Jesus Is Precious Because His Biblical Portrait Is True, Part 2

After this Jesus went about in Galilee; he would not go about in Judea, because the Jews sought to kill him. Now the Jews' feast of Tabernacles was at hand. So his brothers said to him, "Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples may see the works you are doing. For no man works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world." For even his brothers did not believe in him. Jesus said to them, "My time has not yet come, but your time is always here. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify of it that its works are evil. Go to the feast yourselves; I am not going up to this feast, for my time has not yet fully come." So saying, he remained in Galilee.

But after his brothers had gone up to the feast, then he also went up, not publicly, but in private. The Jews were looking for him at the feast, and saying, "Where is he?" And there was much muttering about him among the people. While some said, "He is a good man," others said, "No, he is leading the people astray." Yet for fear of the Jews no one spoke openly of him.

About the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and taught. The Jews marveled at it, saying, "How is it that this man has learning when he has never studied?" So Jesus answered them, "My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me; if any man's will is to do his will, he shall know whether I am speaking on my own authority. He who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but he who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood."

My aim in the messages of February and March is to give reasons why Jesus Christ is precious, in the hopes that believers will move from a lukewarm to a white-hot love for Jesus and that unbelievers will be persuaded that Jesus is true and valuable and put their trust in him. In the weeks to come I will try to show that Jesus is precious because through his death and resurrection he takes away the guilt of all who trust in him; he takes the sting out of death and offers eternal life and resurrection and everlasting glory and joy to all who believe; he transforms fearful, greedy hearts into peaceful, loving hearts and replaces phoniness with authenticity; he puts all relationships, especially husband-wife and parent-child relations, on a new, solid footing; and he satisfies our deepest longing for beauty and wonder. If these things are true, then Jesus is precious above all persons or things, and he should be trusted by all and loved with all the heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Trusting Jesus and Trusting Scripture

But the only way we have of knowing these things about Jesus is by reading the Bible, especially the New Testament. Therefore, if we are to have sound confidence that this portrait of Jesus is true, we must have sufficient reasons for trusting the Bible. Last week I tried to show that there is strong historical evidence that Jesus rose from the dead, even if one does not accept the Bible as the Word of God. Today I want to enlarge our confidence to embrace not only the resurrection of Jesus, but also the trustworthiness of the Bible as a whole. Jesus is precious because his biblical portrait is true—not only that salient feature of the portrait, the resurrection, but also the rest of the portrait seen in the biblical writings.

The reason I began this series of messages last week with a historical argument for the resurrection of Jesus rather than an argument for the Bible's truth is that I don't think people usually believe in Jesus because they have been first persuaded that the Bible is true. Rather, I think people gain confidence in the truth of the Bible because Jesus has come alive for them. A person is not saved by accepting the Bible as the inerrant Word of God. He is saved by trusting Jesus. Then begins to grow the conviction that the Bible, which presents their Jesus, is true. The foundation of our confidence in the truth of the Bible is the self-authenticating person of Jesus Christ. The outstanding features of his portrait are visible quite apart from a prior commitment to the Bible as God's Word. And therefore this portrait has a moral power to persuade even skeptics of its truth and lead finally to a full confidence in the whole Bible.

This morning I want to try to illustrate how Jesus Christ authenticates himself to us in the Scripture and then how this leads us to a full confidence in the truth of the Bible.

Believing Unbelief

Some words of Jesus from the gospel of John, chapter 7, provide the basis of my effort. In verses 1–4 Jesus' brothers try to get Jesus to go up to Jerusalem, so that the miraculous works that he had been doing (e.g., 2:1–11; 4:46–54; 5:2–12; 6:4–14, 19, 21) would be more visible: "No man works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world." His brothers are very excited that Jesus can do such wonders as heal the sick and turn water into wine and feed 5,000 people; so they want him to get on with the business of showing himself to the world. In one sense Jesus' brothers have a lot of confidence in Jesus: they really believe he can do miracles. They have seen him. Verse 5, then, is a shock: John says that the reason they urged Jesus on in his miraculous demonstration of power was "because even his brothers did not believe in him." You can believe Jesus is a great miracle worker and yet still lack the faith Jesus wanted. His miracle working power is an insufficient basis for saving faith.

The same kind of "believing-unbelief" is seen several other places in John's gospel (cf. 8:31–46). For example, in John 2:23–25 it says, "Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover feast many believed in his name when they saw the signs which he did. But Jesus did not trust himself to them because he knew all men and needed no one to bear witness of man; for he himself knew what was in man." In spite of this so-called believing, Jesus would not entrust himself to them because he could see inside. He could see that this outward enthusiasm in his miracle working power left the inside of these people untouched. Why, everybody loves a friendly miracle worker! He could heal our diseases; raise our dead; he could even be our Messiah-King and conquer the Romans for us (cf. 6:15; 11:48). But evidently something essential to faith was missing in this "belief" because Jesus would have nothing to do with it. The same thing happens in John 6:15. Jesus perceives that a crowd was about to come and take him by force and make him king. So he withdraws again to the hills by himself. It was not enough to believe Jesus was the Messiah with great power. Genuine saving faith is more than that.

Therefore, here in 7:5 John says Jesus' brothers are unbelieving when they urge him on to glorious displays of Messiah-power. And just as Jesus refused to entrust himself to those who believed when they saw signs in 2:24, and just as he withdrew from those who wanted to make him king in 6:15, so also here in 7:6–8 he refuses to go with his brothers to Jerusalem. But then in verse 10 Jesus does go up to Jerusalem. But the way he goes up is a symbolic statement about what was wrong with his brothers' request. They said in verse 4: "No man works in secret if he seeks to be known openly." But verse 10 (using the very same words) says that Jesus went up "not openly but in secret." This is Jesus' way of saying, "Beware, brothers, of your love for glory and power and acclaim. That is not my way. The kingdom of God now is small and obscure, like a mustard seed (Matthew 13:31); it is quiet and unostentatious, like leaven working in a lump of dough (Matthew 13:33). The only people who will ever see it are those whose hearts are humbled by its power and weaned away from the love of worldly praise. "No, brothers, if all you see is miracles and all you want is to have your worldly longings for attention and praise gratified by the crowds in Jerusalem, then you do not yet believe in me, for that is not my way."

The Basis of Genuine Faith

What is Jesus teaching us here about the basis of genuine faith? He is saying that it is not enough to be convinced of his power. Something deeper is needed. But this does not mean that his miraculous works were unimportant. He says in John 14:11, "Believe me because I am in the Father and the Father in me, or if not, believe on account of the works." And in John 10:25 he said, "The works which I do in my Father's name, these bear witness concerning me." Evidently we ought to be able to look at Jesus' works and find an adequate basis of genuine faith. Why was it, then, that the brothers of Jesus looked at the works of Jesus and believed them, but did not yet have genuine saving faith?

I think it is because Jesus' brothers (like most of us) focused only on the outward show of power and had no eyes to see that there was a special character about the miracles of this man. The sign that pointed to Jesus' truth was not the raw miracle, the mere demonstration of power, but the way of his working, the motive and heart with which they were done. His miracle had a soul that gave the outward form of power its life and true meaning. Hundreds and hundreds saw the outward form of the miracles and believed them. But very few perceived the soul of Jesus' miracles (cf. Mark 8:14–21!) which is the real basis for genuine saving faith.

I think Jesus tells us plainly what the soul of his miracles is in John 7:16–18. His brothers wanted him to go up to Jerusalem and do his miracles for all to see. Instead, Jesus goes up secretly and then instead of doing miracles, teaches. And his teaching reveals the soul of his miracles, namely, his unswerving love for the glory of God that seeks no worldly acclaim.

My teaching is not mine but his who sent me; if any man's will is to do his will, he shall know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority. He who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but he who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true and in him there is no falsehood (vv. 16–18).

If you ever meet a man who cares nothing for the praise and approval of men (Mark 12:14), but whose one controlling desire is to glorify God whom he loves with all his heart, believe that man. He is true. This is what his brothers should have seen in his miraculous works: not the mere display of power, but the all-consuming love to God which emptied Jesus of the typical human craving for praise and acclaim and approval. He does not speak on his own authority, nor does he seek his own glory (7:18), nor does he do his miracles in his own name: "The works which I do in my Father's name, these bear witness concerning me" (John 10:25).

The basis of faith in Jesus is not just the raw show of miraculous power, it is the soul of the power, the heart and motive from which it comes. Only the people who saw within the miracles what the man was really like, what made him tick, could truly believe on him. It was the shining out of this inner life that marks Jesus as true: "He who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true." This is the soul of all he did, and this is the true basis of saving faith: Love seeks not its own glory (1 Corinthians 13:5); it is consumed with God's glory. So Jesus lived not for the praise of men, but for their salvation. He had one all-consuming motive—to glorify God through the salvation of men. That is the kind of man you can trust. His character is self-authenticating. It is the basis of a reasonable and saving faith.

Why Believing Is So Hard for Many

But notice also that this very ground of faith is a hindrance to believe for many. Because in order to trust and follow this Jesus you have to become like him. You have to love the glory of God more than the praise of men. You have to become, like him, a lowly servant of the needs of others for God's sake. But people do not generally like to give up the quest for glory in the eyes of this world. We would often prefer to follow someone who allowed us to gratify our cravings for this world's power and prestige and applause. And it is precisely our love for worldly glory that keeps us from acknowledging the beauty of Christ. Listen to how Jesus puts this in John 5:41–44:

I do not receive glory from men. But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. I have come in my Father's name, and you do not receive me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive. How can you believe, who receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?

Or, turning that last question into a statement, "You can't believe in me while you love the glory of men so much." In other words, the character of Jesus which distinguishes him from all us sinful humans and authenticates his truth and provides a basis for saving faith is also the chief hindrance to faith. Jesus' life is devoted to the glory of God and the salvation of men and he is indifferent to worldly approval and applause. That is a beautiful, evidential, distinguishing mark of truthfulness. But the only person who will acknowledge it as beautiful and accept it as evidence of Jesus' truthfulness is the person whose heart is open to following the same way of life. This is what Jesus meant in John 7:17, when he said, "If any man's will is to do God's will, he shall know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority." If a person's heart is closed to the glory of God and instead is devoted to securing the praises and comforts of the world, that person will see nothing but threat and folly in the true character of Jesus. But if that person humbles himself and desires what God desires, no matter what, then the character of Jesus will be seen for what it really is, the incomparably beautiful, evidential, distinguishing mark of truth. And on that basis we trust him. What he says, we believe; what he commands, we obey.

Did the Biblical Author's Create This Jesus?

That is the way Jesus Christ has authenticated himself to me and to thousands and thousands through the centuries. But I am aware of a very obvious objection to this, namely: How do we know this self-authenticating picture of Jesus in the gospel of John is not a creation of the writer, rather than a true reflection of the Jesus who really was? My answer is this: no matter how different the perspective of each New Testament writer, it is clear that they are all portraying the same person and that in each portrayal Jesus has fundamentally the same unique character and mission.

That leaves us with three options: 1) Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, James, Peter, Jude, and the writer of Hebrews all invented this same unique character and mission independently out of their own heads; or 2) They were all dependent on some creative genius other than Jesus; or 3) Jesus did have such a character and mission and left his stamp on all the New Testament writers. Of those three possibilities my own sense of historical probability says that the third is far more likely than the other two. Nine writers do not create independently out of their heads the same figure who is so unique and powerful that he changes the whole world. And it is grasping at straw to say: There was a single creative genius who conceived this world-changing, self-authenticating portrait of Jesus, but we don't know who it was. Far more credible is the position that there was indeed a genius behind all these portraits, and more than a genius, namely, Jesus Christ himself. And this becomes even more probable when you consider that no matter how far historians press back behind the written New Testament, they never find a Jesus who was any other than the self-authenticating Jesus whose life was wholly devoted to God's glory and man's salvation and who was indifferent to the applause of men.

When we put this self-authenticating portrait of Jesus together with the truth of his resurrection from the dead (which I argued for last week), does there not emerge an amazingly powerful and reasonable basis for confidence in Jesus? Does he not win our hearts and our minds? Is he not worthy of our trust? I pray that God will free us all to see that he is.

And if he is, then the way we view everything in the world, including the Bible, will be determined by Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ, who is true and in whom is no unrighteousness, stands at the center of God's special revelation in the Bible. He looks back on a completed Old Testament, and he looks forward to a New Testament which would be completed in 40–50 years. He does not leave us without a witness regarding each.

Jesus' View of the Old and New Testaments

For Jesus, the Old Testament was the Word of God. Even the most radical critics of the Bible acknowledge this (cf. R. Bultmann, Jesus, p. 46). In Mark 7:13 he accused the Pharisees of using their traditions to make void the Word of God (i.e., the Old Testament law). In Matthew 5:17, 18 Jesus said:

Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them. For truly I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until it is all accomplished.

In Matthew 22:29 Jesus says to the Sadducees, "You err because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God." In John 10:35 he said, "Scripture cannot be broken." Jesus Christ, who has won our trust by his authenticity and resurrection from the dead, believed and taught that the Old Testament Scriptures were the Word of God and, therefore, could not be broken, but would all be accomplished. If we understand them and follow them, we will not err.

The New Testament, of course, was not written until after Jesus' earthly life was ended. But even here he did not leave us without a witness. He promised that just as God had spoken in many and various ways through the men of old in the Old Testament (Hebrews 1:1, 2), so the Holy Spirit would guide Jesus' apostles into the truth as they provided the foundational teachings of the church (Ephesians 2:20). He said in John 14:25, 26: "These things I have spoken to you while I am yet with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you." Then in John 16:12–14 he said:

I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of Jesus comes, he will guide you into all truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

The point of these two promises is that Jesus would not leave his apostles without guidance and help in the fulfillment of their teaching office in the early church. He had taught them many things while on earth, but so much could only be understood fully after his resurrection. So it is just what we would expect when Jesus promises to be their teacher through the Holy Spirit.

John understands his own gospel to be a product of that inspiration (2:19–22; 12:15, 16; 13:7). And the apostle Paul, who wrote 13 of the 27 New Testament books, stated more clearly than anyone that the Holy Spirit spoke through his teaching. He said in 1 Corinthians 2:12, 13:

We have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom, but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who possess the Spirit.

Paul had once been a Pharisee and a wholehearted persecutor of the church, and the most probable way of explaining his grand reversal (Galatians 1:13–17) to become a life-long servant of Christ and a martyr for the gospel, is that, just as he said, the risen Christ has appeared to him and commissioned him to be an authoritative witness (Acts 22:14; 26:16–18; Galatians 1:12–17).

I conclude, therefore, that if Jesus has been raised from the dead, and if his character is self-authenticating and wins our trust and our allegiance, then we will also gain an increasing confidence in the Old Testament, which he endorsed, and in the writings of his apostles, whom he promised to guide into all truth. When I preach the preciousness of Christ from these writings, I do not ask for a leap of faith, or a shot in the dark, or the flip of a coin, or any irrational or unreasonable commitment. There is a reasonable basis of faith in Christ which you can see if you are not blinded by the love of this world. Faith is not a leap. It is a resting in the evidences. It is being persuaded, head and heart, that Jesus is true and there is no unrighteousness in him. It is a cordial trust in the Son of God whose life and death and resurrection were devoted to the glory of God and to our salvation.