Study in John’s Gospel. Presentation 57. How To See God Chap 14v7-11. Presentation 57. Introduction.
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Philip makes a request that many Christians can identify with, "Lord, show us the Father." We know that God does not possess a tangible form. But still there are times when God seems so remote, so untouchable, that we earnestly wish we could see him and hear his voice in
words that actually strike our eardrums.
In such moments, we believe that if we could have
this experience, then we should find it easier to
live for God in an alien world. Have you ever had
such thoughts? If so, then Jesus’ reply should
be of great interest to you.
Philip's question arose in the context of Christ's teaching about knowing God. Jesus had said, "If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him." v7. Do you grasp the meaning of that statement immediately? No?
Jesus spoke in this way in order to provoke a
discussion on this subject. He knew that when
he was taken from his disciples they would be
plunged into dark despair. God would seem
remote to them. And so, he introduced the
subject in order to teach them that they had
already ‘seen God’ and were therefore to know
him from this time forward, whether they
realised it or not.
And so Philip says, “Lord show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” The O.T. speaks of a number of people who had some sort of glimpse of God. Philip may have been after a similar experience. E.g. Moses asked see God's glory and God had replied, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your
presence”. Exod. 33:19.
But neither Moses, nor any other O.T. character,
actually saw God as he is in himself. Still, as far
as Philip was concerned, their experience
suggested that there was a kind of spiritual
‘wow factor’ available!
That was what Philip was after.
Jesus replied by teaching what it really means to see God, and how we see him. He began by pointing out the limitation of the kind of seeing Philip had in mind. Philip thought if only he could see God with his eyes he would know him. Jesus replies, “Well I have been in your plain sight for three years and you don’t seem to know me”.
Clearly, the kind of ‘seeing’ that Philip had
in mind does not lead to a true
knowledge of anyone.
How many people believe that if they could only see a supernatural vision or hear a supernatural voice, they would be closer to God and could be satisfied? Oh, sometimes a vision or a voice can help to strengthen faith. Otherwise, God would not have given these to Moses, Elisha, Isaiah and some of the other prophets. But visions do not necessarily help.
Are we then deprived if God does not give such
visible spiritual encounters to us? No! Philip,
despite having seen Jesus in all sorts of
circumstances and over a long period
of time, still did not know him.
A further example of the limitations of seeing is found in the case of Peter, James, and John, who saw Jesus transfigured into his heavenly glory on the mountain. Here was a spiritual experience with a real wow factor! They obviously ‘saw’ a great deal.
But was this sufficient to convince them of Christ's divinity
and keep them faithful to him forever? Not at all! Peter
denied him. James was one of those who deserted him
in Gethsemane. And John, though he followed the
arresting party into Jerusalem, confessed that he
did not really believe in Jesus until after the
resurrection. John 20:8.
Jesus talks about the right kind of seeing, which is centred entirely on himself. Jesus says, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'?” v9. But what kind of seeing is this? This kind of seeing is illustrated by the story of Peter and John's race to Jesus’ tomb after the resurrection.
Note the three different words used for "seeing."
The first is ‘blepo’, John outran Peter to the tomb,
"and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying."
This is the simplest word for "seeing." It merely
means that the image of the grave-clothes
within the tomb had impressed itself upon
the retina of John's eyes - no more!
Moments later Peter arrived, he entered the tomb, and observed the grave-clothes. John uses a different Greek word ‘theoreo’ to describe what is happening. This word translated as ‘saw’ means to "puzzle over". Peter having entered the tomb and seeing the empty grave-clothes begins to ask,
‘What’s going on why are there grave-clothes here and no body?’
The sight before him puzzled him!
Then John entered and we read, ‘he saw and believed’. And the word translated ‘saw’ is ‘orao’, which means ‘to see with understanding,’ John ‘saw and believed.’ He saw and understood that the only thing that could account for the arrangement of the grave-clothes was a resurrection!
Well it is this third word ‘orao’ that Jesus uses in John 14.
Jesus says that the one who has ‘seen’ him has ‘seen’
the Father. He means that the one who perceives,
understands, grasps who he is, also perceives and
grasps who God is.
In English we use the phrase ‘I see’ in precisely the
same way meaning, ‘Oh, now I understand’.
In asking to be shown the Father, Philip was asking for a “demonstration”. Jesus answered that what he really needed was “spiritual discernment”. It is not a seeing with our eyes but an understanding with our minds and hearts that is all-important. Today, if physical sight were the important thing then we are deprived since we can neither see God nor Jesus.
On the other hand, if understanding is the true seeing,
then we are not deprived at all. Indeed, we can know
Jesus as well as and in exactly the same way as he was
known by his first disciples.
We should not be surprised to discover that the discussion of knowing and seeing gives way to a discussion of belief or faith. Why? In spiritual things belief must always come first; it is then followed by a true seeing or understanding.
Earlier in the Gospel, Jesus had said of the crowd, "Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders you will never believe" 4:48.
Jesus goes on to turn the "Seeing is believing" dictum, upon which this world operates, on its head. It is faith that enables us to access spiritual realities.
Faith is not to be confused with wishful thinking. And for this reason Jesus continues to talk about belief on two different levels. The first level is belief in his words; the second is belief in his works.
In other words, belief is not an airy fairy thing. It is as objective and tangible as the words and works of Jesus. Faith includes a recognition that what Jesus says is true. Jesus does not call for blind faith or a leap in the dark faith. He calls for a thinking faith. He calls on us to test his claims on the basis of the things said and the deeds done.
If I were to hold before you one of my wife’s chocolate cakes and say, this is the best chocolate cake you will ever taste. You might think, ‘Well he’s biased. He would say that about his wife’s baking. All husbands are the same’.
But if I were to cut you a slice and encourage you to eat it; then that is an entirely different situation. You are able to test my claim. You can prove its validity for yourself.
In exactly the same way the faith
that Jesus calls upon us exercise
involves putting his claims to
the test. In this way we are
able to make sure of their
trustworthiness. Have you
tested Christ's words?
An old man was dying and a Scottish minister by the name of Innis came to see him. He asked about his spiritual state and was told, "Mr. Innis, I am relying solely on the mercy of God; God is merciful and he will never condemn a man forever." When he became worse and was nearer death, Mr. Innis went to him again. This time the man said,
"Oh, Mr. Innis, my hope is gone; for I have
been thinking that if God is merciful, God
is just too; and what if, instead of being
merciful to me, he should be just to me?
What would then become of me? I must
give up my hope in the mere mercy of
God; tell me how to be saved."
The minister then told him of Christ‘s words and deeds. He told him how Christ had come into the world to save sinners. He told him how he had promised to do this by going to the cross to die in their place, how this had been done, and how Jesus had promised that none of those who had been given to him by the Father should ever be lost.
"Ah," said the man, "Mr. Innis, there is something solid in that;
I can rest on that. I have found that I cannot rest on
There is nothing else. Belief is meaningless unless
it rests on the words and works of Jesus.
But perhaps even now you feel that your faith is too small and that you will therefore never come to see God. If this is the case, notice that before he moves on to other subjects Jesus stops to say a word just to you. You may not be able to believe on the basis of his teaching alone, he argues. But you can surely believe on the basis of what he has done. “Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves” v11. To believe on the basis of the miracles is not the best kind of faith, but it is true faith regardless. It is better than no faith at all.