It is easy to miss the real Jesus these days– with all the media attention noting Christians and evangelicals supporting this or that candidate, issue, or past war or oppressive colonization. I myself have felt dismayed and ashamed of the widespread current and historic abuse of authority in the name of Jesus. I understand how people come to distance themselves from the oppressive side of a Christian heritage, or shelve their tainted faith altogether.
Yet there’s a loving presence and true spiritual authority that the world needs—humble, authentic, true. Jesus embodied this and exercised this authority in his earthly life, overcoming the oppressor ruler(s) of this world by defeating death through the cross. However Jesus’ overcoming authority is not obvious or even apparent at first glance. It’s not the presence and authority of a law-enforcement officer, MMA champion fighter or star scientist or athlete.
John’s Gospel alerts us early on that humility and rejection are normative for God. Jesus himself experienced rejection throughout his life, especially at the end.
“He must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation” (Lk 17:25).
It is all too common for those who follow Jesus to also experience being unseen, ignored or outright rejected. Jesus prepared his followers for this, identifying people’s acceptance or rejection of us with their acceptance or rejection of him, and of his Father.
“The one who listens to you listens to me, and the one who rejects you rejects me; and he who rejects me rejects the One who sent me” (Lk 10:16).
Our own experiences of being marginalized, invisible or rejected bring us into the widespread experience of many of the world’s sufferers– the imprisoned, elderly, homeless, lonely. A uniquely inclusive solidarity becomes possible, from which we can learn to exercise a distinct, liberating authority. This authority begins when we know ourselves to be born of God, children of the Father as our primary identity marker that outranks all other identifiers (national identity, ethnicity, party or religious affiliation, social class, education…).
John’s Gospel shows clearly how when God takes on human flesh in his son Jesus, he limits his visibility in the world to Jesus, in whom he is fully present.
No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known” (Jn 1:18).
Yet this “only begotten one,” identified first as the logos, translated “Word,” is the Creator God in full splendor. This Word is present from the beginning, with God and himself God, through whom all things came into being—life, light for all people, shining in the darkness, but not comprehended (v. 5).
“He was in the world, and the world was made through him, and the world did not recognize him. He came to his own, and those who were his own did not receive him” (Jn 1:10-11).
John’s Gospel shows that resisting this tendency to not recognize and reject the living Word revealed in Jesus is the doorway into God-given authority.
“But as many as received him, to them he gave the right [literally authority or status] to become [or be] children of God, even to those who believe in his name” (Jn 1:12).
When we receive and believe in the name of the un-recognized and rejected Jesus, God gives us authority to be [and become] children of God. This status comes through adoption and not through birthright, willpower, or any kind of merit system.
”Who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (Jn 1:13).
Our authority given at this new birth sets us on a journey of “becoming,” or growing into our heavenly child-of-God status and authority that looks like Jesus.
“And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw his glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14).
Looking to Jesus we see that the unique authority given to us by the Father does not look like worldly power and authority— identified with wealth and other kinds of visible success, influence, political power, etc. It does include ministering healing, liberation and confronting injustices in the power of the Spirit, as the Apostle Paul describes.
“I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Cor 2:3-4).
As we are born of God and grow into our heavenly status, we can expect to look increasingly like Jesus, both “full of grace and truth” and “a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, (1 Peter 2:4).
In John’s later Epistle this connection between Jesus’ humble, covert presence is made explicit:
“See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know [recognize] us, because it did not know [recognize] him. Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when he appears, we will be like him, because we will see him just as he is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on him purifies himself, just as he is pure” (1 Jn 3:1-3).
May the Spirit help us recognize the Word—life, light of the world, only begotten Son of the Father. May we come to know Jesus more and more fully, receiving him again and again. May each of us enter into our heavenly identity as a child of the Father, choosing this above all other identifiers. May we fully accept our adoptive status, authority, and empowerment by the Spirit, so as to fully participate in the liberation movement called the Kingdom of God here in the midst of the old, crumbling, increasingly authoritarian regimes.
Let us turn away from all false ways we lean on for security, authority and power, fixing our hope on Jesus. May we purify ourselves as he himself is pure—so that we may enter the blessed status: “blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God” (Mt 5:8).
See Guerrilla Bible Studies, Volume 1, Surprising Encounters with God, for a tried-and-tested Bible study on John 1, available here.