No one appreciates being misunderstood. Confusion, false perceptions, and accusations about and against our person can be exasperating. Sometimes a simple explanation can correct a false impression, but there are times when no amount or degree of clarification can shed light on the matter. It is as if a dark veil lies over our accuser’s mind obstructing the truth from penetrating within.
“I am not possessed by a demon,” counters Jesus against His opponents’ accusations, “but I honour my Father and you dishonour me” (John 8:49). While the Pharisees were resorting to epithets and invectives in their attempt to obscure and yet defend their position of self-righteous social power, Jesus’ reply is simple: My identity consists in honouring the Father. There is no secrecy or ulterior motive to Jesus. Every facet of His character, every intention and action of His being converges on one purpose: to honour the Father. And, He maintains, I accomplish it.
Only a completely sinless person can bring God honour. Christ does not do as we might expect if He were merely a good man or only a mortal ambassador of God; He does not say, I try to honour God. That would leave room for moments of imperfection. He says I honour the Father. Flawlessly.
Jesus even goes so far as to challenge His antagonists, “Can any of you prove me guilty of sin?” They wanted to. More than anything else His pious accusers longed to pin on Jesus a charge that would allow them to execute Him. A man who lived like Jesus lived, and taught as He taught is infuriating to those whose purposes are self-centred, coarse, and hateful.
This claim Jesus is making, that He is the uniquely God-honouring One, is problematic for us mortals; we sense the contrast against ourselves that is implied in His claim. Jesus honours the Father in everything, absolutely everything He does—but we don’t. Our thoughts, our words, and our actions are often compromised. The best of us have dishonoured God in untold ways. Jesus’ claim seems to unmask us, causing our less-than-perfect motives and intentions to stand in stark contrast to His. What ought we to do with that feeling? Ignore it? Deny it, hide it, or make counter-claims back at Jesus saying His attitude is just a ‘holier-than-thou’ one?
Let’s keep in mind that Jesus is speaking in this pointed way to an audience that has hardened their hearts toward Him. They and their ilk were spoken about by the prophet Isaiah as leaders whose motto toward ‘lesser’ people was, “Keep away, don’t come near me, for I am too sacred for you!” (Isaiah 65:5). Jesus’ succinct remarks to this group are deliberately intended to challenge their self-righteous attitudes.
So firstly, we must ask ourselves, are we one of these? Have we dishonoured Jesus, allowing Him anything less than full access to our hearts and lives? Have we avoided or wandered from our childlike trust in Him? If so, the only response that offers us any hope is to humbly recognize our error and return to Him.
“Come to me,” Jesus invites. “Believe me,” He enjoins. “Remain in me,” He offers, “and I will remain in you”. When we respond to Jesus in the way He summons, His perfectly God-honouring character begins to flow through us, enabling us to be God-honouring too. Alone, we are unable to do it. But living by Jesus’ strength of character, and being moved by His Word and Spirit lifts us up by degrees to be the God-honouring creatures we were designed to be. With Jesus’ Spirit living in us, we escape the twisted degradation our species inevitably slumps toward. The world does not need any more Pharisees.
Secondly, if we have sought to follow Jesus—to honour the One who honours the Father so well—our best response to Jesus’ claim is to keep on keeping on, to persevere regardless of the way things look today. We need to do as the British WWII morale-boosting message urged: To Keep Calm and Carry On. The disappointments of this life, the weight of our own weaknesses, and the devil whose purpose is to deceive, all conspire against us to tempt us to give up on trusting Jesus. Don’t do it. “Trust in the LORD with all your heart,” reminds Scripture, “and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5,6).
(Photo Credit: By UK Government – UK Crown Copyright – expired, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17015658)