The Disposition of Christ


by J. Philip Scranton

"FOR THE LAW THROUGH MOSES WAS GIVEN; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ" (John 1:17). The law was given through Moses in a dreadful and awesome manner. Thick clouds of darkness were draped over the mountain. Thunder crashed, lightning flashed, and smoke billowed up to the heavens. Anyone, man or beast, touching the edge of the mountain was to be killed (Ex.19:11-21). But when Jesus Christ came, the unsanctified crowds pressed in upon Him, and those touching the edge of His garment were healed.

Today we have a message of grace: the word of the conciliation. Yet we may find ourselves at a loss regarding its presentation, especially when met with hostility or indifference. Christ's presentation of Himself to His nation, as recorded in John's account, provides us repeated examples of gracious dealing that fully accord with a message of grace.

That Christ should be approved and officially recognized by the Pharisees and Sadducees as the Messiah was vital to the message of the kingdom being "at hand". But Christ was not solicitous of such approval. Instead He performed His works and taught His doctrine and left it to the officials whether they would accept Him or not. He knew it was all in God's hands. "No one can come to Me if ever the Father Who sends Me should not be drawing him" (John 6:44,65). The Lord did not compel anyone to believe in Him, but He looked for and rewarded the faith that was given from heaven (John 4:46 ff; 8:19,47; 10:26,27).

It would be natural for one seeking a political position to spend most of his time at the capital, rubbing elbows with those in authority. But the Lord spent most of His time outside of Jerusalem, developing those with faith. John marks the visits of Christ to Jerusalem and Judea as if they were designed to be an intermittent prick in the nations conscience (John 2:13; 3:22; 4:3,47,54; 5:l; 7:3; 10:22; 11:7; 12:12). Christ was not underfoot at the capital, nor did He pester the nation's officials for approval. This exemplary behavior was foreshadowed in David's life. Contrary to the constant prodding of Joab, he would not lift his hand against the persecuting Saul, but he waited upon God to fulfill His promises. We also should be patient with the message of grace and wait upon the Lord to enlighten. Let us not be guilty of besieging others with our doctrines or of striving to make our own disciples.

One of the key issues of John's account is the origin of Christ. How could our Lord be the Messiah from Bethlehem when He was a Nazarene (John 7:40-43)? Christ could have answered this objection had He so chosen, but instead, He was silent. Why? If the miracles and character of His teaching were insufficient to convince, then God had not enabled belief, and no explanation would satisfy critical minds. Similarly, we have dealings with some who cannot believe in Christ or the evangel. A question of the feasibility of some matter blinds the eyes of their faith. Though we should try to help all grow in the realization of the truth, it is not our task to convince the skeptic. As in the days of our Lord's ministry, the servants who draw the water know where the wine comes from, but the chief of the dining room may be ignorant (John 2:9).

How should the message of grace be presented? Although Christ employed many methods to make His message clear, He never compromised His teaching. There were times when followers would say, "Hard is this saying! Who can hear it?" (John 6:60). Many turned away from Him. And, at such a moment as that, instead of encouraging the twelve, His closest, He challenged them too, asking if they also would have (John 6:67). So also, the message of grace should be presented clearly, but it should never be compromised.

Finally we note that Christ chose His conflicts. He never avoided a conflict that was necessary (John 11:7,8), even if that conflict was to be His crucifixion (John 12:23-28a; 13:1). He faced these situations with a strength and determination that sprang from His utter trust in His God and Father. When Pilate threatened to crucify Him, He replied, "No authority have you against Me in anything, except it were given to you from above" (John 18:11).

On the other hand, Christ avoided many conflicts that would be fruitless and would deviate from the ideal performance of God's will. He eluded the multitude that would use force to make Him king (John 6:15), and He avoided being arrested (John 7:44) and stoned (John 8:59; 10:31,39).

Though these situations are much more dramatic than any we face, still they are applicable to our circumstances. Holding forth a message of grace demands that we face some conflict. But there will also be useless confrontations that are best avoided, since they will yield nothing more than weariness to the spirit and occasion for the flesh to vaunt itself. May we be gracious in the ministry of grace.

© J. Philip Scranton
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