Jean’s Gospel: The Word Does Everything!
“Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” (John 8:46-47)
Jesus put a rhetorical question to the Jews: “why do you not believe me?” That is a tough question. I imagine this same lament was on Jesus’ mind as He entered Jerusalem for the last time before his Passion: “And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.” (Luke 19:41-42)
It is a tough question because it confronts us with the impassable boundary between the human and the Divine. Perhaps that question has entered your mind with a loved one, who you shared the Gospel with, but he or she does not believe it. Did you ask him or her: “Why do you not believe in Jesus?” When the Gospel is the single most important reality in your life, few things are more frustrating and saddening than when a loved one rejects it. King David called it “the joy of Your salvation.” (Ps 51:12) Why would anyone reject such a joy?
Since Christians share in the nature of the first Adam, we naturally hate boundaries. Thus we may be tempted to venture into introspection along the lines of: “What could I say or do differently to bring a loved one into relationship with Christ?” “Did I say something wrong or deficient?” “Am I up to the task of sharing the Gospel?” There is nothing wrong with theological study and training, but these can be dangerous questions, if we are not careful. In the face of rejection, such questions could tempt us to stop sharing the Gospel at all, or to falsify the message of the Gospel to make it sound more appealing to human feelings and reason.
“Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” (John 8:47)
Such questions also may reveal a fundamental misunderstanding on our part about who works salvation and what our limited role really is in the salvation of any other person. Jesus answered his own rhetorical question (“why do you not believe me”) with: “The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” Jesus speaks the words of God, and to hear those words one must be of God (i.e., born of God (John 1:3) or born again (John 3:3). Jesus is speaking here of new birth affected by water and the Spirit (John 3:5).
In John’s Prologue he wrote: “In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” (John 1:4) Jesus himself says: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12) If we read these two verses together, we see that Jesus’ life radiates light, and this particular light gives life to people. It is similar to how light emitted by the sun gives life to a plant, but the life that the light of Christ gives is eternal life; it is life from heaven.
The Apostle Paul understood the limits of his apostleship: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” (1 Cor 3:6) In elegant words, Jesus brother, James, wrote: “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” (James 1:18) Christians are offspring of the second Adam.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” (John 8:51)
The Life that was the Light of men, the seed that Paul planted and Apollos watered, and the Word of truth which brought forth as first fruits the first readers of James’ letter, all represent one and the same thing: the Word of God which both promises eternal life in and through the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and bestows the faith which believes the promise. As Christians, each faithful within our own vocations, we can (and should) scatter and water the life giving seeds of the Gospel wherever we can, but we must be content that only the Holy Spirit working through the Word will open the ears of the deaf, illumine darkened hearts with Light, and raise the spiritually dead to life in Christ. By understanding our limited role, we are thereby freed to share the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ without fear or anxiety, trusting entirely in Jesus’ promise: “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matt 16:18)
Jesus says we must keep His Word. To “keep” His Word encompasses four components:
- We keep Jesus’ Word by believing in His Gospel;
- We Keep Jesus’ Word by holding fast to it, clinging to it, persevering in it, when we are attacked by the Accuser, temptations of the flesh, and seductions of the world;
- We keep His Word by guarding it against those who would defile holy Christian doctrine with false teaching; and
- We keep His Word by observing His commands, particularly, that we love one another. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13:34)
As baptized believers in Christ, God has sanctified us to keep His Word and has given us new hearts which desire to keep His Word; however, the sin which remains in us will prevent us from keeping His Word perfectly as we would like. Therefore, we live out our callings keeping His Word, but also stumbling from time to time, as Christians who are simultaneously saints and sinners. But even in our stumbles, the blood of Christ will cleanse us from all sin, as He has promised: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) In this way, we may keep Christ’s Word with a good conscience before God, which is the peace of God which surpasses all understanding. Amen.
“I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. And while I slept, or drank Wittenberg beer with my friends Philip and Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such losses upon it. I did nothing; the Word did everything.” (Martin Luther, LW 51:77)