John’s Gospel: “Who Is This ‘Son of Man’?” (The search for the real Jesus, Part 3)

Righteous judgment

Jesus, when challenged for healing on the Sabbath, responded,

(John 7:24 NAS)  “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.”

Really? “Appearances? It appeared very much that he healed on the Sabbath! But that’s a superficial judgment. It ignores the real dynamic.

Jesus was utterly without patience with legalism. By “legalism” I mean the enforcement of God’s laws in ways that undermine the purposes behind God’s laws. The Sabbath was meant to be a blessing to God’s people, not a burden that would impose even more suffering on the diseased and lame.

Notice that Jesus could have waited until sunset and avoided the criticism — even death threats. He would have helped his reputation by waiting. He would have made it easier for people to accept him as Messiah. But Jesus saw legalism as so anti-God that he would have none of it — not even to help spread the gospel. After all, if the gospel were to be accepted on legalistic terms, it wouldn’t really be the gospel.

Jesus was therefore highly principled as to the terms on which he’d allow himself to be accepted. Yes, the gospel is very nearly all important, but it’s never so important that it should be watered down to be more easily accepted. The gospel is only worthwhile if taught and accepted in all its challenge and even offense.

Jesus makes a spectacle of himself

(John 7:37-38 ESV)  37 On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.  38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'”

“Cried out” could be translated “shouted” (NET: “shouted out”). He was in Jerusalem among throngs of pilgrims. He shouted at the top of his voice!

Well, we Americans just don’t act that way. It’s rude. It’s wrong to draw so much attention to yourself. Why disturb these people who traveled great distances to enjoy the Jewish holiday? Why make yourself the center of attention?

Well, because Jesus was the reason for the feast. The pilgrims were there to pray for the day God would pour out his Spirit on the people, as promised by the prophets, and Jesus had come to do exactly that.

Jesus was not a quiet, timid, retiring personality. At times, he insisted on being the center of attention — because to do otherwise would have denied the reality of why he came.

Not a one of us can imagine going to some vacation spot or resort and shouting so as to be the center of attention, but Jesus did exactly that. He was not about social convention. He didn’t mind being far different from anyone’s expectations of a proper rabbi or Messiah.

Recall the cleansing of the Temple. Then, as on this occasion, Jesus made a spectacle of himself — behaving in a way that most of us would consider horribly embarrassing.

Worship in Spirit and in truth

The following may be the central text of John. It’s literally right in the middle of the
book —

(John 9:35-38 ESV)  35 Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”  36 He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?”  37 Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.”  38 He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.

The word translated “worship” appears only here, in chapter 4 (“worship in Spirit and in truth”), and chapter 12, where it refers to worship in the Temple.

In the Old Testament, after the construction of the Temple, the word refers specifically to worship at the Temple — normally by animal sacrifice. Jesus redefines the word in chapter 4, and then John gives us an example of worship in Spirit and in truth.

The formerly blind man, cast out of the synagogue, doesn’t go to the Temple to worship but to the feet of Jesus — and Jesus gladly accepts the worship.

Jesus thereby tells us that he is worthy of worship, appropriate only to God, and that this is a worthy form of worship. There are no commands, examples, or necessary inferences that tell this man how to worship Jesus — just a recognition that only God can heal the blind. And worship is what you do when you find yourself in God’s presence.

Lazarus

Jesus spent two days in prayer preparing to raise Lazarus. Jesus never did a miracle solely for his own benefit — and he loved Lazarus deeply. He had to have been deeply conflicted. Would he raise him for the sake of the Kingdom or for his own sake? Did he have the courage to raise him even if the miracle inevitably led to his death? Could he face Mary and Martha at the funeral? Should he accept the adulation that would follow?

Jesus wept. He wept at the pain of human death, even though he could not have been less aware of the joy that was to soon follow. Even though he knew he’d raise him in just a few minutes, he felt the pain of his friends. He felt the painfulness of death — and surely realized how badly his own death would hurt many of these same people.

And Jesus celebrated with his friends when Lazarus rose from the dead. He enjoyed the company of his friend. He was thrilled to spend much of his final days on earth with him. There must have been something truly remarkable about Lazarus.

It’s good to know that Jesus was touched by the presence of good friends. He enjoyed a good meal with friends. He was a man of intense passions.

On being King

Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem, where he was greeted as a conquering king, hailed as the proper successor to the Maccabees, who’d overthrown the Greeks and provided decades of political independence.

And while Jesus had no ambition to be an earthly king, he was and is indeed a king — and so he accepted the adulation. Just as it was appropriate for Mary to lavish perfume on him, it was appropriate for the Jerusalem crowds to honor him as King of the Jews.

Of course, accepting that honor was surely the final straw that pushed the Jewish leadership not only to arrest him, but to insist that Pilate kill him. It was one thing to want him dead and another to be willing to commit blasphemy (“We have no king but Caesar!”) to force Rome’s hand. And Jesus and the crowds finally pushed them far enough.

But Jesus had no choice. The gospel is the gospel. You can’t dilute it merely to save your own life. And the gospel is that Jesus really is the King of the Jews. He could hardly run from the acclamation. It was truth!

It wasn’t so much that Jesus had a death wish as that the truth of the gospel compelled Jesus to make decisions that ultimately put him at odds with the Jewish and Roman authorities. He could not have been true to the gospel and acted any other way.

Conclusion

A series of articles on John comprising some 140 or so posts really needs a proper conclusion. But I honestly don’t know a way to summarize the character of Jesus. English doesn’t have the words. I don’t think my mind is capable of fully comprehending his character.

He ends his pre-crucifixion ministry with a prayer for others — for unity — rather than a prayer for courage and strength. He is other-centered. Humble and yet willing to accept the worship and adulation that comes with being Messiah, King of the Universe — because he really is.

He is strong, yet tender, capable of anger and quick to forgive, insistent of seeing things as they really are (“You will deny me three times!”) and yet willing to take the deny-er and make him the apostle to the Jews, the tender of God’s own sheep.

In fact, who else would cook breakfast for the man who swore an oath that he didn’t know Jesus while he was being tried, tortured, and crucified? Who else would wash the feet of Judas?

This is the heart of the Son of Man — a human — but not just a human — who shows us how to truly be human, in the image of God himself.

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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