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Still not known

October 2017 | by Roger Hitchings

It is the glorious privilege of every believer to be able to say, ‘I know the Lord’. But how well do we know him?

That is the issue we began to look at last month. The Saviour is ever with us, as he promised, and his Spirit is ever active within us. Yet our understanding and experience of the Lord is far from what it could be.

The disciples had walked together with Jesus for three years, heard the most amazing teaching, seen wonderful displays of compassion and power, spent quiet times in conversation together with him and heard his sublime prayers.

Life with Jesus had been challenging, but beautiful and delightful. Then he announced he was leaving them. The disciples were devastated and so confused. There then followed the most wonderful discourse by the Lord, recorded in John 14.

In that discourse two issues were raised by the disciples that help us understand more about knowing Jesus.

Sad perspective

Philip, stimulated by what Jesus had said, asked for one really special blessing before the Lord went away: ‘Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us’ (John 14:8). Jesus replied with one of the saddest statements he made to his disciples: ‘Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time?’

How disappointed he must have been. He had shown them so much, spoken so clearly, displayed such amazing evidence of his identity and still they did not really know him.

But how often could the Saviour say the same words to us? We have heard so much, known so much of his grace and favour, enjoyed so many blessings from his hands, and yet so often act and speak in a way that shows we don’t yet know him as we ought.

Are we not too much like those referred to in Isaiah 53:8: ‘By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and, as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living’. This verse highlights the lack of thought and consideration there was of the Lord’s plight and sufferings.

Was this Philip’s problem, that he had heard and saw but did not consider what was being said by Jesus? Is it not so easy to hear and see so much, but think so little about it, that we end up not knowing very much at all?

Special promise

The other question was by Judas (not Iscariot). He asked how Jesus would show himself, since he had just said he was going away and the world would not see him anymore. Jesus replied with this wonderful promise, ‘Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them’ (v.23).

Dr Hugh Martin, one of the leading Scottish theologians of the mid-nineteenth century, in his marvellous book The abiding presence, says of this discussion between Judas and Jesus: ‘Our Lord meets his difficulty very beautifully by assuring him that the manifestation shall not be bodily … but spiritual, such as the invisible Father may give of Himself. Even thus will He manifest His presence with His disciples’ (p.30).

It is through Christ’s teaching by his Word, and by the illuminating work of the Spirit of truth, that we come to know him and get to know him better.

So we have Christ’s Word, which surely encompasses the whole of Scripture. Of course, we have the specific earthly teaching of the Lord and the record of his life in the Gospels, but these are prefigured, explained and illustrated for us through the rest of the Bible.

Significant practice

How do we turn these facts and all this information into a real and vital knowledge of Jesus? Dr J. I. Packer helps us with this: ‘How can we turn knowledge about God into knowledge of God? The rule for doing this is simple but demanding. It is that we turn each truth that we learn into a matter for meditation before God, leading to prayer and praise to God’ (Knowing God).

Prayer and meditation seem such simple means to a knowledge of Christ and yet it is here we fail. Or so says John Piper in a sermon on Isaiah 53: ‘And one of our greatest weaknesses — more today than ever probably — is that we do not meditate on the great things’. Is it not that we are too busy for quiet, prayerful reflection on what the Word says?

Some years ago, I had a conversation with one of the most Christ-focused ladies I have ever encountered.

I had lent her Hugh Martin’s The abiding presence. She loved it. Then she told me how, in her discomfort and pain, she often could not sleep, but over many years had developed the habit of picturing a scene from the life of the Lord and going through it in her mind, as though she were a spectator.

In this way she had grown in her knowledge of the Saviour. And in physical distress she had found peace and joy of heart. She knew Jesus.

Obedience, meditation and prayer are basic aspects of the Christian life, and yet here we earn the rebuke, ‘So long with you and you still do not know me’. Yet knowing Jesus has an important impact on us and through us, as we will see next month.

Since his retirement from full-time pastoral ministry, Roger Hitchings has pursued an itinerant ministry. He also regularly speaks and writes on old age and dementia. He is chair of the Reformation and Revival Fellowship