Friday 10 August

Australian Rikk Watts is the speaker for the morning Bible Teaching at New Horizon this week. Initially an aeronautical engineer, Rikk later worked with IBM while studying philosophy, art history, and sociology at LaTrobe University. He went on to complete two Masters degrees in theology (OT & NT, Gordon Conwell) and a PhD (Cambridge).  After 20 years of teaching at Regent College, Vancouver, Rikk and his wife Katie recently returned to Australia where he is the Dean of the School of Theology at Alphacrucis College.   Here the NH Media Team bring you notes from his final message:

Today, I want to talk about the Trinity in the life of the church [in action]. But I just wanted to clarify (carrying on from yesterday) that I DO believe that Jesus is the Messiah. And I also believe that Jesus is the Son of God. Yesterday, I wanted to make the point that He is actually more than that. Some of us think that to be the “messiah” means that you are God. That is not what Israel expected in their scriptures. The Jews  themselves did not associate the messiah with being God.

Yes, Jesus is the Messiah. He is the Son of God. But He is so much more than that. He is LORD – Yahweh.

In the scriptures, the language of being called “God’s son” doesn’t mean that someone is God. The reason for spending so much time yesterday was to demonstrate that we know that Jesus is God because He does the stuff that only God can do.

The Biblical story is much more history than abstract  thinking. In those scriptures, Yahweh Elohim formed Israel to be His son. He wanted Israel to be an example people. They were meant to reflect His character in the way they lived. They were meant to be a light to the nations.

The Creator God became the Father of Israel and they became His son. The problem is that neither God’s son Israel nor the Davidic kings kept their part of the covenant. But our God is faithful. What is needed is a true son of God. What happens is that Yahweh Himself says, “I will be the faithful Israel, Israel never was. I will be the faithful Davidic son that none of the kings were able to be.” God keeps His word. He made promises to Israel. He made promises to David. Even if Israel and the Davidic kings broke their part of the covenant, Jesus, as the Son of God fully fulfilled that.

In the Abrahamic covenant (when the animals were cut in two) Yahweh took upon Himself the burden of keeping that covenant.  He was the only one who passed through the death passage. Where else do you see a bloody carcass, hanging on a tree in great darkness?  At the cross, where Jesus fulfils the covenant.

Yes, Jesus is the Son but He is also Yahweh on the cross. This is Yahweh Himself who said, “You think I’m like the gods of Egypt? I will stand on this rock. Strike me and I will bleed living water.”  The LORD is amazing.

The edgy bit is that it has made me wonder whether the father/son language belongs in our discourse about God. People took Father /Son language into the theology of the Trinity. Sons are always meant to be subordinate. If you place sonship into who God is, then Jesus has to be eternally subordinate.  If Jesus is fully God, how can He be subordinate? How can He come after God?

What I’m asking for is that we exercise great care when we speculate about the the Trinity. To quote Paul, let us not go beyond what is written.

Father: Whereas Israel’s scriptures have a focus on sonship, the New Testament encourages us to see God as Father. But the scriptures need to inform what we understand about fatherhood – let the Scriptures tell us who Yahweh is and then we can understand God as Father.

Comforter: The Spirit brings about Yahweh’s character in us. The primary command in the New Testament is NOT try harder. The primary commandment is be filled with the Holy Spirit so that He can form Christlikeness in us. If you meet Christians who are righteous by their will, they are scary. It is not about our will, trying to make ourselves good!

Looking at John 13 – 14

We all know John 13 – the story of Jesus washing His disciples’ feet. It is important that we hear sermons on this story. John’s introduction is all one sentence (the English language cannot handle that) and it is very important.

Before the Passover

At the Exodus, this was the time when Elohim revealed Himself as Yahweh. It was when He revealed His glory and particularly at the smitten rock and in His response to Israel’s idolatry. We know that Jesus is the “I AM”. He is the one who “tabernacled” among us.

Knowing the hour had come

Everything in John had been moving to this point. Do you remember the wedding at Cana and Jesus said, “My hour has not yet come.” Jesus was thinking about the true wine of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Israel has run out of wine in more ways they can imagine.  There has been a famine of the word of God in the land and the prophets have not longer been speaking.

Loving His own

Love is foundational through this whole passage.

It being supper

This is a sacred meal expressing friendship. It is the model for what we now celebrate as the Lord’s supper.

The Devil having put it into Judas’ heart

Sin is crouching at the door. Even in this most holy and sacred moment, Satan had put evil into Judas’ heart. There is no room for bitterness, betrayal or gossip in the kingdom of God. We don’t hang onto unforgiveness. It might just be the reason our churches have no spiritual authority is because we tolerate this stuff. We are defiling this incredible meal if that is what we do. Let that not be among us.

Knowing the Father had given all things into His hands

This is why Jesus can still wash Judas’ feet. All things are already ours. What is to be gained by hanging on to unforgiveness and competition or pride? All things are yours in Christ. It takes the pressure off. What we see in Jesus washing His disciples feet is what it means that all things are His (He had come from God and was returning to God) – there is no room for ego. This is God-centredness. He can serve and not be fussed. His action is what defines what God-centredness looks like.

He gets up from the Table

Guests do not get up from the table. Someone’s last words are really important. These words will define and encapsulate all His teaching up to this point. Instead John gives us an act. John understands what is going on here. We can say the words of institution until the cows come home but if we are not living out of this servant attitude, it means nothings. Ancient Judaism had lots to say about humility among its teachers but there were limits to humility. The teachers had to have the chief seats at the tables.

Amongst the “equality” of God’s people the great ones still have the special seats and the special places.  You do get guestures of service but this adoption of a slave’s role was entirely uncommon.

Jesus was behaving like a Gentile slave in the presence of Jewish masers. This act is completely unparalleled by any teacher of antiquity. Peter is outraged because He loves Jesus and this is not what honoured teachers should do! Jesus is showing that His “hour” had come. His death is an act of service. His death is not merely the means of bring us home to the Father. Since washing feet is how a host greets guests to His house, what we are seeing is the Father welcoming the disicples into His home. That might be more offensive, that God Himself would stoop to wash His people’s feet.

Peter doesn’t grasp the implications but Jesus makes it pretty clear. We’ve been through a lot.  After all we’ve been through, if you won’t let me wash your feet, then we are done! All of that stuff will mean nothing and you will have no part in me. It is stunning! Is that a word to us?

Imagine being a teacher at New Horizon. Having books published, standing on stages, etc.  All of that stuff, if it is not embedded in this menial heart of service, is not worth a cracker and He does not know us. That is important for us academics to know. We can be all about CVs, publications, etc.

Peter immediately says, “No, no, no… where’s the bath, let me jump in.”

This is John’s version of what it means to take up our cross. It is to take up our washbasin. It is what it means for Yahweh to lay down His life.

That, by the way, is what changed the Roman empire. They did not have radio stations etc.. They defeated one of the most powerful empires because they didn’t love their own lives but like their Saviour and LORD, they were willing to lay down their lives.

Jesus says, “I have done this as your teacher and LORD.” He says this twice. There is no room among us for great ones who strut their stuff. There is no room for someone to think they are important just because there are letters after their name. There is no room for boasting or lording it over others. It is never our church – it is His. Now we are seeing what He is like.

The biggest danger for people like me is that I was born with a big mouth. People like me always have an opinion. We are always going to be “blessing” others with our opinion. But how is that washing people’s feet? Maybe an act of my washing people’s feet is to listen.

This is also the only time in John that we read the word “apostles”… the “apostles” are not greater than the one who sent them. Even though Jesus was the physical manifestation of God on the earth… He did not “grasp” His equality with God. Being found in human form, He humbled Himself even unto death.

Can I suggest that if you really want to see this country awash with the Gospel, this is the way to do it?

He says,  “Blessed are you if you understand and know these things.” Jesus is not talking abou the mechanics of having two natures. It is the character of Yahweh that matters – how we live this out.

All of this sets the scene for Jesus’ announcement of His coming betrayal. Judas goes out into the night, having taken the bread. And yet Jesus does not get upset. This is where the light of the world shows that the darkness of the world cannot overcome it.

He announces His departure and gives them a new commandment, “Love one another as I have loved you.” Think about it in terms of Passover. Following the Passover, Israel received the 10 commandments. This commandment trumps all the others.

People can tell when we use rules to control people and not bring life. Notice that Jesus defines what love is! We don’t start with ourselves and we are not the measure of what love looks like. This is not an arrogant, self-assertive, autonomous love. The love we are meant to have is, “…as I have loved you.” It is rooted in Jesus’ nature and  that  is the only reason it changes the world.

The news of Jesus’ departure overwhelms the disciples. Peter tells Jesus, “I will lay down my life for you.” All of us echo that. Don’t we sing exactly these kinds of words? We have a room full of Peters saying “yes” right here. And Jesus says, “Really? You are going to betray me by morning.” That must have stung!

This is where our chapter divisions let us down.   Jesus goes on to say, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled.” Why? Because this whole thing was never about you in the first place. Don’t you remember the Exodus? “I AM who I AM.” I will do this. I will redeem you. I will bring you to the land.

Yes, we will betray Him in all kinds of way. But good friends, get over yourselves. This is all about Him. It is about Yahweh and what He does. He is the one who lays down His life.

Immediately after that comes two summons, “ Believe in God and believe in me.”

That word “take you to myself” is a marriage metaphor and we remember that Jesus is the Bridegroom. This is always about the presence of Yahweh dwelling among His people. What does Jesus go on to speak about?

“I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.” – No one gets to know Elohim as Father apart from who Jesus is.

“Whoever has seen me has seen the Father?” If you want to know what God looks like as Father, look at Jesus. And what has He just done? He has washed their feet. That is what the Father looks like.

Yesterday, we went through all those works that demonstrate that this is not just Jesus… it is Yahweh Himself.

If you love me, the Father will give you the Comforter (the Spirit) and those who love me will keep my word. That is a promise. Love God and you will end up looking like Him. Love God and watch your life change. Love God and you will see the Spirit doing what He does best, forming Yahweh’s character in us.

We will come and we will make our home with them… What is this Father’s house of which Jesus speaks? At the beginning of Gospel the disciples asked, “Master, where do you live?” meaning where do you have your being? At this last meal, we learn that He dwells (has His being) in us.

You are the “house” that He is preparing.   The Trinity is about God in us… transforming, life-giving. We become His very temple. That is why there are many mansions. It is not because we haven’t betrayed Him because it was never about us in the first place. It takes off all the pressure and talks about a love that imitates Jesus.

The God of Israel is not all that fussed that we learn about how it all works but He is concerned about how we live!