1 Peter 2:2-10 & John 14:1-14
If you were given some crayons and paper and your goal was to draw an image of God, what would you draw? We start developing an image of God when we are very small. That image is usually a combination of the descriptions given to us by well-meaning parents, classmates, Sunday School teachers, and pastors. As children, we are very impressionable. Children are unable to question for themselves whether what they are hearing is true or not. They don’t doubt the wisdom of their teachers—and yet, most of our earliest teachers were not biblical scholars. Most were parents or siblings telling us what they learned in Sunday School, or what they had learned when they were children. If you went to Sunday School, more than likely your teacher was not theologically trained.
For a young child, Jesus and God are not the same person. The undeveloped brain of a child cannot conceive that they are one. So they are two completely different entities. It’s easy to love Jesus. He’s a baby in a manger, with all those sweet animals around him, and the presents he received, are quickly connected with the presents you received when you learned about him. Then the stories of Jesus healing people and doing miracles. What’s not to like about Jesus?
Do you remember the first stories that made an impression on you as you learned about God? How about Noah and the ark? We teach it because children love the stories about animals and rainbows. But the story behind the zoo animals was that God drowned all the bad people because he was mad at them. I remember questioning that part of the story. Even though God said he was sorry and painted a beautiful rainbow in the sky. Something about the reason for the story happening didn’t fit in with zoo animals and rainbows. It instilled the fear of God in me. The bad kind of fear, not the awe kind of fear.
As a little boy, my favorite stories were of David killing Goliath, with God’s help and approval; and Samson killing his enemies by bringing the building down on them…all in the name of – and for the glory of God. And God drowning all of Pharoah’s soldiers in the Red Sea. And of sending poisonous snakes to kill thousands of the children of Israel because they were carrying statues and praying to them. God was someone to suck up to so that he wouldn’t hurt you.
I’m not sure that if this Father had a son I’d want to let my guard down around him. And I didn’t for many years. Something about the Jewish image of God and Jesus never matched. I couldn’t figure that out. Even though my teachers kept telling me that Jesus’s Father was the same as the God of Israel.
Martin Luther stated in a sermon that people tend to act like the image of God imprinted on their hearts. Think about that. It means if your early impression of God was as a righteous judge and giver of punishment to those who sin, then you might lean toward being judgmental and demanding in meting out punishment for everyone’s offenses. If Jesus has changed your image of God to being loving, compassionate, accepting, and forgiving, then you may be more loving, compassionate, accepting, and forgiving in your own actions. Who you are in your actions reflects the image of God you hold within yourself.
What does God look like to you? If God were looking for a new publicist, someone who could accurately promote His image, would you qualify for the job? The first accurate publicist for God was Jesus. I say that because last week, we heard Jesus say, “All who came before me were false teachers.” Jesus promoted a different image of God from all who came before him. Jesus said to Philip, “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” Healing the sick instead of inflicting disease on people because of their sin, eating with outcasts, speaking to women and Gentiles, teaching things different than the Jewish scriptures. That’s quite a turnaround. Most people don’t want to believe that all they’ve been taught might not be accurate.
The apostle Paul publicized a new image of God to the church in Colossia, describing Jesus as the image of the invisible God. . . in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell (Col. 1:15, 19). Those who were in religious power ended up having Paul crucified upside-down.
Jesus came to reveal a new image of God. He was crucified. Stephen was stoned. Paul was crucified. All for promoting an image of God that was different from the tradition. What this tells us is that if you mess with changing the image of God that has been handed down through the Hebrew scriptures, you’re going to get crucified, have rocks thrown at you, and get turned on your head by the religious folks, no matter if they are Jewish, Christian, or Muslim.
The Gospel of John opened with, “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son…who has made Him known” (John 1:18). Jesus came to erase an image of God who is waiting in righteousness to drive nails of punishment into sinners’ hands when they disobey His commandments. Jesus reversed all vengeful images of God when He accepted those nails of punishment to himself and in the end said, “Father forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.”
I already indicated in my two books about how to love God with all your heart that I believe the translation of John 14:6 should have been, “No one comes to know the Father except through me.” The next verse validates my translation. “If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well” (John 14:7). That’s the whole point of verses 6-11. Jesus liberates us from any fear we could have of a God who wants to hurt us if and when we fail.
Peter’s letter said, “Like newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word.” What is the pure milk of the word? He goes on to explain: It’s tasting that the Lord is gracious. God is good — ALL the time. And that’s the good news. The gospel is that Jesus Christ showed us the truth about God. Even a child would like that news.
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