Unexpected Jesus #1 - Is God Silent?
Kicking off a new series diving into the Gospel account of John, Dr. Kurt Bjorklund looks at the meaning of "the Word of God" and how God speaks into our lives.
So many of us later today may find ourselves in some kind of a social gathering. Whether you care about football or not, you will probably, at least many of us, will be in a place where there will be people that we don't always see. And if not today, this will happen some other time. And if you ever want to spice up that gathering, there's one question that I'm certain you can ask that will elicit enough diverse reaction that it will create a more lively social event than you may have otherwise. And here's the question, what's your opinion about Jesus Christ?
Now that draws a little laughter because you know that if you ask that question people will start diving for the shrimp cocktail somewhere. They'll be like, "I gotta refill my plate." They'll have almost no interest in sitting and having a conversation about that and the reason is this, Jesus Christ is divisive. Not what he said, in a sense, but the very reactions that people have. And whether you're somebody who says I have been a long time around church, around faith, or somebody who says this is new to me, I'm not sure exactly what I believe, what you know is that there are so many opinions about Jesus and so many different reactions and everyone thinks that they have Him figured out.
I was just thinking about this and here are some things that people have said about Jesus over the years. Former President Thomas Jefferson said this. "Jesus did not mean to impose himself on mankind as the son of God." Prince Phillip said, "Jesus might be described as an under-privileged working class victim of political and religious persecution." Fidel Castro said this, "I never saw a contradiction between the ideas that sustain me and the ideas of that symbol, that extraordinary figure Jesus Christ."
So one of the strongest proponents of Communism in the last century says there's no contradiction between what I believe and that towering figure Jesus Christ. He's an example of it. Mikhel Gorbachev said this, "Jesus was the first socialist, the first to seek a better life for mankind." Malcolm X put it this way, "Christ wasn't white. Christ was black. The poor, brainwashed negro has been made to believe that Christ was white to maneuver him into worshiping white men. A white Jesus, a white virgin, white angels, white everything, but a black devil, of course." Martin Luther King Junior said, "Jesus Christ was an extremist for love, truth, and goodness." Rollo May, who was an American existential psychologist, said, "Christ is the therapist for all humanity." And a Lakota Native American tribe said that, "Jesus is the buffalo calf of God."
Now the reason that I read all of those different quotes is what you very simply just see is that it is very common for people to imagine that Jesus is like them, that the Jesus that they look at is the Jesus that they envision is somehow a reflection of who they are. And here's one of the things that makes the question, what's your opinion about Jesus Christ, so significant, is many of us will have a Jesus that reflects us. And so what we're going to do over the coming weeks is begin a study in one of the New Testament gospels, the gospel of John.
There are four different gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The first three, Matthew, Mark, and Luke are what's known as synoptic gospels, they tell the story from different angles, but have a lot of similar material. John tells the story a little differently and as he tells t he story, he's telling it with about 90% unique material. And what we'll do is from this week until Easter we'll work our way through the first several chapters of John, talking about the unexpected Jesus. Because when you actually study the eyewitness account, which is what this is, what you see is that Jesus is different than maybe you expect even if you've been around church a long time. And what we'll see is that the Jesus that's presented here is in many ways more compelling than we even tend to think that he is.
Now John, who is the one who this gospel is according, the gospel according to John, was an eyewitness. We're told later in the gospel of John that he in, I think it's chapter 21 verse 20, is the disciple who Jesus loved. I love that little piece that he puts in here when he's telling it. I'm the one Jesus loved. And he is an eyewitness who is giving this account of who Jesus is in our way of understanding this and he tells us about the purpose of his gospel. And he tells us this in John chapter 20 verses 30 and 31. Here's what he said, verse 30 and 31, "Jesus performed many other signs." And we'll see that in the gospel of John there are seven distinct signs. There are these different ways that we see evidence. And he says, "In the presence of the disciples," which are not recorded in this book, so he says there's some signs recorded in the book. "There's many others that happened, but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the messiah, the son of God. That by believing you may have life in his name."
So here he tells us why he writes this gospel according to John, the eyewitness account of Jesus. He says it's so that you can see the evidence, which is attested to by eyewitnesses, that seeing the evidence you can believe, and that in believing you can have life, that this will lead you to this idea of what gives you life. That's what he says he is doing here in this. And when it says, I just wanna spend a moment on this word gospel, we tend to think of all kinds of things, but gospel is actually a technical word that meant a pronouncement of victory. When an army would be off fighting for the sovereignty of their nation, what would happen is somebody would come with a gospel, an announcement of good news, that would say, "We have won. Our nation, our sovereignty is preserved." Or if there was an heir born to the throne, what would happen is announcement, a gospel announcement would go out through the nation saying there is good news. And so what we have, what we're going to look at in these weeks and then eventually through several series, this entire book, what we'll see is that the gospel is an announcement of good news from an eyewitness of the life of Jesus Christ.
And yet people will still say, "I wanna check out the shrimp cocktail rather than have a conversation about Jesus." And here's why, because Jesus elicits a choice. There's a forced choice every time that we're confronted with Jesus. I was reminded of this just recently. We just had a team in Haiti last week doing a medical mission at a church that we helped plant there and one of my friends who I was with in Haiti a few years ago said, "Remember that time we almost died in Haiti?" And I said, "No, I don't."
And he said, "Well, a few years ago we were there and we had rented a car in Port Au Prince," which was obviously the capital, and driven across the country to Cap-Haitian where we were doing some of the work and setting up some of what would be today, and we had a Haitian driver who drove us across and as we were driving, there was a lot of windy roads through mountains, there were some people on the side of the road that were waving their hands frantically to us to stop and our driver made a split second decision to pull off the road and just as he did that, a truck came barreling around the corner, out of control, out of its lane, and we either, if he had not decided to pull over, would've been smacked by that truck or driven over the edge of this mountain into a tumbling abyss, I would presume.
And here's what Jesus is like, it's like those people waving on the side of the road saying, "Whoa, whoa, whoa," and you have to make a decision what you're going to do with Jesus. But what we want often in our culture is to instead simply say well Jesus is a nice option and if it works for you, if it helps you in some way, then you do Jesus, I'll do whatever works for me, but what the gospel according to John does is it says here's some evidence from eyewitnesses, decide what you want, but if you can believe the evidence, it will lead to life. And John uses the word life in at least two ways. He uses it to speak of eternal life, future life, and to speak of life now, to say you can have a relationship with the God of the universe here and now.
And so the first question that John addresses in many ways is how do we know? How does God speak? Does God speak? Is God silent? See there's two predominant narratives in our world. One narrative says that there's a God who created you, your life has purpose, that it's going somewhere, that we're accountable. And then the other narrative says, I'm not so sure that there's a God, that there's any kind of accountability, that I have any purpose, my life just is.
There's a movie that was popular a couple decades ago now, but I'm guessing that you still know the quotes. I'm speaking of Forest Gump. So, one of the quotes is, "Life is like a -
Box of chocolates.
Oh, yes you do. And you just never know what you're gonna get. At least that's what mama says, right? And stupid is as -
Oh, you are all over it. There's another thing that Forest says, and I think one of the reasons that movie has some staying power is because of this quote. After Forest's friend, love interest, Jenny dies, as he's standing and kind of bemoaning this, he says this, he says, "I don't know if we each have a destiny or if we all just are floating around accidental-like on a breeze, but I think maybe it's both." And what he asks is a profound question in the middle of this movie with quotes like, "Life is like a box of chocolates," he asks one of the most profound questions that you and I can ask and answer, and that is, is my life according to some grander plan, is there a God, is there a place that I fit into the universe, or am I just floating around accidental-like on a breeze? And those two narratives lead to two very different lives, different ways of approaching everything that happens.
And what happens or many of us is we'll ask the question, well how do I know? Is God accessible? Does God speak? And some people will answer that by saying no, there is no God. It's known as atheism. Simply saying I don't believe any of this, I don't believe that there is a God, my life is just my life and that's it. Some will say well, I don't really wanna go all the way to the fact that I think there's no God, so they'll hold onto something that's known as agnosticism, which says there just isn't enough evidence. I can't know the truth.
Now I believe that agnosticism might make sense for a season, but if somebody sits in the agnosticism for a prolonged period of time, I believe ultimately it's lazy because what they're doing is they're saying I can't make a decision on this. It tends to be a convenient place when somebody wants no accountability for a season to say I just don't know about God. And what happens when somebody does that, what they're in essence doing is they're saying, "I'm going to choose to not have any accountability and right now I just don't know." But what's probably even more common in our day than agnosticism or atheism is deism. And what deism is is it's basically saying I believe there might be a supreme being somewhere, somehow, that set the world in motion, but now the world just is and the world just operates. Whatever God is like, whoever God is, he has taken his hands off of creation and now life just is.
And even if you say I know intellectually, theologically, that I don't want to believe that or don't believe that, many of us functionally become deists, meaning what we really think is that maybe there's a God, but God doesn't actually involved Himself in the affairs of my life and so functionally what happens is we begin to live very detached from any divine being and in essence live as if our life is just an accident that's floating around on a breeze. And sometimes the silence is very deep and personal that we feel because we've prayed, we've asked God, we've said God would you show yourself to me? And yet sometimes it seems as if God might be a million miles away.
And so with that, what we see is what John comes to as he begins this eyewitness account of Jesus Christ. Here's what he says in verse one, he says, "In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God." And here's what he's doing very simply, right away, is he's taking a concept from culture, the culture of his day, that communicated to the people there that may seem distant to you and me, and he's saying this is how God speaks. So here's how God speaks. He speaks through the word, John 1:1. Alright, so if you're taking notes, if you're thinking about this, what he says is God speaks through the word.
Now, if you're like me, I hear that, I read that, and I'm like what is that about? I mean, the word, and it's capitalized in my bible. I mean, what does that say to me? What does that mean exactly? Well we know in this first 18 verses, which are known as the prologue of John, that the word, verse 14, became flesh and made his dwelling among us, that ultimately this is talking about the personification of Jesus Christ, but here's why I believe John chose this idea of word as his way to speak of Jesus.
Because word, spoke to both Greeks and Jews of the day as something that fit everything together, that explained everything, that had power. Here's how one resource, "A Translators Guide to the Gospel of John" speaks about this. It says, "Though the Greek term logos", it's the Greek word that underlays our idea of word, "maybe rendered word, it would be wrong to think of it as if it indicates primarily a grammatical or lexical unit in a sentence. Greek has two other terms, which primarily identify individual words, whether they occur in a list, as in a dictionary, or in a sentence. The term logos, though applicable to an individual word, is more accurately understood as an expression with meaning. That is, it's a message, a communication, and, as indicated, a type of revelation. A literal translation, therefore, more or less equivalent to the English word, is frequently misleading."
Now that's written to people whose primary thing is to translate the original text into another language. And here's what it's simply saying, and that is that to simply translate this idea or word misses some nuance because in that context what it would be is it would be a concept that people would have grasped onto and said, "This brings meaning to everything". Maybe here's a way to think of it, if I brought 100 different puzzles on stage here and I dumped them out all over and mixed the pieces altogether and you came and you picked up a piece and said, "I think I have an understanding of what this is," most of us would say, "Well, you know it's a piece of a puzzle, but how do you know what that's to?" And you might say, "Well, it's blue. It's gotta be the sky." But it could also be water, it could also be somebody's eyes, it could also be somebody's shirt, it could be a building, it could be all kinds of things. And it isn't until you have all 100 puzzles put together that you can get a picture of how it all works.
What word is, when he says in the beginning was the word, is it was in a sense the thing that people would say that brings things together, it shows me what it's like. And what he's doing here is he's saying if you wanna know who God is, Jesus is that thing, Jesus is the concept that brings it all together and he's the personification of it.
Now, there's a challenge here. If you've ever been in a conversation with a Jehovah's Witness, the new world translation, what they will say is well this little verse here where it says in the beginning was the word, and the word was God. They would say, "Well, the phrase, the word was God, doesn't have an article in front of it and in Greek not having an article in front of it means that it's not definitive, so it should be translated the word was a god." And they'll use this as an argument to say Jesus is not uniquely God in any way, he just has some divine qualities, but he isn't the God.
Now you may say, I don't care, I don't let Jehovah's Witnesses into my house, so move on. But give me a moment just to explain why this is inaccurate and to just help you help me be able to say no, this is really pointing to the word being God Himself. Saying that Jesus is the personification of all God is, it makes sense of everything if you get Jesus. I have a friend who's proficient in the languages, is fluent in the languages, and he sent me some stuff from Wallace's Greek Grammar. And again, this is not ... The reason I tell you it's a friend is he did some of the hard lifting here, like he's smarter than me.
Wallace talks about this for several pages with all kinds of stuff about Greek rules and stuff and here's what he concludes. The construction that he chooses, speaking of John here, as he writes, "was the most concise way that he could've stated that the word was God and yet is distinct from the father." In other words, the missing article is a construct of a way to be able to say the word is indeed God. Now here's probably a simpler way to think of this and that is when somebody would say, "Well, this just says that the word is a god, not the God," what you can do is you can say, "So what's the Greek word there?" And they'll say, "Well it's theos," which is the word God, theo, theology, that's where you get that idea, and then you can just simply say, "Well are there any other places, especially right here in the same context, where it's translated God without the article?" And as soon as you ask that question, you have won the argument, you will shut them up, they will go back to their car and call their upline sponsor.
I don't know if that's true, but here's why. There are 1,343 references or uses of the word theos, God, in the New Testament. 282 are without an article. In the gospel of John, chapter one through 18, which is the context, some of the rules of how you interpret it is you say how is this used in the same place? There are six that are used without an article and five of them, even in the new world translation, are translated as God. The only one they don't is 1:1 at the end here. And here's why that's important, because it's a very selective translation in order to avoid the implication that they don't want that to mean something.
And so here's just the point and that is what John is doing here, right at the beginning, is he's saying, "Here's what I want you to know. When you look at this world, Jesus shows you who God is and he brings it all together because he is God, the word." But we see some other evidence here, not just him saying look to Jesus as evidence, but he points to the fact that the word is evident in creation. This is John chapter one verses two and three. And here's how he puts this, he says this, "He was with God in the beginning. Through him, all things were made and without him nothing was made that had been made." That has been made. Again, a little wordy, but what he's doing is he's saying the word Jesus was present in creation, active in creation, so when you look at creation, what you are doing in many ways is you are looking and you are saying that when you see creation, you can say I see some evidence of God in this.
In the resource that is recommended, if you're in a life group there's a couple of them. There's a journal where you can just take good notes, if you wanna buy them I think there's a link online or a note in your programs. And then there's a book that's recommended if you're in a life group and wanna read along and study a little more and one of the stories that the author tells in this book is he tells about Oprah Winfrey and how she was pedaling kind of her version of faith and how somebody came on her show and said, "I'm an atheist. I don't believe." And Oprah kind of took this person out and said, "Look, do you see any beauty in the sunset?" And the person goes, "Oh yeah, I see beauty." And Oprah said, "Well then you believe in something. You believe in beauty."
And the author of the study guide kinda uses that to say I don't know, but Oprah was right on this. You're probably like, I don't often hear Oprah was right at church, but you heard it today, Oprah was right. In this sense. What she was saying is sometimes it's hard to name and to understand all that you do, but when you ascend to any of the wonder of God and his work and creation or the wonder of creation, what you're doing in a sense is saying, "I see evidence of God. I see evidence of how God worked."
Now where Oprah, I think, was wrong, was saying that believing in beauty was enough. Because here what we have is the word is active in creation, that Jesus is part of this and that if you really want to know God, it isn't enough just simply to say, "Oh, there's beauty. I believe in beauty." That's good because now what you're doing is you're still avoiding the implication of having a creator and your story is still wrapped up in this idea that I'm just floating around accidental-like. I'm just living my life, doing my thing, rather than saying I have a God who's a creator.
Here's why this matters, I heard somebody say this, but I think it's really true. When your narrative becomes there's a God and this God is knowable, I was created by this God, I have a purpose because of how I was created, I wasn't made to just float around accidental-like, kind of randomly in this world, then it means that you're able to say I was created by God and for God. And what happens when our other narratives take place is we start to say I was created for something else and by something else. So some of us, we won't use these words, but what we really believe is I was created for my work and by my work. That's where my truest sense of identity comes from. Or I was created by this relationship or for this relationship. And even if that relationship is good, even if it's a wonderful marriage or a wonderful parenting relationship, a great sibling relationship, to say I was created for this, by this, is to miss being created for and by God.
Some of us will say I was created for and by the way that I look or I was created for and by some other thing that defines us, our talents, our gifts, rather than saying I was created for and by God. And these lead to two radically different ways to see ourselves and to interact with our world. So we see that God speaks through the word, God speaks through the word which is evident in creation and then we see that this word is evident not just in creation, but it's evident in goodness. Here's why I say this. Verse four and five of John 1, "In Him was life and that life was the light of all mankind."
So he uses this word life. Again, the word life, the way that he uses it is he's saying in essence that this is eternal life and present life. He's saying in Him is life, in Him is everything that matters. But then he says this, he says, "The light shines in the darkness and the darkness is not overcoming." And what he's alluding to here is that there's a tension in the world in which we live. And the tension is this, it's between dark forces and goodness, light. And the light leads to life, it leads to everything good, and the darkness is at war with it. Some of us who are here may not like that kind of terminology. You may like the idea that the world is a neutral palate that can be written on and painted on, but what Christianity teaches, what the bible teaches, is that the world was a beautiful, good place that fell through sin and because of sin, there's darkness in the world and that darkness is always attempting to overtake light. But it will not. That's what this text says. That darkness has not overcome and it will not overtake it, it doesn't have the power to overtake it.
Andrew Delbanco wrote a book in 1995 called "The Death of Satan". And Andrew Delbanco, when he wrote this, was not a follower of Jesus. Here's what he observed about our culture some 20 plus years ago, he said, "We live in the midst of a brutal century, the most brutal century in human history. But instead of stepping forward to take credit, the devil has rendered himself invisible. The very notion of evil seems incompatible with modern life, from which the ideas of transgression and the accountable self are receding quickly."
So what is he saying? He's saying we live in a particularly brutal period of human history and if you watch the news you know it's true. If you pay attention to what's going on in the world, you know it's true. And what he says though is we've gotten rid of the idea of Satan and evil and other things that are like that and because of that, we don't have any vocabulary for it, and by not having any vocabulary for it, we're getting rid of the idea of ever transgressing anything, no accountability or ever holding ourselves accountable. Then he says this, "Yet despite the loss of old words and moral concepts, Satan, sin, and evil, we cannot do without some conceptual means for thinking about the universal human reality of cruelty and pain."
And here's just very simply what I think is at stake here when he says that the word is life and light. And the reason I tab it as goodness is every time your heart is drawn to something and you say it should be different, do you know what you're doing? Your heart is crying out to say, "I know that there's something better than what I'm experiencing in this world." I meet people all the time who will tell me, "I can't believe in God, and one of the reasons I can't believe in God is because there's pain in the world, because there's brokenness in the world, because there's racism and poverty and infanticide and different things in the world that are happening. I can't believe in a God who would allow that to be." But do you know what that cry is? That should that's expressed in that that says it should be different? That's a longing to say there's a light, there is a better way, there is something, there is something that's better. And that internal impulse, again, whether you've been a follower of Jesus for decades or this is a new concept to you, what that is is it's your way of saying, "You know what? Maybe there is a God, maybe this God is knowable because there has to be a better way."
And so what we see is that God speaks, he speaks through the word, the word is evident in creation, the word is evident in the goodness around us, and then I would just say, the word is evident in people or in witnesses. Here's what he says, verse six through eight, "There was a man sent from God whose name was John." It can be a little confusing. John the Apostle is the one who we believe penned the gospel of John. This is speaking of John the Baptist. Alright? "So there was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness." This is an important word in the gospel of John. Witness, one who can say I saw it, I see it. "To testify, concerning the light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light, he only came to give witness to the light." Do you see the theme of the gospel of John chapter 20 verse 31? Evidence based on eyewitnesses leads to belief, leads to life. Here he says there's a witness, there's a person who came who can give testimony to these things so that you'll believe and then ultimately you can experience the promise of life. That's what he says here.
And what this, I believe, is driving at is that sometimes when you and I find ourselves in a place where we say I can't see God, I can't sense God, I don't know where God is, that sometimes we can say, well I can look to Jesus, I can see it in creation, I can see it in goodness, and sometimes we'll see it in other people. I think it was Sheldon Vanauken who years ago wrote something. He said that the greatest argument against Christianity is Christians. When they're joyless and smug and kinda the people that you don't wanna be around, but he said the best argument for Christianity is also Christians when they're full of joy, when they're full of hope, when they use the opportunities that are in front of them to bring good.
And this is part of why faith by the way is not just the idea of individual faith, punch your ticket so that one day you can have heaven waiting for you. Faith is about a journey of a group of people together, bringing change, light, goodness into the world, bringing cultural transformation, because what happens when a group of people believe and believe together is that all of a sudden they cannot help but say we're gonna bring light into a community in which we are positioned. And this is part of the beauty and the call of the local church, is to be a place where people who are tired and weary of the brokenness of the world, brokenness within them, the hurt, the shame, all of the different kinds of things that pull on them, can say, "I can experience light through others who have experienced the light."
And you see the idea of Jesus here is not just Jesus on a cross rising to new life, although John certainly gets there in the course of this book, but he's saying see Jesus as the creator, the ones who brings goodness, the one who reflects himself through people. And what will happen is then you'll be able to say God's not silent, he's not done, and my life has purpose, it has meaning, it has direction, I'm accountable to God for my life. And I know in our culture, in our age, we don't love the word accountable, but what that does is it puts you in a place where you can say because I'm accountable, I have value, I have worth, and my life has greater meaning than just simply what I do that's accidental-like on a breeze that just gives me some kind of temporary feel good moment.
And so John's gospel starts out very simply by saying you can know God through the eyewitnesses. See John wrote having lived at the time of Jesus and we don't question the dating of other works of this same era when we are handed the textbooks in our local universities and national universities, of Plato and Aristotle, and John writes from that time and he says, "I saw this man. I saw these signs. I recorded what He taught, what He said," so that all these years later, you and I can say God's not silent, he's given us Jesus, creation, goodness, and people as a pointer.
Now you may say, "Well, I don't always see Jesus. Sometimes I'm not sure about creation." You might say, "I see more brokenness than goodness and a lot of the people I know are not really that great." And what the word is is not ultimately a perfect set of arguments, but the personification of God in Jesus Christ. And here's what is unexpected ultimately, is that the way that God speaks is through this Jesus to say, "I want you to see me as a lover, a pursuer, a humble being, not as just merely a mighty ruler of all." Certainly God has that quality and I think I said this a few weeks ago, but I think if I were God, I would've chose to reveal myself in a much more grand way than a helpless baby who went to a cross at the hands of humans, but it was God's way of saying I want you to see my heart.
And it's not to force compliance, it's not to scare you into saying I must do something, it's to woo you through love. And God speaks that way and still speaks that way and invites you, invites me into belief that will lead to life.
Father, we ask today very simply that you would help each of us who's gathered to relate to what you have said and to hear your voice, your call on our life and realize that we were created for you, by you, not for or by anything else in this world. And Father we pray this in Jesus name, amen.
Thanks for being here. Have a great week.
Orchard Hill is an inter-denominational Christian church, located in the Pittsburgh area, where everyone is welcome. Whether you are a follower of Jesus Christ or you are still considering if God has a place in your life, this is a community where you can explore faith and the reality of Jesus Christ.