15. The Identity of Jesus

Meditating on Great Themes in John:   15. The Identity of Jesus

John 8:13,14    The Pharisees challenged him, “Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid.” Jesus answered, “Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid, for I know where I came from and where I am going.

There are, I conclude, two major overriding themes that come through in John that we have seen so far. We have focused on one – the transforming power of Jesus – but have not really covered the other, which in some ways is more important – the identity of Jesus. We did comment briefly in an earlier study about the number of times the word ‘testify’ comes up in John. It is a word used about giving evidence about a person, to identify them and what they have done, a word used in connection with court cases where there is serious work being done to establish the truth.

Jesus has just said, in the temple precincts, I am the light of the world.” (Jn 8:12) This upsets the contentious Pharisees who basically say, you can’t be a witness in your own defence, your testimony is not valid. The Law required two witnesses (Deut 17:6) and of course Jesus knew this. Earlier he had said, “If I testify about myself, my testimony is not valid.” (Jn 5:31) That’s all right, he went on to say, “There is another who testifies in my favor, and I know that his testimony about me is valid,“ (Jn 5:32) and then he refers to John the Baptist: “You have sent to John and he has testified to the truth.” (5:33)

But he doesn’t rely on that (v.34,35)  and goes on, “I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the very work that the Father has given me to finish, and which I am doing, testifies that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me.” (Jn 5:36,37) i.e. his works testify to who he is and indeed back at his baptism the voice of the Father had also testified to who he was (Mt 3:17)

Now to back that up, as the conversation in chapter 8 proceeds, Jesus declares, “In your own Law it is written that the testimony of two men is valid. I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father, who sent me.” (8:17,18) Again he makes it very clear that God is his witness.

A little later in the conversation they demand, “Who are you?” (v.25) and Jesus replies, “Just what I have been claiming all along,” and adds “But he who sent me is reliable, and what I have heard from him I tell the world.” (v.26) and then John adds, “They did not understand that he was telling them about his Father.” (v.27) Jesus adds, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am the one I claim to be and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.” (v.28,29)

This is one of those three occasions that Jesus refers to himself being lifted up (see Jn 3:14, 8:28 and 12:32,34) He is, I believe, also ‘lifted up’ three times – to death on the Cross, in the resurrection, and in the ascension.  All three have something vital to say about him – the Cross is where our sins were carried, his resurrection affirms who he is, and his ascension is the way to him being seated at the Father’s right hand where he now reigns. These three testify to who he is.

Peter, preaching under the anointing of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, declared, “listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.” (Acts 2:22) In other words the miraculous signs (the miracles) that the Father enabled him to perform accredit who Jesus is. When he was preaching to the gentiles in the house of Cornelius he preached, “You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached– how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him. “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem.” (Acts 10:37-39) It was the same message – the works of God testify to who Jesus is.

The word ‘testify’ is found 12 times in John’s Gospel and 3 times in his first letter. John is a witness and wants to shout it from the rooftops. In his final teaching to the apostles before going to the Cross, Jesus taught them, “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.” (Jn 15:26,27) Today there are three witnesses to Jesus, the Son of God – the Holy Spirit, the Bible and Christians. All we have to do is point people back to the Gospels and say, “This is the one who calls you to follow him and allow him to be Lord of your life.” The records are quite clear and show very clearly just who Jesus is.

33. Opposition (2)

Meditations in 1 Peter : 33:  Coping with Opposition (2)

1 Pet 2:21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

This is the hard side of the Christian life, the side that most of us in the West prefer not to think about. We will in the next meditation go on to look in detail to how Christ acted but for now we must just focus on the fact that he suffered and we are also called to suffer for the Gospel. Remember Peter has just said about slaves, if you suffer for doing good….” This is not self-inflicted suffering; this is suffering because we are Christians.

Now to get balance we have to note that it isn’t always like that in life and there are also times in the New Testament when the church found favour with the world: “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people.” (Acts 2:46,47). Indeed, it should be our purpose to win favour by our good lives, as Paul said a similar thing to the slaves in Colosse: “ Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.” (Col 3:22).  Yet the truth also is that there will be times when the world around us will be hostile to us because we are Christians.

Jesus laid out this teaching very clearly to his disciples: “But before all this, they will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. This will result in your being witnesses to them. But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. All men will hate you because of me. But not a hair of your head will perish. By standing firm you will gain life.” (Lk  21:12-19).

Now there are some crucial points in this. First, note, “This will result in your being witness to them.” i.e. when you are hauled before authorities see this as an opportunity to testify to the Lord. Second, note the Lord’s provision: “I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.” Wow, that is positive!

Why will people oppose us? Listen again to Jesus’ teaching at the Last Supper: “I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: `No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name.” (Jn 1519-21). Ultimately all opposition we receive as Christians is because of Christ. The enemy is against him and against us as his representatives.

This teaching goes right back to the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you,” (Mt 5:10-12) yet there it is expanded to remind us that all of God’s servants throughout time have been opposed. But, says Jesus, you will be blessed when you are persecuted and we are to rejoice in such circumstances because (implied) it shows we are part of God’s family, doing God’s will.

The nature of this persecution is made even more clear in John’s Gospel: “So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted him. Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.” (Jn 5:16-18) Jesus was ‘working’ on the Sabbath because his Father was working and that upset the religious ideas of some. Then we he associated himself with his Father that upset them even more.

Our call is to do the will of God as the Holy Spirit leads us. Sometimes that will upset people (see Acts 4). When we associate ourselves with our Lord that will sometimes also upset people. We are not to be purposely antagonistic but if our simple declarations spoken gently bring hostility simply because of the content – despite the delivery – then so be it!  That is our calling.  But remember it is a calling that brings the grace of God with it. He will enable and He will look after us. Those are His promises.

39. Condemned

(We return to the series on Job to follow his anguishes with his three friends)

Meditations in Job : 39.  Do we condemn ourselves?

Job 15:6 Your own mouth condemns you, not mine; your own lips testify against you.

We come to the next round of the three ‘friends’ making further comment about Job. Eliphaz was the first one to have spoken and had, first time round, been fairly diplomatic in the way he brought out his assessment of Job’s situation. This time round he seems not so circumspect and speaks more directly. Our verse at the top today really sums up his initial strike: you condemn yourself. It’s like he says, I don’t need to pull you down; you do it yourself by what you say. Let’s see exactly what he says and then see it in a wider context.

He says Job condemns himself in four ways; first with empty words. Would a wise man answer with empty notions or fill his belly with the hot east wind” (v.2) Empty notions? Ideas that have no meaning! That’s not kind! A “hot east wind”? Words that come from an arid desert that have no effect except wear out the listeners. Job is like an arid desert? That’s not kind!  How do you think you might feel if you had been trying to explain something and then eventually they turn round, exasperated, and say you were just an empty wind bag?  We must not forget in all this how Job is physically. Nothing has changed. This is almost the equivalent of three philosophers coming in and sitting next to you when you are in a critical condition in a hospital bed. This is an unfair competition; they are feeling fine but he is feeling like he’s at death’s door!

Eliphaz continues: “Would he argue with useless words, with speeches that have no value?” (v.3) There is that same put-down: “useless words! This is not nice. This is the equivalent of the parent or teacher who says to the child who already feels a failure, “You are stupid!”  This is not what they need to hear. At such times we need gentle words of encouragement – even when we are wrong. Low self esteem is not helped by words of condemnation that are just plain unkind!

The second way he condemns himself, according to Eliphaz, is to undermine his relationship with the Lord. Previously he had said, Should not your piety be your confidence and your blameless ways your hope?” (4:6). In other words, be confident in your piety, in the way you express your relationship with the Lord, but now he is saying that Job’s words even undermine that previous experience of the Lord: But you even undermine piety and hinder devotion to God.” (v.4). You might have started out well, he suggests, but now, “Your sin prompts your mouth; you adopt the tongue of the crafty.” (v.5). In other words, you’ve tried to argue from cleverness, appearing crafty and trying to twist God around your little finger, we might say. Thus he concludes, “Your own mouth condemns you, not mine; your own lips testify against you.” (v.6) i.e. just listening to what you say, I realize I don’t need to say anything; you are tearing yourself down.

But then comes the third put-down or third way he says Job’s words condemn him. Now he says Job’s youthful arrogance ignores the aged wisdom that is before him. Listen: Are you the first man ever born? Were you brought forth before the hills?” (v.7) i.e. have you lived longer than anyone else so that your wisdom is greater than anyone else’s (implied)? He goes on, “Do you listen in on God’s council? Do you limit wisdom to yourself” (v.8) i.e. do you claim to have been in the courts of heaven and overheard God so you know what He thinks? Are you the only wise person around? Really, come on, “What do you know that we do not know?  What insights do you have that we do not have?” (v.9). Why are you cleverer than we are? The obvious inference is that, of course none of this is true so he appeals to age and aged-wisdom to overcome Job: “The gray-haired and the aged are on our side, men even older than your father.” (v.10) He appeals to Job as coming from the older generation who demands respect. Whether Job is a lot younger is unclear, but at least Eliphaz is older and claims the wisdom of age.

Then we come to the fourth of these put down’s or ways that Job condemns himself through his words. He claims Job is even refusing God’s correction: Are God’s consolations not enough for you, words spoken gently to you?” (v.11). This infers that the words the three friends have spoken have been God’s words, correcting Job. Instead of receiving their words, Job has responded in anger: “Why has your heart carried you away, and why do your eyes flash,” (v.12). What this therefore means is that Job has actually railed against God. Look – “so that you vent your rage against God and pour out such words from your mouth?” (v.13). By implying that they, with their aged wisdom, were speaking as from God, it means that Job’s responses were responses against God.

In each way these put down’s really demean Job and are designed to take away any grounds he might have to respond. Recap: Job’s words are empty, they undermine his previous relationship with the Lord, they ignore the wisdom of his aged counselors who speak for God and thus he rejects the correction of God. Where do you go with all that? Well, what is the truth?

First of all simply deriding what someone says in their argument as empty wind, is the worst form of arguing. Abuse is not arguing! Modern atheistic crusaders use this tactic to seek to demean their believing opponents. It is, we say again, the worst form of arguing. Second, to challenge the spirituality of another person and challenge the way they work out their relationship with the Lord is a dangerous thing to do. It puts your own quality of relationship with the Lord under the spotlight because it infers that by comparison to yours, their relationship is less. Taking the words that come from another and implying it reveals a shaky relationship is similarly a dangerous thing to do. Merely because someone’s understanding of certain aspects of religious doctrine is a little faulty, it doesn’t mean their relationship with the Lord is defective. A relationship with the Lord is better measured by the obedience of that person to what they have heard from the Lord than the amount they know.

This leads us on to question the wisdom of the aged. Hopefully the aged have learnt a lot through their years of experience, but sadly that is often not true. The aged may not be obedient to the Lord and that counts a lot more with Him than how many sermons we have heard or how many Bible Studies we have attended. We also need to challenge a person’s right to claim to have spoken from the Lord. They may have done but there is no presumption that comes with age that that is so! Jesus was full of grace and truth, which meant that whenever the down trodden (such as Job) came to him, he treated them with gracious, gentle acceptance. That is not how Eliphaz has been treating Job. These are all significant issues that we should be thinking about in the way we treat other people.

4. It can’t be!

SON OF GOD MEDITATIONS 4 of 20

Jn 9:25 He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see.”

Before we get down to looking at the verses about Jesus’ divinity and their implications, we really do need to check out one more particular problem or way of thinking that some people fall into without realising it. It is put most simply as, “If I’ve never experienced it, it can’t happen.” Put another way, it is refusal to believe out of ignorance: “I’ve never heard of this before, I’ve never seen it or experienced it, so it can’t be.”

Now it only takes a little bit of thinking to realise that this is a very short-sighted way of viewing things. For instance, we switch on a light switch and suddenly the dark is dispelled. When out walking we check our compass against the map and orientate ourselves according to north. High jumpers know that their biggest obstacle is gravity. Now each of these experiences relies on something that can’t be seen but which we accept quite happily. We accept what we cannot see because of the outworking that we can see. When it comes to history none of us disputes the Battle of Hastings in 1066 or the American Civil War or French Revolution – because we have documents that record them. Many of us will accept the idea of strange experiences brought on by psychedelic drugs without having taken them. We accept the word of others.

When it comes to spiritual matters we seem to require different standards. We can’t ‘see’ God because He is Spirit, but anyone wanting to follow what the Bible teaches about coming to Him, finds the outworking is real. Furthermore the documentation for the New Testament is far greater than any other ancient literature which scholars accept. Likewise may of us may be able to testify to genuine healings or other experiences that flow out of prayer or experiencing God.

During the so-called ‘Toronto Blessing’ in the latter part of the twentieth century, a friend and I prayed over a young man in his early twenties for about half an hour. Throughout that time he vibrated and shook in a way that was impossible to manufacture. We just carried on praying and he carried on vibrating because we really didn’t know what to do. What I didn’t know was that this young man was seeing a specialist who had diagnosed serious stomach ulcers. He happened to have an appointment with the specialist a few days after we prayed for him (and we hadn’t prayed for healing!!!) and the specialist couldn’t believe what he found. Not only had the ulcers gone but there was also no sign of scarring. During that time, God turned up and did many miraculous things that were beyond us. Thousands around the globe could testify similarly.

So what is it in the sceptic that says, “I can’t believe that”? Tell it to the young man who was healed and the many others who experienced the incredible power of God during that period of time at the end of last century. It is the same scepticism that the religious people of Jesus’ day showed. In John chapter 9, we find the account of Jesus healing a man blind from birth. After Jesus had left, there arose a great dispute among the neighbours and others who had known this man, and eventually they took him to the Pharisees, a group of religious conservatives who were concerned to uphold the good name of religion. They felt particularly threatened by Jesus who showed up their spiritual lifelessness and so did all they could to demean him and challenge what he did. When the man who had been blind was brought before them, they berated him for what he said about Jesus. We know Jesus is a sinner, they said, tell us the truth. We know this is a scam (implied). It is then that we come to these beautifully simple words from the man: Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see.”

I love that! It’s the same thing that upsets atheists and sceptics alike, when a Christian says, “Well, I’m sorry you may be cleverer than me, but all I know is that I tried everything else when my life was in a mess and nothing worked. I heard about God’s love through Jesus and I asked him to come into my life, forgive me and set me free and guide me, and all I know is that my life has been transformed, and now it is wonderful.” Truly sickening – if you are a sceptic! You can deny it, challenge it, deride it, and make lots of other suggestions about it, but at the end of the day you have a person whose life has been transformed for good when nothing else would do it!

I know we’ve said it before in these introductions but it bears repeating. Very often unbelief isn’t because of the lack of evidence; it is because of our misguided presuppositions, or our refusal to believe because it contradicts all we have held dear, or it challenges our pride that refuses any challengers, or maybe, it is even our insecurity that fears a ‘god’ we have been frightened by in our childhood when others have badly misrepresented Him. For this whole variety of reasons, people are scared to consider the evidence or consider it through a defence grid that had decided beforehand what is true. In each of these ways we shy away from the truth.

Let me put a possibility before you. Suppose, and I only say suppose, suppose that there is a God who is all-powerful, all knowing, all-wise and totally loving and good. Suppose He came to earth in a limited human form in the land of Palestine two thousand years ago and taught people about God’s love and demonstrated it by healing all who came to him. Suppose he was put to death for being so good, and suppose he came back from the dead. Suppose he offers a new life of goodness to all who will come to him, a life guided and directed by God, a life of receiving the love and goodness of God, a life that leads after death into an eternal life that is more wonderful than anything we can imagine. Suppose all these things are true (and the Bible says they are), wouldn’t it be worth taking the time and making the effort, to check it out and see that they are true? That’s what this series of studies or meditations is all about, so come with us in the days ahead as we read and think and reflect.