If you were to draw a picture of God, what would it be? An old man with a long, white beard sitting among the clouds? A nature scene? A burst of light? Or something else…?
I think Philip, one of Jesus’ Twelve Disciples, must have been a visual person, because asking Jesus to show him the Father (v8) could have come from a desire to have some sort of picture about what the Father looks like. Instead of drawing him a picture, though, Jesus points to himself as the visual representation of the invisible God.
This is consistent with other parts of the New Testament that points to Jesus as the visible face of the invisible God (for example see Colossians 1:15, Hebrews 1:3). What they are saying is that if we want to see God, the best place to look is at Jesus.
However, this is more than a picture of God. In Jesus we see the character and nature of God. Especially when we follow Jesus to the cross and empty tomb, we see the depth of God’s love for us and the power of his love which is stronger than death.
In seeing God in Jesus, we also get to know him (v7). Jesus says the Father is in the Son and the Son is in the Father (v10,11). The relationship between the Father and Son is so close that they exist in perfect relationship with each other. One way we can think of this relationship is like a mystical babushka (or matryoshka) doll. The mystery of the relationship between the Father and the Son is that not only is the inner doll nestled within the outer doll, but the larger outer doll also exists within the smaller inner doll. It defies logic and messes with my head, but this is basically what Jesus is saying – the relationship between himself and the Father is so close and intertwined that we cannot separate them from each other.
Jesus tells us this so that we can know the Father through the Son (v7). In our current culture, we usually think about ‘knowledge’ as an intellectual activity based on information. From a biblical perspective, however, knowing someone was a lot more than an intellectual exercise. Knowing someone meant having a relationship with that person. For example, there is a big difference between knowing about the Queen of England and knowing her well enough to drop into her palace for a cup of tea and scones with her and the corgis. Through Jesus, we can know the Father in a close and intimate relationship where we are participating with Jesus in God’s work of redeeming, reconciling and renewing the world (v12), and where Jesus promises that he will give us whatever we ask for to do his saving work and bring glory to the Father (vv13,14).
So, how is your relationship with God? One of the challenges we face in our time and place is that we can tend to over-intellectualise our faith. God want us to love him with all of our heart, soul, strength, and mind (Luke 10:27 etc), and so our intellect plays a part in our faith. However, the language of faith that Jesus uses in this passage is about relationship. As we follow Jesus, he leads us deeper into a relationship with the Father. The more we get to know Jesus, the more we also get to know the Father. And the more we get to know God who is the author and sustainer of all life, the more we get to know his life in us (see John 10:10).
We’ve talked a lot about the relationship between the Father and the Son, but I’m guessing there will be people who will be pointing out that a Christian understanding of God is Trinitarian, and so we need to include the Holy Spirit in this relationship as well. Jesus goes on to talk about the role of the Holy Spirit in the next few verses, which we’ll look at next week…
More to think about:
- How do you picture God? Spend some time drawing how you visualise God…
- How does your picture of God compare with Jesus, given that he says that those who see him also see God (v9)? In what ways is your picture similar to Jesus? In what ways is it different?
- This isn’t just about the way God looks, but his character and nature which we encounter in Jesus, especially when we follow Jesus to his cross & empty tomb. What does Jesus’ cross & empty tomb say to you about the character & nature of God?
- Do you tend to think of faith is more an intellectual activity or a relationship? What might it look like to have ‘a personal relationship’ with Jesus? (think about other significant relationships you have in your life; what keeps those relationships strong? how can you do those things with Jesus to keep your relationship strong with him?)
- What do you think about the idea that discipleship is following Jesus into a closer & deeper relationship with the Father? What do you like about this idea? What might be challenging or uncomfortable about it for you?