5. Sent with the sender’s presence (John 8:25-30) – a mission of partnership
‘Who are you?’ they asked. ‘Just what I have been telling you from the beginning,’ Jesus replied. ‘I have much to say in judgement of you. But he who sent me is trustworthy, and what I have heard from him I tell the world.’ They did not understand that he was telling them about his Father. So Jesus said, ‘When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.’ Even as he spoke, many believed in him.
Jesus was sent into the world by His Father. Jesus was the perfect Son of God who went to the cross in obedience to His Father. Jesus took our place on the cross, bearing God’s punishment for our sin. The Father poured out His wrath upon the Son. This is orthodox Christian teaching (the technical term is ‘penal substitution’ since the substitute takes the penalty for our sin), but it is potentially misleading. In fact, the image of God’s wrath being meted out upon His innocent son has come under attack – one writer said it sounds like “cosmic child abuse”. The problem is not, however, with the truth of the image – it is attested to throughout the New Testament and is necessary when the dynamic of sin, God’s wrath and the pattern of sacrifice established in the Old Testament are understood. The missing part is the realisation that the Father, far from being a distant and dispassionate observer of the life and death of Jesus was intimately involved with these events.
This constant involvement of the Father together with the Son is what Jesus says here in John 8 as He continues to dispute with the Jewish leaders and to confront the people with the stark choice whether or not to trust in Him. He states with confidence that His Father has never left Him and is constantly with Him, because He has done what pleases the Father. This principle is important to appreciate. What happened in the life and death of Jesus Christ was not some horrific plan of a megalomaniacal father forced on an unwilling or unwitting son. It was the enactment of a plan made before Jesus’ incarnation, indeed before the world was created, as the Father, Son and Spirit, the three-in-one, cooperated together in their plan of salvation. This is God’s eternal plan to redeem a people of God’s own. The Father and Son had different parts to play in the outworking of the plan, but they worked together in perfect harmony as they eternally must. The cross was God’s way of dealing with the problem of human sin within Himself. It was not only the Son who suffered as He bore our sin, but the Father too.
John 8 contains some of the most provocative words of Jesus – calling people children of the devil rather than of Abraham – and some of the most scathing accusations against Him – surely He was a demon-possessed Samaritan! The chapter ends with Jesus’ most direct claim to divinity as He states that He existed before Abraham did and, in doing so, uses the divine title “I AM”. In the middle of these heated discussions, Jesus expresses His confidence in His Father and explains that the people will not be able to appreciate the truth of His claims about Himself until after they have lifted Him up. The phrase “to lift up” is a double entendre. On one hand it refers to crucifixion – His body will be lifted up on a beam of wood – but it can also mean the exaltation of a ruler – their name and reputation established for all to see. Jesus is combining these two meanings to say that the cross is actually an enthronement. It is through the shame of the cross that He will receive glory and only after this exalting humiliation will His glory be seen by many. Of course there were those who saw the glory of Christ prior to the cross – those who believed even as He spoke the words recorded in John 8 – but they were relatively few and even they – Peter being a prime example – wavered in their faith as the reality of His condemnation faced them. The logic of victory through apparent defeat, life through death, glory through ignominy, did not compute in the minds of sinful human beings. Yet God’s wisdom confounds human wisdom.
Jesus lived in constant communion with His Father, who had sent Him. We are sent by Jesus as the Father had sent Him and this means that we too can be confident that the One who sent us will never leave us. He is our constant companion. We work in partnership with Him. This partnership is made reality through the activity of the Spirit who indwells Jesus’ followers. Indeed, the Spirit’s presence, given by His Father, was also key to the communion Jesus knew with His Father (see John 3:34). As we saw in the introduction to this series, the Spirit’s presence in us empowers for mission. In John 20:23 Jesus breathes on the disciples, representing and prefiguring the gift of the Spirit they will receive after His ascension. Without this gift they cannot be sent as He has been sent. In Pauline language, the Church is Christ’s body and continues His work in the world. As we engage in mission, the Christ who commissioned us is not distant and uninvolved. He is not some remote coordinator – rather He is with us to comfort and to empower.
The lesson that we learn for Christian mission from John 8 is this:
Christian mission proceeds in partnership with Christ through the Spirit – Christ continues to be present in our world through His people and He is identified with us in all our trials.