I don’t know that I can identify a single verse of scripture that I would label as my over-all favorite. I don’t have a “life verse” and am not even certain I know what it means to have one. But if I could identify my top forty or fifty verses in the Bible, one of those would be John 1:18.
No one has ever seen God, but God the only Son who is at the Father’s side has made him known. – John 1:18, NIV-1978
Explaining the Father
I am fond of the phrasing in the NASB translation where we are told that Jesus has “explained” God to us. It is ἐξηγήσατο, a term of exegesis, as though Jesus has expounded God before our eyes. The writer of Hebrews tells us that Jesus is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his nature (Hebrews 1:3). Jesus was incredulous at Philip’s request, “Show us the Father,” and told Philip in no uncertain terms, “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:8-9).
The λόγος became flesh and pitched his tent among us. Before this, no human had seen God, because no one can do so and live (Exodus 33:20). We don’t even know with certainty how to pronounce God’s name, יְהוָ֤ה, so we try to approximate it with “Yahweh.” We know the heavens cannot contain him (1 Kings 8:27, 2 Chronicles 6:18). We see God revealed in the creation, with the heavens declaring his glory and the firmament showing the work of his hands (Psalm 19:1). But in his pure essence, God is not visible to human eyes (1 Timothy 1:17, Hebrews 11:27).
Jesus said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30), so if we want to see the Father, if we want to grasp the human face of God, we will do so by looking at Jesus. He is the seeable essence of the unseeable God (Colossians 1:15). We learn the heart of God by watching Jesus.
What is the heart of God toward illness? Look at Jesus as the healer. What is the heart of God toward death? Look at Jesus with Lazarus, with the daughter of Jairus, with the son of the widow of Nain. What is the heart of God toward hunger? Look at Jesus feeding the multitudes with little more than a sack lunch. What is the heart of God toward debilitating illness? Look at Jesus as he performs multiple healings throughout the gospels.
The Most Overlooked Attribute
We can learn much of the heart of God regarding these things and more, simply by watching Jesus. But there is one attitude in the heart of God that is easily overlooked, and that is the one I will explore with you today. We could call it modesty, or humility. Here is how the apostle James puts it:
God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. – James 4:6b, ESV
And just in case we miss the impact of that, or we’re not sure we believe it, the apostle Peter also tells us:
God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. – 1 Peter 5:5b, ESV
It is telling to realize that Jesus stood among crowds of people, and they had no idea who he was. He didn’t wear special self-identifying attire. He did not levitate from one place to the next. He did not have a glowing halo mounted to the back of his head. When he spoke, there was not excessive reverb, or background orchestral music. The earth did not shake.
Then we must come to grips with the amazing fact that even Jesus’ cousin John did not know who he was. He said as much in John 1:31, “I myself did not know him.” But God identified Jesus for John by having the dove descend on him.
I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ – John 1:18, NIV-1978
John didn’t know who Jesus was. The crowd in whose midst Jesus stood didn’t know who he was. If you and I were there, we could not have picked him out from the crowd. When Judas betrayed Jesus, he made a deal with the captors saying, “I’ll kiss the one you’re looking for,” because they didn’t know who Jesus was.
What can we, as Christ-followers, learn from this reality?
Jesus is not an ego-centric, master-showman.
Jesus is No Egomaniac
The one time in all of scripture that Jesus opens himself and lets us see what is on the inside, he says, “I am gentle and humble in heart” (Matthew 11:29). Gentle and humble. Not flashy, brash, and overbearing.
The lowliest, poorest, meekest of society came to Jesus without feeling intimidation. That’s why children could run to him and climb onto his lap. To the pure of heart, nothing about Jesus is off-putting. He has no cold-shoulder.
Jesus repeatedly shattered societal and religious barriers, as he maintained that it is not the healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. Jesus plunged headlong into the brokenness of humanity: Adulteresses, prostitutes, traitors, Samaritans, Samaritan women, Roman soldiers, lepers. And he touched them all.
In contemporary society, we note that the more of a public figure one becomes, the less access to them is granted. I have witnessed well-known pastors, shepherds by name, who travel with security detail – armed men who are assigned precisely for the purpose of keeping people away from the pastor. With Jesus, the exact opposite is true.
When the disciples attempted to prevent access to Jesus, they earned a stiff rebuke for their trouble (Matthew 19:14). Throughout the gospels, no one is denied access to the Savior. Author Randy Alcorn once said, “The greatest danger of notoriety is you start thinking about you. People then exist to serve you, exactly the opposite of what Christ modeled.”
If those typically shunned by society are not drawn to us the same way they were drawn to Jesus, it is time for us to examine the extent to which we are conformed to the image of Christ. Jesus was a magnet to the outcast. That is the heart of God, and the heart that Jesus has “explained” to us.