With the beginning of the Lenten season, I decided to read through the Gospel of John. Thanks to the library of books I have inherited through my husband, I have a copy of The NIV Application Commentary, by Gary M. Burge. I highly recommend it, but with a little caution. While I really enjoy it, there can be a temptation to immediately read what Burge says about Scripture rather than give time for the Holy Spirit to reveal more to you personally. I combat this temptation by reading a passage of Scripture, spending time journaling observations and reflections, and then reading the commentary. Burge’s book gives historical background for the passage, bridges the context for Scripture during that time until now, and provides commentary on the contemporary significance of the passage.
I started right at the beginning of John and read chapter 1. It is the story of John the Baptist and the beginning of Jesus’ disciples following Him. (Now would be a good time to take a minute or two and read John 1 in your Bible). What stood out to me the most was how each person experienced Jesus on their own. Each person is invited to “come and see” Jesus and through their experience, know Him. What often helps me to stand firm in my faith is the confidence I have in my own experience of Christ, making it easy for me to relate to this part of Scripture. I believe others must also experience Christ themselves to know Him. As Burge said, people “must have a personal experience that completely reorients who they are” (p 81). However, this was only half of Burge’s observation and I am so grateful for the challenge in the other half.
The point I missed is the knowledge the disciples had in addition to their experience. Burge makes a list of all the names associated with Jesus in the first chapter:
– Messiah (v 20,41)
– the Prophet (v 21)
– Jesus (v 29)
– Lamb of God (v 29, 36)
– one who baptizes with the Spirit (v 33)
– chosen [Son] of God (v 34)
– rabbi/teacher (v 38, 49)
– Christ/anointed one (v 41)
– son of Joseph (v 45)
– Nazarene (v 45)
– Son of God (v 49)
– King of Israel (v 49)
– Son of Man (v 51)
Isn’t that crazy? It puts me in awe of how Jesus filled each of those roles so perfectly and how He relates to us in so many different ways. What challenges me is how the disciples had scholastic insight into Jesus. When asked “Who is Jesus?” they had their experience to help answer as well as knowledge. I am called to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind”(Luke ). But how well do I really love the Lord with my mind? When people ask what my belief as a Christian is on dating, drinking, sex, or other things, do I know how to respond with the truth that Scripture teaches? Is there substance behind my love of God? My experiences can certainly play a role in my response, but the truth must be grounded in God’s Word.
“John the Baptist is not only experiencing personal self-effacement and an overwhelming desire to glorify Jesus, he can also give a correct theological explanation of who Jesus is. There is a theological substratum beneath his commitment. The same is true of the four men who follow in the story” (Burge p 85)
So the challenge I am facing is this: Is loving God a “spiritual mantra”(as Burge refers to it) or do I have and continue to seek more of the depth in understanding and knowing who I love?