(This sermon was given by Scott Smith) Anyone interested in history or biographies? Would you like to hear some inside info about WW1, or all of Edison’s failed inventions? Would you still be interested if I said all this was not based on any study or research, but based on my own first-hand knowledge of what happened - would you still trust me? What if I said I had first-hand knowledge of Jesus?
If you’ve read articles or watched exposés on “The Lost Gospels” and their portrayal of Jesus, you get a few general truths and a healthy dose of fantasy invented by people with fertile imaginations. If you really want the inside scoop about Jesus’ earthly ministry, his true identity, and his heavenly purpose, you have to listen to someone who was actually there. John, the apostle of Jesus was there.
John wrote John
Sometimes people will say that Christianity was a made-up conspiracy. I have to wonder what the apostles got out of the deal, since all were beaten and imprisoned multiple times, and most of them killed!
John definitely wasn’t in it for the fame. How do I know? Because he didn’t even tell us that he wrote the book! He did not write “The Gospel According to John” on the cover. He never said “I’m John and these are my words” in the text like many others did. However, this book contains things only someone very close to Jesus would know. And there are good reasons to rule out all of Jesus’ inner circle except for John.
It’s interesting to note that although John doesn’t say his own name, the name “John” is in the text. It’s good to keep in mind that it is almost always a reference to John the Baptist. When John the apostle referred to himself he would usually use a phrase like “the disciple whom Jesus loved”.
John is Well Attested
Of all the New Testament manuscripts we have, more are of John’s gospel than any other book. And many of the oldest examples are from John’s gospel. If anyone tells you that John is a forgery, or that it was edited, they simply do not have the facts. If this book is not trustworthy, then we’ve lost most of history.
John had an Agenda
John did not merely report the facts. He also included what he believed about the facts. In addition, he told us what to believe, and what to do. This was not a casual informational piece.
For instance, he did not simply tell us details about Jesus’ life and leave us to draw personal conclusions. Far from it. John would relate something Jesus said or did, then say the unmistakable conclusion is that Jesus is God, and therefore you and I must obey him. The gospel of John is not dispassionate reporting – the gospel of John is a call to repentance.
The Message of John
John’s gospel is not like the other three gospels. He doesn’t tell us about the prophecies, the shepherds, or Mary and Joseph finding no room in the inn. In fact, Jesus’ birth is not even mentioned! John doesn’t contain a single parable, and he mentions relatively few miracles. Maybe he didn’t think those details were that interesting. Maybe he thought the other three already covered all those details well enough.
John just jumps right in the deep end: who was Jesus and why did he come? The answer is repeated many ways throughout the book. The short answer is that Jesus was God, and the only way to experience abundant (or eternal) life was through him.
John wrote his gospel late in life. He had plenty of time to mull over the things he had seen and heard from his savior. Rather than the “just the facts ma’am” approach that the first reporter on the scene often takes, John took the longer view – the deeper view. I’m sure he had thought long about the implications of Jesus’ life and death. He had preached countless times, been imprisoned, beaten, and more. He had planted churches and trained the next generation. He had heard and answered all the questions. John wrote his gospel with the wisdom, temperament, and sober-mindedness that only comes with age. He wrote a gospel that communicated the good news of Jesus Christ coming to save us from our sins, and presented it as a theological work to be contended with. Because of this, those of us speaking in this series have our work cut out for us.
People have dissected John’s gospel a number of ways. I’m going to look at two primary focuses of John: The person of Christ and The Importance of Belief. I’m sure we’ll come back to these in the coming months, so I’ll just lay it out briefly this morning.
The Importance of Belief
John’s gospel uses the word “believe” far more than any other book in the bible. He ties everything to the importance of belief. This “belief” he talks about is something worth exploring. We’re not talking simply about awareness of a truth or acceptance of a fact. Those must be in place, to be sure - but that’s not enough. The word belief here comes from the same Greek word that is also often translated as faith. This Greek word has both a noun and verb form. English doesn’t have a verb form of the word “faith”, so the translators use the word “believe” when it’s an action. (Compare to love/love, patient/patience, compassionate/compassion.)
Let’s talk about that word for faith/believe for a moment. When you see these words in scripture, it might be helpful to substitute trust(trust), reliance(rely), or dependence(depend). That’s what biblical faith is, after all. So when we see John or Jesus talking about belief, they aren’t looking for us to merely agree with what they’re saying. They are talking about placing our trust in Christ, about relying on him so much that we’re holding nothing back, and about a dependence that proves we’ve given up control.
This might be a helpful phrase: Profession of faith is not the same as possession of faith.
There is no such thing as being “sort of Christian”. Either your belief affects your life or it does not. Imagine someone claiming to be “pro-life” who shrugged off abortions. Or an environmentalist who doesn’t think twice about littering. Or a health nut who lives at McDonalds. These things just don’t make sense. They make as much sense as a Christian whose way of thinking and living is not radically changed. Here’s just a brief survey of the topic of belief in the book of John:
- (ch 1) John the Baptist came to bear witness about Jesus, that all might believe
- (ch 1) All who believed Jesus received the right to be called children of God
- (ch 2) The disciples heard Jesus’ words and saw his miracles and it caused them to believe
- (ch 2) The Jews asked Jesus, “what signs will you show us to make us believe?”
- (ch 3) Whoever believes in Jesus will not be condemned but will have eternal life.
- (ch 4) The woman at the well heard Jesus and believed. The people she told also believed.
- (ch 4) The official at Capernaum believed because Jesus healed his son
- (ch 5) “whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life.”
- (ch 6) Jesus says in order to please God they must believe in Jesus.
- (ch 6) Again, the Jews asked Jesus, “what signs will you show us to make us believe?”
- (ch 6) Jesus says whoever comes to him and believes will never hunger or thirst again.
- (ch 6) Even so, most Jews did not believe
- (ch 7) Not even Jesus’ own brothers believed in him
- (ch 7) Jesus said anyone who believed in him would receive the Holy Spirit after Jesus left
- (ch 8) Jesus said unless you believe you will die in your sins.
- (ch 8) He said if we believe and abide in his word, we are truly his disciples.
- (ch 9) Jesus heals a blind man. The Pharisees didn’t believe he had been healed. Then they didn’t believe he was ever blind to begin with. The man found Jesus who had healed him and believed and worshiped him.
- (ch 10) Jesus says his sheep hear his voice and believe, but those who are not his do not believe
- (ch 11) Jesus says he is the resurrection and the life – whoever believes in him will live forever.
- (ch 11) Martha says she believes that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God
- (ch 11) Many who saw Jesus raise Lazarus believed in him.
- (ch 11) The Chief Priests and the Pharisees become concerned that if they don’t do something, everyone will believe in Jesus and they will lose their power.
- (ch 13) Jesus predicts his own betrayal as evidence so that they will believe
- (ch 14) Jesus tells the disciples to believe in him because of his union with the Father, and offers more predictions of the future that they might believe in his authority
- (ch 14) The disciples believe that Jesus came from God
- (ch 17) Jesus thanks the Father for those who had believed, and those who would believe in the future
- (ch 19) John relates the details of the crucifixion in order that those reading might believe
- (ch 20) Peter and John ran to see Jesus’ tomb empty, and believed he had risen
- (ch 20) Thomas says he won’t believe unless he sees and touches Jesus. After he does so, he believes.
- (ch 20) Thesis of John’s book: “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 also points out that false belief is a problem. Jesus did many miracles in order to give evidence of his power and therefore show that he came from God. However, Jesus made it clear that belief by itself was insufficient. Consider: Demons believe there is a God, and believe Jesus is God, and that fact does them no good. There must be genuine faith. Jesus was not looking for people to follow him around as a sideshow. Believing in Christ means to believe he is who he said he was, and to do what he said to do. Those were the things that necessarily followed from a genuine and transforming belief. Jesus was not at all interested in people who liked to see tricks.
A few examples of what John records about false belief:
- (ch 2) Many believed in Jesus when they saw his miraculous signs, but he did not entrust himself to them because he knew what was in a man.
- (ch 6) Before preaching, Jesus feeds 5000 people from virtually nothing. Then he began to teach. Upon hearing some difficult words, these people who had just had their bellies miraculously filled turned and walked away. What?!
- (ch 8) Jesus told the Jews who had just “believed in him”, if you continue in my word then you are my disciples. Meaning, the belief alone didn’t cut it. Evidence of belief is obedience. That is the mark of a real disciple.
- (ch 12) In the aftermath of Lazarus being raised from the dead, many authorities even believed in Jesus. But because they were afraid of being on the outs with the Pharisees, they did not believe publicly. They valued the glory of man over the glory of God. This sort of “private Christianity” is very common today. If this describes you, I’d encourage you to spend some time thinking about your faith. Are you concerned about what those in public will think? Jesus tells us in Matthew 10 that those who deny him should count on Jesus returning the favor. If you hide your faith in Christ from others, scripture gives us good reason to think that you won’t receive the eternal life that you’re counting on.
- (ch 15) Jesus is the true vine, and we are his branches. God the Father is the vinedresser, examining the health of the entire vine. Branches that do not abide in the vine, or those that do not bear fruit will be pruned away. Judas is the best example of this. Regardless what he or those around him thought, he was never part of the true vine. He may have appeared to be, and he might have even fooled himself at times because of the things he saw and believed. But because he did not persist in the faith, his confidence was misplaced and it cost him his soul. Be very sober-minded about this. Absolutely believe in Christ’s authority because of his miracles. But prove that you understand what that authority means. There is no such thing as making Jesus your savior and not your Lord. Believe, confess, and endure. Work out your salvation as you strain towards your eternal goal.
The Person of Christ
So by now you should have a decent idea what Jesus and John wanted us to believe. It had everything to do with the identity of Jesus, and the implications that came from his identity.
Historically, some have proposed that Jesus didn’t exist at all, that he was an apparition, that he was a prophet, a lunatic, a revolutionary… In fact, if you pay attention, you’ll notice that everyone wants Jesus on their team. Liberal denominations will say Jesus wants them to recycle and endorse homosexuality. Oprah Winfrey talks regularly about Jesus, but admits there are other ways to God. Muslims claim Jesus was a prophet. Mormons say Jesus worked his way up from man to God.
So the big question here is … Who is Jesus?
John has no confusion whatsoever. John is crystal clear that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah, the Holy One sent from God, indeed he was God himself. The answer to Jesus’ question “Who do you say that I am?” is what theologians refer to as Christology. John had a remarkably high Christology. You cannot read the book of John and walk away thinking that perhaps John believed Jesus to be merely a political leader. You won’t walk away without the clear message that Jesus Christ was the Son of God. This is High Christology.
And Now for My Text: John 1
"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." (Genesis 1:1)
Oops. My mistake. Wait – that’s exactly what John wanted us to do. He started his gospel the same way Moses started his first book, by introducing the main player in the narrative: God. His readers would not have missed this. John was the type of writer to tease his audience with clues and misdirection until the big reveal. He starts his book with a shot right between the eyes: Jesus is God.
The opening of John is a theologically dense statement that we need to unpack a bit in the time we have left.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.
The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known. - (John 1:1-18, ESV)
Let’s break it down into some more manageable chunks:
“In the beginning” – Not just recorded time, but time itself. (i.e., “When time itself began…”)
“was” – We’re not talking about something at the beginning. We’re talking about something that preceded the beginning. (Who/what can possibly exist outside of time?)
“the Word” – Think back to Genesis 1. God created by speaking. But The Word from God was not mere sounds – it was an agent. A being. A personal being who brings God the Father’s plan into existence. That is what The Word has always done. Also - up until Christ, God’s word had been written down. It was a thing. A container of information. Now John reveals that the word is all that, but The Word is also a person. The Word is alive – the text through which God spoke, and the person through whom God speaks. Prophets before had quoted the word saying, “thus saith the Lord”. Now, the one who is The Word would say “you have heard it said … but I say”. No more “thus saith the Lord”. No more explanation. No more credentials. Just, “but I say”. Only one being has the clout to speak without the need for someone greater to vouch for him. The Word, whether in scripture or in Christ, reveals the mind of the Father.
“the Word was with God, and the Word was God” – There is only one way to unravel this riddle. If the Word was God and also was with God, then there must be some sort of plurality in God. John is alluding to the trinity. This is Trinitarian language. The Father is God, and always has been. The Word is God, and always has been. Neither of them ever came to be. They just are.
REVIEW: In verse one alone, we have established that Jesus is God, he is eternal, and we’ve started laying down theology for the Trinity.
The following verses simply restate these truths. (Vs 2 reiterates Jesus’ eternity; Vs 3 & 4 reiterate Jesus’ divinity.)
Vs 5 – Just as physical light dispels darkness, the metaphorical “light” of Christ dispels spiritual darkness, moral murkiness, philosophical conundrums, mysteries of science and all other darkness. Jesus’ light would bring clarity, reconciliation, healing, and forgiveness. His light would stand alone. It would also be this light that his followers would reflect, however dimly, to point a dying world to the source of light.
In these opening five verses, John repeatedly reinforces that Jesus is God himself.
Vs 6-8 – John introduces another John. If you’re not paying attention, it would be easy to think John was speaking of himself. In fact, he was describing John the Baptist as one sent by God for the purpose of preparing the way for Jesus. That John did not talk about himself, but only about the one who would come.
Vs 9 – John said that this one that the Baptizer spoke of was Jesus, the light of the world. This Jesus, The Word, the light, was already in the world, but the world didn’t even know it.
Vs 10 – Not even Jesus’ own people – the people to whom the word had been given; the people who knew that a Messiah was to come – not even these people recognized him.
Vs 11 – Anyone who did receive Jesus (trusted in him, relied upon him, believed in him, found their identity in him) – these were the ones who were his. They were not his based on their bloodline or anything that they did, but only because God regenerated them and made them his.
“the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” – The eternal God stepped into time. The immaterial became material. The limitless took on our limitations. The light that John the Baptizer had spoken of stepped into our darkness. The creator entered his creation without fanfare or ceremony. He came humbly and was treated shamefully.
“grace upon grace” – We treat him poorly, yet he blesses us. Salvation is a free gift from God. We are so inferior to God and so undeserving of him, the only way to express the reconciliation he brings between God and man is grace upon grace upon grace upon grace… We have earned nothing. God extends to us his grace. That is our only hope.
“law, grace and truth” – God is eternally just. His laws revealed to Moses were just. God is eternally gracious and truthful. His grace and truth existed when he revealed the law to Moses, because God is unchanging. However, his grace and truth had not been fully revealed until the coming of Christ.
Vs 18 – No one has ever seen God. By definition, God is immaterial. By definition, the immaterial and invisible cannot be seen. Throughout history, God has revealed aspects of his character and nature through things that were visible, so that we could understand in some small degree. Not until Christ did this revelation have any fullness. The pillars of fire and smoke gave the Israelites something to follow, but that’s all. God spoke to Moses through a burning bush, but there was nothing else God-like about that bush. God appeared as messenger in human form, but revealed only his message. He spoke through prophets, but the prophets were merely men. Not until Jesus was any revelation of God truly God. All of God’s attributes, the fullness of his character, the depth of his true nature – all in Christ.
Review: In these first 18 verses we have enough to refute most of the major heresies that sprung up in the early centuries of the church and culture:
- There is a God. (atheism)
- There is one God. (polytheism)
- God is not a single person. (modalism)
- Jesus is divine. (Arianism)
The gospel of John is not just a historical account, though it is definitely that. The gospel of John is also a powerful work of theology that demands a response. We cannot view this simply as a nice story of a good man that died because he loved us. We must also see this as the systematic explanation of God’s rescue plan for the damned. John pleads with us to “believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
In the coming months, you will hear a number of messages focusing on many aspects of Jesus’ life, teachings, death, and resurrection. Be on the lookout for who the text says that Jesus is. Be aware of what is said about those who believe and those who reject the message. Be especially aware when you hear the warnings given to those who seek after Jesus because they like his benefits. Jesus can heal. He can work miracles. He can make your situation on earth better. But that is no guarantee that he will. And whether he does or not, be certain that you are sincerely seeking after the true Christ and not a circus performer. Don’t chase signs and flashy miracles. Chase Jesus, Son of God, who is the eternal God himself, the one who holds eternal life in his hand and offers it to you as a free gift. Seek him not through conventions, magazines, and movements, but seek him through saving faith, repentance, and his revelation in his word.
 For instance, that of Thomas, or Judas, or Peter, or Mary, or James…
 Great circumstantial case for John’s authorship built by Max Andrews here: http://sententias.org/2013/01/19/gospel-of-john/
 Four times the phrase “Simon, son of John” is used. All other references to John are to the baptizer.
 Over 5,800 in the original language (Greek), ±25,000 total
 I’m referring to only to ancient, hand-written documents
 The oldest manuscript currently made public is called Rylands papyrus P52, containing portions of John 18
Matthew, Mark, and Luke are called “synoptic” gospels because those three present a similar overview (synopsis) of Jesus’ life.
 Greek pisteúō (Strongs G4100)
 James 2:19
 Matthew 8:29
 Hint: This is why God called himself “I Am” in the Old Testament, and it is also why Jesus called himself “I Am” in the New Testament.