:44,45,49, 13:20. 14:24, 15:21, 17:3,8,18,21,23,25, 20:21.  i.e. 35 times!  It comes up so many times that it is clear that Jesus is seeking to convey, a) he is from heaven, b) he comes with heaven’s mandate and authority and therefore, c) to reject him is to reject God. We very often pick up on the ‘I am’ sayings in John that show Jesus is claiming divinity, but this many times referring to having been sent by God must go far beyond just being sent like John the Baptist was sent with a task, because this sending is again and again linked with this reference to the Father.

How casually we read the Bible sometimes. I confess that before these studies I had never before realized how many times John used the word ‘testify’ in respect of Jesus, and certainly never realized how many times he referred to ‘the Father’ or having been sent by Him. John ensures that when we read carefully we will see the amazing link that is made between Father and Son, a link never seen anywhere else in the religions of the world. This alone – apart from all the other things – separates Jesus out from any other world ‘religious leader’. Here is a unique relationship, a unique sending. Hallelujah!

Application: Have I come into the place where I am confident in the Father’s love for me, confident that He can say of me, “This is my son (daughter) of whom I am well pleased”?  Ask Him to give you that confidence.

17. Requirements of the Law

Short Meditations in John 8:  17. Requirements of the Law

Jn 8:17  In your own Law it is written that the testimony of two witnesses is true.

From heaven to earth, the focus changes and yet the focus still has its origin in heaven. The Law came from heaven, from the Godhead. These Pharisees like the Law, they almost idolized it and so they should be pleased that Jesus refers to it.

Before we move on in thinking about this, we might ask ourselves how we think about ‘the Law’? Is it something that is outdated, something that has no relevance today? Elsewhere recently I had cause to write about the Law: It shows how God had designed us to live (Israel at least), how a community can live at peace, how things can be put right when we mess up, how to live differently and distinctly from the pagan nations surrounding them, how to live healthily dealing with various health problems that crop up in this fallen world  and, of course, how to relate to Him. They were specifically for Israel, an agrarian society that was uniquely called to be God’s people. As Christians we have different ‘laws’ in the New Testament, all enhancing the wonder of our relationship with God through Jesus. God’s ‘laws’ are always for our blessing.

We need to regain the context. Jesus is being questioned as to who he is: The Pharisees challenged him, “Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid.” (v.13) Jesus had answered that that did not matter, for he knew exactly where he had come from (v.14). We then had this slight ‘aside’ where he spoke about not judging by human standards (v.15) and how the Father was with him, making his judgments always right as he followed the Father’s leading (v.16) The starting point had been them questioning his own testimony and so now he says, very well, let’s go back to basics, the Law demands two witnesses. Right? (v.17)

That was right and that now becomes the springboard from which he is going to launch his next unpalatable teaching – unpalatable, that is, from their perspective. You like quoting the Law, he implies, so let’s go exactly according to the Law. You want two witnesses? Very well, I’ll give you more witnesses.

This matter of reliable witnesses was very specifically laid down in the Law (see Deut 19:15-20) because if the witnesses were shown to be utterly reliable, then the outcome will be, “the testimony of witnesses is true.” Note, not just right, but they thus prove the truth of the situation. If you can provide two reliable witnesses, the case is proved; what they say must be the truth that the court must abide by. So who is Jesus going to call on? See the next verse.

Application: How do I honestly feel about the ‘rules’ of the New Testament? Do I allow them to teach, rebuke, correct and train me in righteousness? (2 Tim 3:16)

16. Supported Judgment

Short Meditations in John 8:  16. Supported Judgment

Jn 8:16  But if I do judge, my decisions are true, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent me.

Every now and then I hear people muttering about the contradictions within the Bible and I am saddened at either their ignorance of the truth of what is there or their inability to think through what they are reading. Now I say this because in the previous verse we read Jesus saying, I pass judgment on no one but now we find him saying, “if I do judge” which seems to imply that sometimes he does.

To speak of a contradiction here misses the point of what Jesus is saying. The context here is created by v.14 where Jesus spoke of where he came from and he was alluding to heaven as we saw in chapter 6. His point now is that because he has come from heaven, sent by the Father, he refers everything to the Father and whenever he does decide something it is because of the Father’s leading and the Father’s will.

Back in chapter 5 we read Jesus first of all saying, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” (v.17) implying a closeness, which is then detailed when he says, “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” (v.19) i.e. the Father leads the way by His Spirit and so everything we see Jesus doing is because he is responding to the leading of the Spirit. He adds, “For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does.” (v.20) This is the context for Jesus’ present words.

Taking verses 15 and 16 together we take Jesus to mean, I make no judgements, no decisions on my own. All I do I do at the Father’s behest and so any decisions I do make are true and accurate because it’s not just me, “I am not alone”, they come from the Father.

Again and again Jesus makes comment about his closeness to the Father, for example, I and the Father are one,” (Jn 10:30) and, “know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father,” (Jn 10:38) and, “the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken,” (Jn 12:49) and, “whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say,” (Jn 12:50) (Note how these last two verses apply to our present context.) and “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” (Jn 14:9) In fact the word Father comes up 109 times in John’s Gospel, most of which apply to the Father in heaven.

Thus when Jesus makes comments, makes statements, makes decisions, makes judgments, they are all in accord and in harmony with the Father as the Father leads and inspires him, and the will of heaven is expressed on earth. Hallelujah!

Application: When questions arise in my mind about other people, do I turn to God, pray, ask for His wisdom, insight and understanding so I do not make casual and careless assessments of others?

15. Personal Judgments

Short Meditations in John 8:  15. Personal judgments

Jn 8:15  You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one.

Now we might think that there is a change of direction in Jesus’ teaching at this point because he seems to turn from talking about testimony and background to talking about judging people but if we look at the free flow of the paraphrased of the Message, we’ll see it clearer: “The Pharisees objected, “All we have is your word on this. We need more than this to go on.”  Jesus replied, “You’re right that you only have my word. But you can depend on it being true. I know where I’ve come from and where I go next. You don’t know where I’m from or where I’m headed. You decide according to what you can see and touch. I don’t make judgments like that.”  The judgments seen there are Jesus’ assessment which is made in the light of the full knowledge that he has of where he has come from.

He is going on to infer that any judgment that he does make is only in complete accord with the Father, but here he says something which is quite startling for us, the Christian community: “I pass judgment on no one.”  Now perhaps we have to think about this word ‘judgment’ more fully. Synonyms are, ‘decisions, verdict, sentence.’ These are all final outcomes of assessment, i.e. the final ruling that we settle on. Now that makes it more interesting for it shows us Jesus saying, “I don’t arrive at final decisions over people, I don’t write them off.”

Now if that is so, and I believe it is, it comes as a challenge to the way we think about people. How often do we write them off? They are not just ‘not like us’, they are nasty, uncouth, (and lots more negative descriptions). We don’t want to know them. There is no hope for such people!  But that isn’t Jesus’ assessment of them; there is always hope.

I have one particular memory, which I am sure I’ve probably used more than once in the past, but it was so pertinent that it must arise again now. This was a man in the office where I worked in my twenties, in many ways a guy with whom I got on very well. The only thing was that he came from a very different social background to me, and from a hard-line political outlook that was anti-God – and he made fun of me, until the day when God moved in on him and within the space of half an hour he was born again and transformed. Amazing!

Jesus challenged his opponents with, “You judge by human standards,” i.e. outward looks, outward attitudes, background, language etc. etc. but we should know better now: “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Sam 16:7) There is another side to this coin but we will wait until the next verse to see it.

Application: Do I indeed assess people badly, making surface judgments about them or do I ask the Father to give me insights about who they could yet become?