March 3, 2019
Jesus: Word of God
An ancient Christian writer Origen, who lived around 200 AD, stated once that there are not four gospels, but one four-fold gospel. Each gospel gives a certain perspective on the life of Jesus. We need all four to get the complete picture. John’s gospel was last written, and his perspective is different from the other three. John leaves out some significant events from Jesus’ life contained in the other gospels, such as his birth, baptism, temptation in the wilderness, the Passover supper and his agony in the garden of Gethsemane, and his ascension. There are no parables in John’s gospel.
The other gospels contain much material from Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. John’s gospel, by contrast, contains much from Jesus’ time in Jerusalem. Maybe you have heard of the term synoptic to refer to Matthew, Mark and Luke’s gospels. Literally, synoptic means “See together,” because these three gospels contain many of the same events, teachings and miracles of Jesus. Matthew, Mark and Luke focus on what Jesus did, whereas John’s gospel is more concerned about who Jesus is.
This coming Wednesday we begin the season of Lent. In past years we have worked through the other gospels, so now this year it is time to read through John’s gospel. For those of you who especially make the commitment of daily scripture reading during Lent, you can read through the entire gospel by Easter. Historically, the forty days of Lent do not include Sundays, so that is your day for worship, or a day to catch up if you have gotten behind in your reading. Our daily devotional contains a selection from the day’s reading. You may choose to read only the selection or the entire reading for the day. As you may be aware, you can access the daily devotional on our website, on Facebook, through email, or in the text copy we hand out each Sunday for the coming week. Please let me know if you wish to be included on the email copy.
I’d like this week to give you an overview of John’s gospel to jumpstart the season of Lent. John is a lot more philosophical, even symbolic, than the other gospels, so it can be confusing trying to figure it out. John wants us to consider the meaning of Jesus’ words and actions, and how they impact our faith today. John’s purpose in writing is for us to believe. These are his words from the close of chapter 20: “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
John’s gospel was written sometime between AD 90 and 100, if you look at the introduction to John’s gospel in your pew Bible. That’s around 70 years after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. I’m told that the earliest fragment we have of the New Testament is a portion of John 18, found in Egypt and dating well before 150 AD. That tells us how quickly it became widely circulated.
Here’s a fun quote. John’s gospel has been called “A pool in which a child may wade and an elephant may swim.” No, I am not saying that any one of us are elephants, but John’s gospel contains truths a child can love along with profound statements a scholar may puzzle over and never get to the full depth of their meaning.
John begins his gospel, not with a birth narrative, but by stating that Jesus is the Word of God in human flesh. Just as there is a integral relationship between a person and one’s words, so we cannot separate God the giver of the Word from Jesus who embodies God’s Word. John does not define how God and Jesus the Word are intertwined – that’s something scholars have debated for millenniums. The how of the relationship between God and Jesus is not important to John, only that it did happen. God’s fullness, God’s power, God’s truth, came into this world in the person of Jesus.
John stresses how Jesus has been with God since the beginning. Through Jesus the Word of God all things were made in heaven and on earth. Look at parallels between these opening words of John and the opening words from Genesis. How does the Bible start but with, “In the beginning.” John starts his gospel with, “In the beginning.” God’s first words in Genesis were, “Let there be light.” John calls John the Baptist a witness to testify to the light, who is Jesus. Jesus the true light gives light to every man. Jesus is eternal. He has always present with the Father. He is the light of God, from the beginning of time. He brings us life.
No one in the gospels ever questioned whether Jesus was human. He had close friends in Lazarus, Martha and Mary. Jesus wept when Lazarus died. Jesus and his mother once went to a wedding, and he would go to dinner with others. Traveling through Samaria he was tired and stopped to rest by a well. He was thirsty and asked a woman to give him a drink. People knew his parents Mary and Joseph. If anything, they questioned how Jesus could say that he came down from heaven.
It wasn’t many years after Jesus ascended into heaven after his resurrection that people began wondering whether Jesus wasn’t fully human. The first letter of John, in the fourth chapter, says that, “Many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you may recognize the Spirit of God: every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.” In his second letter, John calls them deceivers who don’t recognize that Jesus was fully human as well as fully divine.
Rather than focus on the how that Jesus is both human and divine, John asks why. Why did Jesus come to us in human form? Why did the Word of God become flesh? To read on a few more verses in this first chapter, John says that to all who received Jesus, who believed in his name, Jesus gave them the right to become children of God, who are born because of God’s will. John writes that Jesus became flesh so we could see God, believe in God, and find our life in God, we who are called God’s children.
Here are some take-away’s from this first chapter of John, some truths we may hold on to and be strengthened from. One theme is that of light and life. Light is life, because without light, there could be no life. Plants and food cannot grow without light to take the energy from the sun and produce nutrients for our survival.
Light is also a philosophical concept. God wants us to welcome the light, meaning all that is good and kind and loving as God is good. Darkness represents sin and chaos in our world, people who become divided against one another, forces of evil that bring warfare and oppression, the darkness of creation that is natural disasters and disease. This past week some of us were in literal darkness because of the windstorm that took down power lines and left us without electricity. I wrote my sermon this week in the library because they had power and an Internet connection.
To follow Jesus is to choose God’s light, choosing to bring light into every dark situation, choosing to seek peace, choosing to turn our backs on sin and seeking to do all we may to live according to God’s will.
Secondly, look for where Jesus the Word of God brings life. The word life appears in John’s gospel, some forty-seven times, depending on the translation, mostly in conjunction with eternal life. From John 3:16, probably one of the most famous verses in the Bible – “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” And from John 10:10 – “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” We’re not talking material wealth here, or a biological life, We’re talking God’s life – eternal life.
Jesus came to set us free from all that enslaves us or chains us. Jesus came to give us God’s life. It is abundant because it stems from the limitless love of God. We receive eternal life, eternal joy, eternal blessings, eternal grace, all from Christ the Word of God.
Let me conclude with words written by Russell Moore in an article for Christianity Today when he says, “For too long we’ve asked unbelievers to invite Jesus into your life. Jesus doesn’t want to be in your life. Your life’s a wreck. Jesus calls you into his life.” Think about how people stepped into Jesus’ life when they believed in him. The fishermen who became disciples dropped everything to follow him. A Samaritan woman finds drink, but it’s not from a well. A man beside a pool is cured, an adulterous woman is forgiven, a blind man is healed and comes to believe. They are us in all that we deal with, the wreck of our lives. Jesus the embodiment of God’s word invites us to step into his light and his life, to grow into his light and find eternal life in him.