Which of you convicts Me of sin? And if I tell the truth, why do you not believe Me? He who is of God hears God’s words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God.”
There are times in the Gospel of John, particularly when Jesus is expounding His relationship with the Father, that you wonder, “How is it that Jesus is able to say all this stuff?” I mean, if someone were to come up to you and say, “I and the Father are one, therefore you should listen to me,” we’d think they were delusional. Yet, so much of what Jesus teaches in the Gospel of John runs this way.
Today’s meditation is an example. Jesus asks His opponents, “Which of you convicts Me of sin?” He goes on, with the assumed answer of “none of us,” saying “And if I tell the truth.”
This is an interesting juxtaposition of concepts. To be convicted of sin is to tell a lie; to not be convicted of sin is to tell the truth. Again, notice the flow, “You can’t convict Me of sin, and [therefore] if I tell the truth…” In other words, to understand the passage correctly, we should understand Jesus saying, “You can’t convict me of lying.”
But again, how would you accuse someone of lying who comes up and says, “I and the Father are one. Prove me wrong.” That’s a demand for credulousness exceeding what most people are willing to do. So you have to trace back in the Gospel what’s going on here, and when we do, Ground Zero serving as the basis for Jesus’ claim is His baptism.
We begin earlier in the chapter from which this week’s Gospel comes. According to Jewish Law, no single person could simply make a claim and have everyone believe it just because he says it. No, he needs a witness of at least two men. Jesus claims proof of His claims does come down to two men, that being He and the Father: “It is also written in your law that the testimony of two men is true. I am One who bears witness of Myself, and the Father who sent Me bears witness of Me.”
So there it is. But this could only exasperate the possible delusion. “Hey, guys, I’m God! You don’t believe me, will then what do you say about the fact that God and I agree I’m God, huh?”
No, there needs to be some witness, some visible proof that Jesus in fact is the Son of God, and this was given at Christ’s baptism. As Jesus says, “If I bear witness of Myself, My witness is not true. There is another who bears witness of Me, and I know that the witness which He witnesses of Me is true. You have sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth.”
And if you’re wondering what Jesus is referring to, there’s this: “And John bore witness, saying, ‘I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him….And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God.’”
We know from the other Gospels as well that the Father testified there, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
So very clearly, the baptism of Jesus is intended to be the foundation of His teaching, the testimony that He is the Son of God, one to be heard, one to be believed, one who speaks the Truth. And as Jesus goes on in the Gospel for this week, if this is the case, why don’t His enemies believe Him?
But let’s look at the big picture again and analyze it according to our bigger project of countering Gnosticism, and the spirituality of our day. Gnosticism could not offer sensory proof of anything because the senses – ears, eyes, etc. – only took in the physical world, which is an evil delusion. The senses can only be deceptive according to Gnosticism, conforming our thinking to the cosmic architecture of a fundamentally evil world.
So how do you verify a true Gnostic? It all boils down to personal charisma, inner feelings, getting the glimpse of “gnosis” and whatnot. This, again, is the “inside out” way of validation.
Jesus falls in line with Jewish Law, which could not depend on inside-out validation. No, it needed visual testimony, proof. There had to be something witnessed, seen, for it to be true. And this is why at some point in Jesus’ ministry, there needed to be the witnessed proclamation of the Father declaring Jesus to be His Son. His baptism certainly fulfilled this, but so did His transfiguration, so foundational to the apostolic witness.
In our age today, so much boils down, once again, to people’s personal feelings and beliefs, or to some charismatic person’s claim to the truth, without any validation that what they say is actually true. “This is just what I believe,” you’ll hear. And if you say, “Prove it,” they’ll look at you blankly as if you’ve just broken the rule about what faith is. Faith is blind, evidently.
Meanwhile, science has monopolized the arena of proof standards and validation, as if the only way to prove something is with an experiment and numbers (itself a gross presumption and something often not proven accurate).
No. Christian faith is rooted in provable events and provable occurrences. In a certain sense it is very “scientific.” It’s an “outside in” model of validation. All the lines of the Apostles’ Creed were witnessed by others, save perhaps the descent into hell. It’s easy to see how the crucifixion, ascension, resurrection, and virgin birth were witnessed (that last one is an interesting discussion!), but how was it witnessed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, our Lord? That comes from His baptism first, and His transfiguration.
So yes, Jesus and the Father are two witnesses validating that what He says is true. Which leads us back to the question Jesus asks, if that is the case, why would everyone not hang on everything that comes out of His mouth? He gives the answer, because not all are “of God.” But we are of God, for we believe in the one whom He has sent. That being so, we most certainly do hang on every word of Christ.