The identity of The Word in… – John 1:1-18, Part 4

Who was God in the skin?  In our study of John 1:1-18, we learned in the previous post that John writes in verse 14 that God, who John calls The Word, took on human skin. But John hasn’t told us yet who The Word is, so let me introduce another word. God in the skin is what theologians call The Incarnation. 

Incarnation sounds like a flower, the carnation.  Or Carnation Instant Breakfast. (Is that even still a thing?)   But The Incarnation is neither of those.  The Incarnation is a word derived from the Latin words, en carne which means “in the flesh.”  You might be familiar with the word “carnivore.”  That’s a word that means “meat eater” or “flesh eater.”  Same root word. 

When God who is the Word, John writes, takes on flesh, that is God in human skin.  Again, up to this point in verse 14, John has not yet named specifically who the Word is.  But he soon will.

Before we get to the big reveal, let’s review what we have learned about the Word so far in this week’s posts (here, here and here).  1. The Word is God, 2. The Word was with God in the beginning, creating all things. 3. The Word is God speaking to and interacting with all people in a new way.  4. The Word is the author of life and light. 

Now in verse 14 he says “The Word became flesh.”  What John doesn’t tell us is the story about how The Word was born by a human mother, through a physical birth, as a baby into a human family.  We know that story from the other Gospel writers Matthew and Luke.  John’s purpose is to point out something important about the Word.  In verse one he says “The Word was God,” and in verse 14 he says, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” So from verse 1 to verse 14 we have the concept of the Word as both 100% human and 100% God. 

As we continue following John’s introduction of the Word chapter 1, look again at verses 14-18.  He says that the Word came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John emphasizes this point in verse 17, specifically for his Jewish audience.  The law came through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  Now we know the identity of the Word! This is big reveal! This is the first time John mentions the name, Jesus. Jesus is just the Hebrew name, Yeshua, which is identical to our English name Joshua. But traditionally, we translate it as Jesus. What is even more important than his, John says, is that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the savior of the world, not because Jesus followed the Law of Moses, but because he brings grace and truth. 

There’s that phrase again. The Word, Jesus, is full of grace and truth. The image John gives us is of a bottomless pit that is filled to the brim. In other words, Jesus’ grace and truth are so abundant, there is no end to them. And yet, like we saw above in verse 14, John doesn’t explain the depths of what that means.  He simply introduces the larger concept of grace and truth, which are found infinitely in Jesus.  We’ll talk more about Jesus’ as the source of grace and truth in the weeks and months to come as John returns to them.

For now, notice how John concludes in verse 18.  God is invisible, but God the One and Only (another way that John refers to Jesus) has made God known.  Jesus makes God visible to us.  When we read the stories of Jesus in the Gospels, we get to see what God is like. The invisible God become visible in the life of Jesus.  Amazing!    

The significance of this is that God so desires relationship with all humanity that he made a way for us to easily see his heart and love for us. But it gets more amazing still.  When Jesus leaves the disciples, he tells that he wants them to incarnate himself to the rest of the world.  Just as Jesus is God in the skin to us, disciples of Jesus are to be Jesus in the skin to the rest of the world. What does that mean? Check back to the next post, as we’ll talk about it.

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The amazing news that God wants to adopt you – John 1:1-18, Part 3

So far, John hasn’t told us the identity of the Word.  He continues now in verses 6-9 by giving us some history.  Verses 1-5 have been very theological, kind of vague, maybe hard to understand.  John knows he needs to start getting more specific.  So he introduces us to a man named John.  He is not talking about himself.  In the Gospel of John, the name John is always talking about John the Baptist.  See for yourself by reading John 1, verses 6-9.

As you can see in verses 6-9, the author John only mentions the name of this other guy, who happens to also be named John. The author John does not yet tell us that the other John is also the person who was famous for baptizing people.  We’ll hear about John’s baptizing ministry in the passage we study next week.  For now, the author John writes that this other John was sent from God to testify concerning the light, so that through him all people might believe in the light.  John (the baptizer), we learn, wanted people to believe in the light.  John himself was not the light of the world.  John was simply a witness, giving testimony, and pointing people to turn to the Light. 

In these verses the author John introduces a word that we will see frequently in his gospel: believe.  Specifically, he wants people to believe in the Word, who is the light of the world. 

In verses 10-13, the author John continues this theme about believing in the Word who is the light of the world.  Read those verses to learn what John has to say about that.

Did you notice that in verse 10, John repeats what he already said about the Word in verses 1-5: The Word created the world, but the world did not recognize him.  Then in verse 11, John gets more specific. He says the Word came to his own people, but even his own people did not receive him. 

The clues about the identity of the Word are starting to bring the identity of the Word into focus.  The Word is God.  The Word came to his people, but they didn’t receive him.  Do you know who the Word is yet?

I will admit that in verses 10-11, John has become a bit negative or dire, talking about darkness and people not receiving the Word, but he quickly turns 180 degrees to a message of hope.  In verses 12-13 John shares one of the most wonderful passages in his Gospel.  He writes that any person can receive the Word, can believe in the Word, and as a result, can become children of God.  Any person can be adopted into God’s family!  This is astonishing news.  Adoption is central to the story of God’s family.  God’s heart beats to adopt children, to expand his family, to receive and welcome all.  What a message of love.  Whatever this Word is, the Word brings light into the darkness.  If we receive the Word and believe in his name, we can become adopted children of God!

In fact, as we continue, we will now see the extreme measures God takes so that people can be adopted into his family. 

Look at verse 14 “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”  The Greek word John uses for “made his dwelling” is skeneo, and as you can see, it is where we get our English word “skin.” 

What it means is “to take up residence or to come to reside or to come to dwell IN A TENT.”  You can see why the New International Version of the Bible translates this phrase as “made his dwelling among us.”  The mental imagery here would be astounding for the Jewish mind.  The Jews are a people that started as a nomadic tribe, going back to the time of Abraham, and the idea of tent dwellings was very near and dear to them. Abraham lived in tents. But there is more.

When you think of a tent what material do you think of? Probably canvas or nylon. But in ancient times, tents were made of what?  Skins!  Animal skins.  There was one tent in particular that was made of animal skin that was incredibly important to the Jewish people.  The tabernacle. 

I invite you to open a Bible to Exodus chapter 26, and there we can read about how the tabernacle was made.  At the beginning of the chapter, God talks with Moses about the curtains that will form the interior and exterior walls of the tabernacle.  Then in verse 14 he instructs them to make a covering.  This would be a large exterior roof, and it is to be made of ram skins dyed red and over that a covering of sea cows, which were native to the area.  When you looked at the tabernacle, then, you saw animal skins.  No canvas or nylon.  It was a tent covered with animal skins. 

And where did God reside in the Old Testament?  In the tabernacle, made of skin. 

Turn back to John 1:14, and we meet this God in the skin.  John uses powerful imagery, saying that the Word became flesh, and made his dwelling among us.  He tabernacled with us.  Who was God in the skin? Who was the Word?

We’ll find out in the next post.

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In the beginning…God had help creating? – John 1:1-18, Part 1

Do you like your skin?  Do you feel comfortable in your skin?  I mentioned in the preview post here that we are going to talk about Jesus’ skin.

I’m sure each of us has thought more than our fair share about our skin.  The ways we don’t like it, especially.  The blemishes.  The wear and tear.  The scars. 

Over the years we’ve all probably spent some time and money on our skin.  At the very least, I hope you wear sun block because skin cancer is a reality we can avoid. 

When you go to the store, there are lots of skin care products, aren’t there?  And there’s debate about skin care products.  Does the US Food and Drug Administration have good regulations for skin care products, or are they allowing us to put toxins on our skin? 

I’m not writing about skin care, but we do need to talk about skin.  Jesus’ skin.

Turn in your Bibles to the Gospel of John.  As you are turning there, let’s briefly review what we talked about last week, an introduction to the Gospel of John.  John was one of Jesus’ disciples, and John lived to be an old man, most likely that last disciple living. There were already three other books about Jesus.  We call them Matthew, Mark and Luke.  They are very similar, so John wanted to write about Jesus from a different perspective.  He wants people who never walked or talked with Jesus to believe in Jesus. 

As we’ll see, John talks about his desire for people to believe in Jesus right from outset, in the prologue to his story about Jesus.  John was probably connected to the church in the city of Ephesus, which would have likely been a group of house churches.  All was not fine and dandy in the church.  People were trying teach things about Jesus that John didn’t agree with.  As the last eyewitness of Jesus, he wants to set the record straight.  Who was Jesus?  Why did he come?  Or like we’re talking about this morning: skin.  Skin?  Yup, John talks about skin right near the beginning. 

Let’s start with John 1:1-5.  When you read those verses, there is no mention of skin.  I promise, John’s getting there. So let’s follow along with his flow of thought. Look at verse 1, “In the beginning was the Word.” Does that remind you of any other famous verse of the Bible? 

It’s nearly identical to Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,” the famous opening verse of the Bible. Do you see how John is making a link to that verse?  But with an important change.  A twist.  “In the beginning was the Word!”  What word is John talking about? 

He gives us clues.  Whatever this word is, John tells us in verses 1-5 numerous elements of the Word’s identity.  First he writes that The Word was with God in the beginning. In the beginning? Is John referring to the same beginning as Genesis 1:1? Just so you aren’t confused about what John means, he clarifies that the Word was God.  That is the significant difference between Genesis 1:1 and John 1:1.  In Genesis 1:1, we are simply told that God created the heavens and earth.  Now in John 1:1, we have a clarification, some new information.  God and The Word were there together in the beginning, but they are not two separate entities.  The Word is God.  John’s readers who were familiar with Genesis 1:1 might have said, “Wait a minute, John, Genesis says God created.  Not God and someone else.”  So John moves on to his next point.

The Word created all things.  Look at verses 3-5, where John writes, “Through him all things were made.”  John is not saying that Genesis 1:1 is incorrect.  He is simply adding more information to the narrative.  John is saying that when we think of the idea of God creating the universe, we need to expand our understanding of God.  God also includes The Word. 

John has more to say about this Word that is God.  And we’re going to get to that.  First we need to understand at least a bit of what John is getting at when he uses this concept of The Word.  We’ll talk about John’s use of “The Word” in the next post.

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We need to talk about Jesus’ skin – John 1:1-18, Preview

When I was a kid I had a couple super-annoying skin conditions.  Maybe you’ve experienced that too. First I had eczema. Second, an allergic reaction to nickel in metal alloys (I still can’t wear watches with metal backs, or I break out). Then I developed plantar warts on my fingers and the soles of my feet.  Disgusting, right?  I remember being a freshman in high school, new to the school because I had only gone to a small private school prior to that, embarrassed of my wart-ridden fingertips, so I would ball my hands into fists, covering the warts.  Of course, acne is an ever-present reality for many teens.  Thankfully, I grew out of my skin conditions.  But if you watch Dr. Pimple Popper online, people of all ages, shapes and sizes can have skin conditions of astounding varieties. 

Do you think Jesus dealt with any of those skin conditions?  Or did God give him perfect skin?  We contemporary humans can spend a lot of time, money and energy striving for so-called perfect skin, with our cremes and treatments and jade rollers.  If you’re reading this wondering what jade rollers are, all I know is that my daughter’s friends got her one for her birthday last year.  It looks like a mini-rolling pin that use on your face, and it is supposed to help you have better skin.  Can you imagine Jesus using a jade roller on his face?  I don’t think they had jade rollers, cremes or facials in the ancient near east (except for the wealthy), so it was highly likely that Jesus broke out like any teen and had acne.  He probably popped his pimples, though I suspect most Jewish peasants did not have mirrors.  Maybe they had a polished metal plate.  Maybe they didn’t care about their appearance as much as we do. 

If you’re wondering why I’m speculating about Jesus having skin conditions, it’s because the first week in our blog series studying the Gospel of John talks about that very topic.  John doesn’t start with the birth of Jesus, and in fact, he begins before that.  Way before that.  Before there was a man named Jesus.  But in short order, John fast-forwards to Jesus’ humanity, though he never mentions Jesus’ birth.  Instead, strangely enough, John talks about Jesus’ skin.  What we’ll learn about Jesus’ skin is surprisingly important to each of us. 

Join us next week on the blog as we talk about it.

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Jesus calls regular people to follow him…and he gives them nicknames – Gospel of John Intro, Part 5

Do you have a nickname? I think nicknames are loads of fun. Interestingly, it seems Jesus was inclined to give some of his friends nicknames! That not only tells you something about Jesus’ personality, but also about the power of naming.

One of the people that Jesus gave a nickname was his friend John, whose backstory we have been studying this week as we prepare to enter a months-long study of John’s Gospel. To learn John’s nickname, turn to Mark 3:17. There we read that Jesus gave the name Boarneges to the brothers James and John.  Boarneges is likely a Hebrew or Aramaic word, so thankfully, Mark tells us what it means: “Sons of Thunder.”  Why would Jesus call him that?  Was their dad thunder-like?  Maybe.  James’ and John’s dad’s name was Zebedee, and though he shows up in a few stories, those stories never tell us anything about him.  Instead, it seems that Jesus gave James and John the nickname Sons of Thunder because of how they acted. How did they act? 

Turn in your Bible to Luke 9:51-56, where we read a story about James and John that might help us understand why Jesus gave them the nickname Sons of Thunder.  Please pause reading this post, because you’ll want to read Luke’s story, as it is fascinating, and then continue the post below.

How about that? James and John wanted to send down fire on the Samaritans!  I wish I could see video of it.  Were they angry and vicious when they said it?  Were they laughing?  Was it a joke or was it real?  And if it was real, did they believe they could actually send fire on the Samaritans?  Or we they expressing a deep faith in God that God would do it?  I’m partially impressed, if they were being serious, because it means they believed God would perform the miracle of reigning down fire from heaven if he wanted to.  No doubt that would be an awesome miracle to behold.  But whether they were serious or not, Jesus rebukes them, because that’s not what he was about.  Here again, was he laughing at their ridiculousness?  Or was he upset at them, because clearly they had not taken to heart his teachings about loving your enemies.  And when Jesus rebuked them, were they humble and teachable, willing to admit their bad attitude? Did they learn from this? 

We don’t know, of course, but we do know that their thunderousness comes up another way.  Turn in your Bible to Matthew 20:20-28.  Keep your finger there and also turn to Mark 10:35-45.  Both places, Matthew 20 and Mark 10, tell the same story, but Matthew includes one important extra detail.  Please pause reading this post and read Mark’s version of the story first. 

How bold, right?  They want to be given special privileges from Jesus?  They want him to name them as the #2 and #3 officials in his Kingdom? What is going on with these two?  They must have been something else. 

Now turn to Matthew’s version of the story, and look at verse 20.  Surprise, surprise, their mom is with them, advocating for them as well!  Maybe it is not their father who is the thunderous one, but their mom!  In fact, though this story does not put James, John or their mom in a good light, she will show up in the gospels, true to Jesus till the end (see Matthew 27:56), including almost certainly being named as, Salome, one of the three women who traveled to Jesus grave to put spices on his corpse but found an empty tomb.  Clearly, she was a strong woman, and it seems she passed this strength to her boys. 

It was a strength for sure.  We are called to be bold, but our boldness is too often left unchecked, untrained by humility and the Fruit of the Spirit, so that we too can be Sons and Daughters of Thunder.  I suspect that Jesus, when he gave them that nickname, he did so with a twinkle in his eye, because he knew that there was more to James and John than just being arrogant or impetuous.  That’s why Jesus taught what he taught them after they and their mother asked Jesus to give them special places in their kingdom.  What did Jesus say?  Look at Mark 10 verse 42.  He is talking about the way of the world, and he describes it as “lording it over” people. 

Lording it over? What is Jesus talking about?

Jesus is referring to a relational tendency that was very prevalent in his era, and still is common in ours.  It is using our tone of voice, our body language, our boldness, including the boldness to be passive aggressive, which is a sneaky boldness.  We can use those methods to control, to hurt, to wound, to get our way.  It is akin to survival of the fittest in business, in relationships, in school, on sports teams, using whatever means necessary to get ahead, to win.

Jesus says, “Not so with you. Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant.”  And then he talks about how his mission was to serve, to give his life.  That is the foundation of Christian discipleship.  We give our lives, just as Jesus gave his.  Would the Son of Thunder, John, give his life?  He sure did.  For the rest of his life, he served Jesus, the church, and the world.    

What I love from this detail in the story of John the Disciple is that Jesus does call regular people, untrained people, to follow him, and they can follow him and serve in his Kingdom.  John was a fisherman.  John did not go to seminary.  John was a guy who let stuff fly out of his mouth.

Does that resonate with you?  Have you ever thought, “I don’t know enough about the Bible.  I don’t have good control over my mouth.  I’m just a regular guy who works with my hands. My vocabulary is more like Dr. Suess.  I don’t think I’m the person God really wants to make an impact in his Kingdom.”

Then look at how Jesus interacts with John.  He says “Come follow me,” and then look at what John did.  He followed.  John could have said, “Me?  No, not me.  You’ve got the wrong guy Jesus.”

But John followed, and Jesus shaped John into a man who served his Kingdom well.  What next step will you take to answer Jesus’ call to follow him into a new area, a deeper discipleship?

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The importance of belief – Gospel of John Intro, Part 4

John is not alone in telling the story of Jesus.  The other three Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life have been published long before.   Mark first, then Matthew and Luke soon after.  They are all very similar to one another, so John decides to go in a different direction.  There is nothing wrong with the other three, but John wants other aspects of Jesus to be remembered by the succeeding generations of disciples. How is John’s account unique?

In some ways, John’s account is more personal and more spiritual, you could even say more theological, than the other Gospels.  John wants people to believe in Jesus, and he takes great pains to convey that to his readers.  The most famous instance of this is John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have everlasting life.” That’s why one of our primary goals through this series will be to grow a deeper faith in Jesus that works itself out in a life of faithfulness to Jesus. We will see John use the word “believe” repeatedly.

Before I talk further about John’s emphasis on belief, let’s take what might seem to be a bit of a sidetrack. Some people believe it is possible that John did not write as an old man. They claim John wrote as a middle-aged man, perhaps in the 50s to 70CE due to his references that make it seem Jerusalem had not yet been destroyed. For example, in John 5:2, he writes that there “is” a pool in Jerusalem.  Jerusalem was destroyed by Rome in 70 CE, so if John was writing after that date, you’d think he would have written that there “used to be a pool”.  Adherents to this early date of publication also suggest it is much more likely that a younger John could author a book compared to an elderly John.

But as I suggested, it seems to me that evidence points to John as writing much later in life.  We know that as the years went by, John had a ministry tenure in Ephesus.  Perhaps the Gospel of John was written from there or to the church in Ephesus. All those years in ministry have given John time to reflect, to mature in his thinking about his old friend, and what the next generation needs to know about Jesus.

As John attempts to give us a strong case for believing in and following Jesus, we’ll see him be very intentional about proving to us that Jesus is who he said he was. We’ll see this in lists. John loves lists.  He includes a list of testifiers/witnesses about Jesus. He includes a list of “signs,” miracles which point people to believe in Jesus.  As I mentioned early, he also includes a list of “I am” statements which point people to see that Jesus is God.  For eight of the I AMs, Jesus compares himself to something, using figurative language.  Then there are more I AMs that are not figurative but explicit, literal statements of who Jesus is.  John wants us to believe in, know and live for Jesus.

John is an excellent book to study if you want to grow in your knowledge and love of Jesus.  Therefore, John is recommended as a starting point for people interested in learning about Christianity because of its emphasis on belief, on Jesus as the Divine Christ who is 100% human and 100% God, as authenticated by the testifiers, the signs and the “I am” statements. Yet its themes are also deep, often very theological and philosophical. 

Check back in for the final post introducing the Gospel of John, as we need to talk about John’s nickname. 

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The backstory of John the Apostle…continued – Gospel of John Into, Part 3

The fisherman we met in the first post of this blog series on the backstory of the Apostle John, brothers James and John, crank out the daily grind of trying to make ends meet in a job that is not very profitable.   Day after day goes by.  A week here a week there.  People are still talking about the Baptist.  People are still hating Rome.  People are still yearning for a deliverer.

A few more weeks, and a new story hits the streets.  Another prophet.  Or maybe it is better to call him a Rabbi.  He is different than John, they say.  He is not baptizing.  He is a teacher, and thus the title “Rabbi” fits better than “Prophet.”  And his teaching is amazing!  He tells profound stories that get to the heart and soul.  He explains God’s word with such richness and authority.  He is like no other Rabbi they had ever encountered. 

He seems to be right in line with John the Baptizer though.  As if John the Baptist was a Part 1, and now this new teacher is Part 2 of the same story.  But then the people say something else, something that makes you squint your eyes and say, “Come on…really?”  The people say this teacher heals the sick, makes the lame to walk, gives sight to the blind and releases people from demonic possession.   Did they remember that man who John didn’t want to baptize (the man we met in the previous post here)?  Did they make the connection?

They would soon enough.  James and John go out to see this supposed miracle-worker, as he was also from their region of Galilee, but they heard he was from Nazareth.  Nazareth?  That small, nothing town had a reputation: “Nothing good comes out of Nazareth.”

But this man was not your typical person from Nazareth.  Word on the street was that he was a carpenter, a mason, a handyman turned teacher and miracle-worker.  So the fisherman wanted to see for themselves.  They followed the crowds, and when they found him, it was all true.  He could be funny, and he could be sincere; he could be insightful, and he had a deep authority like they had never encountered before.  And yes, he healed people.  The shrieks of delight resounded, and more and more people lined up to have an audience with him.  It was mayhem. 

Who was the man?  They said his name was “Yeshua.”  Or as it is transliterated in English, “Joshua.”  Though we are more accustomed to “Jesus.”  That handyman from Nazareth was a Rabbi? A miracle-worker?  It didn’t seem possible, but people from Nazareth confirmed it was all true.  James and John were enthralled.  As were just about everyone in the crowd. 

Then Jesus turns and walks over to James and John and says.  “Follow me.”  James and John do that thing where they turn this way and that, certain that Jesus cannot possibly be talking to them.  They look back at him, and point to their chests, mouthing silently, “Me?  You want us to follow you?”  Jesus says, “Yes, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 

Huh?  Follow him where?  Fishers of men?  What can he possibly mean? 

We know the rest of the story.  They follow Jesus, and for the next 2+ years their lives are a wild roller coaster ride.  We’ll learn about that in the rest of the blog series as we study the text of John.  I want to fast forward past Jesus’ ministry years, past his death, resurrection and ascension, and glance at what John was up to at the beginning of the church.  Last week in our final Relationships blog series posts, we read Acts 3, and who do we find there?  Peter and John.  Peter, the leader of the church, and John, one of Jesus’ inner circle.  They are ministering and healing.  No doubt, the book of Acts focuses mostly on Peter and Paul, who were by far the two most famous members of the early church.  But John was a top leader as well, even if he isn’t mentioned as much.  John was a faithful minister of the Gospel. In fact, the traditional view says that he lived longer than the other disciples. 

Now we fast forward even farther.  John has beaten the statistics for life expectancy in that culture, and he is an old man.  Now he sits down to write about Jesus, perhaps 50-60 years after Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension.  He has watched the church grow, expand, and change into a movement throughout the Roman Empire and beyond.  Because he is likely the last living disciple, we can view John thinking about how the church will remain faithful to Jesus when there is no longer anyone alive who actually walked and talked with Jesus.  How will Jesus be remembered? 

John is not alone in telling the story of Jesus. Three others also wrote about Jesus, but John’s account is very different. How so? We’ll talk about that in the next post.

The backstory of John the Apostle – Gospel of John Preview, Part 2

When did John write this Gospel?  To answer that question, we need to learn more about John’s life story.  He was born into a fisherman’s family in the northern part of Israel, a region around the Sea of Galilee.  He and his brother continued the family business. 

One day John and his brother James heard the news about a man who was behaving like one of the prophets of old.  In fact, people said this man was like the famous and revered prophet Elijah they heard about in synagogue readings from the Hebrew Bible.  The prophet’s name was John also.  John the Baptizer, rather, because he ministered along the Jordan River, calling people to turn back to God, a return that was symbolized by the washing of baptism.  People journeyed to see this prophet.  Droves of people.  It was exciting, a time filled with promise because the reality was that life had been bleak for the Jews for centuries. 

The powerful Roman Army controlled their land.  Israel was occupied, and Rome had an iron grip.  The Roman governor sat in the seat of authority in Jerusalem, and he reported to the Caesar, who was the emperor, the one truly in power, far away in Rome.  

Under this oppression, Jewish expectation of deliverance was bubbling more and more to the surface.  Groups of Jews would sometimes rebel against the Romans, striving for independence.  But the Roman military was far too powerful.  They would swiftly and brutally put down any uprising.  The Jews remembered and longed for a deliverer like the man Judas Maccabees and his family who just a few hundred years prior had overthrown the Romans, and Israel was a free land for 100 years.  But that memory was fading fast, so they Jews read the ancient prophecies which told of a deliverer, someone the Jewish people called the Messiah, the Prophet that Moses said would come.  He was to be a king called “the Son of David” who would have an everlasting kingdom.  They hungered and ached for such a one as this to come, just as God promised.

Then came John, baptizing at the river, calling people to repent and return to God.  It sounded like John was behaving, at least somewhat, like the savior who God promised to come.  So fisherman like John and his brother James went out to see what this baptizer was all about.  They saw the crowds.  The heard John preach with power and conviction.  No doubt, he was unique.  He certainly looked the part of what they read in their ancient scriptures about the prophet Elijah.  John was a bit of a wild man.  And he had a boldness to match, confronting not just the crowds to repent, but also the religious and political elite. 

John the Baptist was the kind of guy you would be listening to, and he would be going off about the hypocrisy of the system, and you would be high-fiving your friends because someone was finally saying what you all pretty much wanted to say, but you were too scared to.  You would be laughing at his jokes, and probably saying to your friends, “Can you believe he just said that???”  Then you would be looking around at the Roman soldiers posted nearby to see if they were going to react to this.  You’d think for sure John was going to be arrested, because in that day and age, you just don’t talk like that in public, without paying for it.  You’d also be wondering at how long the religious leaders were going to allow this to go.  They did not look kindly on self-taught prophets leading people apart from their system.  In fact, it was likely the religious leaders who would report to the Roman leadership, pleading with the Romans to shut John down.

Then as the weeks went by, one day, something caused John to stop in his tracks.  But it wasn’t the Roman soldiers and it wasn’t the religious leaders.  That day, imagine a long line of people at the water’s edge, waiting for their turn to be baptized.  One by one they enter the water, confessing their sins, and John dunks them in the river.  Then after John baptizes a person, and sends them back to shore, he turns to the next person in line, and John’s eye open wide in surprise.  John loudly makes this bold declaration, “Behold, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” 

Huh?  What is he talking about? 

Then the man steps into the water to be baptized just like all the others before him, and John tries to stop him, saying, “No, I cannot baptize you.  I cannot even tie your sandals.  You should baptize me!” 

At that moment, you can imagine everyone in the crowd going quiet and listening.  This was new.  John had been baptizing thousands of people for probably a couple months, and this had never happened.  John saying that this man should baptize him?   What is John talking about? 

The man persists, and so John says, “I baptize with water, but this man will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”  John baptizes the man, and the crowd watching is amazed at what they see happen next.  Later as they tell the story, and they will tell it over and over, they will say that they swear they heard a voice thundering, as if from heaven, saying, “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased,” and something like a dove alighted on the man. 

Who was that man?  Clearly, he was someone immensely special. 

Did the two fisherman, John and James, see that moment when John the Baptist baptized that man?  We don’t know.  Maybe, maybe not.  It was a moment that lasted no more than a few minutes, and then the man left, and wasn’t heard from again for about a month and a half.  John the Baptist kept baptizing.  The crowds kept coming, and the fishermen, John and James, went back to work, wondering what it all meant.  Were things coming to a head?  Was this Israel’s moment?  Was God sending a deliverer?  Was John the Baptist the deliverer?  And who was that man that John said he was unworthy to baptize?  What happened to him?

We’ll continue the story in the next post!

Photo by Xavier Smet on Unsplash

Who wrote the…Gospel of John – Intro, Part 1

Let’s play a word association game.  I’m going to write a word, and you write down the first word that comes to mind.  What one word comes to mind when I say, “Jesus”?

God, Son of God, Cross, Resurrection, Christmas, Easter, Love, Friend? 

All very good words that are associated with Jesus.  But what words did Jesus use to describe himself?

I’ll give you a prompt, and you fill in the blank. 

I AM __________. 

I am the Good Shepherd.  I am the Bread of Life.  I am Living Water.  I am the Vine. 

Do you know where all of these I AM statements come from?  The Gospel of John. 

In this post we start a sermon series studying the life and ministry of Jesus, as told to us in the Gospel of John.  This week we are going to get our bearings by trying to answer, “What is the Gospel of John?” 

We get started with the author.  If you read the Gospel of John from start to finish you will notice that the author never identifies himself.  When I say, “himself,” I am intentionally identifying the author as a male.  Though the author is technically unidentified, it is highly likely that the author is male, given the patriarchal culture of the era.  It was exceedingly rare that women wrote books.  Furthermore, the tradition of bible scholarship going way back tells us that it was Jesus’ disciple John who wrote this Gospel.  There are multiple people named John, so which one are we talking about?  Not John the Baptist.  Instead we are talking about John who is identified in the other gospel accounts as John, the Son of Zebedee.  Or John, one of the Sons of Thunder.  The other Son of Thunder was his brother, James.  They got that name because they could be a bit rambunctious.  That alone tells you something about John. And we’ll come back to that in the final post this week.

In the Gospel itself, the author often refers to one of Jesus’ disciples by the title, “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”  The traditional viewpoint is that this disciple who Jesus loved is John, and it is he who is the author.  So that phrase, “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” we believe is John’s coded way of talking about himself.

But do you find that phrase odd? Is John being arrogant?  “I am the disciple whom Jesus loved, look at me, listen to me, and love me!”  If John is the author, and he is talking about himself that way, and he certainly doesn’t talk about the other disciples that way, it can sound like he is being a bit arrogant. 

Can it be that Jesus didn’t love the others?  Obviously that’s not true. Jesus loves all.  But is it possible that Jesus loved John more than the others?  Maybe, but doubtful.  Within the Twelve, Jesus had a special relationship with Peter, James and John.  There are numerous times when Jesus gave extra attention to those three.  One time he invited them to join him as he entered a house to resurrect a girl who had died.  Another time he invited them to hike with him up a mountain where they experienced the astounding miracle of Jesus’ Transfiguration.  And if you aren’t familiar with what the Transfiguration is, check out what I wrote here.  That event was wild, to say the least.  Then at the end, right before he was arrested he chose Peter, James and John to stay closer by him, while he prayed in the Garden. 

Of the three, while he groomed Peter to take over leadership, it seems he had a close personal relationship with John.  It was potentially similar to a best friendship.  Some scholars believe that John was just a teenager or young adult during the years of discipleship to Jesus, so perhaps John viewed Jesus from a fatherly perspective.  What is clear is that John would have had a very unique experience of being close to Jesus. 

But did this beloved disciple John write the Gospel of John?  Possibly.  We can’t say for sure.  Some scholars talk about a community of the beloved disciple, who years later gathered his teaching and wrote it down.  Maybe they were followers of the beloved disciple, who might have been John.  For the purposes of this blog series, I am going to go with the traditional viewpoint, that it was this same John, the beloved disciple of Jesus, who wrote this account of Jesus’ life. 

The same person wrote other parts of the New Testament as well: We believe it was John who wrote three letters, which are titled “1st, 2nd, and 3rd John.” We also believe it was this same John who wrote the prophetic book of Revelation.  John’s three short letters show many similarities in language and purpose to his Gospel.  If you read the Gospel of John, then read the three letters, you will likely sense that resonance.  They just sound similar.  His writing style, and you will find it the Gospel of John and the letters of John, has led some people to call John “The Dr. Seuss of the NT.”  Why?  His vocabulary is much smaller than other writers, and he often repeats phrases and ideas.  That’s why, just as beginning readers will often read Dr. Seuss, students beginning to learn New Testament Greek often start with John.

Another important question we’ll begin to address in the next post is: When did John write this Gospel? 

Photo by Tim Wildsmith on Unsplash