Monday, January 19, 2015

Knowing, Seeing, and Believing (John 14:7-11)


Knowing, Seeing, and Believing
John 14:7-11

For many years, every night on CNN, Larry King would sit down across the table from the most important newsmakers in the world to interview them. From celebrities to world leaders, to ordinary folks who endured extraordinary circumstances, Larry King interviewed them all. King was once asked, if he could interview anyone from all of history to interview, who would he choose and what would he ask. King replied that he would like to interview Jesus Christ, saying, “I would like to ask Him if He was indeed virgin-born. The answer to that question would define history for me.”[1]

What about you? If you could ask Jesus Christ one question, what would it be? Many people in the first century had the opportunity to speak face-to-face with Jesus. Many astounding questions were asked. Nicodemus asked Him, “How can a man be born when he is old?” The Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well asked Him, “Where then do You get that living water?” The rich young ruler asked Him, “What good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?” Pilate asked, “What is truth?” Here in verse 8 of our text, Philip indirectly asks Him something even more profound: “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” His statement is a desperate appeal to see with his own eyes God Almighty, face-to-face. This, he says, will be “enough”; it will be sufficient; it will satisfy him and the other disciples completely.

In our text today, Jesus speaks to Philip’s request. Verse 7 is what prompts it. Verses 9-11 is how He answers it. But these words are not just for Philip’s benefit. They also help us. Like Philip, we too want to see God. We want to believe in Him and to know Him. It is the underlying motivation for every human endeavor, even when we do not recognize it. So, how can we know God? How can we see Him? How can we believe in Him? Could there be any three greater questions than these? The answer to all three of these questions is the same, and it is very simple. The answer is Jesus. Let’s look at how Jesus presents Himself as the answer to these three all-important questions.

I. To know Jesus is to know God (v7).

Our culture is obsessed with celebrity. There are countless television shows, magazines, and internet sites which exist for the sole purpose of telling us every little thing there is to tell about celebrities: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Spend a couple of hours on the internet, and you can know everything about your favorite singer, actor, or athlete. You can know where they are from, where they went to school, what their family life is like, what kind of car they drive, and what their favorite color is. But, it is one thing to know about someone. It is something else to know them. So it is with God. There are countless books you can read which will tell you a lot about God. Some of them will even tell you the truth about Him. But you can read them all, and walk away knowing much about Him, but not actually knowing Him. To know anyone is to have a personal relationship with them. And the same is true of God. So how can we know Him?

Jesus said, “If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also.” You need to understand what a radical statement this was, and that for two reasons. First, most certainly, it is a direct claim to deity. Jesus is saying rather directly, as He does many times elsewhere in Scripture, that He and the Father are one. This was radical. But it is also radical because to speak of knowing God in this way was unprecedented. In nearly all Old Testament passages wherein we read of the idea of “knowing God,” it is almost always limited to a future experience, not a present one. In the Psalms, we find one rare exception, maybe two. People are admonished to know the Lord, but there are few if any who would claim to possess such knowledge. Even when we consider the prophets who claimed to be the very spokesmen of God, C. H. Dodd writes, “I cannot discover a place where a prophet expressly says that he knows God.”[2] But here Jesus claims that this whole situation has changed. Now, the knowledge of God is possible because of Him! His followers really know God, because He is God. To know Jesus is to know God.

Now, notice how Jesus has phrased this: “If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also.” This seems to imply that they didn’t really know Him, and therefore they had not yet come to know God. Of course, there is a sense in which they had known Him – well enough at least to leave behind their homes, their careers, and their families to follow Him. But as of yet, they had not come to know Him in full. Jesus was the perfect revelation of His Father, but there was more to be revealed, even in the next 72 hours. Hence, Jesus says, “From now on you know Him.” What would take place that would make this certain knowledge of God possible? On the following day, Jesus would bear the cross and die, and then rise from death on the third day. These things needed to take place so that the fullness of God’s nature could be completely revealed in Jesus. He is a God of infinite holiness and justice, so there must be a demonstration of His perfect wrath and judgment against sin. But He is also a God of infinite love and mercy, thus He was willing to come and dwell among us in the person of Jesus in order to bear our sins as the righteous substitute and endure the just judgment of wrath that our sins deserve as He died in our place. And He is a God of infinite power and glory, so in the resurrection, it is revealed that He has all authority over sin and death and hell, and is able to save sinners who turn to Him in repentance and faith. And so, having accomplished these things, Jesus makes it possible for sinful men and women who are cut off from the knowledge of God because of our unrighteousness to be born again: to be made new in Him, forgiven and cleansed of sin and clothed in the righteousness of Christ; to have a personal relationship with the Almighty God and to really know Him. Once the atoning work of the cross and resurrection are completed, human beings can really know Jesus in all His fullness, and because of what He has done, we can really know God.

So, to know Jesus is to know God. And we may also say that the only way to know God is to know Jesus. Friends, I know that there are many in the world today who would find that statement utterly offensive, but consider what it would mean if there were other ways to know God. First, it would mean that Jesus did not speak truth in verse 6 when He said that no one can come to the Father but through Him. Second, it would mean that the incarnation of Christ was insignificant. If there were other ways to know God, then Jesus didn’t really need to come into the world, and Christmas is just a big waste of time. And if there were other ways to know God, then it would mean that the Cross and resurrection were unnecessary. He suffered and died, and even rose again, all for nothing. But these things are not so. What prevents us from knowing God is our sin. It is not as though God is playing hide and seek with us. He wants us to know Him. But our sin hinders us from knowing Him. While we could not remedy our own sin, God remedied it for us in Jesus Christ and in Him alone. Friends, while there are many paths which claim to lead to God, there are no other paths which claim to rescue and release you from the bondage of sin. Once we realize that this is our problem, we arrive at the conclusion that Jesus is the only solution. It is only by knowing Him that we can really know God.

II. To see Jesus is to see God (vv8-9).

From time to time I will hear someone say, “I just can’t believe in things that I cannot see.” Sounds like a reasonable thing to say, doesn’t it? Except that everyday life depends on us believing in things we cannot see. We cannot see oxygen. We cannot see gravity or electricity. We cannot see the wind. But we really do believe that those things are real and present, do we not? When we stop to think about it, there are a number of things that we actually believe in which we cannot see. So, can we see God? That is what Philip wants to see. “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” It might have seemed like a small thing to ask to Philip, but in reality, what he was asking for was something that no human being had ever been able to experience.

In one sense the request is noble. After all, is there any higher experience that the human imagination could fathom than to see God in all His “unimaginable splendor and transcendent glory”? We long to see beauty. We appreciate the beauty of nature because it shows the handiwork of God. We appreciate the beauty of art because the creation of art is one of the highest forms man has of imitating God. We appreciate the beauty we behold in one another because we were made in God’s image. And if that image within us, which has been marred and defaced by the ugliness of sin, retains such great beauty, then how beautiful must be the vision of God Himself? So, yes, in this sense, Philip’s request is noble.

There is another sense, however, in which his request is audacious. On the one hand, it is audacious because it is an implicit denial of the truth of Jesus’ own words. Had Jesus not just said, “From now on you know Him, and have seen Him”? Philip is essentially saying to Him, “No, we haven’t. We want to, but we have not yet.” To deny the veracity of Jesus’ words is audacious, at the very least.

On the other hand, the request is also audacious in its presumption. It is on par with the request of Moses in Exodus 33. After witnessing all of God’s gracious and powerful acts in the Exodus from Egypt, Moses prayed to the Lord, “Show me Your glory.” But do you remember how the Lord answered Moses? He said, “I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the Lord before you;” but, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live” (Ex 33:18-20). One glimpse of the fullness of the Lord by the eyes of sinful men would incinerate us! There were appearances of the Lord to humanity from time to time in the Old Testament – we call them “theophanies,” appearances of God – yet, in all these instances, the vision of the Lord was mitigated through some means in order to spare the life of the one who saw Him. Even the angels of heaven in Isaiah’s vision had to cover their faces before the holiness and glory of God. Though angels, though Moses, and though all the saints of ancient times were forbidden from seeing God, Philip has the audacity to ask for a special exception.  

Had Jesus responded with a stern rebuke against the presumptiveness of His disciple here, we would not think it unjust. And, in fact, there is a rebuke, but it is a gentle and gracious one. He does not rebuke Philip for asking, but rather because Philip has not already seen what has plainly been shown Him. Jesus says, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father?” (v9). One scholar writes that “these are words which no mere man has a right to utter.”[3] Another says that “to the ancient world this was the most staggering thing Jesus ever said.”[4] While in previous generations, no one could look upon the Lord and live, in Jesus, we are commanded to look upon Him in order to live, for to see Him is to see the invisible God made manifest in our midst. John said of Him, “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him” (John 1:18). When we see Jesus, we see God, for God shows Himself to us in Him.

What does God look like? The simple answer is that He looks like Jesus. If you want to see God, look at Jesus, for He is the visible image of the invisible God. Second Corinthians 4:6 says that we have been given the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. You recall how in the Second Commandment, God had forbidden all attempts to craft an image as a representation of Him (Ex 20:4). That is because He has only one visible representation: Jesus Christ. But what does Jesus look like? Does He look like the One we see in our stained glass windows? Does He look like the One the Shroud of Turin or the One in Holman Hunt’s famous Head of Christ or DaVinci’s Last Supper? Isn’t it interesting that we really don’t know what Jesus looked like? Of all that the Bible tells us about Jesus, it does not tell us what He looked like. In fact, the only description we have in Scripture of Jesus’ appearance actually tells us what He did not look like. In Isaiah’s majestic depiction of the Suffering Servant, the prophet said of the Messiah, “He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him” (Isa 53:3).

So, if seeing Jesus is to see God, how can we see Jesus if we don’t know what He looks like today? Philip and his fellow disciples could look upon Him face-to-face, but we cannot. I think it says something profound to us, that when God chose to provide an enduring testament to His glory and grace, He did not inspire men to draw pictures. He inspired them to write words. We often hear it said that the contemporary era in which we live is the “age of the eye,” where a picture is worth a thousand words and seeing is believing. Our eyes are bombarded with images every day, and yet when we come to the Bible, and when we come to church, we are met with words rather than pictures. Are we woefully behind the times? No, in fact, every era has aspired to be “the age of the eye.” Remember what attracted Eve to the forbidden fruit? She “saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes” (Gen 3:6).  But no person since Adam and Eve has ever lived in the age of the eye. Ever since the entrance of sin into the human race, we have lived in the “age of the ear.”[5] Romans 10:17 tells us that “faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” The age of the eye is yet to come. The Bible promises to those who have believed on Jesus through His word that we will “see Him as He is.” Paul said, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face” (1 Cor 13:12 KJV). Only then and there, with new eyes that can withstand the vision, will we be able to see Him with our eyes. Until that day, we have the Word of God to tell us what God is like as He is revealed through Jesus Christ. We see Him, as it were, with our ears here and now. We have this perfect record of Jesus Christ, and when we see Him with our ears as we give attention to God’s word, we behold God in Him. We cry out like Philip, “Show us the Father, and that will be enough.” Jesus says to us, even as He did to Philip, “You have seen Him, for when you see Me – even when you behold Me by the eye of faith – you see Him.” And it is enough.

To know Jesus is to know God. To see Jesus is to see God. We come now to the third issue:

III. To believe Jesus is to believe in God (vv10-11).

Someone sent me a YouTube clip the other evening that I got a real kick out of. It was a guy talking about the power of believing in oneself. He held a big sheet of plywood over his head, and said that he could break with his head by believing in himself. After beating himself senseless numerous times, he finally gave up and stormed off, mumbling aloud, “I don’t believe in myself as much.” He made an outlandish claim, but he couldn’t back it up. Friends, in the history of the world, no one made more outlandish claims than Jesus. But the difference between His claims and those of so many others is that He backed His claims up. Otherwise, we have no reason to believe in Him. As C. S. Lewis famously said, “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said … would either be a lunatic—on a level with a man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse.”[6] Jesus said, “If you know Me, you know God. If you have seen Me, you have seen God.” Bold claims. I wonder, do we believe Him?

You notice I said, “believe Him,” not “believe in Him.” There are great numbers of people who claim to believe in Jesus, but I wonder how many actually believe Him?
It is interesting that the only imperative (or command) we find in our text here in John 14 today is the word “Believe.” In verse 11, Jesus does not say, “Believe in Me.” He says, “Believe Me.” This is not a call to turn to Him in saving faith; He is speaking to those who have already done so. But He says to them, “Believe Me.” The issue is that of His reliability. He has said that He is God – to know Him is to know God, to see Him is to see God. Do you believe Him? That is what is at issue here. In verse 10, He says, “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me?” In verse 11, “Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me.” But these are more than just empty words. Jesus offers us something that no maker of outlandish claims is willing to offer: He offers us proof – and not just one evidence, but two.

Why should we believe Jesus in what He says about Himself and His unique role and relationship with God the Father? He says, “The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative.” Previously, Jesus had said, “My teaching is not Mine, but His who sent Me” (7:16). He said, “[I] told you the truth, which I heard from God” (8:40). He said, “I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak” (12:49). Jesus is telling His disciples here, “You have heard Me speak, and You know that I have spoken to You the very words of God.” It is as though Jesus invites us to take His words and compare them against the words which God has spoken at times past. The writer of Hebrews said, “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son” (Heb 1:1-2). You want evidence to believe Jesus? He says you can believe on the basis of His words.

But this is not all. He goes on to say, “the Father abiding in Me does His works. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves” (vv10-11). If faith cannot rise to the challenge of taking Jesus at His word, He offers us the evidence of the works which He has done. These are not human works. They are the works of God, that no one other than God could do. Consider how He turned water into wine; how He multiplied five loaves and two fish into a meal that fed thousands; how He raised Lazarus from the dead; how He healed so many with the touch of His hand or the word of His power; consider how He Himself will conquer death in His own resurrection. We call them miracles; He calls them works. What for us is beyond comprehension is for Him all in a day’s work. No mere man can do these things. Only God can do them. He offers us to consider all His works and compare them to any works of man and any works of God. Are these things not consistent with the power and character of God? How then can we conclude that He is not who He claims to be? How could we not believe Him on the basis of both His words and His works?

While John the Baptist was imprisoned and awaiting his execution, he sent messengers to Jesus to ask, “Are you the Expected One, or do we look for someone else?” Jesus answered, “Go and report to John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have the Gospel preached to them” (Lk 7:20-22). The evidence He offered to John is the same that He offers to Philip here, and it is the same He offers us all. His words and His works testify to us that to know Him is to know God; to see Him is to see God; and to believe Him is ultimately the only way to truly believe in God.

Do you know God? The question is not, “Do you know about Him?”, but do you know Him? Have you come into a personal relationship with God? How can you do that? Friends, the only way is through Jesus because of what He has done for you in His life, His death, and His resurrection. He has removed the barrier of sin that kept you separated from God by dying in your place to receive your penalty so that you might be able to know Him. If you know Jesus, you know God.

Have you seen God? To see Jesus is to see God. We must behold Him today with the eye of faith. When we look upon the Christ who is presented to us in the Bible, we see God manifesting Himself as a human being, fully God and fully man. In former times, it was declared that no one could look on God and live. Jesus has come to us, so that by looking upon Him, we may really live. We may have the life that God intended for us to have, abundant and eternal with Him, and then the eye of faith will close, and we will see Him – really see Him with new eyes, face-to-face, in all of His glory. And He will look like Jesus, because He is the visible revelation of the invisible God.

Have you believed Jesus? You may say, “If I didn’t believe in Jesus, I wouldn’t be here.” But the question is not “Do you believe in Him?” It is, “Do you believe Him?” Do you believe what He says about who He is and what He has done? He says that He is God, and He offers us the evidence of His words and His works to validate His claim. Do you believe Him? If you believe Him, then you have believed God, and believed in God. For if the God in whom you believe is not the One who has come to us in the Person of Jesus Christ, then you believe in a false god, the figment of one’s imagination, and an idol who is powerless to save. But this God came to us in order to save us. You can believe Him in all that He says about Himself, about you, about life, death, heaven, and hell. Believe Him, for only in so doing can you truly believe in the One True God.

[1] Quoted in Ravi Zacharias, Can Man Live Without God? (Dallas: Word, 1994), xviii.
[2] C. H. Dodd, The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel (Cambridge: University Press, 1998), 163.
[3] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John (New International Commentary on the New Testament: Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971), 643.
[4] William Barclay, The Gospel of John (Daily Study Bible; Philadelphia: Westminster, 1975), 2:159.
[5] Jonathan Leeman, Reverberation (Chicago: Moody, 2011), 18-22.
[6] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: HarperCollins, 2000), 52. 

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