Friday, August 3, 2012

Believe the Miracles

We are following Jesus on His final trip to Jerusalem, where, recently in our studies, He told some Pharisees that the Kingdom of God was within them, possibly just to mess with their minds and stop their scoffing questions. However, we are now going to quickly jump to the Gospel of John for an episode which occurred inside of Jerusalem, presumably at some time prior to where we are in the rest of our studies. Just before the event in the study below, according to John, Jesus had explained that He was the Good Shepherd because He dies for His sheep.

Believe the Miracles
Miracles: twists and tweaks in the physical universe which do not seem to have an obvious physical explanation; that which seems like only divine intervention could provide and explain. Jesus reportedly orchestrated a plethora of miracles during His ministry on earth. That should have been enough to make anyone a believer, right? The intuitive answer is yes, but is that the Scriptural answer?

In John 10:22-39, we find a case where "the Jews" were confronting Jesus in the Temple area during the Feast of Dedication. It starts off with these Jews demanding that Jesus clearly claim whether or not He is the Messiah. Jesus starts off strong in His reply, as we read in John 10:25:
Jesus answered, "I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in My Father's Name speak for Me," NIV

Jesus' reply is slightly enigmatic, because you still do not have a clear sense of if He had explicitly said "I am the Messiah" before now. However, what Jesus says here is more powerful than mere words, because He says that He is truly demonstrating His position as Messiah through the working of miracles, instead of just trying to convince people with unsubstantiated words. Jesus is doing more than "talking the talk." He is "walking the walk."

That is an incredibly moving and powerful reply. Actions are better proof than vacant claims. Yet something is not quite right about it. We will get to that in a moment.

As Jesus' reply continues in John 10:26-29, He tells those unbelieving Jews that they are not His sheep, that He gives His sheep eternal life, that no one can take His sheep because His Father (implicitly God), greater than all, gave them to Him, and no one can take sheep from the Father. John 10:30 rounds that out with Jesus' memorable words:
"I and the Father are one." NIV

This verse seems pretty clear that Jesus is really claiming to be God, but the context makes that claim less certain. When Jesus references God, He says that God is "greater than all," which would seem to include Jesus Himself. It opens the door for this verse to be interpreted metaphorically. Is John's Jesus instead saying here that He is just perfectly aligned with the will of God?

Indeed, as the account continues, in John 10:31-34 Jesus provides more context to suggest a metaphorical interpretation. When the Jews want to stone Jesus for calling Himself God, Jesus replies with "Is it not written in your Law, 'I have said you are gods'?" Jesus was not quite right there. This quote does not come from the Law, a.k.a. the Torah, but rather comes from Psalm 82; a short psalm about God bringing rulers into judgement, where those rulers are metaphorically called "gods," presumably a reference to their great power and responsibility to act righteously. However, Jesus may have been using the word being translated as "Law" in more of a generic sense to mean the Scriptures.

From there, in John 10:35-36 Jesus builds the case that if God would call a mortal ruler a god, then surely His own special role, set apart by God and "sent into the world," garners a title of such respect as an even greater and more true version of God on earth. The reference to being "sent into the world" implies a much more significant role than that of a mere mortal, and that Jesus had existed before He lived on earth. This is more consistent with the idea John gave us earlier about Jesus in John 8:58-59, where Jesus made a reference to Himself being the "I am," one of God's names (Exodus 3:14).

So John opened the door for a metaphorical interpretation of Jesus' divinity, just to shut it again.

What John does do is emphasize simultaneously both the separate nature and the unity of God and Jesus. Jesus has the power and desire to do only what God wants Him to do. Jesus is God's articulating appendage. Within Christianity, everything regarding Judgement, Salvation, and praise get funneled through Jesus in His elevated position of co-diety, or Godly appendage, or whatever. This creates some real trouble, as we will see.

Continuing on, and getting back to the miracles, Jesus completes his reply in John 10:37-38 like so:
"Do not believe Me unless I do what My Father does. But if I do it, even though you do not believe Me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father." NIV

In this episode, Jesus made the case in the beginning and at the conclusion that His miracles should be all the proof you need to believe Him in His claim of divine nature. Furthermore, His ministry promoted that the path to Salvation was through Himself (who is also God), not through the one God who the Jews had always known, prayed to, and sacrificed to.

However, according to the Scripture, miracles are not enough. In fact, God may just send you a miracle-working prophet to try to lead you astray, to try and test your devotion to the one true God. Furthermore, as we see in Deuteronomy 13:1-5, God demands the death of such a prophet:
If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a miraculous sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder of which he has spoken takes place, and he says, "Let us follow other gods" (gods you have not known) "and let us worship them," you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The Lord your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. It is the Lord your God you must follow, and Him you must revere. Keep His commands and obey Him; serve Him and hold fast to Him. That prophet or dreamer must be put to death, because he preached rebellion against the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery; he has tried to turn you from the way the Lord your God commanded you to follow. You must purge the evil from among you. NIV


  1. Interesting. The Gospel of John provides theological justification for Jesus as God. However, it contradicts passages in other Gospels in which Jesus is a distinct entity apart from God, or not divine at all ("Why do you call me good? Only God is good.")

  2. That is a very complicated subject, Ahab, because there are parts in all of the Gospels where Jesus seems not to be divine, and other times when He is.

    In fact, regarding the episode you point to (Matthew 19:17, Mark 10:18, Luke 18:19), I have heard an interesting argument made that this was not Jesus denying His divinity, but rather that He was gently rebuking the man because (allegedly, not explicitly in the text,) Jesus knew that the man did not believe that Jesus was God. So Jesus was effectively saying:

    "Hey, you do not think that I am God, yet you recognize that I am good. Well, guess what? There is only one being who is really good, and that is God. So if I am good, who am I? That is right. I am God."

    Also interesting in that episode is that Matthew changed Mark's source material, possibly to avoid that very same impression. Matthew's version the guy does not call Jesus "good."

  3. Good article, I'll probably share it with someone in the future.

  4. Thanks for the encouragement, Angela!

  5. John defines what God is: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God.

    That's hard to make sense of unless you think of the Greek word Logos, which was translated as Word, but Logos really means Logic. In the beginning was Logic, and Logic was with God, and Logic was God. The same was in the beginning with God.

    John says Logic came first. God is submitted to Logic. Logic is perfectly good and no conscious being who is submitted to Logic is as good as logic itself.

    Jesus, even though he is a god, like his Father, would correctly say, "Don't call me good, only pure logic is good."

  6. John, that is an interesting take on it, one which I have not heard exactly put that way before. Yet it stumbles in its own definition, as in John 1:14 -

    "The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." NIV

    For if we follow the path of logic on Logic (Logos, the Word), then Logic became illogical (by becoming flesh), or at least not perfectly logical, which would seem to defy logic itself! ;-)

    It also assumes a bit that John and the Synoptic Gospels were "speaking the same language," for lack of a better term.

    I happen to be working on a post covering the "do not call me good" verse right now, which will be out in a couple Fridays. I think I may have a more logical explanation. ;-)