Nicodemus begins his dialogue with Jesus late one night with the words, “Rabbi, we know…” Dr. Jeremy Stephano, in a lecture last week at Gordon Conwell Seminary, pointed out the dangerous incongruity in those words. “Rabbi, teach us,” might have been a possible place to start, but, Nicodemus' beginning with the bold assertion of his own knowledge, resulted in Jesus telling him that he really did not even know the rudiments of the spiritual life. (John 3:10)
Nicodemus failed because of arrogance. He did not respond with an answer fueled by faith. Nicodemus seemed unwilling, that night, to learn from Jesus’ claim, “I tell you the truth…but still you people do not accept our testimony.” (v. 11)
Philip, in John 6:5, is asked by Jesus, where to buy bread for the large crowd. Rodney A. Whitacre, in the New Testament IVP Commentary, says, “But in fact it is a test," (v. 6), and Philip fails. He is asked "where" and can think only in terms of "how." It is a very difficult test because Jesus refers to "buying" bread. A correct answer, in keeping with faithful responses earlier in the Gospel (for example, 1:38; 2:5), might be something like, "Lord, you know." I have generally thought Philip’s answer was at least adequate because there was no arrogance; he simply recites the obvious facts. Philip fails because he hasn’t grasped the simple fact that a disciple doesn’t follow Jesus with bemused indifference, or some kind of calculating resourcefulness, but in faith, that Jesus knows the next step. (6:6)
Nathaniel follows Jesus because he recognizes that somehow Jesus knows him through and through. (John 1:48-51) Jesus’ mother tells the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them to do, implying that Jesus knows what is best. (2:5) The woman at the well boldly tells everyone that Jesus “told her everything she ever did," (4:39), and so she follows His every command. In contrast, the lame man healed at Bethesda, thinks he knows better than Jesus and disobeys Jesus’ express command to “stop sinning,” (5:14), by going to the Pharisees to give them the information they had earlier asked for.
In the end, we pass the discipleship test when we bow to Jesus as the Son of God, the one who knows, and therefore has the authority to command us to do the impossible. I am not saying this is an easy test; I heartily agree with Whitacre that Jesus makes the test very hard, but, at the same time, it is not an intellectual or strategic puzzle, but, a simple test of trust.
This morning, I feel the import of Jesus’ question to me, “How is Urban Sanctuary going to meet the usual summer financial black hole?” I feel tempted to say, “We know…” or even, “I don’t know…” The test is whether I can say, “Lord, you know. Tell me and I will do whatever you require.” Faith is required, and after decades of following Jesus, I’d have thought it would be easier to answer with more faith.
Maybe you have learned to instinctively bend the knee – empty yourself of intellectual pride, resourcefulness, pessimism, cynicism, or whatever strangles faith in your responses to Jesus. Maybe the pattern is developing, and is on the way to becoming a habitual response to Jesus. Maybe you embrace every situation that comes along with grateful faith, that Jesus knows what we don’t know.
Thankfully, Jesus allows His disciples to retake the test over and over as long as we don’t shut Him out and stop taking those tests altogether.