Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Belief in the Gospel of John

Believe. The prophet John testified about the light “so that through him all might believe” (John 1:7); Jesus “gave the right to become children of God” “to those who believed in his name” (v. 12). In Chapter three, we see a similar use of “believe”: “whoever believes in [Jesus] shall ... have eternal life” (v. 16), “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son” (v. 18).
Believe as John uses it is different from what most of us mean when we use that word. We think of belief as a simple thought process, but for John it’s in essence an action word. You don’t just have a faith, you put it in something that is worth believing in then you live like you really believe.
In these two passages, we see what is worth believing in – the Word, the One and Only Son. This belief also has a result – “to become children of God” and to “have eternal life,” to not be condemned.
This is important to us because one of the primary purposes of John’s gospel was “... that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).
Belief is used many times in the Gospel of John, almost three times as often in all the other three gospels combined. John tells us why people believed; what they believed in; about their disbelief; and the results of their belief (or disbelief).
In my next blog, I'll start exploring these areas. In the meantime, why don't you see what you can discover for yourself?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Submission of the One and Only Son

Just a quick word before I get back to the study. If you’re familiar with this kind of bible study, you know I’m handling this rather lightly. Those of you who aren’t familiar with deeper study may feel I’ve gone overboard, but I haven’t.
If you’re up in the Rockies looking for gold, you can walk along the creek banks hoping something will jump up at you, or you can get a sieve and start sifting through the rocks down on the creek bed, examining them carefully. If you stay on the banks, you might find a few nuggets, but if you want to increase your chances of finding real gold, you’ll pan for it (or even sink a shaft).
That’s like the difference between doing ‘devotions’ where you look for something in the bible that can help you out as you do your daily readings and doing a bible study where you search to find the meaning the original author intended. Just like gold will be scattered along the length of the creek bed, so too will the deeper meaning of bible passages be scattered throughout an entire book. A ‘gold’ nugget like John 3:16 is great to have, but when you put it together with the rest of the Gospel of John, you have an entire gold mine, not just a nugget!
So, back to the question I posed in my last blog – What is the significance for us of the submission of “the one and only Son” to the Father?
As we saw, the Father’s plan was not easy for the Son to submit to. When we are struggling with something difficult in our life, we have the assurance that Jesus understands that it is hard. He’s been there, done that. We can confess our struggles to him, knowing he won’t condemn us. Instead, he’ll understand us, and if we let him, he’ll take us to the place where we too can submit to the Father’s will.
The Father’s will for his “one and only Son” was that he should come to earth and die on a cross to take the sins of the world upon himself. When we accept his sacrifice, when we “believe in” him, we receive the eternal life spoken of in John 3:16.
Now it’s time to look at “believe.” Why don’t you look at how John uses “believe” in our two passages? (And you might want to see how he uses it in other passages – you know I’m going to go there!) See what you can figure out for yourself before my next blog.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

God the Father and God the Son

So, let’s get back to “the one and only Son.” We already looked at the verses in John’s prologue, vs. 14 and 18, now let’s look at them in the passage we are comparing to the prologue right now.
In John 3, we see “the one and only Son” in verses 16 and 18, but it is also a little less direct in verse 17 “God did not send his Son ... to condemn.” (If we rearrange the sentence construction, we see that God did send his Son into the world to save the world through him.)
In the prologue, John specifically showed us that the Son is fully God – v. 1 “the Word was God,” v. 19 “who is himself God.” We also saw the distinction between the Father, who is God and the Son, who is also God (v. 14). Here in John 3 we see that distinction emphasized – God “gave his one and only Son” (v. 16), God sent his Son in verse 17, “God’s one and only Son” (v. 18). To fully understand these statements about God and his Son, we need to connect back to verse 14 in the prologue were we were first introduced to the idea of the Father and Son – the Son came from the Father.
Jesus calls God his Father more than 90 other times in the Gospel of John, including two statements that undeniably put himself on an equal footing with God the Father: “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30) and “Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves” (John 14:10-11). (John also repeats the Father-Son relationship 14 times in his epistles and five times in Revelation.) With all this evidence, there can be no doubt that both the Father and the Son are truly God, and yet ....
Though they are equally God, Jesus has submitted himself to God the Father. He “came from the Father” (John 1:14); he was given by God, was sent (John 3:16, 17). This submission of the Son to the Father is seen frequently in John - 5:43; 6:57; 8:42; 10:18; 12:27; 13:3; 14:24; 15:10; 17:1; 18:11; 20:21 (not an exhaustive list).
Lest you think this was an easy submission, remember what Jesus came for. In John 3:14, he said "Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up." (Jesus was speaking of the crucifixion.) All of the gospel writers tell us that the man Jesus struggled with submitting to the agony the Father had asked his Son to endure (John 12:27; Matthew 26:38-39, 42; Mark 14:34, 36; Luke 22:42, 44).
What is the significance for us? Think on that yourself. I’ll give a brief answer (a thorough answer would take another half dozen blogs) and finish up this exploration of God as Father and Son in my next blog, then move on to look at “believe” in our two passages.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

John's Common Phrases

When I do this kind of study, comparing passages, I like to put the passages next to each other in a table. That makes it easier to line up the different elements. Here’s some of the stuff I found by doing my comparison of John 1:1-18 and John 3:16-21 that way.
Both passages use similar phrases/words: God’s one and only Son, believe, life, the world, truth, and, of course, light. There are also some connecting ideas that aren’t so obvious, but first, let’s look a little closer at the similar phrases/words.
In John 1, vs. 14 and 18, we find the phrase “the one and only Son.” There are some who try to spin this to mean all kinds of things other than what John originally intended. People don’t like the idea that Jesus is God, but so is the Father (and the Holy Spirit, but that’s not part of this passage). John is very clear about this in the words he uses and in the greater context of his writing.
Look closely at verse 18: “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.” There’s no legitimate way to spin that in any other way than that the Son is God! In fact, most commentators agree that a more technically accurate translations of “the one and only Son, who is himself God” would be “the one and only God.” Yes, this does cause some trouble when we try to understand the Trinity, but the reality is that we will never be able to grasp exactly how God can be three distinct Persons who are One in essence. It’s one of the mysteries of God that we have to accept, not because we fully understand it but because God has told us it is so.
While this is a fascinating topic, it’s a bit of a rabbit trail right now. When I return, I’ll get back to repeated phrases in John’s prologue and the passage in John 3. (If you want to dialogue about the Trinity, you can shoot me a comment.)

Saturday, February 5, 2011

John's use of Light, pt. 1

To fully understand John’s use of light in his prologue, we also have to look at how he uses it elsewhere. Let’s look first at the Gospel of John, chapter 3. You may be familiar with John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” We usually just quote that verse, but it is only the first sentence of a paragraph:
“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.” John 3:17-21
Compare that to the prologue in John 1:1-18. What elements do you see repeated in both passages? Don’t just focus on the “light” verses, 4-5, 7-9. Look at the rest of the passage in John 1 and see what other ideas you can find that repeat in John 3:16-21. I’ll explore them here in my blog, but try to find something for yourself before you read my observations.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A Different View of God

Genesis changed the way the ancient Israelites saw God. To a people enslaved in Egypt by the Pharaoh, believed to be a descendant of the gods, Moses brought a tale of a God who lovingly and deliberately created mankind to be in fellowship with him. This was the purpose of all creation, to provide a home for the human race. Man was intimately and lovingly fashioned by God.
When John wrote the prologue to his gospel, he accomplished a number of things by linking it to Genesis. Just like Genesis 1 told Moses’ original audience that God wasn’t who they’d believed him to be for generations, so also John 1 told John’s original audience that God had done something their religion hadn’t anticipated.In Genesis, God lovingly and personally shaped the very first man and woman to be in fellowship with him. In John, the author tells us that the same God who was in the beginning, who was the Creator, came to lovingly and personally reshape mankind so that they could once again be in fellowship with the Creator.
The Creator in Genesis created life - the sun, the moon, the stars, the trees, fish, birds, creeping and crawling creatures, and Man and Woman. In John, this Creator, the Word, is the very source of life - "In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind." This source of life was what came into the world, not as mythological gods did but in humility to serve and love.
As we saw in an earlier post, light is a prevalent image in John. Next time, I'll look at it a little closer.