Mark 13:31 “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”
We know that the Lord Jesus Christ made a great impression on people. They were struck by his whole personality; they had never met a man of such integrity, kindness and purity. They were also staggered by his mighty works; he never failed to heal any sick person who came to him however advanced the disease; he had banished illness from Galilee. But most of all people were impressed by his teaching. No one they’d ever heard spoke to them as Jesus did, and the challenge Christ presents to us lies, above everything else, in his words. His way of speaking, his unusual expressions, and above all how he referred to himself and the extraordinary claims which he made were all provocative.
For example, in the words of our text notice that Jesus doesn’t say that the words of Moses and the prophets would endure for ever, but his words, what he had just said to them, would never pass away. He sat with them on that hill overlooking the temple in all his ordinariness as a man; they had met his mother and the rest of his family. There was nothing distinctive about his outward appearance; no halo; no Hollywood beauty; no Mr. Pretty Face. They had seen him tired, thirsty, angry and crying, having to perform the normal bodily functions of any other man, and yet he made this claim, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (v.31). There is nothing common about a man who makes a claim like that. Such a man might be a deceiver, telling lies in order to gain influence over multitudes of gullible people, hungry for fame and power – but laying down his life? That isn’t the work of a wicked man. Maybe Jesus was a lunatic – a kind of megalomaniac or a holy fool, but there again someone who preaches the Sermon on the Mount is hardly insane. If he is neither crazy nor evil then Christians believe that Jesus is what he claimed to be.
The great challenge of the gospel, I say, is Jesus Christ’s self-consciousness or self-presentation. What we see in these words is not a one-off claim to divinity tucked away in this single verse. I want to show you today that such amazing words as these actually are representative or typical of his entire ministry. In other words, in a multitude of ways, some subtle and others in your face, the Lord Jesus presented himself to people as someone who was more than a human being. He was always conscious that he was not a man only, but he was also the Son of the Father. We get our first hint of this in the one incident in the gospels concerning the boy Jesus.
1. FROM THE VERY BEGINNING HE WAS CONSCIOUS OF HIS UNIQUENESS.
There is no hint in the gospels that his head had been turned by the ground swell of adulation, and the vast crowds that hung on to every word he said day after day. It was not that the simple healer and rabbi from Galilee became puffed up, giving himself exalted views of his own identity. Rather, from the beginning, and at every stage of his life his self-understanding is extraordinary, and this was true even as a boy. Luke opens one window on the 12 year-old Jesus when he was taken to a feast in Jerusalem and Jesus got separated from his parents. When they returned to Jerusalem a day or two later searching for him they found him in the temple talking with the teachers of the law asking these rabbis profound questions, and speaking to them with an unusual dignity and insight. When his parents expostulated with him he replied, “Why were you searching for me? . . . Didn’t you know that I had to be in my Father’s house?” (Lk. 2:49). His self-consciousness that he was his Father’s Son was the most potent, single factor in his life, and if we ignore that we will never understand him. Jesus wanted to yield full obedience to God as a boy, to be about God’s business. Before he was a man of God he was a boy of God. He was saying then, “Take my life and let it be consecrated Lord to thee.” That was the chief characteristic of his entire life, and it is there in his pre-teen years, even at that stage of his existence. Then he was conscious that he was walking with destiny.
But he rubbed shoulders constantly with other people, some of them important to him, his mother and the man she was married to, both of whom he must honour all his days. Jesus had to live within such a tension all his life – as we do. We are aware that we are presenting our bodies to God as our reasonable service, that we are to love him above everything else, and yet we work in an open plan office with our colleagues. Maybe we are the only member of our family who is a disciple of Christ, and sometimes we have to do and say things that show we aren’t going in the same direction as they are. We love our work mates and classmates and our family members as we love ourselves, but we love God with all our hearts. Perhaps we became Christians when we were twelve years of age and then throughout our teens there were pressures on us from family and friends to go another way. Yet here is Christ and he is reminding his mother, no less, that he has a Father in heaven, and this Father’s work has first place in his life, and he must seize every opportunity to grow in understanding of his Father and the business his Father has for him.
2. CHRIST OFTEN BEGAN HIS STATEMENTS VERY STRIKINGLY
We are now moving on to consider our Lord’s public ministry when he went about teaching and preaching. Often our Lord began his sayings with such a phrase as “I tell you the truth” (v.30). The prophets usually prefaced their words with the phrase “Thus says the Lord . . .” but our Lord never said that. He speaks on his own authority. He never thinks it’s necessary to appeal to something higher to get his hearers to listen and believe him. Solely on the basis of his own authority he spoke on the Sabbath, on divorce, on oaths, on the right understanding of the law, and always there was this refrain, “But I say unto you.” The rabbis always sheltered behind other rabbinical teachings and schools. Their traditions gained authority when they were supported by the views of some dead rabbi, but the Lord Jesus never quoted a rabbi, and never appealed to another writer. He never told people to go to Moses, or to the prophets. “Come unto me,” he said, and then he promised what he would do for them if they came. Or he would arouse their attention like this, “Listen to me everyone, and understand this . . .” (Mk.7:14). Then he would go ahead and teach them. He was conscious that his words had authority in themselves. They didn’t need to be propped up by other greater teachers. He spoke as if he were God himself. There is a contemporary Jewish writer whose name is Ben-chorin and he wrote a book about Jesus in 1967 and it is this feature about Christ that perplexes him so much. The conclusion that he comes to is that Jesus must have quoted the rabbis; it would have been unthinkable for any Jew to speak like this but that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all expunged such references from their gospels. Ben-chorin’s own views of Jesus require him to arrive at that theory.
Or again one of Christ’s characteristic phrases were the words “Amen, Amen.” The Authorised Version translates those words “Verily, verily.” You know the context; Jesus is making some statement that glows with authority, freshly minted, and utterly convincing in itself, for example his words to Nicodemus, “no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again” (Jn. 3:3). That is striking enough, but he actually prefaces that statement with the words, “Verily, verily I say unto you,” or “Amen! Amen! No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” The “Amen, Amen” actually endorses the truthfulness of what he himself was about to say. Speaking like that was entirely different from the way the Jews used the word ‘Amen,’ or even the way we use it. For both them and ourselves ‘Amen’ is the final word in a statement. It is an affirmation. It is a exclamation that follows a blessing or a curse or marriage vows or a word of praise. What was completely new about the way Jesus used the word ‘Amen’ was that he began many of his statements, with this “Amen!” The word is almost like inverted commas that bring to the people extraordinarily important words from God. There is no parallel to this in any literature of the time; neither the historians like Josephus, nor the rabbis, nor the apocryphal writers used ‘Amen’ to begin their words. Only the Lord Jesus.
Let me ask this question. To whom is Christ saying ‘Amen’? Who is the Lord Jesus endorsing? When Mr. Ron Goodfellow was alive he would occasionally Amen what I was preaching. “I agree wholeheartedly, and this is important fellow members,” he’d be inferring. Others of you do the same. I myself say Amen when I am moved by preaching. But who was Jesus saying Amen to? His enemies said that it was to Beelzebub. Others thought they were indications of religious mania, but the Lord Christ was getting the people used to the idea that he was bringing them a message from the God whose words he agreed with 100 per cent. He was speaking in accordance to what the Father knew and now wanted us to know through Jesus his messenger.
We think it is quite striking when Jesus begins a sentence with the word, “Yes!” I counted ten occasions in the gospels when Christ said something like this, “Yes Father, for this was your good pleasure” (Matt. 11:26). He was endorsing the Father with that ‘yes’, adding his ‘Amen’ to what the Father said. Christ often stood alone, but his ministry wasn’t a one man show. He said on one occasion, “I stand with the Father who sent me” (Jn. 8:16). In this world he was conscious that he was the spokesman and ambassador and apostle of God. God was always with him, and sometimes he would even use the pronoun ‘we’, his Father and he were both speaking to men. For example when he speaks to Nicodemus in John 3 he says, “I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony” (Jn. 3:11). This was not a solo performance; it was a duet. Two people, Father and Son, were bringing the identical message to the world and to people whom they both loved with the same love. That is the status the Lord Jesus believed he had.
3. CHRIST CONSIDERED HIS MINISTRY TO BE A COMING TO THE WORLD.
I came into this pulpit for the first time 40 years ago (that will be on March 16th). I existed somewhere else before I came here. I came to Aberystwyth, but most of my children were born in Aberystwyth. They would say, “We were born in Aber.” not “We came to Aber.” When the Lord Jesus refers to his ministry in this world he speaks just like a fictional ‘extraterrestrial’ who is visiting our planet. He says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets . . . do not suppose that I have come to bring peace on earth . . . the Son of Man did not come to be served . . . I did not come to judge the world but to save it . . . the Son of man came to seek and to save that which was lost . . . I have come in my Father’s name and you do not accept me . . . “. What does that mean? It means that he came to this world from somewhere else. He says that he comes from above. He knows exactly where he comes from. He has come into the world and then he will leave it once again and return to the Father and he prays that his people might see the glory he had with God before the foundation of the world. His apostle Paul later wrote, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (I Tim. 1:15).
“Thou didst leave Thy throne and Thy kingly crown
When Thou camest to earth for me.
But in Bethlehem’s home
Was there found no room
For Thy glorious nativity.
O come to my heart Lord Jesus.
There is room in my heart for Thee.”
So the Lord is challenging us to think about his origin. Here is a man whose teaching is remarkable, his miracles are many, immense and unique; he has power over men, over the winds and waves and the fish of the sea, over disease and over death itself. What sort of man is this? Though he was crucified, dead and buried, on the third day he rose from the grave. His birth was like none other’s; he was conceived by the virgin Mary, but he was begotten by the Holy Spirit. His resurrection and ascension was like none other’s. Where did this man come from? There is nothing ordinary about Jesus at all. He is not like any other man. Such a person, different from any other person in all the history of mankind, comes from his Father. He came from heaven. You remember how John begins his gospel, “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God and the word was God, the same was in the beginning with God, all things were made by him” (Jn. 1:1&2). The crowds in Galilee and Jerusalem didn’t want to repent and come to him, and the reason they gave was that they knew where he came from, Nazareth! His father was a carpenter there. So surely he couldn’t be the Messiah, because, they said, “When the Christ comes, no one will know where he is from” (Jn.7:27). In their imagination the Messiah would be raised up out of the blue on the stage of Israel’s history. There he’d be, shining and glorious, absolutely breathtaking, driving his enemies into the sea, and everyone would say, “What gory, and no one knows where he’s come from.” But this man Jesus? He could be dismissed because the people all knew where our Lord came from, “Jesus from Nazareth; the son of a carpenter. Can any good thing come out of Galilee?” But then their dilemma was this, how could a man have gained all this wisdom and authority who had spent thirty years – his entire life – in a one horse village like Nazareth. Our Lord claimed that he came into the world from heaven.
4. CHRIST CLAIMS TO BE GREATER THAN ALL THE GREATEST MEN BEFORE HIM.
Men and women who met Christ often bowed down before him. When John the Baptist was confronted with the Lord Jesus in the river Jordan he was overwhelmed at meeting him. He felt his unworthiness saying he wasn’t worthy to untie Jesus’ shoelaces. What was he doing in baptizing Jesus? John ought to be the one baptized by him. “I must decrease and he must increase.” said John. Jesus too recognised the anomaly; “Let’s just allow it be like that for now,” he said. That self-abasement before Christ set a pattern for the whole ministry of our Lord. The wise men bowed down and worshipped him when he was a child. Men fall down before him on the road, in a boat, in a synagogue. Women knelt at his feet and wept, washing his feet with their tears and wiping them with their hair, and Jesus allowed them to carry on doing that. Think of it! One of his apostles said to him, “Depart from me for I am a sinful man of Lord.” Yet we can understand that response can’t we? That is a proper reaction to this great holy man who had come from God.
Yet self-abasement was never Jesus’ response to anybody else. He never bowed down before another. I don’t appreciate preachers who treat other preachers as inferior men, who attend conferences only when they are the speakers. I esteem modesty and humility in a preacher very highly. If you felt I was full of myself you’d get nothing out of my preaching, would you? My pride would be such a barrier any words I spoke could never touch your heart. If I strutted my stuff in this congregation as if I were the greatest that would be the end of my ministry. God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.
Here is Jesus of Nazareth who has time and inclination to hold children in his arms, who rebukes his disciples for driving their mothers away. Here is Jesus of Nazareth who enters Jerusalem as the Messiah but by riding on the back of a donkey. What an anti-climax. Here is Jesus of Nazareth taking a towel and a basin of water and he kneels down before twelve men one by one and he washes and dries the feet of all of them. Here is Jesus of Nazareth who on the cross prays for those crucifying him, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do,” and yet he is the one who tells a congregation that he is greater than Solomon, that one greater than Jonah is before them. When he speaks to the Samaritan woman he suggests to her that he is greater than the patriarch Jacob. Abraham lived to see his day, and he saw it and was glad. Moses simply brought the law but he brought grace and truth. The prophets had lived and died, but whoever believed in him would never taste death. They said to him, “Who do you think you are?” (John 8:53). Who does he think he is? Jesus said, “Before Abraham was, I am” (Jn. 8:58). They knew what he was saying and some of them went scurrying off to find some stones to throw at him.
Can you see this extraordinary juxtaposition in one man of personal meekness and yet a self-consciousness of eternal majesty and greatness? The incredible thing is this, that we do not find those two characteristics of Jesus of Nazareth impossible to reconcile to one another. There is nothing schizophrenic about this eternal and glorious divine being who yet dies in abandonment upon the cross. That is why he came into the world. That is the grace of God. That is the love of the eternal Son. That is the Christianity we proclaim.
5. THE LORD CHRIST MAKES A STAGGERING SERIES OF ‘I AM’ CLAIMS.
Jesus’ language is often vivid and concrete. He takes a vast series of images and he applies them all to himself. He is not making observations about nature, and the cosmos, and the human condition like a Shakespeare. He is constantly talking about himself. Some of these we miss as we read them because we are used to applying them to our own lives. For example, he is the sower who went forth to sow the word of God. He is the preeminent hunter of men who can make us fishers of men too when we follow him. He is the tiny mustard seed whose body was buried in a borrowed grave in Jerusalem 2000 years ago but whose kingdom now fills the whole world. He is the narrow gate; by him we enter into the experience of God and his blessing. He is the shepherd who seeks and saves that which was lost.. He says that he is the bread of heaven, that is, God’s food for the souls of men. “I am the bread of life,” he says, in other words, you can’t live if you’re not eating this diet. The food of life is Jesus. You are just existing without him. “I am the light of the world,” he says. What a staggering claim to make about yourself! Everyone lives in perpetual darkness who drives him out of their lives.
He says that he is the gate for the sheep, as well as being the good shepherd. Are you facing the future without the Lord Jesus leading and providing for you? Who will bring you back when you go astray? A sheep is utterly without defence; it can’t run like a deer or burrow like a rabbit; it hasn’t sharp teeth, nor any claws, nor a thick leathery skin; it can’t climb trees to escape; it can’t spit poison. A sheep desperately needs a shepherd’s protection, and all of us do. How can you face the future without a Sovereign Protector? “I am the only good shepherd,” Christ claims. He says this also, “I am the resurrection and the life;” he is talking about the last enemy, death. Who can deliver you from death? Can your politician, your therapist, your medical doctor? Will the scientist ever do it? Will there be a super-drug that will deliver us from death itself? Never! The millionaire can’t buy deliverance from it, but Christ says, “I am the resurrection and the life.” On the third day he who raised Lazarus from the dead himself arose. He claims, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no man comes to the Father but by me.” Without the way where are you going? Without the truth what do you know? Without the life there is no living. Who is this man who can make incredible claims like this?
6. JESUS OF NAZARETH GAVE HIMSELF EXTRAORDINARY TITLES.
i] Son of Man.
He called himself “the Son of Man” hundreds of times, fifty of which are recorded in the gospels. It wasn’t a title that he began to use at the end of his ministry. From the very beginning – John chapter one, Mark chapter two – he refers to himself as the Son of Man and then right through to the end of his ministry – Matthew 26 – he tells those who put him on trial, “In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matt. 26:64). He is saying to them constantly and defiantly, right into the face of their early credulity, “I am the one Daniel saw coming in the clouds with great glory.” He even interrogates his disciples like this, “Who do people say that I, the Son of Man, am?”
I say that in fifty places the phrase is recorded in the gospels, and outside the gospels? Once! Just at the stoning of Stephen before the Sanhedrin in Acts 7. He cries, “I can see the Son of Man standing at God’s right hand” (Acts 7:56) (the references to ‘son of man’ in Hebrews and Revelation refer to ‘man’, a real man, or to humanity in general. No one else ever used it to refer to Jesus, “Son of Man . . .” He alone used it to identify himself. “Who are you?” the crowd say in John 8:25. He tells them, three verses later, that they’ll know soon enough, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man . . .” (Jn. 8:28). What a striking title! This title didn’t fit into the people’s expectations. Jesus deliberately chose a mysterious name to draw attention to himself. It was a virtually empty term and he took it and filled it with all his life and teaching and all his massive achievements. If you want to know what is the Son of Man, you must read the life of Jesus, and you must fall at his feet as one dead.
ii] Son of David.
You know the opening words of the whole New Testament, “A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David” (Matt. 1:1). “The Son of David” is a royal title. A shoot that grew out of the stump of the tree of David would yet appear. What a marvellous king he would be, and so the people look at Jesus’ life and signs and they begin to call him “Son of David;” “Hosanna to the Son of David” and Jesus never got angry with them or said, “I don’t like highfalutin names like that. Just call me ‘Jesus.'” Do you understand this great point which I have been constantly making? Let me say it like this, that we live in days when the world wants to shrink Jesus Christ, and one of the ways they try to do this is by a kind of sick flattery. In other words, they will say how much they admire Jesus, but that he was a humble man who taught and healed, but that he would be horrified to see the way people have set him up on a pedestal. They have got it completely wrong. He is the one who continually give himself these titles and makes these claims which would be unbelievable or sick if you or I would make them. Let me go on to some other titles to show this:
iii] The Messiah.
Messiah is a Hebrew word for ‘the anointed one’, and the title ‘Christ’ is the Greek word for ‘the anointed one.’ Who is the one anointing him? God. Anointed by God. Jesus is the divinely anointed one and from the very beginning of his ministry this is how he was known. In John 1 Andrew says to his brother Simon, “we have found the Messiah.” A few years later many people left Jesus’ congregation and he asked his disciples if they were also going to leave him; “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Jn. 6:69). And not much later than this Jesus goes to the graveside of Lazarus and meets Martha Lazarus’ sister there, and she says to Jesus, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world” (Jn. 11:27). Even the Samaritans who are brought by the woman at the well to listen to Jesus say to him afterwards, “We have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Saviour of the world, the Christ” (Jn 4:29). Everyone knew that this was his special title, and so the jealous Pharisees decided that anyone who confessed that Jesus was the Christ should be thrown out of the synagogue. This was the charge they brought to Pilate about him that he claimed to be the Christ, a king. Jesus not only accepted this title but when Peter in Caesarea Philippi confessed him to be the Christ the Son of the living God Jesus praised him and said that God, his Father in heaven, had revealed this to him.
iv] The Son of God.
There were hundreds of people baptized by John in the river Jordan, but to one only a voice from heaven rang out and said, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” That divine discrimination set Jesus apart from every other person. It was not John the Baptist who did it; not men. God did it. Jesus has God as his Father. A fish has a fish as its father and so it has scales and gills and all things fishy. A bird has a bird for its father and so it has feathers and wings and a beak and things that pertain to birds. A child has a man for its father and so has a body, a brain, a soul, a conscience, creativity, and eternity in its heart, in fact all things human. This Jesus has as his Father God himself! So everything that God has Jesus Christ has, omnipresence, omnipotence, omniscience, omnicompetence. Jesus creates, he preserves, he saves, he resurrects, and he judges. He is God the Son. That is why they attempted to stone him to death, that he, being man made himself God. They could see the implications of his sayings. When he claimed, “I and my Father are one,” how else could that be interpreted? When at the end Thomas falls at his feet in worship and cries, “My Lord and my God” then what is Jesus’ response? Does he say, “Blasphemy! How dare you say that to me. Don’t put me up on a pedestal, I am a man like you. Get up on your feet man. God only is your God. Worship him!” No Jesus does not. He says nothing to dumb down those extraordinary words. Jesus accepts the title of God the Son. You are still unconvinced. You say, “But does he anywhere say specifically, ‘I am God’s Son’?” Yes. In John’s gospel there is a record of him talking with the Jews and he says to them, “Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s Son.’ (Jn. 10:36).
Of course, Jesus’ relationship to his Father is not the same as our adopted relationship to the Father. Everyone’s favourite Scottish preacher, the late Douglas MacMillan, said something helpful on this theme of God the Son and God the Father in his fine Highland preaching. “To the Father, Jesus is supremely and uniquely ‘Son’, and to Jesus, God is supremely and uniquely ‘Father’. That is to say, only Jesus and God the Father stand thus related to one another. This ‘Fatherhood’ and this ‘Sonship’ are unique and confined to this relationship. Both differ from all others in their essential being, in that it involves a unity unknown elsewhere. It is their unity of being which explains their full, mutual understanding. They are in no sense a mystery to each other; instead, they know each other fully; nothing in the one is hidden from the other. What Jesus claims here is a supernatural, divine consciousness, for only if that is really present is he a mysterious being who can be known only by God. The other side of the equation applies in the same way; only because Jesus is God, can he know the Father in this unique way. This is a clear claim to deity. It is a revelation of his own deep, positive sense of divine Sonship” (Douglas MacMillan, “Jesus, Power without Measure” (Bryntirion Press 1990, p.55).
So gentle Jesus, meek and mild, created and suggested these divine titles and accepted them from men.
7. JESUS OF NAZARETH NEVER CONFESSED HIS SIN.
Our Lord taught his disciples to pray and he said to them that they must always say this, “And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Jesus taught them to ask for forgiveness. The Bible is full of examples of men of God confessing their sin to God. Many of the psalms are of men pleading for mercy from God. Jesus tells us of a sinful tax-collector who in the temple looked down at the dust and beat his breast and cried, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” He left the temple a justified man, Jesus said. Yet he himself never beat his breast and asked God for mercy.
It is obvious that Jesus had a very tender conscience. Part of his teaching, which has challenged the world, is that you can break God’s law in your heart, and by your imagination. You might never have done or said anything that appeared sinful. It might never have registered by a look on your face, but if it is received and kept in your heart then it is sin. Jesus never ignored the root cause of all of men’s misery, that before we actually did or said bad things we had already given them a place in our own lives, and that is sin. So the Lord Jesus was always preaching a radical change of nature, a birth from above, a new heart which was man’s greatest need; not outward washing but inward cleansing is our priority. We have an inward inability to please God, and an inward hostility to him, and every single person needs regeneration in order to believe and be saved
But there is something more about Jesus’ analysis of sin and it is this, that one of the most evil and dangerous traits of the human heart is to cover over or deny our sins. You need to turn in repentance from your sins to God. You must confess your wickedness to him, that you have been wrong, that you have done wrong. When Jesus met the Pharisees who preened themselves that they were not like other men, that they were righteous, he was absolutely scathing about them – whitewashed sepulchres full of dead men’s bones, children of hell, a colony of snakes. “Woe to you . .” he said time and again. He lashed their hypocrisy, and self-satisfaction, and smugness, and blindness. That is what stirred his anger against them, their readiness to stand up and condemn others and yet to think themselves free of sin. He warned them that God knew their hearts.
This Jesus, to whom the crowning sin was to deny they had any sin, said this about his relationship with God, “I always do what pleases him” (Jn.8:29). Imagine it! Always, 24/7, Jesus did exactly what God wanted. He never did, nor said, nor imagined anything sinful. Tempted every day just as we are and in all points, but he never received those sins with lingering lust into his heart. He believed he was free from sin, but more than that, his friends who saw him day and night for three years believed that he was without sin, and even God said, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” Christ could challenge his opponents to point out to him anything wrong he had done. Even at the end of his life – and the older we grow the greater our groans about our sins, and the more our conscience seems to convict us – Jesus could say to his Father, “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do” (Jn. 17:4). In other words, Jesus believed that there were no sins of omission in his life.
What can you say about him? That he was the most deluded man in the world, or that he was very clever in hiding his sins from the people he lived with, or that he actually was holy, harmless, undefiled and separate from sinners, the Lamb of God without spot or blemish, that he needed no sacrifice for his own sins for he had none, and so he could lay down his life for us for our sins which are many. Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!
8. JESUS CLAIMED HIS WORDS WOULD NEVER PASS AWAY.
So we come back to our text, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (v.31). You can see that these words are not just one staggering claim utterly alien to what the humble teacher Jesus normally said. You can see that it is absolutely typical of the Lord Christ. He came to this earth commissioned to do so by God the Father as his only begotten Son, and through his life he always did and said the things with which God was pleased. He brought to us the very message our Creator wants all his creatures to know. There had been a time when God communicated by his prophets to the world, but now in these last days God is speaking to us by his Son, and Jesus got it right, always. There was no failure in the message; no breakdown in communication between God and us. We have exactly what God has to say to us because God has put it all in the hands of his Son. If you hear Jesus speaking then you can hear what God is saying to the world. God speaks to us of his power and glory and divinity in this vast cosmos which he has made, but to know of his message of grace and love he has entrusted this theme to Jesus Christ, not only to his words but to his actions, and we all know that actions speak louder than words. Jesus’ actions are saying to us, “Here is God’s grand display of his love for sinners, that eternal life is ours if we turn from our sin and entrust ourselves to the salvation which Jesus Christ himself accomplished on Golgotha.”
The Cross of Christ will endure for ever and ever. It is the Lamb looking as if it had been slain who is ever seated at the heart of heaven on the throne of God. The theme of the heavenly hosts who surround that throne is, “Unto him who loved us and washed us from our sins in his own blood be glory and power for ever and ever.” The unending theme of joy by the countless numbers in heaven will be the praise of Christ. The cross will never pass away, but the message of the cross in the words of Jesus will never pass away.
Have you seen how the world without Christ looks at its future, at an environmental catastrophe, the loss of fossil resources, the pollution of the land, sea and atmosphere, global warming leading to millions of environmental refugees in the next hundred years. Look at the world’s foreboding as it thinks of the impact of a comet from one of the 2,000 asteroids whose orbits cross the path of the earth and then the resulting epic disaster. Look at the world considering the death of the sun; in 4.5 billion years all its available hydrogen fuel will be expended and it will begin to swell as a red giant and it will absorb the earth. Look at the world considering the expansion of the universe by some type of material or force called ‘dark energy’ so that the universe expands into ‘heat death’ and it becomes a cold, lifeless place full of dead stars. Look at the world considering the future and it just despairs. It is all going to pass away. Nobel prize-winning physicist Steven Weinberg thinks it is all utterly futile, “The more the universe is comprehensible the more it seems pointless.”
Atheist Bertand Russell said that, “the world which science presents for our belief is even more purposeless, more void of meaning . . . that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast depth of the solar system, and the whole temple of man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins – all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain that no philosophy that rejected them can hope to stand” (Bertrand Russell, “Why I am Not a Christian,” George Allen and Unwin, 1957, p.107).
But here is this teacher Jesus Christ who tells us of what is going to last for ever, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” Believe it, for his life endorses it, his resurrection confirms it, the change he has worked in millions of people of all kinds who had lacked any hope in their futures, encourages you to take it so seriously. They are ignorant weaklings needing some crutch, but men and women who have examined the extraordinary life of Jesus Christ, and their own lives of sin and failure, and they have heard his invitations of grace and gone to him and found the rest he promised. They know today by their own experience that his words, far from passing away, are true and saving. They live by these words, and die in the hope of their greater fulfilment in his presence.
13th February 2005 GEOFF THOMAS