ST ANDREW’S OCCASIONAL PAPERS
- Amen, amen
Over twenty times in his gospel, John records that Jesus said, “I tell you, amen, amen…..” So what did He mean by this opening to some piece of teaching? Our various translators have tried to help us. The old King James Version (i.e. the Authorised Version) has “Verily, verily, I say unto you…..” but verily is not a word we normally use now so we should look for something different – mind you many other versions have copied the King James Version. The New King James has “Most assuredly, I say to you…..”, the English Standard Version has “Truly, truly, I say to you…..”, the New English Bible has “In truth, in very truth, I tell you all…..”, the Jerusalem Bible has, “I tell you most solemnly…..” and the New International Version (which we use in Church) has, “I tell you the truth…..” What all these translations have in common is the idea of emphatic truth. So, surely, what Jesus is saying (and no one else uses this wording) is that what He is about to say really is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth and you had better listen and take note.
So let us look together at some of the teaching that Jesus introduced by these solemn, emphatic words.
“I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” (John 8:58)
In this teaching, Jesus reveals much about Himself, indeed it is one of the high points of John’s Gospel. The Jewish authorities had been questioning Jesus about who He really was and in the end He makes this tremendous claim. The authorities thought it blasphemous and “picked up stones to stone him” (8:59). They could see more readily than perhaps we can, that Jesus was claiming divinity, that He was God. We should note two things in particular. First, the correspondence to Exodus 3:14, “God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”. This was after Moses had asked by what name God was to be known. God’s reply is echoed by Jesus. Second, we should note the present tense – not I was, nor I will be, but I am. Jesus is God now. Can there be any greater teaching than that?
Je sus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” (John 8:34)
Jesus had just said that if people held to His teaching they would be set free. In reply He was told by His hearers that they had never been slaves so how could they be set free. Surely, this same attitude persists today. Most people outside the church would see themselves as free, free to make their own choices and to do what they liked within the limits of their particular situation. But what they would probably not accept is that they were slaves to sin. Now a slave has no rights, he or she has no freedom, he or she is more or less an object at the disposal of the slave-master. However once we sin – and we all do (Jesus excepted) – we are crippled by that sin. It is hard for us to appreciate how terrible sin is in God’s eyes. We are so used to it, both in ourselves and others, that we take little notice of “small” sins and we are hardly bothered by “large” ones (involving things like violence and even murder) unless they specifically involve us or our family and friends. So sin has us in its grip, we are its slaves!
Just contrast the depth to which humankind has sunk to the heights that Jesus knew (as was discussed in the previous section).
“I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me” (John 13:21).
“I tell you the truth, before the cock crows, you will disown me three times!” (John 13:38).
In the previous section we found that humankind was sunk in the mire of sin, now we see the depths of that mire.
The first of these remarks of Jesus was, of course, directed at Judas Iscariot, although it was said to all the disciples who were “at a loss to know which of them He meant” (13:22). For reasons that we may never know for sure, Judas did betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver, as had been foretold by the prophet Zechariah (11:12). He did later realise something of the depth of the mire of sin he had fallen into because he returned the silver before committing suicide.
The second remark was made to Peter who had said he was willing to lay down his life for Jesus, and, as all four gospels record, Peter did indeed deny Jesus three times. We should note that Peter did not suppress these failures even though he was leader of the young church. Jesus had forgiven him (Luke 24:34 suggests this) and recommissioned him (John 21:15-19).
However the challenge from both of these is “Would you or I do any better in similar circumstances?” Can any of us say we have always stood up for Jesus as we should have done? Does it not reveal just how weak we all are?
“I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes Him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24).
“I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life” (John 6:47).
Jesus has told of the immense gap between Himself in all His holiness and humankind lost in the mire of sin. Now he shows what He has done about it – for we are too stuck in the mire to be able to get out of it by our own efforts. It is so simple, all He asks is that the sinner will hear and believe in Him and His Father (because They work as one). So simple – to take Jesus at His word and accept what He was going to do on the cross, to take our sin on His own shoulders so that we could be free of the mire and could enter His kingdom. This is what is meant by having eternal/everlasting life (there is no difference in the Greek for these two words), not so much life that goes on for ever, but the sort of life that God has, free from sin and all its consequences such as pain and death. Life which He has made available to humankind through the work of Jesus.
However we must note the other side of the coin. The first saying points out that without belief the person will be condemned, condemned to spiritual death rather than eternal life. How terrible it is that so many choose to stay in the mire rather than be rescued by the Saviour.
“I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in some other way, is a thief and a robber” (John 10:1).
“I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep” (John 10:7).
The image has changed, no longer do we picture humankind floundering in the mire and through belief being rescued, but now we see the believers as sheep under the care of the shepherd. Overnight the sheep were placed in a pen so that they could not wander off. But there was only one way into the sheep pen, only one gate and it was the Shepherd who led His sheep into and out of the pen through the gate. Then the Shepherd goes further and identifies Himself with the gate. Thus there is only one way in and that is through Jesus. He made it crystal clear when He said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Now this may not be the sort of thing many want to hear in these multicultural days of political correctness but that is what Jesus Christ said and as He is God, He should know. It is only through faith in Him and no other that we can know the security of the sheep pen and have the hope of heaven.
7.Grief and Joy
“I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy” (John 16:20).
Jesus is speaking to His disciples telling them of things that would shortly come to pass. To fully appreciate His teaching we need to try and think ourselves back to the time when it was given, because we “know what happened!”
The disciples were having to wrestle with the idea that Jesus was going to leave them and they found it very difficult to understand – which is hardly surprising. Very soon they were caught up in a chain of events which left them in deep grief. They saw Jesus betrayed by Judas into the power of the Jewish and then the Roman authorities. They knew that their leader, Peter, had denied knowing Jesus three times and had become a broken man (Matthew 26:75). They had some information about a series of trials culminating in Pilate sentencing Jesus to be crucified. They knew that this sentence had been carried out and that Jesus had been buried by others. No wonder they were heartbroken by what had happened to Jesus and their own failures. No wonder they would “weep and mourn” and grieve.
But soon they would become part of another chain of events. They would be told that Jesus had risen from the dead, that the tomb was empty. Then they would all meet Him, even if they found it hard to recognise Him. No doubt they would join with Thomas in his cry, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). Later they would see Jesus ascend to heaven (Acts 1:9) and they would receive the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. So their grief would turn to joy and they even became so joyful that some thought them drunk (Acts 2:13). But they knew the joy of the Holy Spirit not of wine.
We know this story so well that we neither feel the grief or the joy – perhaps that is something we should remedy.
“I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born again” (John 3:3).
There are some that say there are two types of Christians, ordinary ones and those that are “born again.” However this is not what Jesus taught. All Christians are “born again” which means that by faith and trust in Jesus they have passed from spiritual death to life. Whenever anyone turns to Jesus in faith they are “born again.” No wonder Jesus emphasised this most basic of teaching with the words, “Amen, amen.” Thank God that Jesus holds out His hands to each one of us and says, “Believe in me and then you have eternal life.”
Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version. © 1973,1978,1984, International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder and Stoughton, a member of the Hodder Headline Group. All rights reserved.