READ : John 8:46-47
Which of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? He who 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 rsv
Suddenly, in the midst of controversy, surrounded by critics and opposers, Jesus issued a challenge, “Which of you convicts me of sin?” In other words, which of you can point out any evil in My life? Which of you can demonstrate that I have spoken or acted wrongly? Which of you can bring forth evidence that will prove Me guilty of transgressing God’s law? Let him step forward and present his case. Who will volunteer?
Imagine some contemporary political leader asking a question like that. He’s in a cluster of microphones; the cameras are rolling. He challenges the crowd of reporters and interested citizens to point out any blemish in his record. Wouldn’t there be many quite ready to respond? “Mr. President, you said in one of your campaign speeches that you would never tax the middle class, but now your tax program seems to be moving in the opposite direction.” Or, “Mr. President, what about those campaign funds which you appropriated for your personal use?” or “What about the charges made against you by your estranged wife?” Can we conceive of any politician making himself vulnerable in that way?
What does it tell us about Jesus that He could raise a question of this kind? Let’s look at three possibilities. First, let’s say He knew that there was as much evil in His life as in anyone else’s, but He didn’t think anyone could catch Him in it. On this view, Jesus’ question was a brazen kind of bluff. He was putting the crowd on the defensive. He was daring any individual in the crowd to go out on a limb and make a charge. He was building an image, creating an impression.
But from what you know of Jesus, is that scenario likely? This would picture Jesus as knowingly projecting a false view of Himself. Could He have wanted to appear as sinless in the eyes of these people if He knew in His own heart that He was a transgressor? That would add dishonesty to arrogance. Could a person of Jesus’ moral sensitivity, of such transparent truthfulness, have been such a bald-faced deceiver here? It’s hard to credit that line of thinking, isn’t it?
Here’s another possible explanation: Jesus was a sinner like all the rest of us but He didn’t realize it. On this view, He may have asked the question in good faith, but it represented a certain ethical blindness on His part. Does that seem reasonable to you? Think of this. Characteristically, the most holy and godly of the servants of the Lord have been the most ready to acknowledge their own failings and sins. The nearer people live to the light, the more aware they are of various evils in their lives. Does it seem credible that Jesus, acknowledged by all the world as a religious teacher of insight and profundity, could be so morally dense as that? We ordinarily identify professions of blamelessness with a kind of moral stupidity, with what we call “blocking” or “projection.” Really, does that seem likely in a person like Jesus?
The third alternative is that Jesus was rightly persuaded of His own sinlessness. This seems to me by far the most probable in the light of all the facts, in the light of all we know about Jesus from the gospels. He lived nearer to God than anyone else who ever walked the earth. He was keenly sensitive to God’s will. Yet He never indicated the slightest awareness of having broken God’s law or in any sense fallen short of His expectations. In fact, He said things like this, “I do always the things that please the Father . . . (John 8:29). As the Father has given me commandment, even so I do . . . (John 14:31). My meat is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34). It seems to me beyond doubt that He believed this about Himself.
That a person should live as Jesus did and issue a challenge like this is unmatched in the history of the world. It betokens a conscience uniquely clear and serene. We can’t envision any other figure in history saying such things, yet strangely, with Him they don’t seem out of place.
Here’s the response of the crowd. “The Jews answered him, `Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?'” (John 8:48). Jesus, in their view, acts like a Samaritan. He doesn’t observe sufficiently the tenets of orthodox Judaism, the traditions of the elders. To them, this amounts to being disloyal to the faith. The second charge is far more weighty, “Aren’t we right in saying that You have a demon? You’re obviously doing remarkable things, Jesus. Some kind of supernatural power is evidently at work in Your life. But we think it’s an evil power. We believe that something sinister is going on here. You’re casting out demons by the prince of the demons. To us, Jesus, You’re clearly anti-God – not His faithful servant.”
Why would they say this? Because Jesus’ behavior did not meet their expectations. They believed, for example, that no work of any kind should be done on the Sabbath Day, but Jesus performed acts of healing mercy on a number of sabbaths. They believed that various kinds of washings were necessary before partaking of food, in order to be religiously pure, but Jesus did not observe these, at least not always. He dared to say that real impurity was not of the hands but of the heart. He spoke with a sense of God-given authority, refusing to rely on the time-honored teachings of the rabbis and scribes. Could someone so disturbing, so unsettling, so controversial, possibly be from heaven? He called in question the whole religious system of His day. Surely He must be from the arch-deceiver, they reasoned. He must have a demon.
Jesus made His appeal not to the great body of Jewish tradition but to the revelation of God given in the Scriptures. For Him, the two greatest commands involved loving God with all ones heart and soul and strength and mind and loving ones neighbor as oneself. He was ready to admit that He was out of step with much of the religious teaching of His time. But let people judge Him by the length and breadth and depth and height of that two-fold call to love. Could anyone say that He had fallen short there?
Listen to the verdict of history about Jesus. Pilate, a high government official, charged with examining Him, said, “I find no fault in him” (Luke 23:4). The Roman soldier, watching Him die, said, “Surely, this was a righteous man” (Matt. 27:54). Peter calls Him the “righteous one” who has died for the unrighteous. The writer to the Hebrews says that He was “tempted in every respect as we are, yet without sinning” (Heb. 4:5). He calls Him “holy, blameless, unstained, separated from sinners” (Heb. 7:26). John says, “In him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). And listen to Paul, “For our sake, he [God] made him [Jesus] to be sin, who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).
The witness of the New Testament writers is consistent and clear. Jesus is the Lamb of God without blemish and without spot. He is the One fully obedient to the Father in His whole life, the sinless Savior who can bear our sins and sorrows and set us free. The French scholar Montaigne said once, “There is no man so good that were he to submit all his thoughts and actions to the law would not deserve hanging ten times in his life.” That may well be true for every person who ever lived in history – save this one. Fyodor Dostoevsky said it well, “Everything, therefore, depends on whether Christ is accepted as the final ideal for man on earth.” Everything depends then on the answer we give to Jesus’ question, “Which of you convicts me of sin?”
WHY NOT BELIEVE?
If anyone can do that, the heart of the Christian faith is gone. But if no one can bring forth evidence that convicts Jesus of sin, what then? He says, “If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me?” If they can point out sin, if they can demonstrate that Jesus does not speak and act and live from God, then they can effectively discredit His ministry. Then they’re under no obligation to receive His teaching. But if they can’t, what excuse have they for not believing Him? Since they can’t point out sin in Jesus, their continuing refusal to believe in Him stands revealed as the sham and perversity that it is. If there was no sin, no deception, no darkness in Him, then He was indeed speaking the truth. And if He was, they should have believed Him.
Now Jesus is going to unveil the deepest reality at work in this situation. “He who is of God,” He says, “hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” When God’s message comes to a person’s heart, it always brings a moment of inner revelation. If there is in that person some kinship with the things of heaven, some openness to the things of God, some desire to do God’s will, there’s an immediate openness and response to the Word. There’s a recognition of the light. But if we brace ourselves against the truth, refusing to listen to the Word of God, something else is revealed about the state of our heart. Our kinship is not then with light but with darkness. Our deepest sympathies are not with God but with God’s enemy. Because we are not in living relationship with the God who speaks, we do not heed the things He says.
Sometimes in my travels overseas, my wife Helen isn’t able to go with me. I make phone calls to her from the other side of the world. Sometimes because of the time differential, those calls are made at odd hours with uncertain connections. But the moment she picks up the phone and answers, I know instantly that my call has gone through. I don’t need to ask questions, “Who are you? Are you really the person I’m trying to call? Is this area code 616 and such and such a number?” No, I know immediately that it’s Helen’s voice.
Why? Because I’ve heard that voice so often, because I’ve talked with her so many times, because we’ve shared so much, because we’ve come to know each other so intimately. Why do I know almost before I ask her how she’ll feel about a certain issue? Because we’ve gone over so much together already. I know her voice. I can tune in to where she is and what she’s thinking.
Now knowing God is in some sense like that kind of relationship. The longer we walk with Him, the more we listen to His Word, the more we seek to respond to it in faith and obedience, the more able we become to recognize His voice in fresh moments of its coming to us. People who believe in Jesus Christ receive a new life from God, the ministry of the Holy Spirit within us. They become the children of God through faith in Jesus. They have a capacity within themselves now to recognize the Father’s voice.
That’s what Jesus is looking for when He brings His word to us. That’s what He’s looking for in you and me right now. He wants us to look at Him, study Him, consider Him, listen to Him and ask ourselves the question: “Is He, Jesus, really from God?” Is He, as someone has put it, “God’s self-utterance to men, God’s language and living thought, God’s eloquence, God’s truth in action?” If something in us says “yes, He is,” then we’ll be willing to risk our whole lives on what He says and on who He is. And what a happy thing that is when someone will make that kind of commitment: believing that Jesus is true, that He is the Son of God, that He is God’s Last Word to us. Oh, believe it, friends! Those who so venture, who so trust in Christ, will never be disappointed.
Prayer: Father, help everyone sharing this program today to face this question honestly, “Who is this Jesus? Is He worthy to be trusted? Is He who He says He is, the Son of the living God?” And may there rise in every listening heart a response of eager faith. May they say to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!”