Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Inflammatory Words of Jesus

The Jews of Jesus' day cherished their status as God's special covenant people. They were proud to be the children of Abraham and heirs of the covenant God made with him. Moses was their most revered prophet, the one through whom God had delivered the Law and another covenant. They memorized the books of the Old Testament that Moses wrote (the first five) as well as large portions from the Psalms/wisdom literature and the books of the prophets. Their boast was that they alone, among all the peoples of the earth, knew God and were special to him.

With this in mind, Jesus' words to the Jews in the Gospel of John are remarkably provocative. He meant to scandalize them. Just listen, and remember that he's talking to God's chosen people:
"And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard . . . and you do not have his word abiding in you . . . You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. . . . I know that you do not have the love of God within you." (5:39-40, 42)

"Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. If you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me." (5:45-46)

"You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also." (8:19b)

"If you were Abraham's children, you would be doing what Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are doing what your father did. . . . If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God . . . You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. . . . Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God." (8:39b-40, 42, 44, 47)
[At this point in Jesus' exchange with the Jews in John 8, the Jews call Jesus a "Samaritan" a subtle way of saying "You're a bastard." They were apparently aware of the unusual circumstances surrounding Jesus' birth. They had made this charge earlier in the discussion too, in 8:39 ("Abraham is our father.") and 8:41 ("We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father--even God."). Jesus responds:]
"If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, 'He is our God.' But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word." (8:54-55)
[Later, the Jews ask Jesus to state plainly whether he is the Messiah or not. He replies:]
"I told you, and you do not believe. . . . you do not believe because you are not part of my flock. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. (10:25-27)
So much for the wimpy, tame picture of Jesus so many people carry in their minds. It's true that he is tender and compassionate, but he's also fierce and disturbing. Remember when he drove the money-changers out of the temple in John 2? He made a whip and drove them out, poured their profits out on the ground, and flipped over their tables. Imagine the aftermath. The merchants had to come back a little while later to clean up the mess Jesus had made of their flea market. I'm sure they were hoping he was gone. Probably the poor people had taken all the poured-out money, or it had been deposited in the temple treasury. The above exchanges with the Jews almost got him stoned--twice--but he was able to escape both times. No, Jesus is not a wimp. He is not tame.

You might be thinking, "But they ended up killing them, didn't they? So they eventually got the better of him." No. Remember his words in John 10:18: "No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again."

One of the glories of Jesus Christ is that he often says and does what we wouldn't expect him to say or do. He's not predictable. He was always taking his discussions with the Jews in directions they didn't anticipate and didn't want to go. In his earthly ministry he had a way of exposing hearts and getting down to root issues. And he's still doing it. As you read your Bible, let Jesus challenge your assumptions. Listen for him to contradict the way you're presently thinking and living. Let him make you uncomfortable. As you read your Bible, listen to the voice of your surprising, untamed, and courageous Good Shepherd, and follow Him--wherever he leads you. This I can testify: I am discovering that life with him, following him, communing with him, is more wonderful than I ever could have imagined.

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