So he said to them again, “I am going away, and you will seek me, and you will die in your sin. Where I am going, you cannot come.” So the Jews said, “Will he kill himself, since he says, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come’?” He said to them, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” So they said to him, “Who are you?” Jesus said to them, “Just what I have been telling you from the beginning. I have much to say about you and much to judge, but he who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him.” They did not understand that he had been speaking to them about the Father. So Jesus said to them, “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 authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.” As he was saying these things, many believed in him.
So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
(John 8:21-32 ESV)
The essential question the Jews asked Jesus was, “Who are you?” This is the question every human being must ask when confronted with Jesus. It is impossible to see someone do the things Jesus does and not ask that question. We cannot “demythologize” Jesus, because his works are neither mythic or mystical.
When John’s disciples came to ask Jesus, “Are you the one, or should we seek another?” he quotes Isaiah, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them.” (Luke 7:22) If Jesus only did these things somewhere in the history of mythology, we who believe have nothing to hope in. If the works of Jesus are only upper story stuff to be accepted “spiritually,” then everything we have believed is a lie.
When Jesus prays for his disciples in John 17:17, just before his death and resurrection, he says, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” Again he says, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”
Where we get fouled up as Christians is when we imagine, as the Pharisees did, that truth is always empirical; that all we need to know about God can be put in a book. But from the beginning it was not so. “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” (Genesis 2:15) What the man needed to know he needed to experience. There is no shortcut to the knowledge of God through the knowledge of doctrine any more than there was a shortcut to knowledge through the eating of fruit.
The gospel is eminently practical and physical. What did Jesus mean when he said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples?” To be a disciple you need that unique combination of listening and doing that only comes from going about with the living Logos. That’s why Luke, who presumably never met Jesus before the resurrection, says, “In the first book… I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach.” (Acts 1:1) He couldn’t separate the teaching from the doing.
I want to know Jesus today. So I must go where he goes and apply his Word in my going. I must go visit the man whose wife is dying of Altzheimer’s Disease even though I don’t really know him and it is inconvenient to my day. I must do it because Jesus has gone to Concord Hospital. I must prepare a healthy dinner and bring it to my neighbor who has diabetes because Jesus has gone across the street. And I must bring the words of Jesus with me when I go or I’m just doing good deeds. But let’s be clear: I am not going to these places because I don’t want to die in my sin or because I am obeying some law or even because Jesus said it was right to do. I’m going to these places because that’s where Jesus is, and I love him, and I want so badly to be with him that I will gladly do what’s uncomfortable if it means I get to spend time with him.