Unbelievable Wisdom from an Old Man
22 Jan 2011, Dr Alex Currie
(Alex is Thornleigh's New Church Pastor)
Unbelievable Wisdom from an Old Man (first in a series on the Gospel of John)
Arriving by ship at Ephesus late in the 1st Century AD, observe a group of hundreds of Jews and Gentiles, burying someone of obvious significance and importance. Whoever this person was that person was greatly revered, loved and respected because of the number of funeral mourners. On enquiry we discover the person being buried was an old pastor who frequented the churches in the surrounding district. (The seven churches of Revelation) Members of these churches urged John to record the stories he told them in his sermons in a book. Stories that they had not heard in hearing the other three gospels read. Ephesus had one of the largest libraries of the ancient world and John's parishioners wanted his compelling stories written on a scroll, with a copy kept in the library. So the fourth gospel was written in Ephesus towards the end of the first century. Most likely it was the last New Testament book written. John also wrote three epistles and Revelation.
School children were asked to list the seven modern wonders of the world. Most thought of wonders such as Egypt's Great Pyramids, Taj Mahal, Grand Canyon, Panama Canal, Empire State Building, St. Peter's Basilica and China's Great Wall. But one child took extra time about her answers and wrote that the Seven Wonders were: to See, to Hear, to touch, to Taste, to Feel, to Laugh and to Love.
The Apostle John wrote in a similar vein when he wrote in 1 John 1:1-3 "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched, this we proclaim concerning the Word of Life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us." John understood that child's reply to the amazing seven wonders!
John is a different gospel. It's not like the synoptics which have so much in common and overlap. John is 90% fresh. Stained glass windows on Cologne Cathedral picture Mark as a man, Matthew a lion, (Messiah was the Lion of the tribe of Judah), Luke an Ox (representing service and sacrifice but John is illustrated as an eagle. (John possesses eagle like insight. He soars and glides in deep theological thought which is arresting and powerfully rich. John has penetrating focus, just like the eagle. Theologically in John we soar like the eagle.)
Who wrote the Gospel of John? John 21:24 "This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down." He was a close friend of Jesus and Peter, which is evident from experiences described in the gospel and in Acts 3:1, 3-4, 11; 4:13, 19:8-14. Ireneaus, bishop of Lyons wrote in AD 170 "After them (Matthew, Mark and Luke) John the disciple of the Lord who reclined on his breast issued a gospel while he was living in Ephesus." (1) Ireneaus was a pupil of Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna who had been a pupil of John the apostle.(2) Polycarp was burnt at the stake for refusing to burn incense in worship to the Roman Emperor and cried out "For eighty and six years I have served my Lord, how can I blaspheme Him now!"(3)
Some of the unique aspects of John's gospel that make it different are:
- It is relational. Conversations with people like Nicodemus and the Woman of Samaria.
- Most of stories and material are fresh and new, compared to the other gospel writers.
- It appears to be 'out of step' with the other gospels, just like a person can be out of step in a march - it stands out! It's different!
- Often it is the first biblical book you invite non Christians to read.
- The supernatural is ever present.
J. B. Lightfoot, born in 1828, taught the historicity of the New Testament at Cambridge University between 1859 and 1879, was Bishop of Durham between 1879 and 1889, was nurtured and nourished by reading and teaching John. Lightfoot lived at Auckland Castle where he discipled 86 young men for ministry. He wrote "I believe from my heart that the truth which (St. John's) gospel more especially enshrines - the truth that Jesus Christ is the very Word incarnate, the manifestation of the father to mankind- is the one lesson which duly apprehended will do more than all our feeble efforts to purify and elevate human life here by imparting to it hope and light and strength; the one study which alone can fitly prepare us for a joyful immortality hereafter." (4)
John was determined to build a bridge from the Jewish world to the Greek world. He discovered that bridge in the word LOGOS - a Greek word translated WORD. To the Jews, LOGOS was more than a sound; it had its own existence and did things. Professor John Paterson wrote "The spoken word to the Hebrew was fearfully alive...It was a unit of energy charge with power. It flies like a bullet to its billet." Hebrew speech had approximately 10,000 words whereas Greek speech had 200,000 words. Words have power. Think of the speeches of men like Churchill and Kennedy and there affect on people. The Greek concept of Logos was given birth in Ephesus in 560BC when the Ephesian philosopher Heraclitus said 'everything is in a state of flux." He created the illustration that said if you stepped into a river, then stepped out of it, then stepped into it again a little later, one would be step into a different river, because the original water had flowed on. He declared that change and flux was not haphazard but controlled and ordered by the LOGOS or what he called the 'reason of God'. John captured the dynamic meaning of the word LOGOS in John 1:1-14 for both Greeks and Jews.(5)
The key to John is found towards the end of his gospel, in John 20:30-31, "And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name." John wants everyone to believe, the Greek word is pisteuo, which means to trust, rely on or adhere to. It is found 98 times in John and is first used in John 1:7 where he says John the Baptist "came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, (Jesus) that all through him might believe."
In John's writings Jesus is presented as the One in whom we are to believe. John 3:15-17. He is the One who we are to love 1 John 4:19 and in the Revelation he is the One for whom we are waiting. Revelation 1:7; 22:20.
In what are we to believe?
1. Believe the Scriptures. After the resurrection they were challenged to believe the Scriptures. John 20:31 Jews searched the Scriptures, thinking that by doing, reading, they would achieve eternal life, but Jesus said the same Scriptures if they read aright, revealed Jesus. John 5:39. It is easy to misunderstand the scriptures if you do not see Jesus. John 20:9.
John Lennon wrote these God lyrics.
God is a concept,
By which we can measure,
I'll say it again,
God is a concept,
By which we can measure,
I don't believe in magic,
I don't believe in I-ching,
I don't believe in bible,
I don't believe in tarot,
I don't believe in Hitler,
'I don't believe in Jesus,....
I just believe in Yoko and me...(6)
2. Believe the Words of Jesus for His words are as good as His touch! John 5:46-7; 10:31-39. In John 1 it's as though John was shouting "We have found Him! The One who is the Light of the world, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world! Come and see. He repeats the same invitation in Revelation 6 several times.
3. Believe in Jesus - Son of God - Saviour - Redeemer - Messiah. John 1:7; 3:16, 36; 7:38; 10:10; 20:29.
John 7:37-39 "On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water. But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive..."
What was the feast? John 7:2 says it was the feast of tabernacles, instituted to remind Jews that they had lived in tents - temporary dwellings as they had wandered in the wilderness. During that time God had protected, feed them and led them to water. They survived because of His grace. The feast lasted for eight days. Each day there was a water ceremony when at dawn priests blew the Shofar (ram's horn) trumpets, inviting people to gather at the temple and then proceed to the Pool of Siloam where the officiating priest would dip a golden goblet into the water, lift it high, and lead the thousands of people back to the to the temple. He then poured the water over the altar as a reminder that God had provided for them water in the wilderness for forty years. But on the eighth day, the high day, the same ceremony was enacted but the priest did not dip the goblet into the water. It was carried back empty, reminding the people that without God in their lives they were spiritually empty. When the people sat around the altar, Jesus stood just as priest was pouring the empty goblet over the altar. What He said was that spiritual satisfaction was not in the feast or ceremony but coming to Him, drinking in His truths and believing on Him.(7)
What an electric moment that must have been. When our souls are satisfied by Jesus, rivers (plural) of living water flow from our lives. Rivers of joy, faith, love, kindness, gentleness would flow from us into the lives of others. Just as a river gives water to animals, villages, towns and cities, so our lives that have been blessed by Jesus with the fruits of the Spirit are to be energised to bless others.
When John and Charles Wesley were riding on a cart with a prisoner being taken to the gallows they emphasised the importance of believing in Jesus if he were to have eternal life.
When the horse and buggy stopped the prisoner turned to the Wesley brothers and said "I do believe." In reflecting upon this experience Charles wrote the hymn "I do believe" Verse one highlights hope; the second verse cleansing; the third verse washing; the fourth verse atonement; the fifth verse peace and the last verse salvation. These are basics to Christian belief and practice. Rejoice with Wesley in them!
(1) Against the Heresies, 111.1.1.
(2) Against the Heresies 111.3,4.
(3) Foxes Book of Martyrs. Wikpedia, see Polycarp, Martyrdom.
(4) Biblical Essays (London; MacMillan, 1893, 44.
(5) Gary M. Burge, NIV Application Commentary, Zondervan, pp 54-61; William Barclay, John.
(6) Internet, John Lennon - God Lyrics
(7) LeRoy E. Froom, Coming of the Comforter, Revised Edition, Review & Herald Pub. Assn. p241f
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