Monthly Archives

3 Articles

Gospels/Christology

I Always Do What Pleases Him

Posted by M.Ferris on
The Humility of Jesus in John’s Gospel

John’s gospel is a unique document, and students of the life of Christ rightly set this gospel apart from the others. There are the synoptic gospels, and John. John contains 879 verses, and only 124 of these are traceable to the other gospels. This means a full 86% of John’s material is unique to his gospel. A striking aspect of the book is how often Jesus refers to his father. When referring to God, Matthew contains 42 occurrences of “Father.” Mark has 4, and Luke 13. But John’s gospel has 113 such references. What do these many references to God as the Father of Jesus tell us?

Jesus the Eternal Son

The character of this gospel is to present Jesus as the man from heaven. He is the one coming from above, the Word of God, the one in the bosom of the Father, making God known.

The deity of Christ is unequivocal in John. Jesus is equal with God (5:18), he and the Father are one (10:30, 17:11). Before Abraham was, Jesus tells the Jews, “I am.” There was no mistaking what he meant, for the Jews took up stones to kill him. “I am” is a clear reference to the covenant name of God, revealed to Moses in Exodus 3:14, I AM THAT I AM. One cannot read anything in John as a new category, that is, as Arianism claims, a god, but not THE God. In 17:3, Jesus says, “This is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” If Jesus and the Father are one, and there is but one true God, a lesser god, and one in whom we find eternal life, is not possible.

The intimacy of the Father and the Son

In the gospel where the deity of Christ is so manifest, the book also displays the relationship of Jesus as the Son of the Father with great intimacy. The Father loves the Son, and shows him all that he is doing (5:20). He tells the Twelve that whoever has seen him has seen the Father. (14:9). If they know him, they know the Father also. The 14th chapter is filled with references to the Father doing, acting, loving toward the believer, and the ground of it all is the relationship of the Father and the Son. Jesus will ask the Father, and he will send the comforter (14:16.) The words of life, all that Jesus has heard from his Father, he has made known to the disciples. (15:15). But the self-giving love of the Son means that this intimacy is shared with believers. “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.” (15:9). And those who love the Son will be loved by the Father (14:21.)  The great hymn writer Horatius Bonar captures this sentiment when he writes:

So dear, so very dear to God,
More dear I cannot be;
The love wherewith He loves the Son,
Such is His love to me.

The humility of the Son

A wonder of John’s gospel is the portrayal of Jesus in his humility. He is the Son who does only what he sees the Father doing (5:19). He seeks not his own will, but the will of him who sent him (5:30). This, of course, culminates at the cross. Giving himself freely, out of love for the Father, and in submission to his Father, this is Calvary. “The cup that the Father has given me, shall I not drink it?” Peter would intervene, but Jesus explains that in going to the cross, coming to this hour, that the Father is glorified (12:28). Paul muses on this mystery in Philippians 2, when he says Jesus humbled himself by becoming obedient unto death, even death on a cross. This, believer, is the substance of our worship. The Son’s humility in going to the cross, fulfilling what his Father sent him into the world to do, accomplishing all, made it possible for Jesus to utter “It is finished.”

This display of humility in the eternal Son of God is the substance of our worship. We can never stray very far from the condescension of Calvary. We should never, for Christ crucified is the heart of the gospel. This makes a frequent celebration of the Lord’s Supper an important reminder to us. Considering his humiliation, his death, never gets old, never becomes routine.

His life of humility is also the pattern for the believer. In John 13, when Jesus set aside his outer garments, and took up a towel, washing the disciple’s feet, he presented a model to them. “For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.” Later, in his first epistle, John will expand on this, “whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” A sin-cursed world needs to see believers satisfied and marveling at the wonder of Calvary. But it also needs to see believers modeling the example of Jesus.

Culture

Deus Ex Machina

Posted by M.Ferris on

Yesterday’s iPhone X announcement was not so much a product announcement as a media event. While technology writers covered the event, it’s notable that the NY Times TV critic James Poniewozik also wrote about it. Indeed, he writes about the launch as Apple selling us “a better vision of ourselves.”

As society has become increasingly technologized, it is ever so tempting to apply technology to all problems, but more than that, to imagine that some thing, some device will make me better. It will make me smarter, more productive, and more efficient. Yesterday’s iPhone event is an example of how we are lured into this mindset. Apple is masterful at presenting their technology as indispensable for your life. And it’s not just Apple that does this. All technology companies do it – Google, Amazon, et al are all selling a version of a life made better by technology.

The Scriptures warn about worshiping and serving the creature rather than the creator. We can paraphrase that to say the device rather than the deity. Think about how often you check your phone, how infrequently you are without it, how it demands your attention through notifications. All of us spend a lot of time with our technology. This can overwhelm other aspects of our lives, and what is “virtual” can dominate what is truly real.

The prescient Neil Postman wrote about this in his book Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology. The book is now 24 years old, making his observations all the more remarkable. The danger, says Postman, is when a society moves from technocracy to technopoly, where the culture becomes so dominated by technology that we believe it holds all the answers. “Technopoly’s hold [is] to make people believe that technological innovation is synonymous with human progress.”[1] It is difficult to argue that we have not entered such a stage, where technology is treated with decreased skepticism. Indeed, we may have moved from technopoly to technolatry.

But our greatest need is not a better vision of ourselves, but a new version of ourselves – a new creation. That doesn’t come through technology, but through new life in Christ. The problems that still plague humankind are not problems that technology can solve, or that quicker access to more information will ameliorate. As Postman further observed, we should not assume “that the most serious problems confronting us both at personal and public levels require technical solutions through fast access to adequate information… If families break up, children are mistreated, crime terrorizes a city, education is impotent, it does not happen because of inadequate information. Mathematical equations, instantaneous communication, and vast quantities of information have nothing to do with these problems. And the computer is useless in addressing them.”[2]

We may not bow down to wood or stone, but our propensity to worship the creature (or what we create) rather than the creator is a part of our fallen condition. Christians should be aware and on guard for the subtle encroachment of the “god in the machine” that whispers and chirps to us.

This hasn’t gone unnoticed. Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains is not written from a Christian perspective, but much of what he writes applies to Christians. More recently, Tony Reinke’s Twelve Ways Your Phone is Changing You is specifically aimed at believers with exhortations to be wise about our technology consumption.

Poniewozik muses on what the iPhone X means for him. “I’m not going to pretend that I’m immune to this allure… I will almost certainly buy one of the new phones. What will I do with it? What does anyone? I will Instagram photos of my cooking that I think look more appetizing than they are. I will see another tweet from the president. I will Google song lyrics. I will read Facebook posts and get mad on the internet. And another year from now, I’ll set another reminder to watch another Apple event, believing somewhere deep down that with one more upgrade, I might be perfected.”

Christians need to recall what the writer to the Hebrews said about the Lord Jesus. “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” Overcoming sin, and becoming more like the Lord Jesus – there’s not an app for that.

 

[1] Neil Postman, Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology (New York, Vintage Books, 1993), p. 117.

[2] Neil Postman, p. 119.

Bible

If They Do Not Hear Moses

Posted by M.Ferris on

At the end of Luke 16, Jesus tells a parable about a poor man named Lazarus, and an unnamed rich man. Both men die and go to different destinations. The poor man goes to “Abraham’s bosom”, commonly thought to be heaven. The rich man ends up in Hades – hell. He is in agony in the flames and cries out to Abraham for relief. There is much speculation about this parable. “Can those in hell really communicate with those in heaven? Can they, in fact, see across the divide? Interesting as they may be, those details aren’t the main point of the parable. Near the end, the rich man’s appeal to Abraham is this:

And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’”

The parable isn’t about how one gets to heaven or hell but articulates a doctrine of Scripture. The rich man’s appeal is for a miracle. Send someone from the dead to warn them about this place, to tell them the truth, and then they will believe. But Abraham counters, they have Moses and the Prophets, let them hear them. Moses and the Prophets encompass all the Hebrew Scriptures, the whole of what we know as the Old Testament revelation. These are the Scriptures that Jesus turns to in his post-resurrection ministry as a witness to himself. And, on the Emmaus Road, “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Lk. 24:27).

The Scriptures of the Old Testament contain the testimony of Jesus as Messiah. He is the suffering servant of Isaiah 53, the one bringing good news to the downtrodden in Isaiah 53, and the coming King Psalm 24, and the book of Daniel. The Scriptures bear witness to the truth of Jesus as Son of God and the one by whom God will judge the world.

The rich man isn’t satisfied with this answer, and says “no, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” This is an attitude that hasn’t lost currency. To the extent we downgrade the Scriptures we share this attitude. We are telling God that his word is insufficient if we demand to see signs or to have a “surer witness.”  At the end of John’s gospel, he tells his readers “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” What Jesus did while on the earth validated his identity to those first eyewitnesses. But now that he has been raised from the dead, God himself has validated his son, and he points us to the Bible as the surest witness possible. The purpose of recording these things is to enable belief, and belief in Him brings life.

At a time when so much of the church is departing from a doctrine of Scripture that affirms it as God’s Word, it is imperative for Christians to have a solid foundation in the Bible.  We help no one by offering a gospel that isn’t built on God’s revelation. We appeal to no one with an authority that isn’t that of God himself. We have no message for a sin-cursed world if it not based on God’s book. It not only behooves Christians to have a robust view of Scripture, if we do not hold to the Scriptures as God’s Word, we are prey to every doctrinal wind and wave that blows.