A Prayer of Jesus I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes; yea, Father, for such was thy gracious will.
Listen to him! (Mark 9:7)
I have not spoken on my own authority; the Father who sent me has himself given me commandment what to say and what to speak.
(Jesus, John 12:49)
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John recorded the crucial words of Jesus. Their records, though incomplete, are adequate both to disclose the man and to define his doctrine. Therefore I have relied almost exclusively on their accounts of his sayings. The Gospel of John has an editorial flavor that sets it apart from the synoptics, but the quoted words are the words of Jesus. His words from all the gospels consistently testify to the TRUTH that no man could conceive by himself. Why? Because it is unthinkable to mere humans. Therefore only the Eternal Son could have uttered them.
What did Jesus say about the origin of his words? John's Gospel repeatedly answers this question, and the above quotation is typical. With strong emphasis and by much repetition Jesus makes this one thing unmistakable: the words are from the Father. Jesus is only the messenger.
These assertions about the origin of his words eliminate the option of indifference and confront us with a compelling choice. If his words are the very words of God, of God who can neither lie nor err, then Jesus must be the eternal son whom they reveal. Or, if they are only the words of the man Jesus, he is of necessity a liar and a deceiver for having attributed them to God.
He absolutely must be one or the other, and there are no reasonable grounds for other views. For example, the view that he was only one good religious leader among many cannot be correct. If that were so, the words were his alone since he then could not have heard them from his Father during a unique prior heavenly existence. Thus he must have lied when he said he did – but then, as a liar, he was not good!
Many seemingly intelligent people have viewed him thusly, as a good man among many and as a true prophet among many, but to do so they must ignore his words -- especially those that attribute all his words to God. Being thus ignorant of his utterances, their views of him can be nothing more than the fruits of fertile imaginations.
It is clear in retrospect that he deliberately presented himself in this way. He means to compel all that hear him to respond according to one of these two extremes: he is the eternal word of the only righteous God, or he was a liar and a deceiver. One should decide between these only after careful consideration of the message the words convey, applying this simple test: is it of God, or is it of man? If it is of man, then its human, temporal, earthly origins will be evident in the formulation of its underlying principles. If it is of God, we will find it impossible to make such connections. As for me, having devoted much of my lifetime to the consideration of his utterances, I am confident his message is of God just as he consistently maintained.
Many things have confirmed this persuasion. I emphasize two of them here: the perception of the transcendent quality of his message, and the reception of the marvelous freedom that the message conveys. This is the freedom he promised when he said:
If you abide in my word, you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. (John 8:32)This is not an empty promise! It really happens! Whenever anyone opens his or her heart to Jesus' words and abides in them, the fundamental ideas of Jesus come to mind. One also understands then that no mortal could have conceived them. It is the Truth, and it yields a supernatural freedom that is beyond mere human comprehension.
The Truth communicated by the words that the Father gave to Jesus and that the latter announced in the world is, like God himself, changeless and eternal. It is ABSOLUTE TRUTH, and the ancient world that first heard it absolutely did not condition it. Thus having its origin in the eternal Father, it confronts every temporal human condition with equal force. Any effort to explain it in terms of Jesus' historical setting is utterly inappropriate.
This in no way contradicts the human origins of Jesus. On the contrary, I readily affirm his full humanity. He was born of woman, and grew to maturity in a Jewish home, village, and nation then under Roman rule. He experienced the Jewish traditions and first addressed himself to Jews. He applied his teachings using ideas already familiar to them, including the precepts of their revered prophetic scriptures. The Jewish culture therefore flavored the message, but only to relate it to those who heard it immediately. Never did it have any effect on the underlying principles.
The expression "Kingdom of God," which lies at the heart of his message, is a prime example of the ideas familiar to his hearers. To the Jews, its coming signified the restoration of the Jewish kingdom under a new David, but Jesus knew it to be something else. To him, it was to be the inception, on earth, of the Father's unique will. He did not impart new definitions to such terms. Instead, he restored the original meaning of the inspired prophets, which the Jews had adulterated. Since he did not present them with a new dictionary, people usually misunderstood him at first hearing, then followed him due to fundamental misconceptions. Then, as time passed and he refused to respond to their expectations, they took offense and turned against him.
He consistently maintained that God is his father and that the Father had sent him down to earth from heaven with words to relay to the world. He was God's messenger, whose primary purpose on earth was to deliver the words of God to men. He was never mistaken, never changed his mind, and never altered the meaning of his words. He could not, because God had endowed them with meaning from eternity, where Jesus had received them in full realization of their eternal significance.
Given that he was born of Mary in the usual way and that he was reared as the eldest son of Joseph and Mary, also in the usual way, how are we to account for his clear recollection of heavenly pre-existence? (John 8:42) This question has a simple answer: He was the same person here as there, and his memory was very good – yes, it was perfect!
The Temple incident, when he was twelve, illustrates this. Mary scolded him saying,Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously." (Luke 2:48)Mary referred to Joseph as his father, even though the gospels testify to a virgin birth. We can reasonably conclude that this was her usual practice. If she were inclined to make exceptions she would have done so here, when they were in God's house. It is unlikely that she had ever instructed him about his unique origin. Yet at this early age he clearly understood that God, and not Joseph, was his father. He therefore felt a strong compulsion to be in his Father's house, as befits a twelve-year old child. So, when the time came for him to return home, it was to God's house, not Joseph's, that he resorted. He understood his heavenly parentage because he remembered it. Also, no one on earth instructed Jesus what to say. Not Mary for his message left her dumfounded. Not any man, for his word communicated ideas such as no mortal can devise. Think of the amazed teachers in the Temple! (Luke 2:47) He had such uniquely peculiar and powerful words because, and only because, he recalled hearing then from his Father in heaven, just as he remembered that God is his father.
Jesus is undoubtedly unique in his early recognition and continued awareness of his heavenly origin, eternal character, and glorious destiny. This uniqueness is compatible with the virgin birth and helps to convince me of its validity, although it is not essential to his message. Jesus never mentioned such a birth, and must have considered it to be a minor "technical detail" of his sojourn on this planet. We can ignore it as a point of interpretation, just as Mary ignored it when she spoke of Joseph as his father.
So the Father delivered certain words to the Son in Heaven, then sent him to earth to repeat the message in the hearing of men. The Son entered the world through the door of human reproduction exactly as did you and I. Then he grew up in the midst of his people as a man among men. At some point in his early years he began to recall the words of God and to realize his heavenly origin and identity as Son of God. Then he accepted his unique commission to utter God's words on earth as he had heard them in heaven. This was the "work" that his Father had sent him to do.
After completing his work, he addressed himself to the Father in the prayer of John 17, saying:
I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work which you gave me to do. (John 17:4)Then he proceeded to define the work in three parts as follows: (1)I have manifested your name to the men whom you gave me out of the world. (John 17:6)He then went on to say that he has sent these men into the world as the Father had sent him – to be bearers of the words of the Father to the people of the world. The only difference was that Jesus had received the words directly from the Father, whereas they had the words relayed to them through Jesus as intermediary.
(2) Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you, for I have given them the words which you gave me. (John 17:7,8)
(3) While I was with them, I kept them in your name which you have given me. (John 17:12)
Finally, he extended his prayer to succeeding generations of hearers and believers:
...that they may all be one, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (John 17:21)Thus his work consisted totally of the introduction and perpetuation of the words of God in the world, and he uttered them without regard for consequences.
It was typical at first hearing that the multitudes were favorably impressed by the wonderful words proceeding out of his mouth. Then, suddenly, he would shock them with some highly offensive statement, which turned them into bitter enemies on the spot. He explained this hostile response by saying:
The world hates me because I testify of it that its works are evil. (John 7:7)His address to the congregation in the home synagogue at Nazareth is a good example. (Luke 4:16-30) The initial response was good, and he had their rapt attention as they listened and marveled at the wisdom of this native son. Then, suddenly, he confronted them with two biblical events in which the Father seemed to favor non-Jews: Elijah's ministry to Zarephath the Sidonian woman (I Kings 17:9-24), and Elisha's ministry to Naaman the Syrian (II Kings 5:1-27). Just as suddenly, the temper of the congregation changed. Enraged, they rushed him to the brow of a nearby hill in an attempt to kill him by casting him over it.
Another time he gained the favorable attention of a large group of Jews such that many believed in him. Then he threw his verbal punch again, saying:
If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free. (John 8:32)Their mood immediately changed to hatred. They took offense at this implication that they were subject to bondage, and they ended the speech with an attempt to stone him to death.
He sometimes gained the people's admiring attention by wondrous acts in addition to words, but then rejected their appeals. When great multitudes came out to hear him and became hungry, he fed them all by the multiplication of a few loaves and fishes. This finally convinced them that "This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world." They then sought to force the kingship upon him but he withdrew from them (John 6:1-21).
These incidents illustrate the power of his words to separate the children of God from the children of this world. This effect can be compared to the operation of a sieve, which admits the few while repelling the many. He said:
He who is of God hears the words of God. The reason you do not hear them is that you are not of God. (John 8:47)Our response to his words therefore establishes our eternal destiny. Prefacing his statement with the words, "Amen, amen," or "truly, truly," he said: If anyone keeps my word, he will never see death. (John 8:51)Yet again he said: Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life; he does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. (John 5:24)The synoptics present Jesus' "Parable of the Sower," (Matthew 13:3-9; Mark 4:2-9; Luke 8:4-8) which summarizes the effect of the word in the world. In the parable, the seed is the word, and some fall along the path. The birds, which immediately take it away, correspond to Satan who takes away the word. Some seeds fall on rocky ground, where they take root for only a short time, for the soil is shallow. This corresponds to those who gladly receive the word, but fall away in a time of persecution. Some seeds fall among thorns. This corresponds to those who receive the word, but the love of riches and such things choke it. Finally there is the good soil, where hearers receive the word and accept it and are fruitful.
Absolutely everything depends upon our responses to his words. Most persons, in and out of churches, hate his words and cannot bear to hear them. Church people tend to be selective. They focus on the words they like to hear and ignore the rest. Only a few listen with love and appreciation . . . and fewer yet endure until the end of their earthly captivity.
The Parable of the Builders (Matthew 7:24-27; Luke 6:46-49), at the conclusion to the Sermon on the Mount, illustrates this responsiveness, or lack of same, and its consequences. Those who hear "these words of mine" and "do them" are building, on rock foundations, houses destined to endure; but those who hear and "do not do them" are building, without foundations, houses doomed to fall.
It is very simple! He will sort us for eternity according to our responses to his words. So we hear him say elsewhere:
He who rejects me and does not receive my sayings has a judge; the word that I have spoken will be his judge on the last day. (John 12:48)He said of those who hear: My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers. (John 10:4-5,27)John's Gospel presents a teaching of Jesus in which he asserts that it is essential to life that his hearers eat his flesh and drink his blood. What did he mean? The discourse began when some Jews asked him for a sign and spoke of the sign of the manna, or "bread from heaven" that their fathers ate in the wilderness. Jesus responded by saying that he himself is the true bread that came down from heaven. Their fathers all died, but anyone who eats of this bread will not die. Then he added: The bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh. (John 6:51)As the Jews disputed how he might give them his flesh to eat, he rephrased the statement for emphasis and cast the following words at them: Truly, truly, unless you eat the flesh of the son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you . . . he who eats me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever. (John 6:53-58)This strange, cannibalistic statement also offended his closest disciples, so Jesus explained: It is the spirit that gives life. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. (John 6:63)He finally explained it! His words are what must be eaten. They are so intimately identified with the medium that brought them into the world – that is, his flesh – that he speaks of them interchangeably. There is here a sequence of metaphors beginning with the manna, which is the bread of life, which is the flesh and blood of Jesus, which is his word, which is the Spirit. It should not surprise us to learn that he was really speaking of his words all along. Had he not earlier stated that anyone who hears and believes his word has eternal life?
Jesus explained with metaphors, parables, and bold statements that the words he uttered mediate eternal life to the world. They are the Bread of Life that comes down from Heaven and gives life to the world. Those who receive it and believe have eternal life, but those who refuse to "eat" the word are forever dead. He announced these words to the world through the exclusive medium of his voice. They are the true manna that came down from heaven!
What of the voices of those other ancient and venerated spokesmen of God? Surely someone else has mediated words of life? What of Moses? No, not Moses. Jesus expressly stated that all those who ate of the bread of Moses died – every one of them (John 6:49)! No, there are no others – neither prophet, apostle, priest, nor preacher!
"Surely" you say, "Surely some more recent voice has something to add to the revelations of the Christ?"
Absolutely not! The utterances of Jesus are the perfect WORD OF GOD. They lack nothing except hearers to take them seriously. Jesus stated all this. Thus he automatically ruled out all such considerations within the context of his perfect word. Dear reader, If you are entertaining such notions, that very fact is conclusive evidence that you have not yet heard him! Listen:
No man comes to the Father but by me. (John 14:6)Only Jesus is "The Life," and his voice first uttered the words of life in the world. He even said: Truly, truly, I say to you, the hour is coming and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. (John 5:25)Jesus said something else that should clear the confusion from the minds inclined to listen to a later prophet: Heaven and earth will pass away, but my word will not pass away. (Matthew 24:35; Mark 13:31; Luke 21:33)If this isn't a firm statement concerning whose is the last word what would we need to hear? If the words of Jesus were incomplete, we would have need of someone else to come later to add what was lacking. The word of the later prophet would then become the last word, and the word of Jesus would pass away; it would become obsolete. When the new has come, the old is ready to pass away. Or, if the word of Jesus were erroneous, then of course we would need someone to correct or condemn it and to replace the lie with the truth. The word of Jesus would then pass away! Yet again, if the word of Jesus lacked power, the lies of the world would overcome it, and it would pass away. Yet it stands today, two thousand years after its utterance in the world, as firm and immovable as on the day Jesus uttered it. Therefore we have good reason to believe that Jesus uttered Truth when he said his word would survive heaven and earth. Other prophets of similar antiquity, whose words endure to this day, are very few, and none have had as much impact on the world.
Of course, two thousand years are a very small time in the full span of creation. No one can be certain whose word will reign two thousand years from now . . . or two million . . . or two billion. Yet history is busily applying progressively finer screens to the words of the prophets and pretenders. As time passes, fewer words survive. The words of Jesus are among the very few from antiquity that have survived. His word is therefore a top contender for the last and final word. I believe it will surely remain when all others have fallen silent, exactly as he prophesied by the "pass away" utterance.
Some later pretenders have incorporated Jesus into their systems of belief by teaching their followers that he was a good man and a great prophet of God. Then they go on to propagate their unique ideas as if there were something they could say to make up what was lacking in the word of Jesus. I have always seen this as terrible inconsistency: to call a man who professed to have the last word a great man and a prophet of God, then to add their words to his. If he were a good man and a true prophet of God, he would not pretend to the last word unless that were precisely so. These later prophets involve themselves in a contradiction in which they cannot accept Jesus and also add their words to his. His words forbid it! He was either the true prophet of God with the last word for the world . . . or he is a liar and a deceiver for having professed to have the last word . . . that word that will outlast the heavens and the earth! Such pretenders will eventually silence themselves, as their followers become aware of their contradictions.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd (John 10:11,14). All who preceded him were thieves and robbers, and after him there is no need of another. Those whom God gives to him are his sheep, and they hear his voice and believe (John 10:4,16,16-27). Others react with hostility to the word, because they cannot bear to hear it (John 8:42-47). They do not hear because they are not of God – just as Jesus explained.
By this means the word is the judge: those who hear and believe are of God, all others are not of God. Just so, everyone's eternal destiny depends only on this one thing: the response to the divine words uttered by that one man – Jesus!
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