The Word Made Flesh

Posted: December 10, 2015 in John, Route 66, Uncategorized

Route 66: John, “The Word Made Flesh”

As you may have heard, the new Star Wars movie is opening up next week. For those keeping count, this is Star Wars, Episode 7.  Seven movies is a lot in a series, but it isn’t the most.  Its sci-fi counterpart Star Trek has 12 movies released, with a 13th in production.  But that’s nothing compared to the granddaddy of all movie franchises, James Bond, with 25 titles dating all the way back to 1963.  Serial movies are quite the trend, as movie studios want to make as much money from hit titles as long as possible.

If the book of John was written today as a movie screenplay, the title might be “The Gospel, part IV.”  Yet this isn’t any mere continuation of a storyline or favorite character – it certainly isn’t a vain attempt for the apostle to try to make any money (what money?) – it is a truly unique retelling of the life and ministry of Jesus that has become the favorite gospel account for millions of Christians around the world.

Thus far in our overview of the NT, we’ve looked at three other gospel accounts, so it begs the question: why the fourth?  Hasn’t everything that needs to be said about the earthly ministry of Jesus been said at this point?  Not according to the Holy Spirit, considering He also inspired this 4th account to be written.  It’s not that Matthew, Mark, and Luke were somehow insufficient (any one of those books are enough for us to know that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God).  There was simply more that could be said.  Every fisherman knows that different fish respond to different bait, and as we fish for people, it’s the same thing.  Different people respond to different presentations of the gospel, and whereas the book of Mark might be perfect for one, the book of John is perfect for another.

Besides that, the gospel of John is not a mere repetition of what had already been said.  Matthew, Mark, and Luke are extremely similar to one another, variations upon a theme (so to speak).  Each had its different emphasis, but all followed the same basic outline.  John’s gospel is a new perspective entirely.  The book of John fills in some of the gaps that the Synoptics leave behind, which only makes sense considering that John is writing to a completely different set of people.  By the time John writes his gospel account, the church is well established, the temple in Jerusalem has been destroyed, and there are now second & third generation Christians looking forward to the future.  The church is primarily Gentile, and they needed to be established in some basic doctrine that would have been easily assumed by those from a Jewish background.  So although this is technically a “part 4,” it’s not just “another” book…it’s a wonderfully unique book, and we as Christians are richer for having it in our Bibles.

BACKGROUND:
Strictly speaking, the gospel according to John is anonymous, but there really is no doubt that the apostle John is the author.  In fact, John’s authorship was not seriously questioned until the 19th century, and even then there was no need.  References within the book have clear indications that the author was a personal eyewitness, identified himself in the third person as “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” and by process of elimination the apostle John rises to the top of the list.  External tradition affirms this, with testimony stretching all the way back to Irenaeus in the early 2nd century, who was told by Polycarp (a disciple of John) that John was the author of the work.

Tradition also informs us that John wrote the gospel somewhere in the range of 85-95AD, most likely while John was still living in & ministering among the people of Ephesus.  Although the book of Acts shows John being extremely active with Peter in establishing the early Jerusalem church, the Biblical narrative of John drops off rather quickly.  His brother James was martyred early on in Biblical history (by Herod Antipas – Acts 12:2), but tradition tells us that John lived on & eventually moved to Ephesus (where he met Polycarp, among others).  At some point, he seems to have been arrested, miraculously survived an attempted execution by being dipped in boiling oil, and eventually shipped off to the island of Patmos in exile.  It was there that John wrote Revelation, though his gospel & three surviving epistles were certainly written prior to that point.

Some have questioned the later date for John.  After all, 85-95AD would make his gospel not only the last gospel account written, but also one of the last NT texts written overall.  Although there is ample evidence that John wrote prior to 100AD (in that manuscript copies of his writing & quotations from John are abundant in the 2nd century), some scholars have attempted to propose an earlier date, based upon some questionable historical sources.  Yet there is really no need.  The fact that John wrote after the destruction of Jerusalem is no problem, in that he doesn’t mention it at all, leaving out the Olivet Discourse entirely.  Since John would have written 15-20 years after the fact, there would have been no need to mention the prophecy.  Considering the historical evidence for a later writing is so great, there is really no need to dispute it.  It is still an eyewitness account, and although John would have been old, he wouldn’t have been old to the extreme.

SIGNIFICANCE
Each gospel account has its own uniqueness to it, and John is no different.  Matthew was written to show Jesus not only as the King of the Jews, but the King of the world.  Mark was written to demonstrate Jesus as the suffering servant of God given as a sacrifice.  Luke was written to show that Jesus came for Gentiles as well as Jews, and is the Son of Adam righting what went wrong in the fall.  John goes on to proclaim Jesus as the Son of God, shining a spotlight on Jesus’ Deity.  Jesus came in the power of God, repeatedly declared Himself to be God, and showed Himself as God when He rose from the dead.

Jesus’ power is seen in His signs scattered throughout His ministry.  Whereas Matthew, Mark, and Luke list off miracle after miracle, John is far more judicious in the miracles he describes.  Seven main signs are given, demonstrating Jesus to be far more than any prophet of the past, but truly having the power of Creator God.

Jesus’ declarations are seen in His multiple “I AM” statements.  Many scholars count seven of them, though more could be argued.  Jesus intentionally used terminology that put Him on the same level as Almighty God.  The God who revealed Himself to Moses as I AM is the God who was standing before the Jews of Judea.

The acts and statements of Jesus were indeed carefully chosen by the apostle John, who actually gives us his own purpose statement as to why he wrote his gospel.  John 20:30–31, "(30) And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; (31) but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name."  John intentionally chose different events than what had been written in the past, and what he chose, it was so that people would believe.  If there is a key word throughout the gospel of John it is: belief.  Over & over again, Jesus called people to believe upon Him – to believe that He is the Son of God, God Himself – to believe that Jesus offered them eternal life.  To believe upon Jesus is to be saved by Jesus…and it makes the gospel of John just as relevant today as it ever was!

GENERAL OUTLINE
Because the gospel of John is not one of the Synoptic gospels, we would expect it to follow a different outline, and it does.  Whereas the Synoptics by & large concentrate on Jesus’ Galilean ministry & His focused mission within Jerusalem, John takes a different approach.  John shows Jesus in & around Jerusalem quite often, using Jesus’ trips to Jerusalem as a marker of time throughout the book.  Broadly speaking, it could be outlined as thus:

  • Prologue (1:1-18)
  • Ministry (1:19 – 12:50)
  • Upper Room (13-17)
  • Passion & Resurrection (18-20)
  • Epilogue (21)

Obviously the “Ministry” section is quite large, but it is far more condensed than any of the other gospel accounts.  John gives more attention to the night prior to Jesus’ crucifixion than virtually all three other gospels combined.  Whatever it is John includes, it’s done so purposefully to bring the reader to faith. 

Prologue
The Word is God (1:1-5)
These are some of the most famous words in all the Bible, if not in all written literature.  Right from the start, we are told of the nature of Jesus. He is the λογος – the very expression / thought / philosophy of God.  He is fully God Himself, present at creation & fully involved in the act of creation itself.  He is the source of life, and He gives life & light to all who believe.

The Word was rejected (1:6-13)
John is introduced to as one who gave witness to the Word, but the Word was rejected.  The Word came to the Jews, but the Jews turned away.  The Word came to the world He created, but the world denied Him.  Yet it is those who receive Him who receive all the promises of God, to be made His own children.

The Word gives grace (1:14-18)
The doctrine of the incarnation is given, as the Word is said to have become flesh.  This same Almighty Creator God fully became Man, and revealed to mankind the glory of God.  This Word-Man is the fulfillment of all of the promises of the Old Testament, the One who gives the grace hoped for through the law.  This Word is the declaration of God, and is declared by God to be His Son.

Ministry
Early ministry (1:19-4:53)

  • John the Baptist (1:19-34).  John the apostle doesn’t say much about John the Baptist, but what he does say is different than the other gospel writers.  John the Baptist is shown denying that he is the Christ, but specifically claiming to be the forerunner of the Christ.  The baptism of Jesus by John is not directly seen, but mentioned in retrospect with John calling Jesus the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (1:29)
    • The whole idea here is that John shows Jesus as a sacrifice for sin.  What an amazing contrast with the prelude earlier in Ch 1!  This is the Almighty Word of God, and yet He still serves as a sacrificial lamb for the sin of the world.  This is the humility of Jesus on display – the radical message of the gospel.
  • First disciples (1:35-21).  The very first disciples actually come from the ranks of John the Baptist himself.  Andrew and John the son of Zebedee seem to have been two that noticed Jesus early on, with John the Baptism almost encouraging them to leave to go follow Jesus.  Andrew immediately goes to find his brother Peter, excited to tell him about finding the Messiah, and Jesus already gives Peter his new name.  The next day, the same events basically repeat as Jesus calls Philip to follow Him, and Philip goes to bring his friend Nathaniel to meet Jesus, who immediately comes to faith.
    • This is the essence of evangelism!  It doesn’t have to be complicated.  All we’re doing is introducing people to Jesus.  He’ll save them; all we need to do is to tell other people about Him.
  • First miracle (2:1-12).  This is the first sign presented in the gospel of John, but it’s almost shown as a sign out of turn.  This is the famous conversion of water to wine at the wedding in Cana.  No one even knew what took place, apart from the servants at the wedding & Jesus’ own disciples, but already His divine power is on display.  If for no other purpose, it served to undergird the faith of Jesus’ new disciples, and they were able to witness the glory of God.
  • Jerusalem: temple cleansing, Nicodemus, & John (2:13-3:36).  The apostle John will center much of his narrative upon Jerusalem, seemingly coming back to the city at every start of a new section within Jesus’ ministry.  In this first narrative, Jesus is shown cleansing the temple of money changers & corruption (something which He’ll later repeat after His triumphal entry several years later).  That event, along with other miracles Jesus performs serve as a catalyst for a meeting between Jesus & the Pharisee Nicodemus.  This is the conversation that contains some of the most famous words in all of the Bible.  After teaching of the absolute need for every person to be born anew of the Holy Spirit, Jesus says how it’s done: John 3:16–17, "(16) For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (17) For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved."
    • It may seem basic – it may seem overused – but this IS the gospel message!  Jesus has come, and Jesus offers life.  All we need to do is to believe.  We are condemned without Him, but because of the love of God for us, now we can be saved by Him.  No one ever need to question how we might share the good news of Jesus with someone…if all we ever did was quote John 3:16, we would quote enough!
    • From this point, the narrative departs from Jesus for a brief moment back to John the Baptist, who continues to exalt Jesus even in his own ministry decline.  The purpose God had for John was complete, and as John continued to point people to Christ, that was all he needed to do.  (Likewise with us!  We don’t need the spotlight on us; we need it on Jesus!)
  • Samaritan evangelism (4:1-42).  Jesus encounters the woman at the well, and upon her scoffing & resistance, He confronts her on her sin.  This serves to bring her to faith (as the right use of the law often does, showing us our need for salvation), and she in turn brings her whole village to hear from Jesus so they can believe upon Him.
    • There’s no small irony here that the religious Jewish leader Nicodemus struggled with Jesus & left the conversation with no indication of what he believed, whereas the Samaritan woman proved to be a mighty evangelist in her own right.  God can use anyone from any background to serve Him!
  • Galilean miracles (4:43-53).  Galilee is almost addressed as an afterthought, and Jesus returns to Cana, where He heals the son of a nobleman via long-distance.  It’s another miraculous sign, proving Jesus to have the power of the omnipresent God, able to work miracles without even needing to be present in the room.

Middle ministry (5-6)

  • Jerusalem: pool of Bethesda, defense, & witness (5).  Jesus returns to Jerusalem for an unidentified feast, and heals a man who had a sickness for 38 years.  What should have been a reason for rejoicing became a cause of dispute as Jesus had done it on the Sabbath.  The Jews disputed with Jesus’ right to perform the healing, and Jesus claims that He is only doing what God His Father was always doing.  He went on to give a four-fold witness of Himself that He is the Son of God: John the Baptist, Jesus’ works, God the Father, and the Scriptures all testify to Jesus’ identity.  It’s just that the Jews weren’t willing to listen.
    • The same thing is true with multitudes of people today.  It’s not that there isn’t abundant evidence that Jesus is the Son of God who died and rose again – it’s that people aren’t willing to listen.  They would rather dig in their heels in rebellion.  That’s why we need to be patient and continue to tell them the good news, praying that their hearts would soften & that they would listen.
  • Galilean miracles, teaching, rejection (6).  At this point, Jesus returns to Galilee & performs the feeding of 5000, and walks on water.  He proclaims Himself to be the Bread of Life (another I AM statement), but the Jews reject this.  One moment they are ready to take Him by force to be king, and the next they turn away from Him, unable (unwilling) to believe the things He says.  The disciples, however, were different.  They made the intentional choice to believe.  John 6:68–69, "(68) But Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. (69) Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”"
    • We have to make that same choice!

Later ministry (7-10)

  • Jerusalem: Feast of Tabernacles (7).  Once more Jesus returns to Jerusalem, and from this point the narrative pretty much keeps Him there, or in the same general vicinity.  His arrival in Jerusalem was actually delayed, as Jesus desired to arrive secretly (quite the opposite from the later triumphal entry).  Once there, He continued to amaze the Jews with His daily teaching, but they were still troubled by Him, not able to easily categorize Him due His Sabbath day miracles & supposedly-known background.  The people were divided over Him, and the religious rulers didn’t know what to make of Him.
  • Parenthesis: Adulterous woman (8:1-12).  This section (though famously quoted) seems to be inserted in the account rather randomly, and has some characteristics that cause many scholars to believe it was not originally written by the apostle John.  There’s little doubt that the early church accepted the account as accurate to Jesus’ ministry, though it’s debated whether or not it belongs in this text.  Whatever the debate, the mercy that Jesus displays here is the same mercy He has displayed countless other times, extending grace to the humble, while at the same time resisting the proud.
  • Jerusalem: continued disputes (8:13-59).  The Jerusalem Feast of Tabernacles narrative picks up again, with Jesus once more referring to God the Father’s testimony of Christ, claiming over & over again that it was the Father who sent Him.  The Jews finally get fed up with Jesus’ subtle claims to deity, and accuse Him of having a demon.  That’s when Jesus gives up subtlety and tells them directly who He is: John 8:58–59, "(58) Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” (59) Then they took up stones to throw at Him; but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by."  At this point there can be no doubt that Jesus specifically claimed to be God.  He knew it, the Jews knew it, and that’s why they picked up stones to kill Him.
    • This still offends people today.  They don’t mind Jesus the teacher or Jesus the healer…but they certainly have a problem with Jesus the God.  If Jesus is God, then He has all authority.  If Jesus is God, that means we must approach Him on His terms; not our own.  If Jesus is God, that means we need to humble ourselves, repent, and believe.  And we must!
  • Jerusalem: healing of the blind man (9).  Such a big claim requires big proof, and Jesus provides it by healing a man who had been born blind.  Other blind people had been given sight in the past, but there was no previous example where someone’s eyes were completely remade from birth.  That’s something that only God can do, and that’s exactly what the Son of God did.  The Pharisees knew the trouble this would cause them, and they tried their best to discredit the formerly blind man, who ends up shaming the Pharisees, getting excommunicated from the synagogue, and finally coming to full faith in Christ.
  • Jesus the Shepherd Son of God (10).  Jesus contrasted Himself with the false leaders in Jerusalem.  They were the blind ones, and they were doing the role of the ultimate thief and robber of the sheep of God.  Jesus is the Good Shepherd & the Door of the Sheepfold (more I AM statements), and He gives His life for the sheep…both those of Israel & those of other folds.  Once more the Jews objected to His claims to deity, and He again escaped from their attempts to kill Him.

Final ministry (11-12)

  • Jerusalem (Bethany): raising of Lazarus (11).  Although the specific town is Bethany, it’s only a couple of miles from Jerusalem – still a long way from Galilee.  Upon hearing of Lazarus’ sickness, Jesus slowly travelled to Bethany, ensuring that He would be there in time for Lazarus’ funeral, though Lazarus had died by the time the news got to Jesus.  Jesus gets to the tomb & famously raises His friend from death – the final major sign to take place prior to Jesus’ own resurrection.  Many people start to come to faith, and the priests and Pharisees conspire against Jesus, plotting to take His life.
  • Preparations & Entry of Jerusalem (12:1-19).  Finally the week of Passover has come, and after Jesus is anointed by Mary for His coming death, He enters Jerusalem to grand acclaim & praises from the people.  They had heard what happened with Lazarus, and they could barely restrain themselves.
  • Predictions of death & rejection (12:20-50).  This would have appeared to be a time of celebration, but Jesus was troubled…already looking ahead to His suffering and death.  He appealed to the people once more to believe in Him – this was basically their last chance.

Upper Room
From here on out, John’s narrative centers on the final 24 hours of Jesus’ life, and the events that follow His resurrection.  Nearly half of John’s gospel remains, and much of the emphasis moves from Jesus’ actions to His teaching.

  • Passover meal events (13): Jesus washes the disciples’ feet – identifies Judas as His betrayer – predicts Peter’s coming denial.
  • Discourse: peace in trouble (14).  What Jesus had predicted understandably troubled the disciples, and He encourages them.  He tells them of His return for them, and the Helper being sent to them.  He promises them His peace, which they would have by abiding in Him.
  • Discourse: results of abiding in Christ (15).  Jesus describes what that abiding looks when they remain in Him as a branch within a vine.  He gives them life, and it’s only when they abide in Him that they would obey Him as they ought.  They were to love one another, even though they would be hated by the world.
  • Discourse: the work of the Spirit & triumph (16).  It is the Holy Spirit who would help them endure that hatred, and the Spirit would be active within the world both bringing people to the knowledge of Christ & helping the apostles know what to say in their hour of need.  The disciples would indeed face trouble, but they would also experience victory, and the could trust that Jesus had overcome the world.
  • Jesus’ prayer (17).  If there’s any prayer that can truly be called “the Lord’s prayer,” this is it.  Before leaving for the garden, Jesus intensely prayed for His disciples, as well as for all of those who would follow in their footsteps.  (Jesus prayed for us!)  His desire was that His disciples be kept by God, set apart by the written word of God, unified together as one in God, and behold the glory of God.  (It’s still a good prayer for Christians everywhere!)

Passion & Resurrection
Here, John tends to follow the same general chronology as the other gospel accounts.  He brings in a few details of his own, but otherwise simply narrates Jesus’ last moments prior to death.

  • Gethsemane arrest (18:1-11) – Nothing is mentioned of His agonizing prayer in the garden; only the arrest itself is presented.
  • Jewish trial; Peter’s denial (18:12-27) – John provides a few new details here, especially in how Peter gained access to the courtyard of the high priest.  (Apparently John was known by the priest.)  The contrast is shown between Jesus’ open testimony on the inside & Peter’s outright denial and lies on the outside.
  • Pilate’s interrogation (18:28-40).  The questioning from Pilate is unique to John.  The Synoptics record very little of what Jesus said, whereas John actually records some of the conversation.  In any case, the details remain unchanged, and Pilate is complicit in Jesus’ execution even though he found no fault in Him.
  • Pilate’s judgment (19:1-16).  Pilate has Jesus beaten & trots Him out in front of the people.  Still unsatisfied, Pilate questions Jesus more, but after being threatened by the Jews with rioting, turns Jesus over to be crucified.
  • The Cross (19:17-30).  John does not write much of Jesus’ suffering (the Synoptics wrote much about this point).  He writes of the sign placed above Jesus’ head calling Him “The King of the Jews,” – he writes of Jesus giving Mary into the house of John for care – he writes of the final word uttered by Jesus from the cross: τετελεσται – It is finished!
    • Truly the work was done!  And we praise God for it!
  • Death & burial (19:31-42).  John alone writes of the verification of Jesus’ death, when a Roman soldier struck a spear in His side (actually a fulfillment of prophecy), and John alone mentions Nicodemus’ participation in the burial at Joseph’s tomb.  Both of these men had come to faith in Christ secretly, but now had a very public display as they cared for Jesus’ body.
  • Resurrection & witnesses (20:1-29).  Each of the resurrection accounts differ a bit, bringing out a little more of the story every time.  In John’s version, no Roman soldiers are seen nor any angels, but Mary Magdalene’s discovery of the empty tomb is just barely mentioned as she goes to inform the disciples.  Peter & John rush to the tomb, dumbfounded by what they see.  Mary Magadalene is the first to see the risen Jesus, Who sends her back to the disciples with the news of His resurrection.  Jesus appears to 10 of the 11, and Thomas (who was absent) refuses to believe until he sees Jesus for himself.  Finally, he comes to faith in Jesus as God, to which Jesus replies: John 20:29, "(29) Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”"
  • Conclusion (20:30-31).  As John gives his purpose statement, this may have been where he originally intended to end the book.  He wanted people to believe in Christ & have life in His name.  Of course, just a bit more needed to be said…

Epilogue
Peter’s restoration (21:1-19). 
With Peter’s strong denial of the Lord, second & third generation Christians may have wondered how Peter became so influential in the early church.  John alone out of all the apostles writes the story.  Having gone back to fishing, Jesus appears to them, and has breakfast with them all.  For every time Peter denied Jesus, Jesus asked if he loved Him – finally reiterating His call: “Follow Me.” (21:19)  Peter was not a “tainted” apostle; he experienced the same grace available to any one of us who fall.

John’s testimony (21:20-25)
Finally, John writes a bit of himself.  Other disciples had been martyred decades before John ever wrote his book & apparently rumors started circulating about him.  John gives a final word to put some of it to rest, once more affirming that his eyewitness testimony about Jesus was true.

Conclusion:
The gospel of John was written so that we might believe, and we have ample reason TO believe.  Jesus is God who came for us, died for us, and rose from the grave – and now we can have life when we believe upon His name.  Now we can be made into the children of God.  That is a glorious gospel, and we can rejoice that it is included in our Bibles!

As born-again believers in Christ, may we continually believe upon the Word made flesh!  To have faith in Jesus is not a one-time prayer – something we do in the past & never look back to again.  To believe upon Jesus is to currently believe upon Him – to abide/dwell in Him.  He is the life we need not just for the future, but right now.  He is the light that guides us through every day; not just eternity.  Believe upon Jesus…reaffirm that today!

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