Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Trust in God, me, people?

Five days a week or so, I begin my day with a Quiet Time with God. In Quiet Time, I meet God with this format: stop, look, listen, respond.

Today, the focal point of my Quiet Time was John 2. Here are my reflections and what God showed me.
Look: “Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.” (John 2:23-25, English Standard Version)

Listen: Jesus has been among crowds throughout this chapter. He was at the wedding at Cana, with His disciples, where He turned water into wine, His first sign.

He was at the temple at Passover and drove the money-changers out of the place.

But these verses show how alone Jesus was, even amid a crowd. He was true God and true man. He was as vulnerable as other men, as the Passion Account will show. But He was also God, omniscient. Jesus could “read people like a book,” a truth pointed out in countless subsequent events in His ministry, recounted in all four Gospels.

But I was still a bit baffled by this passage about Jesus not entrusting Himself to them--that is the believing crowds--as I read it today. (Baffled as I have been before and simply glossed over it, I guess.) I wondered this morning what God was saying here.

I decided to look at the Greek in which the New Testament was originally written. The first thing I noticed is that when John speaks of Jesus not entrusting HImself to them, the verb is a form of pisteo, the most common verb form used for believing or having faith. (The noun form is pistis.) That struck me as odd. While the word can be used for common, everyday trust--”I trust my kids not to get in trouble when they go out at night.” “I trust that the pilot of my plane knows what she/he is doing.”--it struck me as funny that John reports that Jesus didn’t trust in the crowd. It seemed more cosmic than the everyday use of the term. Jesus had no faith in the crowd. Jesus had no faith in human beings, even though He loved them enough to go to a cross for them. Why? Because “he himself knew what was in man.”

The Greek has the article: “Jesus knew what was in the man.” While I wouldn’t probably want to press this too far, Jesus speaking of not trusting the man--the Adam--at this juncture in the narrative forms a nice counterpoint to His earlier (and sort of strange) address of His mother as “Woman,” as in “Woman, what does this have to do with me?” (John 2:4). That passage shows us that while He is God and man, with no need for human beings, He nonetheless loves “the Woman.” (And not primarily as His earthly mother, but as a human being.)

Nonetheless, John is telling us in verses 24 and 25 that Jesus wouldn’t entrust Himself “to them” because He had divine insight into what human beings are like. They could not be trusted. That’s why I say Jesus lived a lonely life.

Verse 23 tells us who the people are in whom Jesus did not entrust Himself: They were among the “many [who] believed in Him.” Again, the verb is a form of pisteo, the same verb Jesus uses in John 3:16, when He says that we are saved by belief in Him. Belief is the whole ballgame, the road to justification and sanctification of sinners by God. Yet Jesus doesn’t trust even those who believe in Him.

The Message translation nicely presents this reality: “...many people noticed the signs he was displaying and, seeing they pointed straight to God, entrusted their lives to him. But Jesus didn’t entrust his life to them. He knew them inside and out, knew how untrustworthy they were. He didn’t need any help in seeing right through them.” (John 2:24-25, The Message)

Yet later, after His death and resurrection, Jesus would empower people who believed in Him (His Church) with the mission of making disciples. That seems like a gargantuan act of trust on His part.

What changed?

Above all, Jesus had died and risen from the dead. He had made clear that every follower of His would bear the cross, seeing their own sinful flesh crucified by repentance and going through physical death too. The cross tells us that following Jesus isn’t a walk in the park. Until would be followers of Jesus recognize this, any talk of believing in Him is shallow and meaningless.

This is why Jesus usually instructed people He had healed or set free from demons to tell no one. You can’t understand Jesus as the Messiah until you understand Him as the suffering Messiah who joins us in our suffering in order to redeem it and make us new. John the Baptist had it right when He pointed to Jesus and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the world.” It was Jesus' sacrifice as a Lamb unblemished by human sin that makes it possible for sinners like me to be saved. No cross; no empty tomb. No death; no rebirth for fallen sinners. No surrender; no real trust or belief.

The people who believed in Jesus because of His signs were incapable of believing in Him as in belief, or faith, or surrender that actually saves, belief that acknowledges that there’s nothing about us that’s salvation-worthy but we trust in the perfect sacrifice of Christ on the cross to make us worthy.

Jesus only could trust the post-resurrection Church with the “great commission” because, through Holy Baptism, He was going to pour His Holy Spirit on His Church. Jesus loves the human race and He loves His Church completely. But He only trusts human beings insofar as they have, by the power of the Holy Spirit’s witness through disciples, come to believe in Him as crucified and risen Savior (John 3:16-18). He only trusts the Church insofar as, by the power of the Spirit, it preaches repentance (Mark 1:14-15) He only trusts the Church insofar as, by the power of the Holy Spirit, it confesses Jesus as Lord (2 Corinthian 12:3) ...and not as a decision made by people who, from their fallenness, is capable of believing in Jesus. The crucified and risen Jesus, then, unlike Jesus before His crucifixion and resurrection, trusts the Holy Spirit in us; but He doesn’t trust in us because He knows exactly what’s in us.

Listen: Though I regularly rail against such things, I realize that I often cave into the temptation to put my ultimate trust or trust on a par with the trust I’m called to have in Christ, in people.

The first “people” I put my trust in most often is me. The absurdity of this should be clear to me, Lord. While I don’t know me as well as You know me, I know enough to know that I’m utterly untrustworthy. In fact, I’ve made a shambles of some friendships because I’m not always trustworthy.

I am, and this is my ongoing struggle as a Christian--though I don’t struggle with it enough: being about me. I let the old Adam have too much say in how I live from day to day. I dream about things that are contrary to Your will. I fantasize being a BMOPE (big man on planet earth). I look for what’s in it for me. I seek more to be comfortable than faithful.

I put my trust in other people. There’s nothing wrong with having trusting relationships with others. But I suppose I have a tendency to idealize people, because of the Christ I see in them. But no one is perfect. No one is worthy of the kind of trust I’m meant and can confidently have only in You.

Respond: Help me to put my trust in You alone and to act on that trust in You alone today. Show me what that might mean for my thought life and for my actions.
[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

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