What Has Jesus Done?
On a cold New Jersey night, an old man, beard and hair grayed like the decades, sat watching a pickup basketball game. Younger men, half his age or less, dribbled, passed, shot, laughed and sweat. When one rolled his ankle and himself onto the ground, the old man’s nephew, Kevin, said, “My uncle can probably still play.” So the old man creaked his body, wrapped in his baggy sweats and hoodie, up and toward the court. At first, he played like you would expect. He shuffled slowly when he dribbled, missed open shots by a backboard's width.
Then something changed. He started moving more quickly, dribbling more confidently, shooting more accurately. He pivoted and crossed-over, laying up a reverse off-hand high off the glass. He rebounded his own shot, jumping to catch the ball above the hoop, slamming it through the webbing of the net.
Something was different than first appearance about this man. His actions betrayed something beyond an old man shuffling through the motions of a pickup game on a city park’s court.
Something similar plays out in John’s gospel. Jesus looks normal, but his actions betray something different about him. What Jesus does reveals who Jesus is. To set the context: Jesus has just claimed that he and the Father are one. The Jews clearly understood the significance of this claim, just as they had understood it when Jesus called God his Father and thus claimed equality with God (5:18), and after Jesus had claimed the revealed name of Yahweh for himself: “Before Abraham was, I am” (8:58). Then they had gathered stones to execute him and here they do the same: “Again the Jews picked up rocks to stone him” (10:31).
Jesus had blasphemed the name of God, he had committed treason against the covenant Lord, so they thought. His hearers had judged him, deliberated, and now mobbed together to execute him. Holding the stones, these hearers shift weight onto their back foot, stretch their arms back like a pitcher defending the honor of teammate who had been plunked by the other side. “Remember to aim for his head,” they whisper to each other.
Jesus does not panic. Almost as if he receives their backstretched arms ready to sling stones as an invitation to continue the conversation: Jesus replied, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these works are you stoning me?” (10:32).
They pause, fingers still curled around the stones, arms still backsprung for holy war. Jesus has confronted them with the silliness of their mobbing hatred with a triple argument: revelation, action, and deity. First, he has shown them. He has revealed to them. He has pulled back the curtain between creature and Creator, between men and God. Second, he has shown them many good works. He has poured out new wine from the waters of ritual purity (John 2:1-12). He has pulled back a royal officer’s son from the edge of death (4:46-54). He has delivered a man disabled for nearly four decades (5:1-8). He has multiplied a boy’s bag lunch into a feeding program for 5,000 men and their hungry families (6:1-15). He has washed a man’s inborn blindness away with his own spit mixed with Judean dust (9:1-41). Like a better Lebron when he came to Miami, Jesus says, “Not one, not two, not three, not four...” unimaginably good works. Works that, third, could have only come from God. Jesus has drawn back the curtain of the theater of divine action in the world so that they could have—should have— glimpsed the glory of God himself.
“We aren’t stoning you for a good work,” the Jews answered, “but for blasphemy, because you—being a man—make yourself God.” (10:33)
Their thighs and calves tense, holding their weight leaning onto their back feet, arms yet bent at the elbow, stones still ready to fly, their tone betrays their hearts. It should be obvious what they are doing, and why. They are all Jews there, and these were Jews who knew their Bibles: “And tell the Israelites: If anyone curses his God, he will bear the consequences of his sin. Whoever blasphemes the name of the LORD must be put to death; the whole community is to stone him. If he blasphemes the Name, he is to be put to death, whether the resident alien or the native” (Leviticus 24:15–16). They are single-issue stoners. You can do all the amazing things you want, Jesus, but when you claim to be God we have to do what we have to do. They were zealous and jealous for the Name, the singular name of the only true and living God, Yahweh, the God of creation and covenant.
Like I said, they perfectly understood what Jesus claimed when he said that he and the Father are one.
Jesus slows them down, and mounts his defense in this assembled mob judging and jurying him for a capital crime: Jesus answered them, “Isn’t it written in your law, I said, you are gods?, If he called those whom the word of God came to ‘gods’—and the Scripture cannot be broken—do you say, ‘You are blaspheming’ to the one the Father set apart and sent into the world, because I said: I am the Son of God? If I am not doing my Father’s works, don’t believe me. But if I am doing them and you don’t believe me, believe the works. This way you will know and understand that the Father is in me and I in the Father” (John 10:34–38).
If they are going to the text to justify their mob justice, their “lynch law” (Carson, John, 396), he appeals to the text to defend himself against their assault. He appeals to them with Scripture, what he calls here “your law.” He charges them with inconsistency, with cherry-picking the parts of the Bible they apply with steel-spined rigor. He quotes Psalm 82:6 to them: “I said, ‘You are gods,’” which continues, “‘you are all sons of the Most High.’” Psalm 82 envisions the one God standing in the “divine assembly,” the council of angelic powers and human rulers (82:1). It refers to these powers as “gods,” because divine power authorizes their rule and leadership. God confronts these rulers for privileging the privileged and marginalizing the vulnerable, calling them to advocate for the oppressed (82:2-4). Their minds are dark and the earth shakes with their failures (82:5). At this point, the Psalm confronts them: “You are gods, sons of the Most High.” God has entrusted them with power, such that they present those under their authority with the power of God. They are “sons,” inheritors of the divine throne. But their failure reveals their future: “However, you will die like humans and fall like any other ruler” (82:7).
By citing this Psalm against the leaders, Jesus both defends himself against their cherry-picking application of Scripture and he also brings a counter-charge. First, he defends himself by pointing out their inconsistent interpretation of Scripture. Basically, he use a Jewish mode of argument called Qal Wahomer, or “lighter to heavier.” He argues that if the Bible can use “gods” about created beings, little “s” sons in some sense, how much more so could the unique, capital “S” Son claim to be one with the Father without blaspheming the Name. Second, he charges them with the failures described in Psalm 82, and sentences them to judgment for that failure.
He evidences his claim to be the sanctified sent Son through the works he has shown them. As one of the Jewish leaders said after Jesus had unblinded the man in chapter 9: “If this man were not from God, he wouldn’t be able to do anything” (9:33). Assess my actions, he asks them. If these actions are not from the Father, don’t believe me. Look at what I have done. He asks us the same thing today: assess my actions. Look at the what the name of Jesus has done in the world.
When the world shut down for Covid, I leaned into the opportunity to read and listen to God and others through the Good Book, the Bible, and other good books. A favorite was Dominion by Tom Holland (no, not the kid who plays Spider-Man). Holland traces the various threads of Christian faith and practice which have woven the fabric of the origins and developments of our culture and society. Widespread literacy, the dignity of every human person, care for the poor and vulnerable, love above power—these are Christian virtues, ultimately centered in the person and the work of Jesus Christ.
But the long narrative of the world may seem abstract and distanced from us, so we can look even closer. Look at the work of Jesus in the lives of real people. Maybe you witness to this truth, like I do. Maybe you know someone who got super religious, and it makes little sense to you. Yet you can’t deny the change in that person. What can explain a man weeping his thanksgiving while his multi-million dollar enterprise falls like ash around him? What can explain an octagenerian widow praising the name of God after the loss of an adult grandchildren caps off a decade of suffering and sorrow. These folks would tell you a name–Jesus.
Look at what I have done and I’m still doing, Jesus says. To us, and to them. If we will see, we will see the nature and the face of God: “This way you will know and understand that the Father is in me and I in the Father.” The great theologian John of Damascus (AD 675-749) wrote in Greek and explained this interpersonal relation in God. Theologians today use the Greek word he used: perichoresis, or the English explanation: “mutual indwelling.” The Father and the Son are eternally, fully, personally distinct, while being eternally, fully, personally “in” one another. Thomas Aquinas explained it this way (don’t get too lost in all in the technical medieval scholastic theological language, because there is gold in here):
There are three points of consideration as regards the Father and the Son; the essence, the relation, and the origin; and according to each the Son and the Father are in each other. The Father is in the Son by His essence, forasmuch as the Father is His own essence, and communicates His essence to the Son not by any change on His part. Hence it follows that as the Father's essence is in the Son, the Father Himself is in the Son; likewise, since the Son is His own essence, it follows that He Himself is in the Father in Whom is His essence. This is expressed by Hilary, “The unchangeable God, so to speak, follows His own nature in begetting an unchangeable subsisting God. So we understand the nature of God to subsist in Him, for He is God in God." It is also manifest that as regards the relations, each of two relative opposites is in the concept of the other. Regarding origin also, it is clear that the procession of the intelligible word is not outside the intellect, inasmuch as it remains in the utterer of the word. What also is uttered by the word is therein contained. And the same applies to the Holy Ghost (Summa Theologica, 1a.42.5-6).
God is different than creation in general and than humans in particular. We can’t be “in” another person, even a dentist prodding their fingers into your mouth is not a form of “mutual indwelling.” God is different. God externally is and exists in triunity. The Father eternally begets the Son and the Father and Son eternally breathe out the Spirit, without time, without separation, without change, without parts or passions, without loss or gain. The Father is therefore in the Son and the Son is in the Father because they have the identically same essence, nature, or Being. “The Father is in me and I am in the Father and ‘I and the Father are one,’ have the same meaning” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on John, 10.6.1466).
Remember the context of Jesus claiming this. He claims that he and the Father hold as with a single hand their people in eternal saving safety, because he and the Father are one Being (10:30). The Jews hear this and charge him with blaspheming the one true and living God of creation and covenant. As they raise the stones to execute him in holy obedience, Jesus stops them and reminds them of the works they have already seen from him. He presses them, again, to look and to see what is real and true. He is the Son of the Father, he is the Word made flesh, he is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. They want with all their hearts to love and know and obey God, but they are missing God in flesh in front of them.
They are like Paul’s Jewish friends, zealous for God but not according to knowledge (Rom. 10:2). In that passage Paul diagnoses the source of spiritual blindness. He longs for his Jewish brothers and sisters and friends to find salvation by following the Savior. But they are caged in by their own sin: “Since they are ignorant of the righteousness of God and attempted to establish their own righteousness, they have not submitted to God’s righteousness” (Rom. 10:3). In other words, they have bought into the “DIY” mindset that sin baked into the human condition. We want to save ourselves, and we reject the salvation of God. And we can’t see God in front of us.
So we are called, like they were, to listen and look before it’s too late.
So he departed again across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing earlier, and he remained there. Many came to him and said, “John never did a sign, but everything John said about this man was true.” And many believed in him there (10:40-42).
You might have seen the video when it went viral. Kevin’s uncle, “Uncle Drew,” was not an uncle, not an old man at all. He was NBA star Kyrie Irving in disguise. Now, Jesus didn’t just wear our nature like a costume, but he actually became a human being. God the Son took human nature into his person, so that he was one person who had two distinct natures.
And he’s inviting you and me to look, to listen, because what he does reveals who he is.