Gospel of John: What Is It?

The gospel of John is unique among the four gospels.

The first three, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, are called the synoptic gospels—syn for “alike” optic for “look” because these three gospels look alike, they correspond to each other in many ways, each with its own nuance, or emphasis.

John’s work is called the supplementary gospel because his goal was not so much to add facts to the account of Jesus’ life and ministry, but to supplement the facts already written with spiritual insight.

There is quite a bit of debate about who wrote what.

Traditionally, it is said that

  • John Mark, who had become like a son to Peter, wrote Peter’s testimony down in the gospel that bears his name.
  • Matthew, the tax collector whom Jesus selected as one of His twelve disciples, is said to have written the gospel with his name on it.
  • The Gospel of Luke is attributed to a physician and companion of the apostle Paul named Luke.
  • And finally, John is said to have written the Gospel of John.

I’ll give you my opinion, based on what I’ve read. I think the Mark and John gospels were the first to come out, both were told over and over again by many, but originated with Peter and John. I have no problem attributing the gospel of Mark to John Mark, who recorded one of the many similar oral gospels that had first come out. I think the apostle John set pen to paper early on, too, with his more thoughtful approach.

I think Matthew used Mark’s gospel as a template to teach from, and I think Luke used both Mark’s and Matthew’s gospel to work with when he set down his documentary for his friend Theophilus. I think some form of John’s gospel was also in circulation, even though it isn’t much referenced in the other gospels.

I also think John’s gospel was edited at least once, if not a couple of times, and -at least- the epilogue was added after he died, if not also the prologue.

The Gospels are not biographies in the way we think of biographies today, but rather different portrayals of the same person as seen through the eyes of four different writers. They are complementary, not contradictory.

Matthew speaks of the coming of a promised savior

Mark speaks of the life of a powerful savior

Luke speaks of a perfect savior

John speaks of a personal savior

What are the differences between the synoptic Gospels and the Gospel of John?

Original: AlecmconroyDerivative work: Popadius / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

For the most part, Matthew, Mark, and Luke are set in Galilee, while John is mostly in Judea.

In the synoptic gospels, Jesus is in action, addressing multitudes, performing miracles, giving teaching and parables. Whereas in his gospel John records his own reflections. For example, John depicted Jesus as often in meditation, speaking to His disciples, or in prayer with the Father.

The synoptics include many stories John omitted. John’s gospel does not discuss much of Jesus’ early years of ministry, he did not record the institution of the Lord’s supper, and he did not describe Jesus’ ascension into heaven.

In fact, the feeding of five thousand is one of the few events found in all four gospels, it was that important, but John is the only one who explains the spiritual significance, which brings us to what seems to have been John’s motivation for writing his gospel the way he did. John had been the closest to Jesus, sensitive to Jesus’ thoughts and meaning. Now, the Holy Spirit inspired him to write a reflective gospel, one that would bring out the deeper truths that Jesus had taught.

John presented Jesus not just as the Son of Man, but as the unique Son of God. So, his gospel began not at Jesus’ birth but in eternity, time before time, when Jesus eternally existed as God.

John set out to write a deeper story, one that brought out the wisdom of Messiah Jesus, a spiritual gospel that revealed Christ’s divine nature and would stir readers to believe in their hearts that He was God. The final version of John’s gospel, the one you and I have in the Bible, was completed sometime between 80 and 90 A.D. and concludes with the promise of Christ’s return.

As I go through this study, I want to read John in the context of the Bible itself. Understanding one book in its context of the whole Bible keeps us from distorting the truth. I will be asking, throughout this study,

  1. What does the Bible say in its historical context, from the position of the writer?
  2. What does the Bible teach?
  3. What does each passage teach about God, people, and the relationship between people and God?
  4. What principles of truth does it teach for all ages, all times and all cultures?
  5. And, what is God saying to you and me, personally, through the Bible so we can apply these truths to our lives?

We learn Who Jesus is through the gospel accounts recorded in the Bible

That’s not everything, of course, Jesus is a Person, and having a relationship with Jesus is the goal. Knowing Jesus comes from, well, getting to know the Person, Jesus.

The Gospel of John acts as something of a love letter from God to His people, a book that has changed more lives than possibly any other book written. It presents Jesus as a man with personal warmth, intimacy, human emotions, and relating to people.

But, it is still a book, written words. It is my hope that this book will act more like a portal for me, and for you, too, a gateway between our three-dimensional planet and the many-dimensioned spiritual realm Jesus now dwells.

It is my hope you and I are able to be transported by this word into a deeper union with the Word Himself.

[Byzantinischer Maler um 1020 / Public domain]

The Gospel of John

Think about how often you surf the net when you have a question about something.

It’s just second nature, isn’t it? “I’ll Google it,” you might say, as you thumb your phone, knowing you will have an answer in seconds.

When I was a kid in the 1960s, I always went to our Encyclopedia set—which took up a couple of shelves in our living room—or the library. But today, even elementary school teachers often require the kids go to the internet. And, incredibly, every topic seems to have a few million sites to choose from.

But here’s the Big Question: how reliable is the website?

Anybody can set up a site, and make it look and sound good.

But you and I want something that does more than sound good, or seem authentic and legitimate. The reliability of the source is important because you and I want to know what is true. We want to be sure what we are reading is really the facts, and that it pertains to the subject we are interested in.

The truth affects our real lives. We act on the facts when we are certain they are true.

Which brings us to the Gospel of John.

  • Is it authentic and reliable?
  • Is it relevant and true?
  • If it is, then what should you and I do about it?

It is going to take a little bit of time to do this, so I have gridded it out into three basic questions: What is the gospel of John? Who wrote it and why? And why should we study it?

What is the Gospel of John?

The word “gospel” means good news in Greek. In ancient times, this book would have been called the gospel, or the good news, of Jesus Christ according to John (the other three “good news” books, which end up being biographies of Jesus, are found in Matthew, Luke, and Mark)

It is only one of 66 books in a larger work, the Bible. Even the word “Bible” is old, the name itself stems from the city of Byblos, where the first alphabet was invented—you can pursue the origins of the Bible in this great book called: “Cities that Built the Bible”

The Bible is an old, old book, a collection written by more than 40 human authors. These writers made up all kinds of people:

  • a farmer (Amos)
  • a doctor (Luke)
  • ministers (such as Ezra and James)
  • political leaders (David, Solomon)
  • political prisoners (Daniel, John himself)
  • a musician (Asaph)
  • a fisherman (John)
  • and a tax collector (Matthew)

. . . to name just a few. The Bible writers were rich and educated, poor and not‑so‑educated. They came from a wide variety of social and economic backgrounds. There are even several pieces written by women! The latest books are two thousand years old. The earliest books could originally have been three thousand years old and more.

Part of understanding scripture is knowing that though humans did the writing, it is still God’s unique revelation of Himself to human beings. In some way God the Holy Spirit inspired human writers to reveal God’s mind, heart, and character, even while using their own personality and gifts, as God breathed out the words.

During the first 25 to 30 years after Jesus ascended there was no written gospel. People of that day routinely memorized whole books, so the disciples’ memories were well accustomed to remembering accurately. Added to this, John wrote about how Jesus told the disciples the Holy Spirit would supernaturally enable them to remember everything Jesus had taught them, and showed them, and they would be able to tell His story.

And that is what they did, beginning at Pentecost, for the next thirty years.

But as the apostles grew older, they began to realize that an accurate account needed to be recorded to prevent legends and myths from forming. Before, the apostles were always there to corroborate anyone’s story. Now, Paul had already begun to write letters to the various churches he had planted and was teaching and shepherding long-distance. As the churches increased and the apostles aged, the need increased for consistent teaching, so the gospels began to get written down.

By 69 A.D. at the latest, the first three gospels were written and being circulated, and by 80 A.D. all the epistles had been written, the books that explain the teachings of Jesus found in the gospels. In 70 A.D. Jerusalem was utterly destroyed, the temple along with it, so that all sacrifices and the practice of temple Judaism ceased. The apostles and the Jewish Christians from Jerusalem scattered, many to northern Palestine, Asia, and to the west.

After that time, a variety of sects adjacent to Christianity—but not actually Christian—began to teach that Jesus was not the promised Messiah, because of the destruction of Jerusalem, and they denied that Jesus was the Son of God. So, John wrote his gospel particularly to oppose this kind of teaching by bringing in the accounts of eye witnesses, and carefully choosing the signs he would write about, which were the key works that revealed Jesus’ divine power and glory, and words that prove Jesus’ deity.

But! Is what we have in our hands today authentic? Reliable? Trustworthy?

Those were my first questions, years ago, when I got serious about studying the Bible. Why would I even want to, if the Bible is just a pile of old myths and legends? I mean, yeah, it might make for an interesting read, but why reorient my whole life based on what is written inside there?

If this is a question you want to have answered, then follow this link to how I answered it for myself. After that, buh-lieve me, there is a lot of exhaustive research out there that answers that question really well. Here’s a book that helped me, tremendously: “Evidence That Demands A Verdict”

As an interesting aside, the basic format of the Christian Testament mirrors that of the Hebrew Testament.

  1. It begins with historical, foundational material: The Gospels are like the Mosaic books, the Pentateuch.
  2. Next comes the history of the birth of the church in the book of Acts, similar to the historical books of Joshua through the Chronicles
  3. The apostles’ epistles provide wisdom and teaching just as the wisdom literature found in Proverbs, Psalms, Song of Songs, Job, and Ecclesiastes provide.
  4. Finally, the Revelation speaks prophetically in much the same way the prophets of old spoke.

The early church didn’t choose the books they wanted to put in the Bible. They eventually recognized the books that God had chosen. Christians had all along been recognizing works that were inspired by the Holy Spirit. These were, as the apostles Paul and Peter had described, “God-breathed” and were treated as scripture as soon as they were read.

[The Gospel of John | Oarabile Mudongo / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D


In order to really get what this passage is about, you’ll need to look in a mirror for a few minutes. First, before you look in the mirror (maybe have it behind you), hold your hands above and below your head until you can just see them with your peripheral vision.


Turn to look at the hand above, so you can really see it.

Can you see your other hand anymore?

Move your other hand up just enough so you can just see it with your peripheral vision.

Okay, now, as you keep your hands in that position, turn around and look in the mirror.

Notice the position of your hands.

Your hands represent a perspectiveyou can see some things, but you can’t see all things.

By turning to your higher hand, you lost sight of your lower hand, and had to move it. You have to literally give up seeing some things so you are able to see other things.

Hang on to that. This is exactly what Mark has been trying to get to with this chapter, and with the lesson of Bartimaeus. You’ll see this same lesson echoed throughout the Christian Bible.

Mark 10:46-52

[Blind Bartimaeus | Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P. https://www.flickr.com/photos/paullew/ flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/%5D

Minor Prophets: The Book of Amos

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

A contemporary with Hosea and Jonah, Amos composed his book in the second half of the eighth century B.C, concerning the northern kingdom of Israel. His ministry lasted for about a ten year span, from 760-750 BC., during the last part of Israel’s Jeroboam II’s reign (the son of Joash) and the first part of King Uzziah of Judah’s reign.

One other clue to Amos’ time period is the massive earthquake mentioned four times in his book. Archaeological evidence found at Hazor and Samaria attests to this catastrophic temblor, corroborating Amos’ writing.

To get a feel for Jeroboam’s reign, read through 2 Kings 14:23-29. He ruled from 788-747 BC, just about sixty years, and built the northern kingdom of Israel into a wealthy trading empire by controlling the trade routes to Damascus on both sides of the Jordan.

King Uzziah began his reign in Judah in 785 BC. He was a great king in many ways, and built up the southern kingdom of Judah, but had to relinquish his throne just a few years into his career because he contracted leprosy—a fascinating story really, of over-confidence. In any case, though he continued to govern from behind the scenes, it was his son Jotham who became the face of the king until Uzziah’s death after decades of seclusion, in 733 BC.

A native of the southern kingdom of Judah, Amos grew up a farmer and herder, tending fruit trees and raising livestock in the small village of Tekoa, ten miles south of Jerusalem. He strongly avowed he was not a prophet, nor a son of a prophet, by trade. That much is established. However, two very different portrayals of Amos emerge.

A poor farm boy

Amos is introduced at the beginning of the book that bears his name by the ancient curator of his material: “one of the shepherds of Tekoa,” a simple man making a simple living. Evidently, he also seems to have worked in an orchard, according to his own description of himself. The sycamore tree he dressed was the Ficus Sycomorus, a type of wild fig poor people gathered. Though it produced an inferior fruit to the domesticated fig, because it was a native and plentiful tree that naturally sprung up, it was easily available even to those who had no land. By “dressing,” or gashing the figs, a farmer could hasten their ripening.

Like other small businesses, Amos and his family struggled to eke out a living as wealthy landowners scooped up surrounding estates, farms, and fields through the manipulation of small loans. Very like what has been happening to household farms in the United States for the last couple of decades or so, families had begun to lose their ancestral lands at an alarming rate.

The growing prosperity both the northern and southern kingdoms had been enjoying was not “trickling down.” Instead, gross inequity developed between the cities and the outlying country, the elite and the laborer, the rich and the poor.

Wealthy country esquire

Amos was first portrayed as a sheep and cattle herder, and evidently, the Hebrew word used to describe him doesn’t just mean shepherd, it means the affluent owner of large flocks and herds. It’s the same word used to describe King Mesha of Moab, a sheep breeder, who used to deliver to the king of Israel one hundred thousand lambs, and the wool of one hundred thousand rams.

Sycamore figs, though they grew wild and were an inferior fruit to the domesticated Ficus Carica, they also were a hardy tree that could be cultivated on a grand scale.

As the owner of a prosperous and sprawling estate, yet also a man who loved and worshipped God, who observed God’s just laws, and grieved over the abuses he was seeing, Amos could sense the increasing urgency for speaking up and taking a stand.

God called upon Amos to denounce the top 1% for hoarding 80% of all the wealth in the land, leaving the rest of the nation to struggle and die destitute.

Whether farm boy or wealthy esquire, it was going to be a tough job for a plain-spoken man who was unused to the politics of the palace and the powerful religious establishment. But, God’s choice of Amos was perfect for his time—he knew from his own life, or from the lives of those who worked for him, what it was to scratch out an existence with the poor. He had courage, endurance, tenacity, and righteous zeal. And like his dressing knife, Amos’ tongue was sharp and to the point.

Yet, rather than repentance and a return to God’s righteousness, after delivering his polemics Amos would find himself kicked out of Bethel, and forbidden to publicly prophesy ever again.

That’s when he returned to Judah to write all his sermons down.

  1. Chapters 1-3, Amos prophesied about God’s plans to judge Israel and surrounding nations, eight in all. 
  2. Chapters 4-5, Amos reviewed God’s call to Israel to repent. 
  3. Chapters 6-7, Amos depicted God’s plumb line by which Israel was being measured. 
  4. Chapters 8-9, Amos testified that God’s destruction of Israel would not be total or permanent, allowing a small note of hope. 

With many thanks to a really wonderful resource on YouTube called “The Bible Project,” let’s begin our study of Amos with this overview.

The Bible Propjet: Overview of Amos

[Ficus Sycamorus | איתן פרמן 13:46, 8 July 2006 (UTC) / Public domain]

God’s Intriguing Questions

[This is a guest post by author Kathy Collard Miller, a fellow member of the Advanced Writers and SPeakers Association (AWSA)]

Why does God ask questions in the Bible?

Does He need to ask questions?

For whose benefit does He ask questions?

In God’s Intriguing Questions: 40 Old Testament Devotions, husband and wife team, Larry and Kathy Collard Miller share insights from examining 40 questions God asks in the Old Testament. Their goal is to help you unearth a fascinating spiritual exploration of who God is, in all the amazing aspects of His nature—His love, grace, faithfulness, mercy, kindness, wisdom, and so many other incredible pure qualities. He desires to draw us into more intimate connection with Him by learning the truth about Him. Then we will seek Him more, trust Him more, and obey Him more often.

Available on Amazon

People are saying:

“As those who minister to marriages, we know the value of asking questions. The Millers help us identify God’s unique and powerful way of involving the hearts of others through questions. God’s Intriguing Questions invites both individuals and couples to explore the Bible in a new, thought-provoking way.”
Bill and Pam Farrel, Co-directors of Love-Wise and authors of 50 plus books including bestselling Men Are Like Waffles, Women Are Like Spaghetti

“As we meditate on God’s questions in the Bible, and also on the way he acts following a person’s response, he invites us to see his work in our lives. God’s responses help us identify the problems in our lives, broaden our vision, and shift our perspective to a plan we cannot initially see and a power at work in and through us. All of God’s questions remind us God draws near and cares about our circumstances and our feelings. He asks in order to answer.

“Through each of these daily questions, ask God to help you answer his questions, giving your life purpose and meaning beyond your daily run of the mill activities. Ask him to reveal his plan and power even in deep sorrow or jubilant joy. As you make your way through this life-giving book, listen carefully to God’s ultimate question for you: What are you doing here?”
–Erica Wiggenhorn, Speaker & Author of Unexplainable Jesus: Rediscovering the God You Thought You Knew

[God’s Intriguing Questions | Available on Amazon]

Acts Wednesday: Chapter 28, A Cliffhanger . . .

In recalling their time on the island of Malta, Luke wrote,

The natives showed us unusual kindness. Since it had begun to rain and was cold, they kindled a fire and welcomed all of us around it.

Luke 28:1 (NRSV)

But the warm welcome soon turned sinister what Paul was bitten by a poisonous viper native to the island. Evidently, the locals believed this was divine justice, claiming Paul by poison as he had managed to escape death at sea.

What happened next—I am convinced—was by God’s design, because God intended to reveal Himself in great glory to these people, as One Who heals, Who restores, Who brings life.

They held their breath as they all unconsciously leaned in, eyes widening, expecting Paul to swell up and drop dead. But, when Paul casually shook the snake off his hand and went about his business as if nothing had happened, their brains could not comprehend it. Mind. Blown.

He had to be a god!

In the events that next took place, Luke coyly recorded, “it just so happened. . .” As if! Publius, island’s chief official and the owner of the land they had built their fire on, invited Paul, Luke, and Aristarchus, to stay with him. During their stay with him, they found out his father was sick with dysentery, a serious illness to this day.

For Paul, there was no question what must be done next. He laid hands on Publius’ father, prayed for him, and God granted complete healing.

Remember, Paul had credentials already with the islanders, he had been bitten by a poisonous snake with no ill effects. Maybe that is what initially got him through the door of the chief official’s palace. The word “iaomai,” in verse 8, translated “healed,” intends to mean “by a miracle.”

The islanders already held Paul in awe. Now, this miraculous healing in the palace of their chief brought them in from all over the Malta.

After this happened, the rest of the people on the island who had diseases also came and were cured.

Luke 28:9 (NRSV)

God had prepared the physician Luke and Paul for the very first medical mission trip on record in Christian history, as the word for “cured” is “therapeuo” in Greek, and was meant to convey “by a physician’s care.” In the three months they wintered there, the islanders, based on the strength of Paul’s miraculous immunity to snake bites, and the miraculous healing of Publius’ father, came to Luke and Paul with their various medical needs. Can you imagine Paul’s joy in getting back to the good work of giving those hungering for the wholesomeness of the gospel as they came back for their regular check-ups and therapies?

And the islanders loved them.

They bestowed many honors on us, and when we were about to sail, they put on board all the provisions we needed.

Luke 28:10 (NRSV)

God provided not only for Paul’s every need, physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually, but God supplied all that had been lost in the storm: a ship and everything needed to get to Rome. Refreshed and refueled, Paul was ready to face the rigors of house arrest in Rome.

Ancient Rome
Scott Taylor, https://www.flickr.com/photos/azequine_surgeon/
CC BY-ND 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

Three days after arriving in Rome, Paul called the leaders of the various Jewish communities in the city together so he could talk with them. He made three points with them:

  1. He was not guilty of any offense against Israel.
  2. In addition, he had done nothing to offend the Romans, who considered him innocent as well.
  3. And, Paul did not intend to bring a countersuit against the Jewish leaders for false accusations and imprisonment.

Then, Paul began to teach the gospel in a series of meetings. As usual, some were convinced, and some disagreed.

Paul spent two years chained to the wrists of soldiers. As each watch ended a new soldier would come in and guess what Paul talked about with him? His testimony spread through the imperial Roman guard to the palace itself so that even some members of the royal family became Christians. During this time Paul also wrote Philippians, Ephesians (think about Paul examining the soldier’s uniform, as he composed the 6th chapter of his circular to be read first in Ephesus), Colossians, and Philemon.

Luke ended his long, fact-filled documentary to Theophilus with these words:

“Let it be known to you then that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.”

He [Paul] lived there two whole years at his own expense and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.

Luke 28:28-30 (NRSV)

Luke had completed his mission in giving his friend an accurate account of Jesus’ life and mission, and in the continuing mission Jesus’ had commissioned His followers to pursue. Theophilus, a Gentile, was the Lord’s target audience, and he was in excellent company. He was the future of the church.

The Acts of the Apostles is the only book in the Bible that remains unfinished, it’s a cliff hanger—and somehow that seems really appropriate as you and I continue to add chapters to what God is doing in the world today through us.

When you realize that it’s God alone Who confirms and affirms His calling in you, that He is at work in you and through you, you don’t need to raise the white flag, you can let go of the circumstances, let go of the sometimes disastrous results of your following of God, because God is able, He’s faithful and He is up to something good.

[Ancient Rome | Trey Ratcliff, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/]

Acts Wednesday: Chapter 27, Shipwreck!

Because Paul had requested a trial in Nero’s court, Governor Festus was bound by law to comply, so around October he handed Paul over to a Roman guard to set sail for Rome. It was probably the last travel window Paul would have before spring, due to the fierce storms that usually whipped through the Mediterranean during the winter months. As you read through the first eight verses of this chapter, you can trace the course of their passage.

Accompanying Paul were his faithful and trusted friend and coworker, the physician Luke, and Aristarchus, a Macedonian believer from Thessalonica. Aristarchus is the one who, along with Gaius, had been dragged by the angry crown in Ephesus, and who had also, later, accompanied Paul to Jerusalem. Paul had been handed over, along with other prisoners, into the care of Centurion Julius, a member of the Imperial Guard, and Paul’s ticket into the palace, to see the emperor Nero.

Paul’s Journey to Rome
JWooldridge / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

They were pushing against time, the High Holy Days had come and gone, and travel was getting much more difficult as winter weather approached. Paul had already been shipwrecked three times, he knew what they were now heading into, and confidently told the captain it would be unwise to continue with their crossing until the spring. Honestly, it’s no surprise, Paul the prisoner was overruled. Centurion Julius was impatient to get to Rome, and understandably relied upon the captain’s expert advice, even though it was contrary to God’s word.

And here came a fair wind, making it easy to ignore Paul’s prophecy.

How often do you and I make decisions for the same reasons and get ourselves into bad situations because

  1. we were impatient?
  2. we consulted people who told us what we wanted to hear?
  3. circumstances were favorable for ignoring prudent wisdom?

They sailed into a storm that raged for two solid weeks with skies so black you couldn’t even see the sun or stars.

It is well worth the read, as Luke depicted the class 5 hurricane they had sailed into.

One time, when I was a very young woman in the early 1980s working as a hand on the research vessel Vantuna, traveling along the coast of California, we were caught in a similar pounding gale. Heavy tables slid back and forth like toys across the deck as our boat was tossed from wave to wave. We scrambled to batten down everything we could, and hung on for dear life until we could find a port to tie up in. Our fears were real, for though 85 feet made the Vantuna ocean-worthy, it was still sinkable in the size storm we’d been swept into.

Similarly, everyone on that Alexandrian ship twenty centuries ago began to panic, as one bad thing happened after another. Matters were getting desperate—there was terror, confusion, anger, and despair. Maybe the corona virus shutdown has tossed you into the middle of a gale because of decisions you could not influence. Or maybe you’ve been swept into another kind of storm because of unwise decisions (yours or someone else’s). Maybe you were the only voice of reason, and you got overruled. Maybe you were the one in charge and made what you felt was the best decision at the time.

Paul knew the ship’s crew, as well as the prisoners chained in the hold, needed courage and hope, and he spoke with the kind of powerful confidence that comes from having faith in God. Paul knew for a fact God intended to get them to Rome. It was unquestionable, for the Lord Jesus Christ had told Paul, personally. Now, God had sent an angel to remind Paul the Lord was with him, and would guarantee their safety.

Men, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete and thereby avoided this damage and loss. 

I urge you now to keep up your courage, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. 

For last night there stood by me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, 

and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before the emperor; and indeed, God has granted safety to all those who are sailing with you.’ 

So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told.

Luke 27:21-25 (NRSV)

You might wonder why Paul said that first bit. I know I did! This was no time for recriminations. But then I realized, Paul was reminding them of the trustworthiness of what he had to say. They could count on it being true, for look at what had happened: Paul had prophesied a storm, even though the weather had been fine, and the wind perfect for sailing when they started out. Paul’s accurate prophecy, acted as his credentials for the prophecy he was about to make.

Paul’s calm assurance and steady faith in God gave courage to the whole company, the soldiers and sailors, even the captain, because he had something to offer from the Lord.

So, for two full weeks they struggled in this storm, until the sailors began to notice a change in the soundings they were taking. Land ho! Keep reading . . . in a stunning plot twist, it seems they were preparing to slip secretly away in the night, as soon as they got close enough to shore, and have nothing more to do with this doomed voyage.

Paul brought his signature firm authority to a situation that was rapidly getting out of all control. Paul had no real authority, he was just a prisoner, but he knew what was right, he had confidence in God, so he went to those who did have authority and insisted they intervene. (God may also be calling you to deal firmly in a particular situation, trusting in His wisdom, strength and guidance.)

Then, in a scene faintly remindful of the Passover, Paul disciplined himself and all on hand to eat, and strengthen themselves for the next part, swimming to shore.

Everyone had to swim or come in on pieces of wood. It was raining and cold, they were wet, exhausted and miserable, but Paul right away began to pick up wood to make a fire, to warm them and bring them some cheer. Maybe that is where you are right now, you are just as tired, just as worn out, you have been enduring this crisis just as much as everyone else. Yet, as the one filled with the Holy Spirit’s supernatural wonder-working power, is there still something that you can do to bring warmth and cheer to the other people involved?

Crisis reveals our character

What kind of character is revealed in you and in me?

Think about all that Paul had been through so far.

  • From the moment he stepped foot in Jerusalem things had gone downhill.
  • Instead of unity in Jerusalem, there had been riot,
  • beatings,
  • near death,
  • four disappointing trials,
  • years of imprisonment
  • and a shipwreck.

In the past three years there had been no conversions, no church planting, no response to the gospel….

Can you imagine how broken and tired he must have been in spirit and in strength?

What do you think would have refreshed Paul’s emotions, healed and strengthened his body, energized his mind and brought joy and uplifting to his spirit?

Stay tuned, for the Lord was about to do something really wonderful, that would strengthen Paul’s spirit, and encourage him for the final leg of his journey.

[The Morning After | Paul Jean Clays / Public domain]

The Widow’s Mite

In the passage that comes before this one, Mark talked about a scribe who had asked Jesus about the greatest commandment, and was impressed with Jesus’ answer.

Jesus was also pleased. He told the scribe he was very close to entering the kingdom of heaven. With such a warm endorsement from a scribe, this was a rare teachable moment, the right moment, in today’s passage, for Jesus to talk about Messiah, and to teach His disciples the difference between a false reading, and a true reading of scripture.

In this half-hour video, I’ll give a talk that falls into three divisions:

I   Christ for the World, Mark 12:35-37

II  Court of the Women, Mark 12:38-40

III Coins of the Widow, Mark 12:42-44

At the end of this teachable moment Jesus had with His disciples, you and I will learn that the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it. 

It is God’s pleasure to give to us. Then, real lovers of God worship Him by joyfully sharing His spiritual and material wealth with others in a way that upholds the receiver’s dignity and deflects attention from the giver

What do you and I have that we can now see God is calling us to share with someone else, as a matter of generous love towards God Himself? This kind of sharing ends up making all of us richer. 

The Widow’s Mite
Mark 12:35-44
Grace and Peace, Joanne YouTube Channel

[§Coins in hand | Royce Bair https://www.flickr.com/photos/ironrodart/, flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/]

Minor Prophets: Joel’s Vision of Restoration

So, what is apocalyptic literature?

Before diving into the last part of Joel’s book, let’s just hit the pause button for a minute, and take stock. He started out with remembering the recent horrifying locust disaster that had basically wiped out the entire nation. Something exactly like that started happening just a couple of months ago, in east Africa. Literally billions of locusts have been swarming across Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia, and if we weren’t so swept up in the novel coronavirus pandemic, we’d be scrambling to help those nations pull through.

After reminding his audience about that particular crisis, Joel prophesied of a looming catastrophe far worse. The only slender hope they had to avert this coming tribulation was to throw themselves in abject repentance before the Lord, in fasting, mourning, weeping, sacrifices, and prayer.

Be overjoyed, though, Joel continued. It’s going to end well, for the Lord will return to you everything that was stripped of you, and you not only will have abundance, you will never again be ashamed.

But! The story is not over.

Round about when Jews returned to Judah and Jerusalem to rebuild their holy city, a new genre of literature took root, known as “Apocalyptic,”—which comes from a Greek word meaning “To uncover, to reveal. ” We’ll be seeing this style of writing a lot in the later prophets.

Apocalyptic literature shares these traits in common:

  • The revelation is delivered to a person through a messenger from heaven (like an angel) or through a vision or dream.
  • It contains a vivid portrayal of what’s happened, and what is currently happening—often using symbolic language.
  • Next will come a description of the end-time, usually with a chronology of events indicating when everything is going to happen.
  • It has a very black-and-white style: good versus evil, light and darkness, life and death, present and future, us and them.
  • The story line goes like this: now is bad and it is only going to get worse. However, ultimately, God will have the victory, and then He will reconcile the entire universe to Himself, transforming all so that evil is completely eliminated, and only all that is good will be left forever.
  • Scenery, imagery, themes are pulled from ancient traditions and stories, for this is the cataclysmic culmination of the conflict between the Creator of the cosmos and (as one author put it) “the primeval forces of chaos. ”[1]
  • In keeping with the epic nature of the revelation, what is depicted goes far beyond our sense of the “real” three-dimensional world. It is surreal, it is fantastic, it is extraordinary in every direction, supernatural to the point of feeling like hyperbole.

And that’s where we are with Joel Chapter 3

The third chapter opens with the battle of Armageddon in the Valley of Decision – that’s what Jehoshaphat means.

For then, in those days and at that time, when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem, I will gather all the nations and bring them down to the valley of Jehoshaphat, and I will enter into judgment with them there, on account of my people and my heritage Israel, because they have scattered them among the nations.

Joel 3:1-2 (NRSV)

Remember how the apostle John’s Revelation had a strikingly familiar scene in it to Joel’s characterization of the locust army to come? Well, there’s more.

I just feel sure John had read Joel, and Joel’s revelation had really stuck with him, because when John received his vision from Jesus, there is definite overlay.

According to John (and Peter, and Paul, and Jesus Himself as noted in all four gospels), God has set a day when He will judge the world with justice by the One He has appointed, the risen Lord Jesus Christ.

Now, look at what Joel wrote,

Let the nations rouse themselves,
and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat;
for there I will sit to judge
all the neighboring nations.

Put in the sickle,
for the harvest is ripe.
Go in, tread,
for the wine press is full.
The vats overflow,
for their wickedness is great.

Joel 3:12-13

Compare this to what John recorded in chapters 14:14-16 of his own vision:

Then I looked, and there was a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was one like the Son of Man, with a golden crown on his head, and a sharp sickle in his hand!

Another angel came out of the temple, calling with a loud voice to the one who sat on the cloud, “Use your sickle and reap, for the hour to reap has come, because the harvest of the earth is fully ripe.” So the one who sat on the cloud swung his sickle over the earth, and the earth was reaped.

Then another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. 

Then another angel came out from the altar, the angel who has authority over fire, and he called with a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, “Use your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe.” 

So the angel swung his sickle over the earth and gathered the vintage of the earth, and he threw it into the great wine press of the wrath of God. And the wine press was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the wine press

Revelation 14:14-20 (NRSV)

Do you see that?

The earth and sky will convulse, there will be thunder and darkness. God’s standard will be the same as the one Amos spoke of in his own prophecy, the one Jesus also spoke of: treatment of God’s people reveals the heart. All of God’s wrath, stored up over eons, will come pouring out to destroy all evil that has opposed Him.

Only one time in history has it been said God poured out the totality of His wrath in judgement. At the cross.

When you combine the descriptions from each gospel about what happened in that moment, a compelling parallel to apocalyptic portrayals begins to form.

  • The sun was blotted out for three hours.
  • The earth shook so hard the dead were thrown from their graves and stared wide eyed from their tombs.
  • Shrieks rose from the temple as the sacred curtain that covered the Holy of Holies was ripped in two.

Joel concluded his book with the magnificent and glorious reign of God in Jerusalem, with redeemed Israel living in a restored Judah, a prophesy yet to be fulfilled, to be looked forward to in hopeful joy.

[1] “A Brief Introduction to the Old Testament,” by Michael D. Coogan, p359

Valley of Jehoshaphat | Image courtesy Pycril.com

Acts Wednesday: Chapter 26, Paul’s Rhetoric

Much of what Paul relayed in this chapter feels like something we’ve heard already in Luke’s account—at one level. We learn a lot of what we already know.

But, how Paul told his story is what I want to talk about in this post. His speech follows the rules of rhetoric, the means of persuasion and proof: Ethos, Logos, Pathos.

Ethos has to do with both the character of the speaker, and of those who are listening, including opponents, and the performance of the speech itself.

With one hand raised, Paul positioned himself as a noble orator, one acquainted with logic, rhetoric, and truth. His introduction of himself was crafted to encourage trust and empathy.

  1. Paul first established Herod Agrippa II, King of Chalcis’ character and position: “you are especially familiar with all the customs and controversies of the Jews.” Agrippa would make a knowledgeable and just judgment, because he was intimately acquainted with the background and context.
  • Noble and trustworthy: Paul referred to Agrippa as “Excellency”
  • Educated: He appealed to Agrippa’s knowledge
  • Intelligent and trustworthy: Paul could speak to Agrippa freely, as one who not only knew exactly what Paul was talking about, but also as one with a keen mind, who would miss nothing.
  1. Then Paul quickly reviewed his own character:
  • Transparent: his life was an open book, known to all.
  • Quintissentially Jewish, he spent his life among his own people, and in Jerusalem.
  • Pure and holy, he belonged to the strictest sect of Hebrew religion, the Pharisees.
  • Enlightened, he had been like the other Judeans, out of ignorance. But now, God had opened his eyes.
  • Righteous, Paul, in keeping with his whole life’s testimony, was obedient to God’s word and God’s call.
  1. Paul cast his opponents as those who should have warmed to Christ . . . but did not.
  • Sadly, they had not come to the light as Paul had.
  • Incredibly, they seemed to disavow the resurrection of the dead (the Pharisees among those listening had to have ground their teeth in frustration, hearing Paul say that).
  • Perversely, they were seeking to kill Paul because of his obedience to God, and his proclamation as true and fulfilled what their own prophets had prophesied.

Logos has to do with the logic and reasoning employed to put forward an argument, defense, or claim.

Paul arranged his defense in such a way that it was clear he was simply obeying God’s command after having been enlightened by God and conscripted by God. Paul could hardly be faulted for that! If what God wanted of him was a problem for anyone, then their issue was not with Paul, but with God.

  1. There could be no question of Paul’s initial and identical zeal with the Sanhedrin to stamp out the sect of The Way wherever it might be found. This was irrefutable and established fact.
  2. Paul would have continued in this effort, with every fiber of his being, had not God arrested Paul, enlightened Paul, and given Paul the command to preach the gospel. As would be required in any court, there were witnesses to this stunning event. Though Luke did not record whether those witnesses had been summoned to testify on Paul’s behalf for this court trial, we do know Luke identified them earlier in his account.
  3. With the same zeal he had always been noted for, Paul continued to obey God, only now in a much more informed and more accurate way:

Testify to the things in which you have seen of me [Jesus] and to those in which I will appear to you.

I will rescue you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you to open their eyes

— so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God,

— so that they may receive forgiveness of sins

— and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me

Jesus to Paul, Acts 26:16-18 (NRSV)

  1. Paul’s message was itself a continuation of and corroboration of what the prophets—including Moses himself, greatest of all prophets—had already been saying for a thousand years and more.
  2. The proof of God’s supernatural, mighty, wonderworking power at work in Paul was being displayed before Agrippa’s very eyes in that hour.
  3. The facts of this case were uncontestable, unassailable, undeniable, and ironclad:

The Messiah must suffer,

and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light

both to our people and to the Gentiles.

Paul, Acts 26:23 (NRSV)

Pathos has to do with the emotion woven into the presentation as well as the message.

Paul’s hand gesturing towards heaven, in his heroic pose, was also partially a call to pathos, to stir up every noble and spiritual feeling, that this trial had far more to do with lofty things than the mere spiteful ire of the Sanhedrin.

Several places along the way, Paul’s speech roused strong feeling, until finally, Proconsul Festus could no longer contain himself and burst out with,

“You are out of your mind, Paul! Too much learning is driving you insane!”

At that point, Paul’s intense gaze shifted to take in Festus’ shocked exclamation. Again, he used rhetoric to retain control of the narrative. He was the opposite of insane, he was the sanest person in the room, one who was not swept away by dismay and rage, but rather a speaker of sober truth.

And here the moment of truth had arrived, a glistening moment, almost painful in its power and light. Paul slowly turned back to Agrippa, allowing the room’s palpable hush to gain the extra weight of gravity. Did anyone breath?

Then, in a voice that must have shook the room, yet was spoken in even tones, Paul offered eternal life to the king,

King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.

Paul to Herod Agrippa II, King of Chalcis, Acts 26:27 (NRSV)

It is heartbreaking, how the moment came . . . and went.

King Agrippa lost his nerve. I wonder if Berenice had shifted nervously, next to him. So much would change, if Agrippa said yes to God.

True to the end, Paul held out hope to all in the room, for Christ was not prejudiced, His life, His cleansing and healing, was available to all who would place their faith in Him.

The proceedings came quickly to a close after that. All three dignitaries stood, then Agrippa led the way to the exit. As they left, Luke, standing in the back, quickly jotted down what he overheard them saying to each other, as they strode through the magnificent hall’s carved doors,

“This man is doing nothing to deserve death or imprisonment.” Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to the emperor.”

Overheard snippet of conversation between Agrippa and Festus, Acts 26:31-32)

Moments of truth can be like that. The opportunity is there, and then it is gone. What opportunity might God be presenting you with right now? What will you say?

[First century Roman orator | I, Sailko / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D

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