The truth about Jesus. Then comes Jesus, to tell us about God — a literally infinite subject which, even if we had access to all the facts, we could never surround. What do we read as coming from His lips? How does He frame his teaching? With "I think"?
Jesus' first recorded preaching in Matthew and Mark certainly cannot be characterized as an invitation for open discussion, debate, or joint exploration. Rather, it is a call for unconditional surrender:
"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 4:17)
"The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel" (Mark 1:15)Now, as far as it goes, this echoes John's teaching (Matthew 3:2). But John was a prophet, and a great one (Matthew 11:9). He too could speak with certainty, because he spoke God's word (cf. Exodus 4:12; 7:1). Did Jesus do more?
We see "more," when Matthew presents Jesus' laying out of His platform, known popularly as the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). Again and again we read His citation of Law or tradition, countered by "But I say to you" (5:22, 28, 32, 34, 39, 44). This takes the prophet's "Thus says Yahweh," and raises it by a vast factor.
So it is unsurprising to read, at the sermon's conclusion, that "when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes" (7:28-29). And this is characteristic of the whole. Never does Jesus present His teaching about God as the result of speculative reflection, as His best assembly of the facts, as His best stab at a subject that is beyond Him. Never do we sense the least whiff of tentativeness in His doctrine, of uncertainty.
What we have is either the most massive case of unwarranted hubris, ever, or the words of someone with unmatched authority. Where you stand on that divide defines whether or not you are a Christian.
How could Jesus speak with such authority? Because He did not merely hear and tell God's Word — He was God's Word, incarnate (John 1:1, 14), telling truth He knew directly (as only God can know it) of the Father (John 1:18). He knew God as no mere created being could know Him (John 1:18). So Jesus was simply relaying what He had directly received (John 8:40).
How this truth affects us. I see at least three possible effects on two categories of people.
Unbelievers should be awakened and brought to repentance by it. They need to realize that they know nothing whatever with any certainty — except the fact that they can never know anything with any certainty! Their grip on reality is microscopic, evanescent, and baseless. Their greatest teachers are but guessers in a whirlwind; and once they step beyond a small array of facts to claim Certainty, or to expatiate on Meaning, they are 'way out of their depth and self-discredited. They can say nothing authoritative whatever about meaning, value, or significance. Their own premises doom them to walk as blind men in a trackless darkscape.
To them Jesus alone shines as a beacon of light, the Light of the World (John 8:12). His foundation is immovable, His knowledge exhaustive, His authority absolute. He is Lord, and if they are to know anything truly, they must bend the knee and begin knowing on His terms.
Believers should be both emboldened and humbled: emboldened insofar as they echo Jesus' truth, but humbled in the knowledge that their grasp of that truth can only ever be finite.
Christians should never forget that our stance is not and never has been that we are marked off from other men because we are smarter, sharper, wiser, more intelligent. Apart from God's wisdom and grace, we're not an atom better, and may be far worse, than any unbeliever. It is our belief that sheer grace found us dead and blind and obstinate, and sheer grace gave us life and sight and repentance. What we know, we know by divine grant. Our best position is to echo what has been shown us in the Bible, and for that we can take no credit whatever.
At the same time, we must remain humbled, knowing that while we live, we have more to learn, revise, revisit. Our text will never change, but our grasp of it should grow. Virtually every one of us will attest that what we were saved with is not what we were saved to. Many of us were some kinds of Arminians, but were awakened to the Biblical vision of the sovereign Lord. Many of us were some kinds of Charismatics, but had our eyes opened to the sufficiency of the Word. It would be silly to think that, having learned that one lesson, we can close our notebooks and sit still, awaiting our wings and halos.
Above all, when we get into the pulpit to preach (if that is our gift and responsibility), we should be sure that we speak the Word as purely, clearly, and fittingly as God enables us to do. What possible place is there for lengthy guessing and speculation and meandering, when we have barely begun to scratch the surface of revealed truth?
As this post has barely begun to scratch the surface of the significance of the fact that Jesus never prefaced His teaching about God with "I think."