The Gospel of the Lord Jesus isn't a collection of ideas and
theologies bound together in a statement of faith. It is, rather, a
proclamation of facts (and the Greek words used about the preaching of
the Gospel support that view of it) concerning a flesh and blood
historical person, namely the Lord Jesus Christ. The focus is all upon
a concrete and actual person. Paul in Gal. 2:20 doesn't say: 'I live by
faith in the idea that the Son of God loved me'. Rather: "I live in
faith, the faith which is in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave
Himself up for me" (RV). Faith is centred in a person- hence the
utterly central importance of our correctly understanding the Lord
Jesus. We are clearly bidden see the man Jesus as the focus of
everything. Think about how Mark speaks of Jesus " sitting in the sea"
teaching the people on the shore (Mk. 4:1). All else was irrelevant-
even the boat He was in. The focus is so zoomed in on the person of
Jesus. And Paul in his more 'academic' approach sees Jesus as the very
core of the whole cosmos, the reason for everything in the whole of
existence. God's whole purpose, according to Paul, is that we should
become like His Son-and to this end all things are directed in God's
plan for us (Rom. 8:28,29). To achieve the " measure of the stature of
the fullness of Christ" is the 'perfection' or maturity towards which
God works in our lives. As we read of Him day by day, slowly His words
and ways will become ours. The men who lived with Jesus in the flesh
are our pattern in this; for the wonder of the inspired record means
that His realness comes through to us too. Time and again, their spoken
and written words are reflective of His words, both consciously and
unconsciously. Note how John repeats his Lord’s use of the term “little
children”; and how He appropriates the Lord’s phrase “that your joy may
be complete” (Jn. 16:24; 17:13) to the way he spoke (1 Jn.
1:4). These are just a tiny fraction of the examples possible. We are
to speak, think and feel as He did; to be as He was and is; to be brethren in Him.
extent to which we are intended to be Christ-centred is reflected in
how John speaks of Him as “the truth”. Indeed, He appears to refer to
the Name of Jesus with the same sensitivity with which a Jew would
refer to the Name of God. John seems to use aletheia, ‘the truth’, as a kind of periphrasis for “Jesus”; en aletheia, in the truth, appears to match Paul’s en kyrio [‘in the Lord’] or en christo [‘in
Christ’]. John refers to missionaries being sent out “for the sake of
the name”, when the other records say that they were sent out in the
name of Jesus. The exalted Name of Jesus was therefore, to John, ‘the
truth’; the person of Jesus, which the Name encapsulates, is to be the
deciding, central truth in the life of the believer. Note too how John
speaks of Jesus as “that one” in the Greek text of 1 Jn. 2:6; 3:5,7,16;
4:17. I.H. Marshall comments: “Christians were so used to talking about
Jesus that ‘that One’ was a self-evident term” (1).
Too often I hear fellow believers talking about their faith in terms of
“I believe that… I do not believe that…”. Maybe I’m being
hypercritical, but surely it ought to be a case of believing in the things of the personal Jesus, rather than ‘believing that…’. For example. I believe in
Jesus returning to the earth, rather than ‘I believe that Jesus will
return’. It’s so absolutely vital to see and believe in the Lord Jesus
as a person, rather than merely a set of doctrine / teaching about Him.
the first century, you usually began a letter with a preface, saying
who you were and to whom you were writing. The letter to the Hebrews
has a preface which speaks simply of the greatness of Christ (Heb.
1:1-3). The higher critics speak of how the preface has been lost or
got detached. But no, the form of Heb. 1:1-3 is indeed that of a
preface. The point is that the greatness of Christ, of which the letter
speaks, is so great as to push both the author and audience into
irrelevancy and obscurity. It’s significant that the New Testament
writers speak so frequently of Jesus as simply “the Lord”. Apparently,
this would’ve been strange to first century ears. Kings and pagan gods
always had their personal name added to the title ‘the Lord’- e.g. ‘the
Lord Sarapis’. To just speak of “the Lord” was unheard of. The way the
New Testament speaks like this indicates the utter primacy of the Lord
Jesus in the minds of believers, and the familiarity they had with
speaking about Him in such exalted terms.
and Acts through together, it becomes apparent that the author [Luke]
saw the acts of the apostles as a continuation of those of the Lord
Jesus. This is why he begins Acts by talking about his " former
treatise" of all that Jesus had begun to do, implying that He
had continued His doings through the doings of the apostles (cp. Heb.
2:3, Jesus " began" to speak the Gospel and we continue His work). The
Acts record repeatedly describes the converts as " the multitude of the
disciples" (2:6; 4:32; 5:14,16; 6:2,5; 12:1,4; 15:12,30; 17:4; 19:9;
21:22), using the same word to describe the " multitude of the
disciples" who followed the Lord during His ministry (Lk. 5:6; 19:37).
There is no doubt that Luke intends us to see all converts as
essentially continuing the witness of those men who walked around
Palestine with the Lord between AD30 and AD33, stumbling and struggling
through all their misunderstandings and pettiness, the ease with which
they were distracted from the essential…to be workers together with
Him. Luke describes the Lord and His followers as 'passing through' and
teaching as He went (Lk. 2:15; 4:30; 5:15; 8:22; 9:6; 11:24; 17:11;
19:1,4); and employs the same word to describe the preaching of the
apostles in Acts (8:4,40; 9:32,38; 10:38; 11:19,22; 12:10; 13:6,14;
14:24; 15:3,41; 16:6; 17:23; 18:23,27; 19:1,21; 20:2,25). He uses the
same word translated 'preach' in both Luke and the Acts [although the
other Gospels use it only once]. In Luke we find the word in 1:19;
2:10; 3:18; 4:18,43; 7:22; 8:1; 9:6; 16:16; 20:1; and in Acts, in 5:42;
8:4,12,25,35,40; 10:36; 11:20; 13:32; 14:7,15,21; 15:35; 16:10; 17:18.
Luke clearly saw the early ecclesia as preaching the same message as
Jesus and the apostles; they continued what was essentially a shared
witness. This means that we too are to see in the Lord and the 12 as
they walked around Galilee the basis for our witness; we are continuing
their work, with just the same message and range of responses to it.
Lk. 24:47 concludes the Gospel with the command to go and preach
remission of sins, continuing the work of the Lord Himself, who began
His ministry with the proclamation of remission (Lk. 4:18 cp. 1:77).
Acts stresses that the believers did just this; they preached remission
of sins [s.w.] in Jesus' Name, whose representatives they were: Acts
2:38; 5:31; 10:43; 13:38; 26:18. There is no doubt that we are called
to witness (Acts 1:8,22; 22:15). But a witness, legally, isn't allowed
to repeat what they have been told; rather must they testify firsthand
to what they themselves have seen or experienced. Quite simply, we
cannot witness for a Lord of whom we have only heard from others; we
can only bear true witness of a Jesus whom we personally know. There is
a crucial difference between knowing about a person, and knowing a
person. And it is this difference, it seems to me, that we need to
seriously reflect upon.
Luke describes the "
amazement" at the preaching and person of Jesus (Lk. 2:47,48; 4:36;
5:26; 8:56; 24:22), and then uses the same word to describe the "
amazement" at the apostles (Acts 2:7,12; 8:13; 9:21; 10:45; 12:16).
This is why the early brethren appropriated prophecies of Jesus
personally to themselves as they witnessed to Him (Acts 4:24-30;
13:5,40). The same Greek words are also used in Luke and Acts about the
work of Jesus and those of the apostles later; and also, the same
original words are used concerning the deeds of the apostles in the
ministry of Jesus, and their deeds in Acts. Thus an impression is given
that the ecclesia's witness after the resurrection was and is a
continuation of the witness of the 12 men who walked around Galilee
with Jesus. He didn't come to start a formalized religion; as groups of
believers grew, the Holy Spirit guided them to have systems of
leadership and organization, but the essence is that we too are
personally following the Lamb of God as He walked around Galilee,
hearing His words, seeing His ways, and following afar off to Golgotha
carrying His cross. Luke concludes by recording how the Lord reminded
His men that they were " witnesses" (23:48); but throughout Acts, they
repeatedly describe themselves as witnesses to Him (Acts 1:8,22; 2:32;
3:15; 5:32; 10:39,41; 13:31; 22:15,20; 26:16). This is quite some
emphasis. This too should fill our self-perception; that we are
witnesses to the Lord out of our own personal experience of Him. They
were witnesses that Christ is on God's right hand, that He really is
a Saviour and source of forgiveness (5:32); because they were
self-evidently results of that forgiveness and that salvation. They
couldn't be 'witnesses' to those things in any legal, concrete way; for
apart from them and their very beings, there was no literal evidence.
They hadn't been to Heaven and seen Him; they had no document that said
they were forgiven. They were the witnesses in themselves. This even
went to the extent of the Acts record saying that converts were both
added to the ecclesia, and also added to Christ. He was His ecclesia; they were, and we are, His body in this world.
the Lord Jesus as a person will excite real passion and feeling in
response. Our reactions to the tragedy of the way He was rejected, and
is rejected and mocked to this day, will be like those of the woman who
was a sinner whom Luke records in Lk. 7. The Lord was invited to the
home of a Pharisee, who clearly had only invited Him to insult and mock
Him. For the Pharisee hadn't kissed Him, nor arranged for His feet to
be washed- things which simply have to be done to an invited
guest. And so that woman becomes passionate. She feels anger and hurt
for the insult and rejection made against Jesus. She does what Simon
the Pharisee didn't do- kissing Him, washing His feet. Having no towel
to dry His feet, she let down her hair to use as a towel- and a woman
could be divorced for letting down her hair in front of men (2). She
touches the Lord's body- something deeply despised, for the Greek and
Hebrew idea of 'touching' has sexual overtones (Gen. 20:6; Prov. 6:29;
1 Cor. 7:1), the Greek word 'to touch' also meaning 'to light a fire'.
The ointment she carried between her breasts denoted her as a
prostitute (3)- but she breaks it open and pours it on the Lord in
repentance. Her attitude was surely: 'Yeah I'm a whore, you all know
that. And yes, you're all gonna misunderstand me and think I am just
madly coming on at this Jesus. OK, misunderstand me as you will, I
don't care, I truly love Him as my Saviour, and there, I'm pouring out
my ointment, I'm through with this broadway life, I'm repenting, in the
abandon of freedom from sin I now feel, I'm giving myself wholly to Him
and His cause, mock me, be shocked and disgusted in your middle class
way all you like, but this is for real'. And this, it seems to me, is
the response of everyone who truly comes to the Lord Jesus as a person,
and feels for Him as a real person whom we have met in a real, valid
encounter. The Lord responded to that woman by doing something which
may not seem a big deal to us, but which was radical in 1st century
culture. He criticized strongly the hospitality of His host. This just
wasn't done, and still isn't. He was angry- because despite the woman's
sincerity, they still labelled her as a 'sinner' (Lk. 7:39). He rebuked
Simon through the parable of the two debtors, who owed 500 pence and 50
pence. As that woman went away "in peace", with her Lord passionately
behind her and on her side, defending her to the world, so we too walk
away from our encounters with Him.
(1) I.H. Marshall, The Epistles of John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978) p. 128.
(2) Joachim Jeremias, The Parables Of Jesus (London: S.C.M., 1963) p. 126.
(3) Kenneth Bailey, Through Peasant Eyes (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980) p. 11.