In the middle chapters of John’s gospel, which I’ve been reading through lately, the rabbi Jesus comes into increasing conflict with the Jewish leaders of His day.
He’s doing miracles – not the bogus sort we see with televangelist fraudsters, but the real thing. He’s teaching with great wisdom and power. He’s pointing back to the prophetic writings and saying, “Here I am, people!”
But He’s also making claims about being “one with the Father,” and this type of Messianic deity statement is definitely not going down well.
You see, the scholars and leaders of the time were looking for a different kind of Messiah than what they were seeing in Jesus. He didn’t fit their portrait. He wasn’t the Expected One they were expecting. And, here’s the thing – they were half-right.
They were looking for a conquering King, not a suffering Servant. They were looking for a Liberator of Israel, not a Savior of the whole world. The Messianic prophecies of the Scriptures spoke of both; but the Jews at that time were expecting one “coming” of the Messiah to free the nation from Roman rule and usher in the new age.
Jesus was talking about two comings, which wasn’t fitting the expected messianic mold. One appearance, as a sacrificial savior to be lifted up, not on a throne, but on a cross. Then, having poured out the gospel of grace to the entire human race, a second coming (as conquering King) that would usher in the rule of God on earth, and the defeat of all enemies.
The contemporaries of Jesus weren’t stupid – they were studious. They simply didn’t see the whole picture clearly – they had it half-right. Prophecy isn’t as simple as schoolboy math. There is enough clarity+obscurity in the Old Testament, and the New, to keep scholars busy for generations, seeking to understand God’s ways.
That’s why we need to maintain a spirit of humility in our ability to interpret truth. God has made Himself abundantly clear in the Bible regarding His reality, the pervasiveness of our sin, the astonishing offer of His gracious forgiveness, and our need for repentance and faith. We have no excuse for denying the basics. But although God is true, and His Word is true, we still have a limited capacity to get it “right.” Because truth is not just propositional. It is moral. That’s why we’re often half-right. Individually and as an entire race, we are laced through with immorality that clouds our eyes and minds.
This is also why we need to maintain a humble heart toward those with whom we differ on various doctrines and practices. As Scott Sauls put it in a recent post:
I don’t know where I would be without the influence of others who see certain non-essentials differently than I do. I need the wisdom, reasoning, and apologetics of CS Lewis, though his take on some of the finer points of theology are different than mine. I need the preaching and charisma of Charles Spurgeon, though his view of baptism is different than mine. I need the Kingdom vision of NT Wright and the theology of Jonathan Edwards, though their views on church government are different than mine. I need the passion and prophetic courage of Martin Luther King, Jr., the cultural intelligence of Soong Chan Rah, and the Confessions of Saint Augustine, though their ethnicities are different than mine. I need the reconciliation spirit of Miroslav Volf, though his nationality is different than mine. I need the spiritual thirst and love impulse of Brennan Manning and the prophetic wit of GK Chesterton, though both were Roman Catholics and I am a Protestant. I need the hymns and personal holiness of John and Charles Wesley, though some of our doctrinal distinctives are different.
By all means, we should have firm convictions about what is clear. We should seek to be as accurate as we can be about matters of truth. But join that to a proud heart and we’ll simply end up with another myopic breed of half-right Phariseeism.
Lord, help me to rejoice today that You (alone) are ALL right while I remain half-right, and give me contentedness that eventually – at that second coming – you will make all things right (even morally myopic me).