The season of Lent is a time of waiting, and waiting is one of the great themes of the Christian life. In John’s Gospel, we wait for Jesus and we wait with Jesus as the question of his contested identity presses in. Who is Jesus Christ? Many answers are given: the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, Messiah, Son of God, the King of Israel, the Son of man, a teacher who has come from God, the bridegroom, the Savior of the world, a sinner, a Samaritan, a demon-possessed man, a blasphemer, Joseph the carpenter’s son—“Didn’t this guy play basketball for Nazareth High last year?” Jesus, of course, answers the question of his identity with his powerful “I am” (ego eimi) statements, including the climactic “I am the resurrection and the life” in John 11:25.
But behind the persistent Christological focus of the Gospel of John, there is a bigger or, if you will, a deeper question: Who is the God that Jesus of Nazareth has come to reveal? As C. K. Barrett put it, “There could hardly be a more Christocentric writer than John, yet his very Christocentricity is theocentric.” This recognition of what we might call “the theology behind the theology” in the Gospel of John has been explored by several scholars, including Marianne Meye Thompson. In her insightful book, The God of the Gospel of John, the question is: What kind of God is the God whom we know in Jesus Christ? Or, as Thompson quotes her teacher D. Moody Smith:
The fundamental question of the Fourth Gospel is the question of God, not whether a God exists but who is God and how God reveals himself. Thus the fundamental question or issue of the gospel can be stated as the nature of revelation. What God is revealed and how is God revealed.
In John 11, the character of God, “the God who raises the dead,” to use a distinctive Pauline expression (see 2 Cor 1:9), is revealed in three surprising, unexpected actions that Jesus took. Each of these acts poses a question about the character of Christ and the nature of the God he came to reveal. Jesus waited (11:6): Why the delay? Jesus wailed or raged (11:33): Why the anger? And Jesus wept (11:35): Why the grief? These acts give insight both into Jesus’s intentionality and his emotionality, and they do so with an intensity found nowhere else in the gospels. It is no wonder that commentators across the centuries have been confounded by the Jesus of John 11.
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