BEHOLD YOUR GOD – Background and Survey of the Gospel of John

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FORWARD:

This study through the Gospel of John is going to keep us busy for over a year, and possibly over two years.  The apostle John says in I John 1:1, “From the very first day, we were there, taking it all in – we heard it with our own ears, saw it with our own eyes, verified it with our own hands.  The Word of Life appeared right before our eyes; we saw it happen! (The Message).

Have you ever wondered what it must have been like to see the Lord Jesus face-to-face, to hear His voice, to hear Him call you by name, to embrace Him, to watch the expressions on His face, and to observe all the things He said and did while He was on this earth?  Does thinking about that fill your hearts with joy and excitement?  My desire is to try to imagine and simulate that first-hand experience as I study the text.  I plan to incorporate more of the Old Testament scriptures and the other three Gospels into the study, where appropriate, so that we might see Him in as much detail, and with as much clarity as possible.

I.  INTRODUCTION:

Was there ever a time in your life when you asked yourself the question:  “Which book of the Bible should I read first?”  Has anybody ever asked you that same question, seeking your advice?  A question that is often asked by Bible translation teams is “Which book of the Bible should we translate first?”  The answer to those two questions is often the same:  the Gospel of John.

William MacDonald made this observation:  “The Gospel of John is the most familiar and perhaps the best loved book in the Bible.  Charles R. Erdman says of this Gospel:  “It has induced more people to follow Christ, it has inspired more believers to loyal service, it has presented to scholars more difficult problems, than any other book that could be named.”

II.  WHY ARE THERE FOUR GOSPELS?

That’s a commonly asked question also:  “Why are there four gospels?”  Actually, there is one gospel, written from the perspective of four different men who were moved by the Holy Spirit to write what they wrote.

Matthew, formerly named Levi, was a Jewish tax collector who became a follower of Christ.  His purpose in writing was to demonstrate to his fellow-Jews that Jesus was the promised Messiah, the “anointed One”, whose coming was prophesied in the Old Testament scriptures.  He begins his gospel with a genealogy of Jesus going back to Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation.  Matthew also quotes from the Old Testament scriptures more often than any other gospel-writer.  His intention is to show that Jesus fulfilled the prophesies that were written concerning the coming Messiah.

Mark, also called John Mark, focuses on the Lord Jesus as a servant.  A theme verse is Mark 10:45 where Jesus says, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His live as a ransom for many.” (NIV)  We find no genealogy in Mark’s gospel, but we see Jesus involved in the lives of people.

Luke is writing to the Greeks, and looks at Jesus as a man.  Many of the Greek gods and goddesses had a pretty-sordid history and didn’t relate well to people.  The genealogy in Luke’s gospel goes all the way back to Adam, showing that Jesus was truly a member of the human race.  Luke also gives more insights into the birth and childhood of Jesus than any other gospel writer.

John looks at Jesus as God.  He focuses on the deity of Christ.  John’s gospel contains no details about the birth or the childhood of Christ.  It also contains no parables, no temptation scene, no Gethsemane, and no mention of scribes, publicans, lepers, or demoniacs.

III.  WHO WAS THE AUTHOR?

The writer of this account of the life and teachings of Christ was John, the son of Zebedee.  He and his brother James were fishermen along with their father.  While James and John were mending their nets, Jesus came by and called out to them, asking them to come and follow Him (Mt. 4:21-22; Mk. 1:19-20; Lk. 5:9-11).  They both immediately left their nets and followed Him.  John outlived the other disciples and wrote three letters.  He also wrote “The Revelation of Jesus Christ” while living as an exile on the island of Patmos.  In this writing, John gives a message to each of the seven churches in Asia and writes down a description of the visions he received from God

IV.  WHAT WAS JOHN’S PURPOSE?

We find John’s purpose for writing his gospel near the end of his book.  John 20:30-31 says, “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not recorded in this book.  But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.”  (NIV)  John’s purpose was to provide the answer to these two questions:  First, “Who is Jesus Christ?”  And secondly, “What is to be our proper response to Him on the basis of who He is?”

Since John’s Gospel was the last to be written, and the others were already being copied and distributed, it makes me wonder whether Matthew, Mark, and Luke might have met with John concerning certain events which were not included in their accounts.  If so, the apostle John did a good job of “filling in the blanks” as well as focusing his attention on the deity of Christ!

There are three key words in John 20:30-31, and they need a bit of an explanation:

Signs” – John recorded six miracles that are not recorded in the other gospels:  the water changed into wine (chapter 2), the nobleman’s son healed (chapter 4), the paralyzed man healed (chapter 5), the healing of the man born blind (chapter 9), the raising of Lazarus from the dead (chapter 11), and the second great catch of fish (chapter 21).  Each one of these miracles, or signs, demonstrates Christ’s deity and authority.  These signs were performed on other people or for the benefit of other people.

Believe” – is the response that these signs were intended to produce.  The word is used 98 times in John’s gospel, and refers to a personal commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord.  We find in John’s gospel that those who believed in Jesus Christ became His followers, whereas those who refused to believe became His opponents.

Life” – refers to the result that belief brings.  In John 5:24 Jesus said, “i tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” (NIV)  Eternal life begins at the moment that we invite Jesus Christ to come into our lives and be our Savior and Lord.  John 10:10 says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that you may have life, and have it to the full.”  Jesus said that we can have an abundant and fulfilling life right now if we belong to Him.

V.  WHAT WERE JOHN’S METHODS?

John records the testimonies of seven eye-witnesses:

John the Baptist – “After me comes a Man who has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me. . . . And I have seen, and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”  (John 1:30-34)

Nathanael – “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel”  (John 1:49)

The Samaritan woman – “Come, see a man who told me all the things I have done; this is not the Christ, is it”? . . . And from that city many of the Samaritans believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, “He told me all the things that I have done.”  (John 4:29, 39).

Peter –  “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  And we have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.”  (John 6:68-69).

Martha – Yes, Lord, I have believed that you are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.”  (John 11:27)

Thomas – “Thomas answered and said to Him, ‘My Lord and my God’ “.  (John 20:28).

John – “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God”. (John 20:31)

Each of these people had personal conversations with Jesus and proclaimed that Jesus was God.

John also records the seven “I am’s” of Jesus, (Jesus reveals Himself seven times using the words “I am”).

“I am the bread of life” (chapter 6)

“I am the light of the world” (chapters 8 and 9)

“I am the door”  (chapter 10)

“I am the good shepherd”  (chapter 10)

“I am the resurrection and the life” (chapter 11)

“I am the way, the truth, and the life” (chapter 14)

“I am the true vine”  (chapter 15)

In each of these descriptions of Himself, Jesus points to His deity, and thus His ability to meet their deepest needs.  Also, each time Jesus uses that format to describe Himself, He is bringing to their minds the question that Moses asked the voice that was coming from the burning bush, and the answer he received.  In Exodus 3:!3, Moses said to God, “behold I am going to the sons of Israel, and I shall say to them, ‘the God of your fathers has sent me to you.’  “Now they may say to me, ”What is His name?’  What shall I say to them?”  In verse 14 God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, “I AM has sent me to you.  That was God’s covenant name to the Jewish people, and Jesus is using it to refer to Himself (YHWH, usually pronounced as  Yahweh or Jehovah).

Finally, John records 27 personal interviews with Jesus.  Some of them were extensive and some were very brief.  The Lord Jesus wanted people of all belief systems and all walks of life to know who He really is, and that He cares for them.

If the things that John is saying about Jesus Christ are hard for you to believe at this point in your life, you are not alone.  John will be giving more and more evidence to verify Jesus’ claims.  Please continue to study this book with me and give it some thought and reflection.  I have personally observed that many people, including myself, have had an unclear concept of Jesus Christ and His teachings.  The Gospel of John, more than any other New Testament book, cleared my mind and changed my heart.  That is one of the reasons why I want to study it again.

It’s time to move on to the next construction site:  John 1:1-3.  I hope to see you there!

 

CHRIST’S RESURRECTION AND FIRST APPEARANCE – John 20:1-18

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I.  INTRODUCTION:

Christians meet together for worship and fellowship on Sunday morning because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.  The Lord Jesus Christ rose from the dead on the first day of the week, and Christians have been worshiping on Sunday ever since. Throughout the centuries men have tried to honor their heroes by erecting lavish monuments.  The massive pyramids of Egypt were built as resting places for the Egyptian Pharoahs;  the glistening Taj Mahal in India is the tomb of an Indian emperor and his favorite wife.  Lenin’s tomb in Russia’s Red Square is where the body of the Marxist leader is preserved by some mysterious process;  and the burial vault at Mt. Vernon is the site of George Washington’s’ body. Jesus’ simple grave can’t compare with these costly burial places.  But the tomb of Jesus excels all of these in the most important respect.  It’s empty!  He is not there!  At the heart of the Christian faith is the claim that Jesus Christ, on the third day after His death on the cross, rose from the dead and is alive forevermore.  No other world religion has dared to make such a claim about its leader.

I.  MARY AT THE TOMB (verses 1-2)

Let’s look at what happened in John’s Gospel on the third day after Jesus’ death on the cross.  In Verse l, Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb very early on the first day of the week.  Luke’s Gospel tells us that Mary was bringing spices to prepare  His body for burial.  She must not have known that Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus had already done so. Why did Mary wait until the third day after Jesus’ burial?   The Jewish traditions taught that the soul hovered over the body of a dead person until the third day, when it finally left.  Friends and family were often in the habit of going to the grave up to the third day, when corruption was supposed to begin, in order to make sure that the person was really dead. The first thing Mary sees is the stone that had been rolled away from the tomb.  The stone was a large disc-shaped stone that had  been rolled down against the entrance to the tomb.  It would have taken many men to move such a heavy stone away from that tomb. Mary must have been in a state of shock as she ran to tell Peter and John what she had seen.  She tells them in verse 2 that “they have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have laid Him”.  Notice that Mary says, “WE do not know”.  Luke tells us in his Gospel that Mary was accompanied by Joanna and Mary the mother of James, as well as other women, when she went to the tomb.

II.  PETER AND JOHN (vs. 3-10)

After listening to Mary words, Peter and John have a foot race to the tomb in verses 3 and 4, and John wins.  It’s interesting to see the differences in these two men.  Verse 5 says that John looks inside the tomb, sees the linen wrappings, but does not go in.  Peter, however, is more bold.  He goes into the tomb, sees the linen wrappings lying there, and also sees the face-cloth rolled up in another place. In verse 8, John also enters the tomb, sees the linen wrappings and believes.  What did John believe and why did he believe it?  John believed Jesus’ promise that He would rise from the dead, and he believed when he saw the linen wrappings.  The wrappings were strips of linen cloth.  The spices placed between the wrappings were like glue, and they held the strips of cloth together.  It was like a cocoon around Jesus’ body from His shoulders to His feet.  Jesus’ glorified body somehow passed through those wrappings, leaving them flattened but still wound together. A little boy once said sadly to his mother.  “I’m so disappointed!   You told me that something beautiful would come out of that brown thing I picked up the other day, but when I just now looked at it, I found a hole in it and only an empty skin was left!”  The mother said, “My child, you have looked in the wrong place for what I have promised.  Come with me.”  The mother took the boy back into the other room, and there, not too far from the empty cocoon, was a beautiful butterfly.  It had perched on the window sill so that it could dry its wings in the warmth of the noonday sun. Jesus’ disciples did not understand that Jesus must rise from the dead in fulfillment of Scripture, so verse 10 says that they went away to their own homes, to go back to their old way of life.  In much the same way these friends and followers of Jesus looked in the wrong place when they looked for the Savior.

III.  MARY AND THE ANGELS (verses 11-14)

In verse 11 we find Mary Magdalene remaining at the tomb weeping, and then when looked inside the tomb again, she saw two angels sitting one at the head and one at the feet of Jesus’ empty wrappings.  However, Mary did not realize that they were angels.  In verse 13 they ask her, “woman, why are you weeping”, and Mary gives her reason.  She says, “They have taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they have laid Him.”  Mark’s Gospel tells us that the angel on the right tells Mary:  “You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified;  He is risen;  He is not here.”

IV.  MARY AND JESUS (verses 15-18)

You can imagine Mary’s confusion in verse 15 when she turns around and Jesus is standing there.  But Mary didn’t recognize Jesus, nor did anyone recognize Him.  He was changed.   He now had a glorified body and His physical appearance was changed.  Jesus asks her basically the same question that the angel asked her.  Mary didn’t recognize Him until verse 16 when Jesus said her name.  Then she recognized His voice and the way He always said her name.  She calls Him “Rabboni”, which means Teacher. Jesus is not chiding Mary in verse 17 when He says to her, “Stop clinging to me . . . “.  He is actually gently letting her know that the time is short and there is much to be done.  Then, in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus gives her a commission when He says, “Do not be afraid;  go and take word to My brethren to leave for Galilee, and there they shall see Me.”  Mary does so in verse 18.

CONCLUSION: Today we celebrate the resurrection  of Jesus  Christ from the dead.  We serve a risen Savior, don’t we?  The resurrection of Christ is mentioned 108 times in the New Testament, and it is the greatest miracle in the New Testament.  For the believer, the cross of Jesus Christ closes the door to hell, and the empty tomb opens the gates of heaven.  Andrew Blackwood makes this observation:  “There is not a single pessimistic note anywhere in the New Testament after Christ’s resurrection.”  The risen Christ became a source of rejoicing for all who followed Him.  They were reminded  of what Jesus said to them in John 16:22 before His death:  “Now is your time of grief,  but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.” Are you experiencing the joy of the resurrected Christ?  Is He living and reigning in your life?  May we experience that joy and peace this Easter day and every day of our lives.  Let’s not let a day go by, let’s not let a waking hour go by without thinking about and thanking God for the death and resurrection of  His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.