Barnes: Shallow enough for a child to wade in and deep enough for an elephant to swim in

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Last week, I asked the question, “Who am I from? and showed that, in John 8, Jesus denounces the insufficiency of the confident self-understanding of his Jewish listeners in their Abrahamic heritage, and reveals the insufficiency of the faith of today’s “transitional” Christians, who cling to sins which, like those of Abraham’s descendants, keep them from clinging to his saving teachings.

In John 8, Jesus shocks us by telling us that we are “of the devil” when we cling to our sins.

This week, I begin with this statement: “The portrait of Jesus in John can be simply labeled, Jesus saves.”

This is the assertion of Dr. Linda McKinnish Bridge in her book, “Portraits of the Church of Jesus”. My former colleague and constant friend, and her husband, served as young missionaries in Taiwan for a few years where she taught the Gospel of John to non-Christians sitting around her kitchen table in Taipei.

She writes: “I later spent several years sifting through piles of books and articles written about John, preparing to write a thesis. …In the face of both simplicity and depth, I agreed with the scholar who said that the Gospel of John was shallow enough for a child to bathe in and deep enough for an elephant can swim there.

Appreciating the central use of light, “the quickest messenger of the senses”, in Impressionist paintings like Monet’s, she points out: “The Fourth Gospel is like that. The Light of the world occupies a central place.

Modernity’s reluctance to a religious use of the word “save” even in modern churches, Bridges laments, risks a loss of understanding, and she struggles to reclaim this old word of faith for its central importance in transmitting the ” power to save of Jesus”. Bridges shows his readers that “Episode after episode John reveals characters who meet Jesus and then are changed. Jesus saves in John.

I can hear the preaching voice of Linda Bridges in the following translation; translating from the Greek text, it renders the words of Jesus in John 12:35-36: “The light is with you a little while yet. Walk while you have light, so that darkness does not reach you. If you’re walking in the dark, you don’t know where you’re going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you become children of light.

Teacher of preachers, she asks, “How do you describe the Light? And she preaches, “Before Jesus died, the Light washes people’s feet and teaches that this is the pattern for all of us (13:1-20).” Further, she proclaims:. “…the mark of a true minister is not the ability to analyze Greek verbs, to handle Hebrew exegesis, to enumerate the main movements of Church history, or to recite confessions theological, but to wash people’s feet.”

Professor William Hull, translating chapters 12:31-33 and 16:33, and interpreting in more detail Jesus’ blunt denunciation of those who wrongly assumed that their religious heritage validated their faith, in chapter 8, underlines the insistence of Jesus that bondage to evil, to the darkness of the spirit, i.e., being “of the devil”, can be broken by clinging to true belief through obedience to his commandments and renouncing the will to serve sin. On the contrary, doing the truth, as Jesus showed, gives knowledge of God and of God’s will.

Hull writes of Jesus’ “merciful recognition” that people could be “victimized by forces outside their lives: the binding power of religious tradition, national pride, racial prejudice.”

Dr. Hull’s wise observation in 1970 is relevant today, as national pride of a deformed and disfigured type, and racial prejudice that turns into hate crimes, have become major threats to peace here and abroad and commitment to mutual care and respect.

Like the first disciples of Jesus, we too must clearly recognize that genuine faith cannot be acquired and understood apart from the cross and the resurrection, Professor Hull shows. Our faith cannot avoid being a transitional experience, unless a true and personal experience of the crucified and risen Christ, and obedience to his Will, intertwine knowledge and wisdom; that alone is powerful enough to break the bondage of the devil.

These two Christian scholars, Professors Bridges and Professor Hull, challenge us and enable us to have a faith that is more than a transitional experience, a confidence exercised and revealed by washing people’s feet and holding on to the teaching of Jesus by “throwing away the garbage” of sins. choices and lifestyles, and keep his teaching by obeying his commandments.

Christ Jesus offers that strong faith now.

Thanks to God.

Dr. Elizabeth Barnes is a retired professor emeritus of Christian theology and ethics at Baptist Theological Seminary in Richmond, Virginia, and a resident of White Lake.

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