Week #45: November 5-11
The Gospel of John is the last of the 4 biographies of Jesus in the New Testament. It is not to be confused with John’s epistles, 1, 2, and 3 John. While some scholars believe this Gospel was written by a random Christian named John, traditional scholarship attributes it to John, the youngest of the disciples and also known as “the disciple Jesus loved” (the affectionate term the author uses of himself when retelling his role in the story). While the first three are known as the Synoptic Gospels (which in Greek means “together view”), because of their similarity in structure and content, John stands alone as a unique presentation of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. His goal (as stated in the Gospel) was to show that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, the Son of God, come to bring eternal life to believers. His central theme was the divine logos (translated as word, way, or path) that became flesh and dwelt among us, and that overcomes darkness with the light of God.
In John, the ministry of Jesus is broken into 2 halves, the public ministry (the 1st 11 chapters) and Holy Week (chapters 12-21) where he explains the meaning of life and gives instructions to the disciples. John records only 7 miracles, considerably less than the number in the Synoptic Gospels, however John’s Gospel seems to emphasize the spiritual meaning of each miracle more than the miraculous power itself. Unlike the Gospel of Mark, Jesus’ anointing by Mary is placed before Palm Sunday rather than after it. These emphases highlight the theme that Jesus is the paschal lamb “who takes away the sins of the world.” John is far less interested in proving the historicity to the reader than to show the significance of Jesus’ work. While the ending of John clearly shows that he believes everything that is written is true, John wants even more for the reader to be confronted with why Jesus matters.
The Gospel of John is widely regarded as the favorite of the biographies of Jesus throughout Christian history. The genius of the work is its philosophical and historical interaction between the human and the divine. This Gospel explains salvation as the mystical union between the divine with humanity. It is very incarnational even though it does not give any time to telling the Christmas story in detail (perhaps Luke’s Gospel did a sufficient job for this author and there was no end to retell it again). This type of mystical understanding is meant to unite believers with God without destroying our individuality by being absorbed into the divine (differentiating Christianity with other forms of mysticism).
Above all else though there is a common thread that runs through both John’s Gospel and his epistles: love. John spends quite a lot of time speaking of the mystical union between humanity and divine, but at the end of the day leaves each believer with the one command that all this points to: “love one another”. This is the Christian meaning of life.
"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:34-35)
I meet so many Christians that want spiritual growth. “Feed me meat not milk. Let’s go deeper.” Do you want to know what the deepest part of Christianity is? This command is it. It will be the hardest thing we will ever do in the church. Because you can’t study it, you can’t have committee for it, and you can’t have a bake sale about love. Love is the one thing missing most in our world, and it’s the one thing Christ most wants us to do.
If I tell my daughter to go clean her room then she better not come downstairs 2 hours later and tell me she thought a lot about cleaning her room. She memorized “clean your room” like it was a Bible passage. “I learned it in Greek dad. I had a fellowship group with my friends where we wrote a Bible study and parsed the words. We created a collage about clean rooms – it was great. I understand it better than ever.”
How often do we hear the words “Love one another” and think Jesus wants us to have a Bible study? Love one another doesn’t mean study the word agape, it means go weed someone’s garden, buy someone a meal, pray with someone who is hurting. Love is not a subject you study – it is what Christians do.
It is the Devil that tells us people are too far gone. It is the work of the devil that tells people to give up, to die. Christ died so that no one should give up. He loved us that much. The Gospel of John is telling us how important that is and how we’re supposed to join with the work of God in the world. And the answer is simple: love one another!