Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Abiding Message of John’s Gospel

Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name. John 20:30-31 (NASB)

On January 1, 2012, we opened our Bibles to John 1:1 and began a verse-by-verse study of this magnificent Gospel that has lasted almost 4½ years, through over 125 sermons. Today marks the conclusion of that series, as we look back on the abiding message of the entire book. Having examined the trees, we now look at the forest.

One of the fundamental questions we must answer for every book of the Bible that we set out to study is, “What is the purpose of this book?” Why was it written? Why should we read it? Often that purpose is not stated, so we must search like a detective looking for clues, piecing together what has been written, taking special account of all the relevant historical and cultural data that is available. But John does the reader of his Gospel a great favor. Near the end of it, he comes right out and tells us why he has written this book. “These have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.”

With those words, John tells us that he wrote his Gospel with a singular focus of proving Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of God, so that those who read these words will become convinced and place their faith in Christ in order to be saved from sin. By believing upon the Son of God, Jesus Christ, we have “life” in His name. That “life” is experienced in two ways. In John 10:10, Jesus says that He has come that we might have life, and have it abundantly. Abundant life is life here and now, lived on an entirely different plane than we have ever known it before. It is a life shared with God and imbued with His love, His joy, His peace, transforming us to whole new level of experience in this world. But the life that Jesus has promised to those who believe upon Him is not merely abundant (as if that were not enough), but it is also eternal. John 3:16 is probably the best known verse of the whole Bible. It says that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life. The life that Jesus gives to those who believe on Him will never end. The abundant life that the believer in Christ lives here and now just carries on uninterruptedly beyond this world, beyond death, beyond the grave, in God’s presence in heaven forever more. This life – abundant and eternal – is only possible through faith in Jesus Christ.

Now, John says in the final words of this Gospel, “there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written” (21:25). So, it would be impossible to record in writing all the things that Jesus has done. So how did John go about deciding what to include and what to omit? John says here in 20:30-31 that he has chosen to include the information that he, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, believes to be sufficient to persuade his readers of the truthfulness of the words of Jesus and the trustworthiness of His works. None of the information he has chosen to omit from the account would help us make any more informed decision to believe upon Christ than what he has written.

So, with this aim of the Gospel in mind, let us consider what John tells us about Jesus, and how this divinely inspired revelation of Christ in this Gospel compels us to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and have life in His name.

I. The divine nature of the eternal Logos 

Where does the story of Jesus Christ begin? Mark, the shortest of the four Gospels, begins with the launching of Jesus’ public ministry at His baptism. Matthew and Luke, on the other hand, begin with stories surrounding the birth of Jesus. But for John, the Gospel of Jesus Christ begins, well, at the beginning. John does not begin with the baptism of Jesus, or with the birth of Jesus, but he takes us back to eternity past. He begins this Gospel the way the Bible itself begins in the book of Genesis, with the familiar words, “In the beginning.”

With those words, John takes us back into eternity past, when all that existed was God. Before the universe, planet earth, the human race, or any other created thing existed, God eternally existed. Because of His nature, God is a revealer of Himself. He speaks truth. As Schaeffer’s book title expresses it so well, “He is there and He is not silent.” Wherever God is, His Word is present as well. So, John’s Gospel begins: “In the beginning was the Word.” The Greek word translated “Word” in all of our English versions is the word logos. Greek philosophers had, for 500 years, used this term to denote ultimate Reason, or that which gives shape, form, or life to the material universe. This same word was also a fitting translation of the Hebrew word often used to describe what God spoke.[1] Since John was writing for Jews and Gentiles, he finds here in this single word, Logos, a word that clearly communicates exactly who Jesus is.

He says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” This indicates to us that there is both a distinction and a singularity at play when it comes to God. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. Throughout the centuries, inspired Scripture had been giving its readers hints as to the nature of the eternal God. He is one, without question; but within the unity of God, there is a plurality of sorts. He speaks of Himself in the plural, saying things like, “Let us make man in our image.” He takes upon Himself a name, Elohim, which is plural, but which becomes the subject of singular verbs. With the coming of Jesus Christ into the world, the mystery of the Trinity began to be illuminated. This eternally existent, divine Word which was with God and was God, became flesh and dwelt among us (1:14). Jesus was God, in human flesh.

That being so, John describes His divine nature in the prologue of the first chapter. He refers to this eternal Logos as the One who created all things; the One who is Light and who brings light into our darkness; He is the One who is Life, and gives life to us. And when He became flesh in the person of Jesus, John says, “We beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (1:14). In 1:18, he says, “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.” In other words, as God in the flesh, Jesus uniquely reveals God to those who behold Him. As He said to Philip in John 14, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (14:9).

Throughout Jesus’ earthly ministry, He consistently spoke of His eternal, divine nature. In John 8, when some Jews were appealing to their descent from Abraham as the basis for their relationship with God, Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am” (8:58). In John 10, when Jesus said, “I and the Father are one” (10:30). At this, the people attempted to stone Jesus to death! He said, “I showed you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you stoning Me?” They said, “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God” (10:32-33). They clearly understood that He professed to be none other than God in human flesh.

Throughout John’s Gospel, Jesus refers to Himself using the very name of God, “I am,” by which the Lord revealed Himself to Moses at the burning bush. In 8:24, He says, “unless you believe that I am, you will die in your sins.” When He foretold His own death to His disciples, He said, “From now on, I am telling you before it comes to pass, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am” (13:19). Seven times, He joins the “I am” with metaphorical statements to explain His divine nature.

In 6:35, Jesus says, “I am the Bread of Life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.” These words indicate that Jesus is the One who supplies our deepest needs, who sustains our very lives, and who satisfies our deepest longings as only God can do. In 8:12, Jesus said, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the Light of life.” This indicates that Jesus is the One who has come to illuminate the sin-darkened world with the light of the knowledge of God. In 10:7-9, He said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. … I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved.” By these words, Jesus was telling us that He alone can provide salvation to us from our sins. How does He do that?

In John 10:11, He says, “I am the Good Shepherd; the Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” He can be the door through which we enter for refuge and deliverance from our sins, because He is also the Shepherd who has sacrificed Himself in His death on the cross to save us. As our Good Shepherd, He also invites us into the intimacy of a personal relationship with Him. He says in 10:14, “I am the Good Shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me.” Then in 11:25, Jesus says, “I am the Resurrection and the Life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies; and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.” So, He is the One who has life in Himself, and is able to give that life away to those who believe in Him, and the life He gives is never-ending, and cannot be extinguished even by death.

In John 14:6, He says, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” Because He is the Way, He is the only way for us to come to the Father. There is no other way for a person to know God except through a relationship with Jesus Christ. Because He is the Truth, we can believe what He says and trust what He has done. And because He is the Life, the life that He gives to those who believe in Him is Himself – His own life which was laid down in death for us, and which lives on through us as we trust in Him and walk with Him by faith.

Finally, in John 15:1, Jesus says, “I am the True Vine.” He explains the metaphor further in 15:5, saying, “I am the Vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” In other words, He is the one who sustains us and enables us to live for Him and serve Him through the intimacy of our relationship with Him. A branch removed from the vine is dead and unable to produce any fruit. We are able to be fruitful in our endeavors by abiding in the Vine in such a way that the life-giving power of the Vine flows in and through us.

Who is Jesus Christ? Over and over again, John makes it clear that He is no less than God Himself in human flesh. He has not written about everything Jesus said or did, but what He has written is sufficient to convince us of the divine nature of the eternal Logos, the Word of God, who is God, who has become flesh and dwelt among us.

Moving on from this, we find in John’s Gospel …

II. The wondrous revelation of the sovereign Lord

Some of you will recall the old Burma Shave signs that used to be found along the side of the road many years ago. Out in the rural areas beyond where I grew up, some of these signs still stood when I was a kid. Over the course of a mile or so, these signs would begin to form a message. For example, the first sign might say, “A peach looks good,” and then a quarter-mile later, the next sign might say, “with lots of fuzz.” Traveling on, the next sign might read, “but man is no peach,” and then, “and never wuz.” With each sign, you got a portion of the message, which would only come together to make a complete message when the final sign had been read.[2]

In a sense, John’s Gospel progresses kind of like those old Burma Shave ads. The narratives and dialogues flow into and out of several carefully chosen accounts of miracles that Jesus performed. Each one stands alone, but then presents a complete message that we only fully understand as we see them all together. John calls them “signs.” A sign is an act that draws our attention beyond itself to a deeper truth. Each one shows us something about Jesus – who He is, and what He had come into the world to do. John says that Jesus performed many “signs” that are not recorded in this Gospel, but “these” signs ought to convince us to believe in Him. There are seven of them that occur in Chapters 2-12.

The first of Jesus’ miracles recorded in John comes in Chapter 2 at a wedding in Cana of Galilee, where Jesus turned water into wine. Immediately, the people noticed a difference in what Jesus had provided compared to what they had already been served. The headwaiter said, “Every man serves the good wine first, and when the people have drunk freely, then he serves the poorer wine; but you have kept the good wine until now” (2:10). In performing this miracle, Jesus was demonstrating that here, in the fullness of time, God had given His very best to the world. Jesus was the new wine that had flowed into the world at the incarnation of the Son of God. The religious system of Israel, which God had instituted under Moses, had become corrupted and broken beyond repair. But God sent something better into the world – His only begotten Son to quench the spiritual thirst of humanity in a way that nothing else could. It was a new day that had dawned with the coming of Christ into the world, as God was inviting the human race into the joy of a covenant relationship with Himself. John says, “This beginning of His signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him” (2:11).

Upon returning to Cana of Galilee at a later time, Jesus was met by a royal official from Capernaum. He had heard of Jesus and made it a point to see Him, because he was desperate. You see, his son was sick and near to the point of death. The Bible says that “he was imploring Him to come down (to Capernaum) and heal his son” (4:47). He said to Jesus, “Sir, come down before my child dies,” and Jesus said, “Go; your son lives” (4:49-50). The man believed Jesus and set out for home, only to discover that at the very same moment that the Lord Jesus spoke this word to him, his son was miraculously healed. In performing this miracle, Jesus showed that He holds all of life in His power, and with the speaking of His word and the exercise of His will, He can sustain life and restore it.

Following this, Jesus returned to Jerusalem, where He found a lame man laying by the pool of Bethesda. A myth had circulated that the waters of that pool had curative powers, but this man had seen no evidence of that. For 38 years he had been hopelessly paralyzed. But Jesus came along and said to him, “Get up, pick up your pallet and walk,” and immediately the man did (John 5:8-9). Now it just so happened to be the Sabbath, and the religious authorities began to take issue with the fact that both Jesus and this man were violating the Sabbath – Jesus by healing, and the man by carrying his pallet. In this sign, Jesus was showing Himself to be the One who has authority over the Sabbath, that is, the giver and right interpreter of the Law of God. He was showing them that compassion for mankind knows no bounds and is never forbidden, no matter what day of the week it is. But more importantly, Jesus was showing us through this lame man what He is able to do spiritually for all who trust in Him. Like that hopeless paralytic, each one of us is born in a hopeless spiritual condition, unable to take one step toward God unless the Lord first comes to us. And He is able to make us whole, make us new, make us to arise and walk by faith in Him if we will but trust in the Lord Jesus.

In Chapter 6, we find the only miracle that is recorded in all four Gospels. It is the feeding of the five thousand – though we should be clear that all four Gospels indicate that it was 5,000 men, and Matthew tells us that this does not include the number of women and children. With the day growing late, and the crowd reluctant to disperse from the teaching of Jesus, the disciples began to wonder how this multitude would be fed. A boy was found in possession of five barley loaves and two small fish, and he was brought to Jesus. Jesus took those small portions and gave thanks to His Father for them and then began to distribute them. When all had been served, everyone ate all that they wanted, and there were leftovers enough to satisfy even the disciples (6:1-14). In this sign, Jesus was showing us that He is the One who is able to supply our every need. Our limitations do not limit Him. He has the power and authority to provide for us according to His will. And what He has provided for us most importantly is Himself as the Bread of Life which will satisfy and sustain us forever.

Just a little while after this miracle, the disciples went on across the Sea of Galilee toward Capernaum, with Jesus promising to come after them later. Along the way, a terrible storm arose on the sea, but it was not the storm that frightened them the most. What frightened them most was the vision of Jesus walking across the water and drawing near to them (6:15-20). But it was not a vision – it was reality. Jesus was demonstrating His power over all of the elements of nature – sea and storm and wind and rain. Everything in creation is under His authority, including the human race. He says to the disciples as He draws near to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” He is teaching us through this sign that when we walk with Him by faith through life, there is nothing that we will encounter that is beyond His authority or His ability. We need not live in fear, because we walk with the One who is Lord over all.

In Chapter 9, Jesus encounters a man who was born blind. Jesus spat on the ground and making clay from the mud that He wiped on the man’s eyes and told him to go and wash. When he washed the mud from this man’s eyes, he could see again. In performing this miracle, Jesus was showing Himself to be the Light of the World that casts out the darkness of this world into which we are born.

And then we come to the tomb of Lazarus in Chapter 11. It is a hopeless scene, until the Lord Jesus shows up. With the sound of His word, He calls Lazarus forth from the tomb, and out He comes. Here Jesus shows Himself to be the Lord of life and death – the One who is able to overcome death, foreshadowing His own resurrection and the resurrection of all who trust in Him in the last day.

And so, with these seven signs, John has shown Jesus to be the Sovereign Lord – Lord over creation, and Lord over life and death. In so doing, John has set the stage for the final half of his Gospel, in which we find …

III. The glorious grace of the Holy Lamb.

Almost half of the Gospel According to John takes place over the course of the final week of the earthly life of Jesus in which He enters into Jerusalem, is betrayed by Judas Iscariot, arrested, condemned to death, crucified, and arisen from death. The bulk of this latter half of John’s Gospel is focused on the final 24 hours leading up to the cross. But long before that, this was foreshadowed in the first chapter, as John the Baptist said, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (1:29). As the sacrificial lambs were slaughtered on the altar of Jerusalem, Jesus had come into the world to be the ultimate and final sacrifice that takes away the sin of the world by the shedding of His blood on the cross.

Throughout John’s Gospel, there is a recurring emphasis on Jesus’ appointed time or hour. At the first miracle, Jesus said to His mother, “My hour has not yet come” (2:4). When His brothers were compelling Him to go to Jerusalem and make a public demonstration, Jesus said, “My time is not yet here, … My time has not yet fully come” (7:6, 8). When a crowd tried to seize Him in Jerusalem, they were prevented from so doing, “because,” John says, “His hour had not yet come” (7:30; cf. 8:20). But beginning in Chapter 12, Jesus begins to say, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (12:23). He says, “What shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name” (12:27-28). Then as Jesus gathers into the upper room for a final meal with His disciples, John 13:1 says that Jesus knew “that His hour had come and that He would depart out of this world to the Father.” And as He went to His Father in prayer, He prayed, “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You” (17:1).

The hour for which Christ had come into the world – the hour where His glory would be most supremely displayed – was the moment when He would lay down His life in death to become our substitute and bear our sins under the outpouring of God’s judgment and wrath. This is the Good Shepherd, laying down His life for His sheep (10:11). This is the gracious glory of the love of God for humanity – the giving of His Only Begotten Son, who is lifted up on the cross like the lifting up of the serpent impaled on the staff in the days of Moses, that all who look upon Him in belief would not perish but have everlasting life (3:15-16).

Jesus said that He possessed the authority to lay His own life down, and the authority to take it up again (10:18). This He did on the third day, when His tomb was found to be empty, and when He appeared to Mary Magdalene at the tomb, to the disciples in the locked room. A week later, He appeared to them again in the same place, this time with Thomas, who beheld the wounds that were born in His body in His sacrificial death, and declared Jesus to be, “my Lord and my God” (20:28).

Like a grand weaver, John has carefully chosen and skillfully knitted together these various strands from the life and ministry of Jesus Christ so that we see a beautiful tapestry depicting for us this Christ who is the Son of God. He is the divine, eternal Word of God – the Logos – who became flesh for us in the incarnation, who testified to His divine nature in all that He taught and preached, and who demonstrated His sovereignty as Lord over nature and over life and death until the very day when, as the Lamb of God slain to remove the sins of the world, He laid down His life and took it up again. These things, John says, are sufficient to make the case that Jesus is who He said He is – the Christ and the Son of God. If we will believe in Him, we will find life, abundant and eternal, by faith in His name. If you never have before, I pray that today, you will be convinced by what is revealed for us in the Gospel According to John to turn from your sin and trust in the Lord Jesus, who bore your sins under their full penalty in His death, that you might be forgiven, reconciled to God, and saved to the uttermost by His matchless grace. Those of us who have come to believe upon the Lord Jesus have been commissioned by Him to take this message to all the world. He said, “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you” (20:21). How will we persuade others to believe? I suggest that we do even as John has done, and present to them the Word of God, as recorded here, that they might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing they may have life in His name. Invite that person to read and study through John’s Gospel with you over the course of days, weeks, or months, allowing them to see and hear for themselves who Jesus is and what He has done for them.

[1] D. H. Johnson, “Logos,” in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (ed. Joel Green, Scot McKnight, I. H. Marshall; Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1992), 481-484.
[2] Adapted from Adrian Rogers, Believe in Miracles but Trust in Jesus (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 1997), 11-12.

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