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What do the Gospels tell us about God?39 It is customary to distinguish sharply the portrait of Jesus in the three Synoptic Gospels from that in John, usually to the detriment of the historical trustworthiness of the latter. While each Gospel writer has a distinct vantage point and develops his own unique theologyaddressed to a specific community, all four Gospels have one divine-human subject: Jesus the Messiah who is called the Son of God in each (Matt 16:16; Mark 1:1; Luke 3:22; John 1:34; 20:31).All four Gospels present Jesus as truly human and fully divine, though the way in which they do this varies. For example, in the synoptic tradition, the oneness of Jesus with the Father is seen most clearly inwhat he does. Jesus does and says things that can only be attributable to the God of Israel: he forgives sins unilaterally (Mark 2:1–12), so that those around ask, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (v. 7). He teaches with imperious authority, surpassing that of Moses and the prophets—“But I say unto you . . .” (Matt 5:22, 28, 32, 34, 39, 44 KJV). He performs exorcisms “by the finger of God” as a sign that God’s reign is present (Luke 11:14–20). He eats freely with sinners (Luke 15:1–2), anticipating the messianic banquet when “many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 8:11).On the other hand, in the Gospel of John, Jesus’ oneness with the Father is explicitly stated (John 10:30). In John, too, Jesus exercises divine prerogatives, including the power to give life (John 5:25–26; 10:28–29), to authorize work on the Sabbath (John 5:16–18), to send the Holy Spirit (John 14:15–18), and to make known to the disciples the Father’s love for them (John 17:25–26). In John, when Jesus’ enemies
pick up stones to hurl against him, they do so, they say, not because of his miracles but “because you, a mere man, claim to be God” (John 10:33). Yet, as Marianne Meye Thompson rightly says:Jesus is not the Son because he exercises these divine functions; rather, he exercises them because he is the Son. Out of and by virtue of his relationship to the Father, the Son gives life to the world, makes the Father known, carries out the Father’s will in the world, and so on. The activity and character of the Father are embodied in and through the Son.40The God whom we encounter in the Jesus of the Gospels is none other than the God of Israel, the great I AM, the one—and only one—who could say, “Before Abraham was born, I am!” (John 8:58). He is, as Matthew quoting Isaiah proclaimed, Immanuel—“God with us” (Matt 1:23).Unlike Marcion in the second century, the New Testament does not present Jesus as the emissary of an “alien God” but as the Son and Word of the God of Israel; the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the Godof the prophets. Jesus himself quotes the Shema (Mark 12:29) and refers to his own work as the work of “the one who alone is God,” “the only true God” (John 5:44 NRSV; 17:3). Matthew, more than any other