Gospel of John: The Eternal Word

What do you do when you are confronted with something that seems impossible, but you are told is true? For example, can one thing be in two places at the same time? (I am excluding parents, we have to do that routinely.)

I am talking about theory, here.


Can that be possible?

Some people take it as a challenge and immediately start digging. Others will say “I’m not going to take someone else’s word for it unless I can prove it, myself.”

But some people will accept that claim is true. Why?

Let us suppose they heard that claim from a person they trusted, like a physicist with bona fide Ph.D.s from a prestigious university and an excellent reputation. Or, let us suppose such a person saw this seemingly impossible phenomenon proven. Some things can be demonstrated, but are hard to explain—like quantum physics, where one particle, if left unobserved, can be demonstrated to be in two places at the same time.

That is how the Gospel of John opens. We are challenged to believe the impossible on the basis of the gospel writer’s credentials (who I will now refer to as John, for ease and because essentially, I believe this is his gospel), as an eyewitness disciple of Jesus, who will demonstrate his claims, so you and I can see that even though it is hard to understand, what the gospel claims is completely true.

John 1:1-5 The Eternal Word

In the first few verses of his gospel, John made the clear and uncompromising claim that Jesus is God

In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and God was the Word.

This One was in the beginning with God.

John 1:1-2

This was not written about some epic hero, or some ancient legend, but about a thirty-year-old construction worker out of Nazareth. A regular guy, by all outward appearances, Who, sixty years before, had made headline news.

John was now saying that this man, this construction worker, was God. You recognized how John tied in with Genesis “In the beginning…” the first words of the Bible. Now John added more information to that. “In the beginning,” before Genesis, there was the Word, and the Word was with God and was God.

“Word,” the English word, comes from the Greek word Logos, which was familiar to the Greeks in their philosophy just as it was familiar to Jewish people in their philosophy. To the Greeks, Logos came to mean “First Cause,” the reason or the will behind the universe, an unknowable force.[1] Plato, four hundred years before, had posited the Logos as both in the world and also in the mind of God.

In Hebrew this word was called “Debar” and it was God’s expression of Himself, “Thus saith the Lord.” Logos, or Debar, was the word that proceeded from God’s mouth and accomplished what God intended to do, almost as a synonym for God Himself.

John developed this understanding even further by stating Logos, the Word, was another personality with God. The nuance of the word “with,” in Greek, meant that Logos looked God in the eyes, not kneeling as a subject, nor looking down as a superior, but rather face to face as intimate equals. John was grappling with one of the deepest mysteries of God: the Trinity. “The Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

How could one God be more than one Person?

That’s impossible.

Yet here is the mystery: the Word was so intimately involved with God that their thoughts and purposes were one. The Word and God were one, as Jesus would later say, “I and the Father are one.”

But how could both Jesus and the Father be God?

How could the Son be His own Father?

Still, here in verse one John declared the eternal Word was a Person separate from God, was with God, and yet also was God.

There is no other way to translate these words without violating the laws of Greek grammar, though people have tried. John was taking great pains to make his point clear: There is only one God, and Jesus was one with that God, and Jesus is God.

Continuing in the theme of Genesis, John declared Jesus as the Creator of all things.

Look at the parallel between Genesis 1:3 “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’” and

Everything came into being through him, and apart from him not a single thing came into being.

What has come into being in Him was life, and the life was light of the people,

John 1:3-4

Here is God the Son at work, He is Logos, Debar, the eternal Word, the force behind the universe, speaking into being what the Father has conceived and designed. Everything that was made, the material and spiritual worlds, were made by Jesus and for Him.

Jesus is also the source of life and light.

All other life depends on Jesus as the source of life. Think about what “life” is. You can tell the difference between life and death, but try to define exactly what life is without using that contrast.

In fact, life is one of the great mysteries of science and philosophy. No one really knows what life is, what it is that animates all these carbon-based enzymes and basic elements that make up life. But here is John saying that life is Jesus, He is the source of all life.

And with life comes light.

Light, as John used the word, is a symbol of knowledge, understanding and truth, and it points to the kind of life that goes beyond our physical, temporary life. Understanding and truth point to eternal life.

Then John introduced a hint of the struggle that would happen when light came into the world

and the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overtake (or comprehend) it.

John 1:5

The original Greek word I translated as “overtake” actually means “to lay hold of, to lay hands on, to seize.” That can mean either as a hostile act, or in order to possess, so sometimes it’s translated “to comprehend.” John was saying that darkness cannot get a hold of the light, darkness cannot possess light, it cannot apprehend or comprehend light.

Nika Akin | Pixabay

Think of what light does in a dark room. Darkness simply cannot win. No matter how tiny the light is, darkness has to recede. Darkness and light cannot exist together, and light is always the more powerful than darkness.

The light is intellectually the truth and morally holiness, which is contrasted to the darkness of intellectual error, and moral wrongdoing.

It is hard for us to accept that we live in a world of darkness. Think of all the scientific advancements, of our great social and technological progress. Think of all the great things we have done just in the last two hundred years. But if we are being honest, we have to admit that regardless of all of our impressive advances, we have not changed basic human problems of fear, hate, violence, injustice, and crime.

Now, John was not suggesting that the whole activity of life is the fight between light and darkness. This is not yin and yang. What he was saying is that light will not ever be overcome by darkness—it is the nature of light to always penetrate darkness, it cannot be taken hold of, or even be understood by darkness.

So, in these opening lines John introduces an incredible mystery: this construction worker from Nazareth is not only a man but God Himself.

The Creator has become a part of His own creation.

The source of deepest wisdom has limited Himself to being born as a baby and learning as a little child, and the origin of life and light was going to submit Himself to death and the darkness of a grave.

As I thought about this, I began to wonder what areas of my life might still be shrouded in darkness. How willing am I to admit there might be places I’ve kept in the dark? Places I don’t want to think about, that if I pretend hard enough, I can convince myself are not even there?

What would happen if I were to let Jesus’ light pierce that darkness?

[1] For a deeper dive into the ancient meaning of Logos, Encyclopaedia Britannica

[The Cosmos | NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI / AURA) -ESA / Hubble Collaboration / Public domain]

Triumphal Entry

Have you ever come into the middle of a conversation, and it sounds really interesting, and you try to get what everyone is talking about, from the context?

I mean, first you are quiet and you just nod your head, “mmhhm, mmhhm,” and you hope no one has noticed you have just inserted yourself. Inside you are scrambling to piece it all together. But, at some point you realize there is just too much you don’t know, you have too few puzzle pieces for you to understand what’s going on.

I think that is how we hear the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. We try to get why this event is so momentous it shows up in all four gospels as the commencement of Passion Week. But, there is just too much important background information that is missing for us to really grasp the importance—and symbology—of what was happening in this scene.

First, we will look at the passage, then I am going to tell you four stories, so you will have all you need to understand what is going on. Then we will go back to the passage and piece it all together.

(There was something going on with my microphone, so throughout this talk you will hear glitches. Hopefully, the talk itself will overcome that minor annoyance)

Triumphal Entry, Mark 11:1-11
Grace and Peace, Joanne

Minor Prophets: Amos Blisters Israel

Amos has been connected to the sheep: he was a shepherd by trade, who had a tremendous concern for the downtrodden, and was called by God to become a prophet.

Chapters 1-3, Amos prophesied about God’s plans to judge Israel and the surrounding nations, eight in all. Today, we will take a deep dive into the rest of chapter 2.

Not since the days of Solomon had God’s people enjoyed such material prosperity, political stability, and military success. And for the first time since Solomon, Israel had reached the original borders of God’s promised land. In both countries, the kings were enjoying long and stable reigns. Jeroboam II, in particular, was a hero to his people.

But spiritually, people in both countries were corrupt. There was idolatry, extravagant indulgence, immorality, corruption of the judicial process, and oppression of the poor.

Yet, in spite of the moral depravity and degeneracy, religion was really popular. People thronged to the festivals and religious centers.

Religion was almost like entertainment and made people feel better about themselves. The people thought that grand sweeping ceremonies, performing special rites, making sacrifices, doing rituals was all that was needed; it was a form of religion but it had no substance, no intimacy with God, and it was also mixed together with elements from the pagan religions that surrounded them, the calves of Ba’al and the rituals brought in by false priests.

Jonah had been prophesying restoration and glory, so had Elisha, and here it had all been coming true, so both Judah and Israel made the mistake of thinking that God’s blessing of them was also His endorsement and approval of them.

Forgotten were God’s past punishments for unfaithfulness.

The people were not committed to God’s law, so they had abandoned all standards of conduct. It is not as though we can say Israel began following the political practices of the countries around them. Far from it. Hammurabi’s Code, circa 1,800 B.C. had been widely adopted for a good thousand years. According to Hammurabi, the purpose of government was “to bring about the rule of righteousness in the land, to destroy the wicked and the evil-doers; so that the strong should not harm the weak; to rule over the [citizens] like [the sun], and enlighten the land, to further the well-being of mankind.”   

But Israel’s religion was telling them God was happy with the way they were living their lives, and that is why they were getting rich, and being victorious in war.

They were ignoring the fact that the rich were getting richer at the expense of the poor, and that their religion was a sham.

Amos condemned all those who made themselves powerful or rich at the expense of others, by cheating, by perverting justice, and by taking advantage of those with no money and no power.

It’s a timely message, isn’t it?

I imagine Amos, standing on the steps of the magnificent temple in Bethel, his voice supernaturally carrying across the courtyard, as worshippers draw near. He is preaching a sermon they are all enjoying, “This is what the LORD says: For three sins of Damascus, even for four, I will not relent!” Like a refrain in a popular song, the people begin to chant it themselves, “For three sins, even for four!” “Praise be the word of the LORD!”

Slowly, at first, a crowd forms and then swiftly becomes a pulsing throng, arms thrust up in righteous indignation, “The Syrians, the Philistines, the Phoenicians, the Edomites . . .” but then the shouts become less vehement, more scattered, as Amos moves relentlessly closer and closer to home. Suddenly, with the same zeal and supernatural power, Amos condemns his own country, Judah.

A heavy silence settles on the gathered citizens of Israel. The noose has been slowly coiling, but they had not seen it coming. Now, they hold their breaths as Amos stabs his arm forward, his large hand balled into a fist with one, long, accusing finger pointed at the congregation all about him. He fixes them with a terrible stare, penetrating their souls one by one.

“This is what the LORD says,” he pronounces, enunciating each word with his low, guttural accent. The syllables land like blows as he shouts, “For three sins of ISRAEL, even for four, I. WILL. NOT. RELENT.”

What was Israel actually doing, as a nation?

I hope you have your Bible somewhere handy and read what Amos wrote. I’ll paraphrase, but don’t take my word for it, go back and see for yourself.

Amos 2:6 Slave trade at rock bottom prices. Here’s what happened: Even though plenty of people were enjoying a great deal of wealth and luxury, there was an ever-growing divide between people who had money (and then more money) and people who, however hard they worked, had not very much money, and then went into debt. If they could not pay back their loans, their last recourse was to sell themselves into indentured servitude.

“Greed” courtesy Pexels

Amos 2:7a Oppression of the poor Here’s what happened: There was no welfare or social program in place—despite God’s many commands designed to protect the destitute. All those chapters in the Pentateuch about the judicial system were ignored. The judicial system was totally corrupt.

Amos 2:7b Ramped up sex trade. Here’s what happened: Prostitution was an integral part of pagan worship practices, so father and son would go into the same sex worker.

Amos 2:8a Fraudulent banking practices. Here’s what happened: Holding onto the cloak of a poor person as collateral was specifically forbidden by God, it was all the impoverished person had to keep them warm at night. Now, those offering loans kept the collateral for their personal benefit, even to bankrolling their visits to pagan worship centers, a double slap to God and His people.

Amos 2:8b Political and economic exploitation. Here’s what happened: Those with the power to levy the law found ways to extort ordinary people with stiff levies and fines. The wine actually belonged to the people who had pawned it, as cash. So debts would be ruthlessly foreclosed on. These same leaders would then drink that wine in the temple as though they were right with God and with everyone.

11‑12 Religious intolerance and persecution. Here’s what happened: The prophets God raised up were prevented from obeying God by speaking His word. Making Nazirites drink wine was to make them break their sacred vows to God.

I thought about all the issues we read about today in the United States that speak to economic and political injustices—this is my own short list. Do you have other topics that should get added?

Our own safety nets for those in need:

  1. Access to health care
  2. Livable wages
  3. Disability care
  4. Care for the mentally ill
  5. Elder care
  6. Help for the unemployed

Our own treatment of noncitizens:

  1. Immigration laws
  2. Documented, and undocumented workers
  3. Border control

Our own system of justice:

  1. Equal rights for those who have less power and privilege
  2. Protection for the vulnerable

Our own economic system:

  1. The enormous divide between wealth and poverty (this site is mind-boggling, but it only works with a touch screen)
  2. Our stance on taxes and social programs
  3. The condition of our national debt

This week is God’s indictment, next week is God’s judgement. God made it clear, through Amos, that who we are and what we do matters.

[Corruption | Gillam, Bernhard, 1856-1896, artist / Public domain]

[Many thanks to Dr. Steve Delamarter for his presentation on Amos at George Fox University]

Gospel of John: Two Responses

John’s gospel was written to prove that Jesus was the Christ, the promised Messiah and that He was the Son of God, not just because those are really grand slam head line news items, but because this news would lead people into life-saving belief in Jesus, to find union in relationship to the Lord.

In fact, some form of the word for “believe” is found 98 times in this gospel. John wrote about the great themes of life—and the word for “life” occurs in at least 42 verses. “Death” occurs in only 9 verses. John talked about Jesus as “Light,” which appears in 16 verses, whereas “darkness” occurs in 5 verses. John talked about “love” in 21 verses and referred to the hate that was leveled against Jesus.

Life versus Death

Light versus Darkness

Love versus Hate

Belief versus Unbelief

Was Jesus the world’s greatest teacher? 

Was he more? 

Was he one of the world’s greatest prophets, up there with Buddha, Abraham, and Mohammed? 

Or is Jesus truly God and Savior, giver and sustainer of life, provider of the only true spiritual illumination, conqueror of death and darkness, the source of love?

There seem to be four main sections to John’s gospel:

  1. In chapters 1-4 John recorded the first stages of belief and unbelief

In his prologue, John described the two kinds of response to Jesus,

He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.

John 1:10 (NRSV)

. . . against irrefutable proof, the majority was going to reject Jesus,

Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.

John 1:12 (NRSV)

. . . there was a minority who would believe and receive Jesus.

In chapters 2-3 Jesus was revealed to the Judeans as he began his public ministry by clearing the temple, calling it his father’s house. But his actions were not met with belief. The scribes and teachers of the law wanted to know by what authority Jesus thought he could come in and take over the business of the temple, which was properly, by Moses’ Law, in the hands of the tribe of Levi and the priests? By what authority did Jesus claim God as his father? They were skeptical, at best.

Afterwards Nicodemus, a member of the ruling council of Israel, was shocked to find out from Jesus that Nicodemus was actually -not- okay with God, that following the Law was not enough.

But right after that, in chapter 4, a Samaritan woman with a painful past put her faith in Jesus and brought her entire town out to meet Jesus.

  1. Chapters 5-6 show a further polarization of belief and unbelief to the point of intense hatred of and active opposition to Jesus as he turned the established religious world upside down.

In his first real confrontation with the Jewish leaders, the first time they were preparing to stone him, Jesus claimed equality with God as life giver. Since they asked Jesus “by what authority,” Jesus presented his own evidence, beginning with John the Baptist, last of the Hebrew Testament prophets.

Then Jesus pointed to his own works, to the testimony of God the Father, and to the scriptures. Finally, Jesus told them that even Moses—whose Law they were certain they obeyed—stood as their accuser for not believing in Jesus.

Many people rejected Jesus because he refused to be their earthly king, and kept talking about spiritual things. By the end of chapter 6, Jesus’ followers were brought to a crisis of belief and many decided Jesus was just too hard to follow; they didn’t like where he was going with his teaching.

But Peter spoke for the twelve disciples when he said,

We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.

Peter, in John 6:69

Just as others were leaving, the disciples drew in closer to Jesus.

  1. In chapters 7-11 there was a crystallization of belief and unbelief

By chapter 7,  Jesus and the Judean religious leaders were involved in a conflict over Moses and the Law during the Feast of Booths. As Jesus and the religious rulers exchanged heated words, all around them was whispering, amazement, confusion, and divisions.

The Pharisees tried to seize Jesus and have him arrested.

In chapter 8, Jesus delivered a loaded “I AM” statement saying he existed before Abraham, infuriating the religious authorities.

The intensity increased when in chapter 9 Jesus proved that he was the light of the world by healing a blind man, in contrast to the religious leaders’ spiritual darkness.

Jesus pointed to his unique Sonship in chapter 10, willingly laying his life down for the sheep, but also picking his life back up again in resurrection. The Judean religious rulers once more accused Jesus of blasphemy and tried to stone Him, but many others believed.

This led to Jesus’ claim of being the resurrection and life in chapters 11-12. At this point many believed, but many others did not believe, and the Judean religious leaders now plotted to kill Jesus. They were no longer going to react in the heat of the moment, they were going to carefully devise Jesus’ destruction.

By the middle of chapter 12, Jesus withdrew publicly and began to teach only his disciples and closest followers.

  1. Chapters 13-20 mark the centering of belief among Jesus’ disciples and close followers, and the hardening of unbelief among all the rest.

Tension built as Jesus shared the Last Supper with his disciples, prayed with them, and then was arrested, tried, whipped, and sent outside Jerusalem with his cross. The climax came in chapter 19, of belief in those at the foot of the cross, and unbelief in the nails hammered through Jesus’ feet and hands.

The resurrection in chapter 20 is what continues to confirm eternal life in those who believe and confirms the condemnation of unbelief.

John’s gospel quoted Jesus as saying those who did not believe in him would die in their sins, and warned those who rejected Jesus would have to face the Father in judgment. Just as there is life in Christ, so there is judgment without Jesus.

Knowing the truth about Jesus requires a response

Seven eyewitness were called upon by John’s gospel.

Seven statements are provided by Jesus himself, based on the very holy name of God, Yahweh, “I AM.” 

Seven supernatural signs were presented by God, pieces of physical evidence, miracles which John called signs to point to the deity of Jesus. From these, John was confident any jury would reach a verdict of belief in Messiah, the Son of God, the one called Jesus.

But incredibly, many rejected Jesus instead. Where do you and I stand today?

[This 5th-century mosaic from Sant’Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna depicts the Last Judgement in which Christ separates the sheep from the goats.

It is considered among the oldest mosaic depictions of a New Testament scene.

Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P., flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/%5D

Gospel of John: Jesus is God

There were already three very serviceable gospels in circulation, and John’s gospel—along with Peter’s—was being widely taught in oral fashion. He had set pen to paper already once, just to sketch out his own testimony, working in the symbology of what he had experienced with Jesus. It was all so much more profound than any written word could adequately convey, anyway. He wanted people to understand the reality of the supernatural, the cosmic impact of God revealed in the Lord Jesus, Messiah, and that seemed to come better with teaching in person, rather than a flat papyrus with ink scratches.

Close on Jesus as the Good Shepherd. Ceiling – S. Callisto catacomb.
Period: early Christian
Date: mid 3rd century A.D.
Materials: painting in catacomb
Wikimedia Commons | Public Domain

But there was a growing number of those who were denying the humanity of Jesus, that God had somehow imbued the man Jesus with God’s supernatural being when he had risen up out of the Jordan, baptized by the other John—John the Baptist. And that—somehow—in that last hairbreadth of a moment when Jesus’ breath rattled to a stop on the cross, God had taken the Holy Spirit back, for God cannot be mortal, such people said.

John was old, and his gnarled fingers often ached, as his hand brushed across the papyrus, inking each word. Yet, it was more important than anything else he could imagine doing, to impart the momentous truth of Jesus.

Jesus said “I Am one with the Father.”

He had told Nicodemus he was the Savior of the world.

He had told the woman at the well he was the long-awaited Messiah.

He had told Pontius Pilate he was King.

The term “Son of God” may not sound like saying flat out Jesus is God. It may sound like there is a distinction between the term “God,” and the term “Son of God.” But remember, John wrote his gospel in the context of ancient Judea, to be read by those familiar with the Hebrew scriptures as well as the practice of Rome’s emperors.

No Hebrew would have seen a distinction between those two terms. To someone of Jewish culture and faith, to call someone a “son” of something was to say he was identified with, even identical with, that thing or that person. So, to the Hebrews, the use of the term “Son of God” meant “This man is God, of one being with God.” He was literally the personification of godhood on earth.

In much the same way, for the century surrounding the events of Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection, several Roman emperors were deified after their deaths so that their successor was entitled “son of (a) god.” In this way, Roman emperors had temples built to them where people could worship them, and statues designed in their likeness to stand at the entryway of marketplaces and public buildings, where everyone could leave a sacrifice or libation of some kind. To be the son of a god was indeed to be a god oneself.

The mystery of the trinity was deeply hidden in the Hebrew scriptures, and it took several church councils over a number of centuries to come to some sort of understanding of how the Godhead might be grasped. It is not something we, as three-dimensional creatures, can fully comprehend. We try our best to hold the perspective of God and human together with open hands.

The Son of God is said to be one person of the Godhead, the trinity. As God, Jesus is eternal, Jesus always existed.

Jesus has the true divine nature.

Before there was anything, Jesus was with God, a distinct person in the Godhead, and also was God, that is what the first few verses of John’s gospel was seeking to convey.

The writer of Hebrews describes Jesus as “the radiance of the glory of God,” the visible aspect of God. But Jesus is not just an image or a reflection of God. The writer of Hebrews goes on to say that Jesus is “the exact imprint of God’s nature,”He is the image of the invisible God,”

Jesus is the absolutely authentic representation of God’s being.

Paul explained that all of God’s fullness—the totality of God’s powers and attributes—rests in Jesus. God upholds the universe by the word of God’s power, Jesus. Jesus actively holds all things together.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation;

for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him.

He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,

and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

Colossians 1:15-17, 19-20 (NRSV)

The Father and the Son are equal in being, yet in the plan of redemption the Son subordinated himself to the Father—a willing subordination that in no way implies inferiority. At a specific moment in earth’s history, The Son of God took a human form, becoming the man we know as the Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus Himself said, in this gospel, that he, as God, entered from eternity into the world not to judge it but to save it.

Jesus has a true human nature that is perfectly united with His divine nature. Jesus was completely human, except He was without imperfection in his inner being. As a human Jesus humbled himself by becoming perfectly obedient (we might say so attuned to God as to be one with God’s will and intention) to God, even to the point of death on the cross for the sake of our salvation.

Jesus’ death and resurrection have changed everything. The work of redemption is complete. Because of Jesus’ humility in obedience, God has exalted Him, giving Him authority over every authority. Jesus now remains the unique God‑man forever—fully God and fully human.

Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God

Today, many think that Son of God and Messiah still do not mean GOD, the God of the universe, the real GOD.

But there was no confusion during Jesus’ ministry about Who he claimed to be. The scribes and teachers of the law, who knew the scriptures better than anyone, understood perfectly what Jesus was saying.

John’s Gospel explained this was why the Judean religious authorities were seeking all the more to kill Jesus, because not only was Jesus breaking the Sabbath, but Jesus was even claiming God as his own Father, making himself equal with God.

The scribes understood that Jesus was claiming the same essence as God. In fact the Pharisees told Jesus, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.

Taken as a whole, it was the intention of John’s gospel that readers and hearers make some conclusions based upon these witnesses’ testimony.

[Early portrait of Jesus, Aya Sofya, a beautiful mosque turned museum, built by Emperor Justinian in in 532 AD | Curious Expeditions, flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/%5D

Gospel of John: 7 Signs

To support the testimony, and the case that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and to support the claim that by believing in Jesus you will have life in Jesus’ name, the Gospel of John recorded seven of Jesus’ miracles which acted as supernatural signs from Almighty God, as heaven’s testimony to earth of the truth of Jesus’ deity and work.

Think about what a sign’s purpose is. When you go on a road trip, you look for the signs that mark out where the exits and entrances are on the freeway, and what the names of the roads are, so you know where to turn. Your focus is on getting to your destination, not to admire the signs. The sign’s whole purpose is to get your attention then point, not to remain the central interest.

Gospel of John Presents Seven Physical Signs

  1. In chapter 2, Jesus attended a wedding at Cana where he turned water into wine just by speaking. This sign pointed to Jesus’ creative power, the power of his word, he spoke and it was so.
  1. In chapter 4 Jesus healed a royal official’s son. Jesus did not go to the official’s house, but spoke the word from a distance, revealing Jesus’ authority over all creation, whether he was physically present or not, inspiring faith in the official.
  1. In chapter 5 Jesus healed a man who had been lame for 38 years. Jesus healed him without being asked, but came up to him, out of all the people who were there. Jesus revealed the personal nature of salvation, that he will seek you and me out.
  1. In chapter 6, Jesus provided a meal for at least five thousand people. Jesus reveal himself as the Bread of Life, able to satisfy, even though it seemed an impossible amount was needed. He likened himself to the heavenly food God had sent to those wandering in the wilderness, only Jesus is the true manna.
  1. Also in chapter 6, Jesus walked out on the lake while his disciples were struggling in a storm. They were terrified, their boat was about to be capsized and their situation looked grim. But Jesus brought with him ability to still the storm, to provide peace and safety. His power over even the forces of darkness was revealed.
  1. In chapter 9, Jesus healed a man who was blind from birth. He changed a life-long misfortune into an opportunity to glorify God, revealing he is master over all of life’s circumstances.
  1. In chapter 11, John recorded the last sign, Jesus raising Lazarus from the grave, revealing his power and authority over life and death itself.

The first three signs show how salvation comes to a person.

  1. Just as the water was transformed into wine by Jesus’ word, so you and I are saved through understanding and believing his words.
  1. Just as the royal official’s son was healed as the official believed in faith that Jesus could heal, so you and I are saved by faith.
  1. And just as Jesus saw the lame man and reached out to him, so we are saved by Jesus’ grace, Jesus seeks you and me out and calls us to Himself.

The last four signs show the characteristics of being saved

  1. You and I are satisfied and strengthened by Christ, because he feeds our souls.
  1. Jesus brings his own peace during the storms of life.
  1. Jesus gives light, understanding, guidance and insight to our spirits just as he literally gave the blind man sight for the first time in his life.
  1. And Jesus raises us to new life, literally and spiritually.

As God, Jesus Christ has the power to give eternal life

Jesus said

Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life.

John 5:24 (NRSV)

And also

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

John 10:10 (NRSV)

Jesus promises not only to move us from death to life, but to move us from ordinary life to a fullness of life.

You and I hear how people say to follow our bliss.

There are all kinds of books out on how to enjoy life, how to get the most out of life, how to be happy, how not to be miserable, and so on. That is all speaking to the longing every person has for life, the abundant life.

Just a little bit ago I read about yet another Hollywood star who died because, after the investigation, it was discovered she had been abusing –prescription- drugs for years. As has been found out in several other recent cases, her doctors had given her what she wanted instead of what she needed.

In what ways might you and I be trying to follow our bliss that do not include Jesus? Those ways are not on the path of life, truth, and light.

We all want abundant life, we all want happiness, we all want to feel good and to not feel bad. But those desires are fed by one deep desire, a longing for relationship, for belonging, to love and be loved. That longing can only be fully satisfied, ultimately, by Jesus, as John’s gospel explains, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of all people.

[Image courtesy Pikist]

Gospel of John: 7 Witnesses, 7 Claims

I always wanted to be on a jury, but the few times I ever made it into the pool, I never got selected. My husband was able to serve a few times, though, and one of the things he was instructed to do was to weigh the evidence put before the jury, then come up with a verdict on just the reasonable testimony of eyewitnesses plus whatever physical evidence was brought in.

This idea of bringing in eyewitnesses and physical evidence is something of the way the apostle John approached his gospel, as well. John was asking his audience to hear testimony, examine evidence, and come to a conclusion about Jesus of Nazareth—is He the Christ, the Son of God? If He is, will you respond by believing in Him and receiving Him into your heart and your life?

The Gospel of John had two big things to say about Jesus. The first was that Jesus was the promised Messiah all the prophets had written about in the Hebrew Testament. He was the deliverer, the “anointed one” or “holy one of God” who Israel had been longing to come and free them from bondage.

But, Jesus did not come in the form of the conquering hero they were expecting. That part of His deliverance is still in the future. What He had come to accomplish was the greatest part of His work, to deliver them from the bondage of sin and death, and to consummate God’s purposes for the whole world.

Which brought John to the other big thing the Gospel wanted to say about Jesus, which was far bigger than Jesus being the Messiah. It was an astounding secret that had been guarded all throughout the Hebrew Testament’s history, yet hinted at again and again.

The Messiah would be none other than God Himself, Yahweh, the Great I Am, the very person of God in human form, Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God.

And because these things are true, John claimed, by believing in and receiving Jesus you will have eternal life.

In order to show us the truth of both of these titles: that Jesus is Messiah, or “Christ,” in the Greek, and that Jesus is God, the Gospel of John carefully selected witnesses, and the words and works of Jesus which John called signs.

John Called Seven Witnesses

  1. The first witness John presented was himself as an eyewitness, and his testimony:

He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.

No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.

John 1:2-4, 18 (NRSV)

Jesus is God, creator, the eternal word through whom all things were made, the only Son, who has made the Father known to people, beginning with His disciples, and John himself.

  1. John the Baptist’s testimony: Jesus is the Son of God, and the Lamb of God, a phrase that was rich and heavy with meaning for a Jewish audience.
  1. Nathanael’s testimony when he first met Jesus: Jesus is the Son of God, the promised King of Israel
  1. Peter’s testimony when Jesus’ other followers were leaving Him: Jesus is the Holy One of God, Messiah, holding eternal life
  1. Martha’s testimony even before Jesus raised her brother from the dead: Jesus is Messiah, Christ, the Son of God
  1. Thomas’ testimony after Jesus rose from the dead: Jesus is the Lord, and Jesus is God
  1. John’s seventh witness was Jesus Himself, Who made seven claims about Himself based on the name that was so holy, no Jewish person ever uttered it out loud, the name God gave to Moses at the burning bush, “I Am That I Am,” or Yahweh.

Jesus Presented Seven “I AM” statements

  1. I AM the Bread of Life. What do you think nourishes our souls? Is it the satisfaction of a career, or of raising children, or a wonderful love life? Truly, Jesus is the only One Who nourishes our souls with what will gives us authentic life.
  1. I AM the Light of the World. What gives spiritual insight? Is it spiritual experiences? Thinking about philosophy? Drawing from the teachings of various religious? Jesus proclaims He is the One Who illuminates the spirit with true light.
  1. Before Abraham was, I AM, Eternal God. Have you ever wondered Who God is really? What God is like? Jesus proclaims He is the personification of God. We want to know God, then know Jesus.
  1. I AM the Good Shepherd. Think about the people who have taken care of you over the years. Maybe you feel no one has ever really cared for you or taken care of you. Yet, you reading this right now might be from Jesus, Who does care for us and is always ready to take care of us, no matter what life has thrown at us.
  1. I AM the Resurrection and the Life. Have you ever wondered what happens after the grave? Maybe you are facing a serious health issue, or are close to someone who is facing death right now. Jesus proclaims He has authority over even death itself.
  1. I AM the Way, the Truth and the Life. Why are there so many religions? Which ones lead to knowing God? Jesus proclaims He is the path that leads to God.

He is the way: With and through Jesus is the path that leads to God.

He is the truth: Jesus embodies in His person the supreme revelation of God.

He is the life: Through Jesus eternal life can be given and received.

  1. I AM the True Vine. How does a person have an abundant and fruitful life? By being in intimate union with Jesus.

John’s gospel is like this all the way through, layers of meaning, layers of symbology, written poetically, drawing the reader into the sense of the spiritual realm, ancient secrets being unveiled, ancient mysteries revealed, runes whose meaning has long been hidden now made manifest.

I picture John by candlelight, yet his papyrus glows with an otherworldly illumination. The ink in its well is like a pool of phosphorescence, and the tip of his quill lambent with supernatural light. “The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world,” he writes, then pauses as he thinks about those long ago days of sunshine. No one really knew Who You were, he whispers, in his inner being. . .

[Mural painting from the catacomb of Commodilla. This is one of first bearded images of Christ. Earlier Christian art in Rome portrayed Jesus most often as the Good Shepherd, disguised as Orpheus, young, beardless and in a short tunic. During the 4th century Jesus was beginning to be depicted as a man of identifiably Jewish appearance, with a full beard and long hair, a style not usually worn by Romans. The symbols on either side are Alpha and Omega signifying “I am the beginning and the end”.

  • Date: Late 4th century
  • Commodilla catacombs Christ

Wikimedia Commons | Public Domain]

Heavenly Stuff

Look at what love the Father has given to us, so that we may be called—and are—children of God. Because of this the world does not know us, for it did not know Him.

Beloved ones, [right] now we are children of God and it has not yet been made visible who we will be. We know that whenever He will be made visible we will be similar to Him, for we will perceive Him just He is.

And each one having this expectation concerning Him consecrates themselves just as that One is consecrated.

1 John 3:1-3 (my own translation)

This is what I’ve been thinking about for the last 60+ days. Being in a cocoon as God does His mysterious spiritual work in people, stripping away all but the essentials, and for one in four people in the US, even essentials will be stripped away, by losing their jobs.

Who will we be when Maryland opens back up, and we can do things together with other people? Will we be transformed? Will we be the same? Will we have learned something? Will we forget what we learned?

This talk is about emerging as a transformed people by God’s love, so that we will do everything we can to help each other through this next season.

(My mic had some issues for the first 15 or 20 seconds of the talk, but heals quickly, and stays fine for the rest of the way.)

Minor Prophets: Amos Condemns the Nations

Amos has been connected to the sheep, a social prophet, and a shepherd by trade, who had a tremendous concern for the downtrodden.

Chapters 1-3, Amos prophesied about God’s plans to judge Israel and surrounding nations, eight in all. Today, we’ll take a deep dive into chapters 1 and the first part of 2.

Have you ever wondered what life would be like if we lived in a country that was really ruled by God through His believing people? Would there be poor people, or would we share everything we had with each other? Would there be lonely people, people who couldn’t get a decent education? Would there be much crime? How about the court system, the prison system, the medical system? What would it be like?

Condemnation, Amos Chapter 1:1-2:5

The Prophet Amos
James Tissot | Public Domain

Remember that Amos did not start out as a prophet, nor were any others in his extended family ever prophets. His call from God was completely unexpected. He started out in life on a farm in the village of Tekoa, in ancient Judah—either as a poor farm boy or as a wealthy country esquire, the evidence supports both profiles. The way he chose to depict himself, at least, was as a simple man minding his own business, tending to his farm and family, when God came barreling in with an urgent message:

The Lord roars from Zion

and thunders from Jerusalem;

the pastures of the shepherds dry up,

and the top of Carmel withers.

Amos 1:2 (NRSV)

As I picture the scene in my mind’s eye, I see Amos out with his flock watching the countryside in quiet repose when, before his eyes, the landscape begins to shimmer as if with waves of heat. He closes his eyes, perhaps rubs them with his thumb and knuckle, and as he does so senses the swelter of fire. A sharp stab of adrenaline shoots through his chest as his eyes startle open.

It is as though the whole field is ablaze, the sheep are bleating and burning, stampeding in terror, tongues of flame leap from every grass blade, waves of fire sweep across the horizon, his skin is curling and charring as he stares in horror, every ragged breath he draws in scalding him clear to his lungs.

And then, he hears a voice, deep and deafening, a voice so powerful he can feel it reverberating through his body, loosening his joints, a voice that penetrates to his core, as though it were coming both from inside him as well as from the sky. . .

It was a time of great wealth, of even luxury for both Judah and Israel. In Judah, Amos’ native country, King Uzziah was in power (he reigned from 785 ‑747 B.C.) Because King Jeroboam’s reign (793 ‑ 753 B.C.) to the north completely overlapped King Uzziah’s era, it is generally accepted that Amos, who was a contemporary of Jonah’s, prophesied to Israel from between 760 ‑ 750 B.C.

After his vision, Amos traveled up from Tekoa to Bethel, one of the seats of false religion in Israel, and began to prophesy.

Amos had understood that God’s roaring like a lion was His warning to all Israel of the fierce judgement about to come—from the lowest, farthest reaches to the highest, lushest point in the country. God did not speak from the northern nation’s capital city, nor from their most prestigious temple. God spoke from Mount Zion, God’s holy mountain, God’s government established in Jerusalem, the city God established as holy, the only place where believers could offer true worship, in the true temple.

Seven times, Amos announced “This is what the Lord says,” and he began with “three sins . . . even for four” a formula that meant an indeterminate amount of sins. The number three was for “full,” and the number four was for “over the top.” 

At first Amos prophesied judgement that any Israelite would have vigorously applauded.

  1. Amos began with the hostile pagan city of Damascus—the threshing sledge mentioned in verse 3 was a wooden sledge with sharp teeth used to cut grain, only this time it cut people and property.
  2. Next came Philistia with Gaza, Ashdod, Ashkelon and Ekron.
  3. After them was Phoenicia with the city of Tyre.

Then, having finished with the pagan nations, Amos’ prophesied judgement inched a little closer to the bone:

  1. Hated Edom, the descendants of Jacob’s brother Esau.
  2. Ammon and
  3. Moab, the sons of Lot by incest.

Amos’ final pronouncement in this series, though it might have left some faintly unsettled, would still have been largely welcomed in Israel.

  1. Judah.

“Damascus” your sins have reached the limit, and indeed have spilled over.

Damascus was the capital city of the nation Aram, and Gilead a beautiful district in Israel. Hazael and Ben-Hada were both kings of Aram. Judged by God for their savage cruelty, eventually Tiglath-Pileser of Assyria would take the Arameans captive to Kir.

“Gaza” your sins have reached the limit, and indeed have spilled over.

These four cities—Gaza, Ashdod, Ashkelon, and Ekron to the west—were the main centers of Philistia. Judged by God for their slave trade, the Philistines as a civilization would eventually be wiped out.

“Tyre” your sins have reached the limit, and indeed have spilled over.

Just to the north and west of Israel, along the coast, was the wealthy nation of Phoenicia, well-known for their trade in purple dyes and for their port cities. Judged by God because they also traded in slaves and broke treaties, even their heretofore impregnable island city of Tyre would one day be destroyed.

“Edom” your sins have reached the limit, and indeed have spilled over.

Though the two brothers, Jacob and Esau, had met amicably in Israel’s distant past to bury their father Isaac together, the two nations they founded were uneasy towards each other.

Now, God judged two cities at the southeasternmost border of Edom—Teman and Bozrah—for their unchecked violence against their kinspeople, the nations of Judah and Israel.

“Ammon” your sins have reached the limit, and indeed have spilled over.

At the very beginnings of their shared history, Abraham had loved, protected, and been very generous to his nephew Lot. However, the nations founded by the sons Lot sired through his two daughters had remained hostile towards their kinspeople, Judah and Israel.

Rabbah was a town just east of the Jordan River. Judged by God for their bloodthirsty desire for Israel’s territory, they would one day find themselves barbarously overrun and taken into exile, losing all their own lands.

“Moab” your sins have reached the limit, and indeed have spilled over.

Kerioth was located to the south of Moab and was included in God’s judgement for having shown extreme revengefulness, and desecrating a human body.

“JUDAH” your sins have reached the limit, and indeed have spilled over.

Judged by God for having rejected His law, not keeping His decrees, and allowing themselves to be led astray by false gods, God would now permit the unthinkable. The devastating fire in Amos’ vision would sweep into Jerusalem itself, scorching all the earth before it, and bringing down God’s holy city into a pile of cinders and ash.

Kingdoms_of_Israel_and_Judah_map_830.svg: *Oldtidens_Israel_&_Judea.svg: FinnWikiNoderivative work: Richardprins (talk)derivative work: Richardprins / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

Those hearing him preach would have noticed Amos was making a slow spiral that looked as though it would circle right into Israel, for he had pronounced God’s judgment and condemnation on even Israel’s blood brother Judah, Amos’ own native country.

. . . Would Amos dare to prophesy against Israel, right here in one of their most prominent and popular religious centers, Beth-El, the very “House” of “God”?!

[Lion | ngimg / fire and lone figure | Pixabay]

Gospel of John: Why Study It?

John wrote his gospel for a Jewish audience, adding many references to Jewish feasts, and passages in the Hebrew scriptures they would understand. John was writing to convince the Jewish audience that Jesus really was the longed-for Messiah and Son of God, as was expressed towards the end of his gospel,

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.

But these are written so that you may come to believe

that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

John 20:30-31 (NRSV)

You and I are what we believe.

People almost always act according to what they really believe. It does not matter much what you and I say we believe or what we want others to think we believe. When it really matters, in our real lives, we act out what we really believe most of the time.

There are five aspects that shape a belief, all of which John addressed in his gospel[1]

  1. The content of a belief—What we believe matters. The facts. John presented the facts of Jesus’ deity through Jesus’ own claims about Himself, through the other witnesses of Jesus’ authenticity, and through the miracles themselves, acting as signs.
  1. The strength of a belief—When a person says they believe something, that doesn’t mean they are certain that it is true, it just means that they are at least more than fifty percent convinced the belief is true

So, a belief’s strength is the degree to which you are convinced that the belief is true. As you gain evidence and support for a belief, its strength grows for you. It may start off as plausible and later become fairly likely, then quite likely, then beyond reasonable doubt, and finally, completely certain. The more certain you are of a belief, the more it becomes a part of your inner being and the more you rely on it as a basis for action.

John provided irrefutable evidence, backed up by eyewitnesses and miracles, that added strength and support to Jesus’ claim of being Messiah, Son of God

  1. The centrality of a belief—The more central a belief is, the greater the impact it will have on your worldview, the way you see things. For John, belief in Christ was so central that Jesus was the very source of life for him, and he saw Jesus as the source of life, light, and love for all people.
  1. The way to change a belief—You start on a course of study with an open mind, one of inquiry. Place yourself in a position to undergo a change in the content, strength, and centrality of the beliefs you already have—what John was asking of his Jewish audience.

This is what the Bible means when it says you and I need to constantly renew our minds. This is why studying the Bible is so important, because it is the antidote to the constant immersion our minds already have in our culture’s belief systems, and our culture’s values.

As you and I study John’s gospel, we have the potential to gain much if we are willing to make ourselves vulnerable and yielding to what these God-breathed words have to say about Messiah Jesus.

  1. The plausibility of a belief—Because what the culture you and I are a part of will, to a very great extent, determine what beliefs we are willing to entertain. If the culture says something is plausible, it will be easy to believe. But, if the culture says it is not plausible, we will find ourselves pretty skeptical. John recorded some stupendous claims Jesus makes in this gospel. Will we accept it? It depends on how deep the nonbelieving culture around us has gotten inside us.

John included God’s “I AM” identification at least nine times because Jesus shared both divine and human natures as the unique God-Man.

Jesus claimed to be what only God is:

  • The Bread of Life, the living bread from heaven that nourishes and sustains us
  • The light of the world that guides people
  • The gate for the sheep, the way to life is through Jesus and only Jesus; and He cares for and protects His own
  • The Good Shepherd, Who is intrinsically good, Who protects His sheep to the point of laying His life down for us
  • The Resurrection and the Life, Resurrection, so death is no obstacle and Life, which begins now and continues into eternity
  • The Way, the Truth and the Life, He is the way, meaning only through His death are sinners reconciled to God. He is the truth in that all He said, all He claimed and did can be trusted. He embodies the ultimate revelation of God, He is God’s expression of Himself. He is the life in that His own life is self-existent as God, and He is the source of life to all others.
  • The true vine, abundant life and fruitful service depends on vital union with Jesus.

To the Jewish mind and culture, these claims were totally implausible, and many refused to entertain the possibility. We know from the apostle Paul that more and more, Jesus’ claim to be God was rejected by the people of their native land and faith, even as more and more from surrounding cultures and religions had their eyes opened and came to faith.

For you and me today, the question is the same as it was in John’s day:

Who is Jesus and what is His significance to me?

John wrote his gospel to answer that question in such a convincing way, those who read it would put their faith in Jesus as Messiah.

[1] This foundational concept about belief and faith is laid out in one of those kind of Important Books that has shaped the way I think: “Love God With All Your Mind”

[Fragment of the Gospel of St. John 2:11-22 | Metropolitan Museum of Art / CC0]

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