90 Days with Jesus, Day 37: John 8:12-20: The Scandal of Jesus’ Particularity

John 8:12-20

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” 13The Pharisees challenged him, “Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid.” 14Jesus answered, “Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid, for I know where I came from and where I am going. But you have no idea where I come from or where I am going. 15You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one. 16But if I do judge, my decisions are right, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent me. 17In your own Law it is written that the testimony of two men is valid. 18I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father, who sent me.” 19Then they asked him, “Where is your father?””You do not know me or my Father,” Jesus replied. “If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” 20He spoke these words while teaching in the temple area near the place where the offerings were put. Yet no one seized him, because his time had not yet come.

One has to admit, with even the slightest reflection on this world, that this world is, indeed, a pathetically dark and dismal place. Not a day can go by when we don’t read of some sickening new manner of killing or some despicable new manner of torture being invented by some decrepit and dilapidated person made in the image of God. It is rather disturbing, to say the least. Who among us doesn’t live with some sort of fear that we ‘might be next’ on some twisted deviant’s hit list? Who among us hasn’t been, at some point, afraid of the dark and what might lurk there?

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This chapter begins no differently than chapter 7 had ended (if we exclude, only for literary purposes, 7:53-8:11). Jesus speaks to the people, the people (leaders) argue with him, and when it was all said and done they tried to seize him, but no one was able to ‘because his time had not yet come.’ I have this idea in my head that Jesus’ time was not yet come until he said everything that he was meant to say. His time would be in the fullness of time—what Annie Dillard calls ‘the scandal of particularity.’ Or what Paul wrote in Romans, “You see, at just the right time…” (Romans 5:6a). Is God’s time so particular that things never happen apart from ‘just the right time’ or was it only with respect to Christ Jesus that the time was just right? If God is so particular, the I think nothing happens apart from just the right time. But how can it for people who pray ‘your will be done on earth as it is in heaven’?

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As an example of this particularity, I offer this quote by Karl Barth, but I offer it with a small disclaimer. I confess that I am not entirely familiar with Barth’s theology. I have read three of his books (Dogmatics, pt 1, Romans, and Homiletics), they are difficult reads, and I make no profession to understanding all that he said. To be sure, this quote I offer here may not have the complete context, but it appears that what Barth is doing is showing that even the smallest (most particular) of details was not left up to chance, his race any more than the timing. As to the stated principle I agree; as to the consequences of this principle, I’m not sure. He wrote,

“The Word did not simply become any “flesh,” any man humbled and suffering. It became Jewish flesh. The Church’s whole doctrine of the incarnation and the atonement becomes abstract and valueless and meaningless to the extent that this comes to be regarded as something accidental and incidental. The New Testament witness to Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, stands on the soil of the Old Testament and cannot be separated from it…The Christian kerygma as it is addressed to the world has this statement about an Israelite at its very heart. This means nothing more or less than the bringing of the world into the sphere of the divine dealings with the people Israel. It does not speak generally of the existence of a Son of Man who became man for many (with many in view), but of the fact that the Jesus who has come as the Messiah of Israel has come into the world as the Saviour of the world…His universality is revealed in this particularity.” (Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics IV.1, 166-7)

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Jesus also said this: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” He makes this statement or a statement similar to it in three other places in John’s Gospel (11:9, 10 and 12:35). It’s not the content that I am concerned about here (although John has introduced this conflict between light and dark as early as the first chapter in his Gospel). Rather, it is this other scandal of particularity, mentioned by Barth in the quote, but stated absolutely here by Jesus. It is this: there is no salvation apart from Jesus. Christians did not invent that claim. Christians did not ask for it to be that way. Christians are those who have accepted it as the truth. Christians are those who have said, “If Jesus said it, then how can anyone else say it?” Of course, others can say it which is precisely what makes the claim of Jesus so revolutionary: He backed up his claim at Calvary.

So he says, ‘If you knew me, you would know my Father also.’ There is virtually no difference between this statement and the one he made in verse 12. If you want to know the Father, then you must know Jesus. It’s rather obvious why this statement is so continually repeated in John’s Gospel. Over and over again: Jesus is the Way, Jesus is the Light, Know Jesus-know the Father, Look to the Son—formulate any combination you like and it all adds up to the same thing: Jesus is all we have.

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Finally, there was the particularity of testimony. “I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father, who sent me.” Of no one else has the sky cracked open and the Father testified as such but Jesus. Even when Moses and Elijah stood on the Mountain of Transfiguration (Matthew 17, etc.), only of Jesus did the voice say, “This is my Son, listen to Him.” When the terrified disciples opened their eyes who was left? Moses? Elijah? No; only Jesus. Only of Jesus did God say, “This is my Son whom I love, with Him I am well pleased.” There is simply no getting around it and that is why John continues to draw us back to it time and time again. He is concerned that we understand just how particular God is when it comes to salvation, eternal life, walking in the light—or any of the other metaphors you wish to copy from John—His way; the Jesus Way.

There are a great deal of people and preachers available right now whose sole purpose it is to distract people from this particularity. It the purpose of John to show us in as many ways possible that those folks who try to turn our eyes from Jesus are lying liars who tell lies (a little Al Franken humor there). John keeps bringing us back to the same message time and time again by recording for us the various times, places, and ways that Jesus expressed this truth about himself. If you are reading John hoping to come to some other conclusion or learn some other thing you are not getting what John is writing.

The Scandal of particularity took three forms here. One was from Jesus’ mouth: I am the light of the world (which means no one else is). A second was from the Father’s mouth: He testified about Jesus in a way about which he testified to no other. A third was in the matter of time: He came in the fullness of time. Think you now, at this moment in your life, that there is any less scandal of particularity? Think you now that God’s providence has guided you any less?

Soli Deo Gloria!

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