“If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him. Philip said to Him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father?” Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works’” (John 14.7–10).
It has been a month since my mother’s death and I want to thank each of you for your patience with me during this time. I know I have been MIA; maybe one day I might share with you where Jesus and I have been over the last month. Maybe. Suffice it to say, Jesus has been very present both along with each of you and through each of you as well.
This week I want to pick back up one of the most challenging and yet life-transforming teachings of Jesus. The reason why it was (and remains to be) so controversial will not dawn upon us at first, but will take years for its profundity to really unfold before us. What is this teaching of Jesus that brings such hope and healing, and yet is fought against so vehemently by those with the best of motives? It is the simple truth that God actually looks like Jesus.
In our feature text this week, Jesus responds to Philip’s request with these words: “Whoever has seen me, has seen the Father.” This was not simply because Jesus exemplified what the Father was like. It actually goes much deeper than that. What Jesus goes on to say is that he has simply been a conduit for the Father. That what they have been witnessing is not Jesus’ activity, but the actual activity and self-revelation of the Father himself living within and through Jesus.
On another occasion, when confronted with his not observing the Sabbath the way the Pharisees felt was in keeping with that which was religiously and politically acceptable, Jesus said to these Pharisees, “Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise. The Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing; and he will show him greater works than these, so that you will be astonished. Indeed, just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whomever he wishes” (John 5.19–21).
Jesus here states emphatically that He could only do what He saw His Father doing (present tense). In other words, everything we see Jesus doing, Jesus was only able to do because He first envisioned the Father doing as well. Jesus claims to have been given special revelations of what the Father was actually like and what the Father was actually actively engaged in so that He might join and mimic the activity of the Father.
Jesus so fully revealed to us the Father that Jesus could also say on another occasion, “And whoever sees me sees him who sent me” (John 12.45).
Yet why was this so controversial and truly challenging for those who embraced the revelation of God in the first century? Well, because quite frankly, it did not line up perfectly with all previous, and even inspired, portrayals of what God was like. The author of the New Testament letter to the Hebrews recognized this, admitted it freely, and wrote, “Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and different ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son . . . He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being” (Hebrews 1.1–3, emphasis added).
The words the author of Hebrews chose to use here in describing how God was revealed through the prophets of old were polymeros (different times) and polytropos (different ways). In contemporary Greek documents of the New Testament, Greek scholars agree, the meaning of polytropos is very close to what we would call today “multiple personalities.” These ways in which God was revealed through the prophets were not only different from each other in matters of time but they were also sometimes very different from each other in the type of being they portrayed God, but they even differ at times from the revelation of God we find in Jesus. But this is exactly the point of the author of Hebrews. The author is virtually saying, “I know the God revealed through the prophets looks, at times, somewhat different from this God we find revealed in Jesus, but this Jesus really is the EXACT representation of what God is truly like! He is the culmination of this story of discovery we have all been in.” The early followers of Jesus had to, in some ways, go against their most fundamental religious upbringing to follow this Jesus—in more ways than one. (Just to believe a contemporary Jewish carpenter was the embodiment of the Old Testament Yahweh Himself, alone called upon the disciples of Jesus to go against how they were raised. See Leviticus 24.16 cf. John 10.33.) The disciples of Jesus had been raised on, “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isaiah 8.20). And yet, God shows up and presents teachings that do not always line up perfectly with what was commanded in the law and the testimony. (See John 8.5 cf. Deuteronomy 22.22; Luke 8.46 cf. Leviticus 15.19; as well as others.)
So radical was this revelation of God within this contemporary Jewish carpenter in the first century that John, years later, could look back on it all and say that, even though he was raised with Moses and Elijah, when placed alongside the revelation of God in Jesus, “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known” (John 1.18).
The apostle Paul called Jesus “the mirror image of God” (2 Corinthians 4.4; Colossians 1.15). Paul did not believe that Jesus was simply a revelation of one aspect of God or his character, but rather that Jesus was the revelation of God’s fullness (Colossians 1.19; 2.9). The revelation of God through Jesus should be understood as culminating and superseding all previous revelations. Paul would, through being literally knocked off his high horse, come to see that all previous revelations of God should be interpreted through the revelation of God in Jesus, rather than placed alongside Jesus. Jesus’ revelation of what God is like cannot be simply blended with pre-understandings of what God is like. The revelation of God in Jesus does not reveal one aspect of God but is the definitive revelation of God’s very essence. A mistake is made when, rather than reinterpreting all biblical portraits through the lens of Jesus, other canonical portraits are placed alongside the cross and granted equal authority to reveal God (i.e., Jesus’s revelation is said to reveal God’s loving and merciful side, while other canonical portraits of God reveal God’s “wrathful” side). Jesus instead redefines everything.
Why is this challenging to so many? Because in Jesus we find the coming of a God preaching nonviolence as the way to heal this world’s wrongly constructed social structures. We find a God redefining justice, parable after parable, not as retributive or punitive, but rather as restorative. We find a God who seems to exude, even overflow, with this inclusive favor even for those the law, the teachers of the law, and the politically conservative but theologically liberal group called the Pharisees said should be stoned or, at bare minimum, marginalized. To truly meet the God found in the Jesus within the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John is to truly be confronted with a sincere question: Do we really love the God we find within the Jesus of the Jesus story itself, once we see Him, or are we simply loving the deified projection of our own political and religious opinions, much like those of Jesus’ own day, yet placed before our own cultural backdrop today?
This week I want to ask you to consider three passages given at three different times, which illustrate <I>polymeros</I> and <I>polytropos</I> and why it is vital that, although we have a high regard for scripture, we have an even higher view of Jesus.
The first is found in Deuteronomy 23.1–6:
“No one whose testicles are crushed or whose penis is cut off shall be admitted to the assembly of the LORD.
“Those born of an illicit union shall not be admitted to the assembly of the LORD. Even to the tenth generation, none of their descendants shall be admitted to the assembly of the LORD.
“No Ammonite or Moabite shall be admitted to the assembly of the LORD. Even to the tenth generation, none of their descendants shall be admitted to the assembly of the LORD, because they did not meet you with food and water on your journey out of Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam son of Beor, from Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you. (Yet the LORD your God refused to heed Balaam; the LORD your God turned the curse into a blessing for you, because the LORD your God loved you.) You shall never promote their welfare or their prosperity as long as you live.”
Without jumping to how Jesus taught us to forgive, love and bless our enemies, let’s first stop at Isaiah, which seems to be referencing Moses’ words here in Deuteronomy specifically. This is Isaiah 56.1–7 (emphasis added):
“Thus says the LORD: ‘Maintain justice, and do what is right for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed.
“‘Happy is the mortal who does this, the one who holds it fast, who keeps the Sabbath, not profaning it, and refrains from doing any evil.’ Do not let the foreigner joined to the LORD say, ‘The LORD will surely separate me from his people’; and do not let the eunuch say, ‘I am just a dry tree.’
“For thus says the LORD: ‘To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give, in my house and within my walls, a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.
“‘And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be his servants, all who keep the Sabbath, and do not profane it, and hold fast my covenant—these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.’”
And lastly let’s look at Acts 10.28–36 (emphasis again added), which is the story of how Peter was led into the change from Deuteronomy that Isaiah was endeavoring to bring about, but which was actually accomplished in Jesus.
“And he said to them, ‘You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.
“‘So when I was sent for, I came without objection. Now may I ask why you sent for me?’ Cornelius replied, ‘Four days ago at this very hour, at three o’clock, I was praying in my house when suddenly a man in dazzling clothes stood before me. He said, “Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. Send therefore to Joppa and ask for Simon, who is called Peter; he is staying in the home of Simon, a tanner, by the sea.” Therefore I sent for you immediately, and you have been kind enough to come. So now all of us are here in the presence of God to listen to all that the Lord has commanded you to say.’
“Then Peter began to speak to them: ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all’ . . .While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, ‘Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’ So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.”
There are three things here I would like to point out for your contemplation. 1) In Isaiah, the inclusion of people who were excluded by Moses, in Deuteronomy, were now included on the basis of their keeping of the Sabbath. I don’t want to make too much of this, but what defined this new first century community was neither circumcision nor keeping the Sabbath (as the Sabbath was kept by even those who crucified Jesus), but whether or not they had embraced Jesus as the revelation of God, morality, and how this world should be structured and were endeavoring to follow the teachings of this Jesus. This was a community centered in, defined by, and invested with worth and meaning from Jesus. 2) When one places these commands of Deuteronomy alongside Isaiah and the book of Acts, it becomes very apparent that we cannot stop at Deuteronomy. In other words, it’s not enough to simply be Biblical or even followers of the Law. We must strive to be followers of Jesus, embracing the God, as well as the new world, found in Jesus. In some areas we will be in perfect harmony with previous revelations of God and how he asks us to live, but in areas where we are not, we must follow Jesus. 3) This one is the most relevant when considering what shapes and forms our understandings of God (as well as ourselves, for we ultimately become like the God we worship). All scripture is inspired, but not all scripture is to be given the same weight in shaping our understanding of who God is. Or let me say it this way: All scriptures portray the story of a people whom God had on a journey of discovering who He was, but that story culminated in the full revelation of God found in Jesus the Christ. Jesus redefines everything. Jesus is the game changer. To truly believe God looks like that itinerant Jewish teacher two thousand years ago heals everything.
One last exercise. Let’s all take a look at this article. Keep in mind that this is exactly what Moses commanded to be done as well, but ask yourself, in prayerful contemplation, this most important question, “I know what Moses commanded, but what would the Jesus of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John do?”
Remember, the only question I want you to be contemplating as you read this is, “What would Jesus do?” This is a real-life exercise that exposes whether we are truly in love with Jesus, or again, simply the deified projection of our own political or religious opinions. I won’t answer it for you; the exercise is for you. Prayerfully take it to the living Jesus and ask Him, “What would You do?”
“With all wisdom and insight God has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Ephesians 1.9–10, emphasis added). Until that day, keep following Jesus, keep allowing Jesus to challenge your picture of God, reshaping not only your concept of God’s character, but re-forming each of us into that very kind (no pun intended) of being as well. Till the only world that remains, is a world where love reigns.
I love you guys; I’ll see you next week.