- Jesus gives the fullest expression (or heart) of the Law: “You have heard it said (true statement), but I say to you (fuller expression).
- The Law and Prophets are meant to be your “supervisor” or “tutor” (think preschool/kindergarten teacher) until Jesus comes and gives you His Spirit (Galatians 3).
- God’s standard for righteousness doesn’t change, but your relationship with God changes. That is, you go from “cursed” to “blessed” when you are united to Jesus Christ.
- The Law was not intended to give life (it was given after the promise). It was meant to teach you about your relationship towards God and other people (Leithart- giving structure to the curse of Eden and the curse of Babel). You cannot approach God without sacrifice. You cannot meet God’s standard on your own strength. All things will not be made right without God’s Spirit flooding the world.
- The ultimate sacrifice is Jesus Christ. The gift is Jesus Christ and his righteousness. You now stand on the “blessed” side (see Beatitudes) of the law, not the “cursed” side.
- The “flesh” that separated you from God and other people has been killed in the death of Jesus, and the “Spirit” that raised Jesus from the dead is now given to you.
- Righteousness that “exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees”: Led by the Spirit; Internal first, then external; Unseen, then seen; It is ours in Jesus Christ (read in light of Beatitudes).
- How does Jesus fulfill the Law and Prophets: By being born under the law, By being the perfect expression of the law, By facing the fullness of judgment under the law, By living again by the Spirit through the resurrection, By being a light and hope for all peoples, By giving His Spirit to the Church and empowering them to carry on His mission.
One of my first “duties” as a ministry intern was to go get everyone in the office lunch from Jimmy John’s. Now that I look back on it, I think it may have been because they really didn’t know what to do with me. Either way, I was excited to be an intern, and to be needed for something, for anything. These guys asking me to pick up lunch were experienced ministers. They were “in the know.” They were my ticket to climbing the proverbial ladder. So, sure, I was happy to be helping them, and it felt good to be of some assistance by my supervisors.
The woman of Samaria was astonished that Jesus would ask her for something. It’s interesting, because even a slave doesn’t question their master’s demand for a drink. But this confusion isn’t one of oppressor and oppressed. It’s one of pure and impure. I immediately think of a white man going to stand in line at a “COLORED ONLY” water fountain in Jim Crow Alabama because he’s thirsty.
As readers with a birds-eye view of Jesus’ identity and the scope of his mission, we also experience Jesus in the same way. My Lord, and my God, you are putting liquid from this ground, filtered through this sand and clay, into your mouth, to quench your thirst?
I saw a video clip the other day of a mother in Flint, Michigan, bathing her child and discussing the fear of not yet knowing if her child would have lead poisoning. What she thought was helping her baby could have been killing him all along. Jesus drinks our Flint water that has run through the plumbing of our broken systems. He replaces this water with living water, the kind with no unknown chemicals, truly life-giving water here and now and in the world to come.
God wants your attention. He wants your experience of Him to be unclouded. He wants you to know Him deeply, because he knows that since he is the source of all life and joy, being close to him is the best thing for us. An “idol” is a God substitute–something, usually a good thing, that receives our attention in the place of God. This can literally be any created person, place, thing, or idea, that we hope is as our source of satisfaction.
“Idol hunting” is when we set out to “dethrone” anything in our lives besides God. This involves asking a lot of probing questions such as “What do I feel like I cannot live without? What is giving me ultimate fulfillment? What do I want to be said about me after I’m dead? What helps me sleep at night? What keeps me up at night?”
So far so good.
But what happens when idol-hunting takes God’s place?
Especially among the circles of the young reformed type like myself, the devil has twisted the zeal of many to rid their lives of God-substitutes, making idol-killing itself, an idol.
Here are a few signs that idol-hunting has become an idol in your life:
1. You reject human relationships. “This is too enjoyable, so it must be a sin.” You can’t focus in good conversation because it’s too “low” or “earthly” for a real-deal Christian. You withdraw from your children, your spouse, your girlfriend/boyfriend, your friends, and so forth, because you’re afraid that they will take God’s place. While you were still a sinner, Christ died for you; therefore, while you are still a sinner, God is for you. You can dishonor God by not enjoying His gifts as He intends.
2. You feel guilty after having fun. “That was so good, it probably was an idol.” Yet Jesus himself was accused of being a drunkard and a glutton! He ate, and drank, and had fun. He was accused of enjoying food and drink too much. He saved the best wine as a sign of the kingdom’s arrival at the wedding at Cana.
3. You can’t see God in anything but your Bible. Do you know that there are other ways of experiencing God than sitting on a hard wooden chair drinking vinegar and reading your Bible? Pursue a hobby that has no immediate connection to studying theology. Sit on a comfortable couch, and do nothing for 15 minutes.
4. You don’t work unless you’re “evangelizing.” Work is too mundane for you, and since it requires too much of your time, you disdain it, unless you can use it for a “spiritual conversation.”
4. You’re afraid. You’re paralyzed by the potential of your having an idol. Reality check: You’ve got more idols in your heart right now that you can ever imagine.
5. You think you can attain a state in which you have no idols in your life. “I can move further in my life as soon as I get God into the number one spot.” You didn’t have the strength to get God in your life in the first place, so what makes us think that we have to make ourselves perfect for God to use us now? Thinking that we can ever attain an idol-free state is shallow and doesn’t take into consideration how complex we are and how much baggage we carry into this relationship with God.
6. You can’t imagine a vacation that isn’t a “mission” trip.
We can work to change our circumstances until we’re exhausted, by changing friends, jobs, hobbies, diets, to create a life that is completely dull, because to enjoy would be to worship, and to worship would be idolatry. This is paralysis to a life that is less than what God has created for us, an idolatry in itself, because it stiff arms God’s gifts, and doesn’t recognize God’s goodness in them.
Go take a walk in the woods, with no destination in mind.
When you’re a kid everything is new. Every morning there is something new to experience, someone new to meet, a new food to try, a new game to play, a new tree to climb. Life is molded by imagination and the world is full of opportunities. Kids see potential and possibility in the smallest things. A couch is a fort; a house cat is a lion; the family dog is a race horse; a bicycle is a motorcycle; a used paper towel roll is a trumpet or a rocket launcher.
Over time though, the gap between imagination and reality closes. Newness fades, and we harden, and settle. The moldable clay of childhood is hardened by the sun of repetition and aging.
Jesus tells Nicodemus that to enter God’s kingdom, you have to become new again, because without new eyes, a new heart, a new imagination, you can’t see what God has for you. God’s kingdom is like a maternity ward, full of new people. Nicodemus asked a good question that we should all ask, “Is there a way to restore what has been lost? How can I become new again? My innocence before God was lost a long time ago. I’m tired of this cycle of futility; what is the point?”
If you feel the weight of those questions, ask, “How can I be born again even when I’m getting older and there’s no going back?”
Can you imagine the look on their faces when a carpenter out of Nazareth said he could rebuild the central location of the Jewish faith in three days? This would have been like a general contractor from Gallman, Mississippi, showing up in Chicago saying he could build the Trump Tower in three 3 days. First, it’s ridiculous because it’s impossible, and second, it’s offensive to these men who spent the last 46 years working on the Temple. They were so proud of it, and they didn’t appreciate someone downplaying their blood, sweat, and tears.
When we’re met by Jesus, we each have our own temple that we have planned, built, polished, and remodeled (several times). Jesus downplays our efforts in order to show us the futility of our efforts. “You mean I’ve been working on this for 46 years and you think you could do better in less time?”
To the original listeners of John, there would have been a resounding, “Yes! He’s talking about his body!” Hindsight is 20/20, but at the time, it was offensive and hard to hear. Jesus shook their security, which they placed in the establishment in the Temple–to them, it meant identity, connection, stability, hope, tradition, and unity; but to Jesus, they were missing out.
Jesus still does this–he walks through our temples and, like a building inspector, he points out things we’ve missed, where we were slack in our work, got too rushed, etc. Has anyone ever done that to you? You’re working on something really hard and they show up and just point out things you could have done better? But he does this because he loves us. “You thought you were building a palace for yourself but this just looks like a coffin,” he tells us.
Jesus directs our attention to something better, He was contracted by the Father to construct an eternal building with new building materials that only he could provide– his flesh as the bricks and his blood as the mortar. He didn’t hit his finger with a hammer, but his hands were nailed to wood. He didn’t use a measuring tape, but his arms were outstretched. His hardhat was made of thorns and people gambled for his tool belt. Such a messy construction site with no “caution” tape around it.
The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” 49 Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and fthe angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
Do you know someone who just “gets” you? Someone who is on the same wavelength with you? Or has the same “spirit animal” as you? There’s something wonderful, and terrifying about being known and being seen. Look at Nathanael in these verses, he asks, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” He already makes a character assessment based on his own ideas of Jesus’ origin. Ironically, when Jesus sees Nathanael, he gives his own character assessment: Nathanael is a true Israelite with no deceit. Ever gossiped about someone who is polite and kind to you in return?
Everyone makes some kind of assessment about Jesus before they know him. We jump to conclusions about him and expect to see things before we even arrive there, based on what we learned as children or what someone said or what the news said.
But before we are even capable of having any preconceptions about Jesus, he knows us. Reading this, I’m reminded of God’s calling out Adam and Eve from hiding among the trees of the Garden. They hid, but God pursued, asking the question, “Why are you hiding?” though he certainly knew the reason. Jesus says, “I saw you when you were chilling under the fig tree.” There’s something special about Jesus’ “I saw you.” It’s not like a Santa Claus, “He sees you when you’re sleeping” kind of thing. It’s more like, “You’ve been ignorant of my presence, but now I’m drawing near.” It’s not even like meeting someone for the first time that you follow on Instagram: “Hey, we’ve never met, but I follow you on Instagram, so I know how many times your kids pooped today and what you had for lunch and which coffee shop you frequent.” No, Nathanael didn’t volunteer the information that Jesus knew or post it online, but Jesus was well acquainted with Nathanael from before time began.
To ask “How do you know me?” is a question from the first breath of faith, one that seeks to be known by our Creator and wants Him to draw near to us. Ask Jesus, “How do you know me?” and you might be surprised.
I’ve recently been rewatching Breaking Bad, both because the series is captivating and because I wanted to find out what I could notice throughout the series having seen how the story ends. In one of the earlier episodes, for instance, Walt holds his meth-cooking apprentice Jesse by the shoulders and tells him, “This is the first day of the rest of your life.” I’m not going to list these things exhaustively, but just want to make the point of how these literary devices make stories multi-dimensional and constantly fresh.
In John’s gospel, which I recently began reading through for the first time in a while, there are these such devices everywhere. A lot of them are in the form of questions addressed to Jesus. The questions demonstrate complexity, an ignorant honesty, unbelief and belief, confusion, hesitation, and fear. I think they can serve as models for questions that we have in a relationship with Jesus.
- Nathaniel: “How do you know me?”
- “the Jews”: “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you will raise it up in three days?”
- Nicodemus: “How can a man be born when he is old?”
- Samaritan woman: “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?”
- disciples to Jesus concerning the Samaritan woman: “Why are you talking with her?”
- disciples: “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?”
- “the Jews”: “Is this not Mary and Joseph’s son? How can he say, ‘I came down from heaven?'”
- Peter: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
- “the Jews”: “Does he intend to go to the Dispersion among the Greeks and teach the Greeks?”
- “the Jews”: “Where is your Father? Who are you?”
- “the Jews: “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”
- “the Jews”: “Are you greater than our father Abraham? You are not yet fifty years old, and you have seen Abraham?”
- “He has a demon…Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?”
- “the crowd”: “How an you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?”
- Peter: “Lord, do you wash my feet?”
- [probably John]: “Who will betray you?”
- Peter: “Lord, why can I not follow you now?”
- disciples: “Lord, how can we know the way [to where you are going]?”
- High Priest: “Is that how you answer the High Priest?”
- Pilate: “Are you the King of the Jews?”
- Pilate: “What is truth?”