The 8th Sunday After Trinity July 17, 2005
1 John 4:1-6
28, 261, 311/312, 293
Jesus answered them and said, “My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me. If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority.”
Dear Fellow Redeemed in Christ Jesus, who proves by His very blood the Father’s good will toward us:
All of our Scripture lessons today have a strong unifying thought. They all address the issue of true prophets and false; of determining whether a given speaker is a legitimate prophet of God, or not. This is an important issue, isn’t it? It is so for us because there are some people who think that our we are too much absorbed with the matter of identifying false doctrine in the words of those around us and of separating ourselves from it. But it is also a big issue for all believers because there are many who struggle with the nagging question: “Is this for real? Are the basic things we believe about the Christian faith true, or not?”
So where do we stand, on the truth of Christianity? How do you come down on that question? In today’s text we have a word of Christ that says, in effect, “the proof is in the pudding.” Jesus said: “If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God, or whether I speak on My own authority.” [v.17] With those words Jesus emphasized that the proof of Christianity is, finally, internal. You cannot just try it out like dipping your toe in the pond to test the waters. You have to throw yourself wholly into the Christian Gospel without turning back like leaping off a rock into a swiftly moving current without thought of anything but reaching the other shore! Is the word of Jesus Christ the true Gospel of salvation? Let us consider today The Proof and the Pudding—The Truth of the Christian Gospel I. Jesus Christ testifies to man of the Father’s Love. II. The Father seeks to heal man through Jesus Christ.
At first glance, the Jews seemed correct to be cautious about accepting Jesus as a legitimate prophet. They wanted to know what right Jesus had to be preaching at all.
Their concern would have drained away instantly if they had believed what Jesus was trying to tell them: “My doctrine is not mine”—I’m not making this stuff up!—“but His who sent Me.” [v.16] Jesus emphasized that He was only among them to reveal the powerful good news that God had not forgotten His promises, and that His loving will to save was active and coming to bear fruit.
This idea that Jesus, in His ministry, was a mouthpiece for God—a servant of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—is especially brought out in the Gospel of John. We turn first to John 5:19-20, where Jesus explains His relation to the Father: “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner. For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself does; and He will show Him greater works than these, that you may marvel.”
Jesus emphasized one thing about His ministry: He was completely subordinate. He was committed to imparting in this world only what the Father revealed and performing in his ministry only what the Father willed. At the same time, Jesus emphasized one thing about His relation to the Father from eternity: He had absolute equality with the Father. He was with God from the beginning; there is no division of purpose between the Father and the Son—they are completely “on the same page” in regard to God’s plan in the world.
What does that mean for us, as we explore the proof of Christianity? It means that Jesus invites us to be absolutely certain that what He has shared with us is God’s truth, that nobody has the power or right to deny what Jesus said, and there is no safety or benefit in adding to His doctrine. His doctrine is God’s truth!
Next we turn to John chapter 3—the great “God so loved” chapter. At the end of the chapter, in verses 30-32, we hear John the Baptist speak about Jesus: “He must increase, but I must decrease. He who comes from above is above all; he who is of the earth is earthly and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all. And what He has seen and heard, that He testifies; an no one receives His testimony.” Again, we have confidence that God speaks through Jesus for our benefit. Jesus is the proof we need of the Father’s active love for mankind. That is why we are told that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
The proof that Jesus brings of God’s love is found in His urgency and honesty. In the verse following the text Jesus says: “He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who seeks the glory of the One who sent Him is true, and no unrighteousness is in Him” (John 7:18). We tend to look to the miracles of Jesus as the first proof that we should believe His words. The miracles do provide proof. For instance, Jesus forgave the sins of the paralyzed man and then healed his paralysis as proof that He really had the authority to forgive sins. But another important proof of the truth of Jesus’ words is the fact that He was content to speak these words and then step aside, letting people either believe them or not. He wasn’t looking for people’s approval. He wasn’t trying to gain a following. He realized that if people believed that He was truly from the Father it would bear fruit in their discipleship—they would follow Jesus and they would confess Him as Lord and God. But He would not, could not, stroke their egos or compromise the truth to win them over. He was only God’s servant, willing to be faithful, even to the point of dying on the cross, to prove God’s love toward a world of lost sinners.
The proof is in the pudding—to settle on the power and value of Christianity we can look nowhere else but to God’s words spoken in Christ. Hebrews tells us that in earlier ages, God spoke through various prophets, but that His prophet for our age is Jesus Christ (cf. Hebrews 1:1ff). He speaks to us now, not directly, but through the Spirit-inspired words of the New Testament writers. But what do they write about? What ultimate benefit does Jesus have to offer? What “pudding” is there for us to enjoy if the Christian religion is true?
That matter is brought out in the second part of today’s Gospel lesson which starts when Jesus announces to the crowd “You seek to kill me” (John 7:19). Their response was surprise which was probably genuine for most, and mock horror for a few. The fact is, ever since Jesus healed the crippled man at the pool of Bethesda on the Sabbath, the leaders of the Jews “persecuted Jesus and sought to kill Him” (John 5:16). Jesus is referring back to that event now, several months later, when He again appears in Jerusalem at the feast of tabernacles. Jesus found it odd—diabolically wicked, really—that the Jews, so protective of the Sabbath, allowed the work of circumcision to be done on it, but on the other hand, were ready to murder Jesus because He made a man completely well on the Sabbath.”
What is God’s will for man? He willed, in the Old Testament, that man should honor and set aside the seventh day of the week to learn and commemorate and reflect on God’s plan to restore true righteousness to mankind. This is the righteousness and fellowship that man had with God at the beginning, before sin entered the world.
The pudding—the gracious will and gift of God—was that He would send His only begotten Son into the world to stand as a substitute and sacrifice for humankind so that no man should have to perish. The Father seeks to heal man through Jesus. When Jesus spoke a word to the crippled man by the pool of Bethesda He was saving the man. The salvation which Jesus brought to the man was not just rescue from a life of helplessness and humiliation, but from the hopelessness of life apart from God. He was healing the man’s soul as well as body. The man was, by faith in Jesus, completely well.
Jesus came, because it is God’s will that we be made completely well. That happens, not when we try to fix people or the world from the outside in, but when God delivers us from the guilt and curse of sin through Jesus’ atoning blood. This happens, not through so called “faith healers” who try to win people’s attention by spectacles and their claim of performing miracles. Sinners are made completely well when they realize the one thing that every fiber of our sinful nature wants to deny, namely, that we are hopeless, lost sinners. Real certainty comes through the miracle of the Gospel working faith in sin troubled hearts so that they believe that God has loved them from the foundation of the world God has made His love a reality through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Faith in the Gospel is the miracle of true Christianity. Faith that we have eternal life is a result of Jesus’ work, not our own.
Jesus said that the proof—the truth of Christianity—is in the pudding, namely, the benefit of Christianity. “If anyone wants to do God’s will,” that is, come to God and be saved, “he knows, concerning the doctrine”—the message of the Gospel. If you hunger to be closer to the Lord, if you are troubled by a sin or all of your sins, if all the so-called truths and aspirations of this world fall short of real peace then look to the doctrine of Jesus, settle only for the truth of scripture, build your house on the rock of God’s words, and you will soon learn how true and blessed the Christian religion—the truth of Christ— is. You will understand why we cannot, dare not, compromise scriptural truth for good-sounding error. You will “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8). Amen.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.