The Four Gospels: John
Preached: August 14, 2011
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:
Today we conclude the series that looks at the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and the images that the church has adopted to symbolize each: the man, the lion, the ox, and the eagle.
The Holy Spirit used four different men to write. So each book reflects the writer's individual gifts, styles, life-experiences, and audience. Those four images in the banners above the organ symbolize the differing character of each.
Yet although we have four books that we call the Gospels and four writers and four symbols, they all proclaim the one and the same Gospel, namely, the Good News of Jesus Christ, God's Son, our Savior from sin -- his life, death, and resurrection for us. They all have one and the same purpose, namely, to kindle faith in our hearts and fan that faith into a roaring fire so that you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and by believing have eternal life in his name. They all have one and the same Author, namely, the Holy Spirit, who reminded the writers of what Jesus had said and done and guided them into all truth. What each wrote is fully and completely, word-for-word, the word of God. There are no contradictions, no mistakes, no errors.
Today we look at the Gospel according to St. John, symbolized by the eagle.
The writer is the well-known disciple from the trio, Peter, James, and John. He grew up trained as a fisherman working alongside his father, Zebedee, and his brother, James, on the sea of Galilee. While still a young man, probably in his early twenties, Jesus called him and his brother to leave their nets and follow him.
Jesus gave John and his brother the nickname Boanerges, which means sons of thunder (Mark 3:17). At times hey could be overzealous. For example, when a Samaritan village refused to welcome Jesus, they ask him whether they should call down fire from heaven to destroy the city (Luke 9:54). Jesus rebuked them for that. At another time through their mother they request to sit at his right and at his left in his kingdom. When Jesus asked if they could drink the cup he was to drink, they self-assuredly said, "We can." (Matthew 20:20-28 NIV1984). They could be overzealous.
Yet along with Peter, these two did see what the other disciples didn't. Only those three went with Jesus and the parents into the young girl's room when Jesus raised Jairus's daughter from the dead(Mark 5:37-43). Only Peter, James, and John saw Jesus transfigured with his divine glory as he spoke with Moses and Elijah and heard the Father's voice, "This is my Son, whom I love, Listen to him!" (Mark 9:7 NIV1984). Only those three went farther into Gethsemane to watch and pray with Jesus (Mark 9:32-34). John sat next to Jesus in the upper room and leaned back to ask who was the betrayer was (John 13:23-25). And John is the one to whom Jesus entrusts the care of his mother as he hung on the cross (John 19:26, 27).
In his humility John never mentions his own name as he writes. He simply refers to himself as the disciple whom Jesus loved. But don't misunderstand that phrase. He isn't boasting as if to say, "I'm the disciple that Jesus loved the most." Rather he's saying, "Even though I'm not even worthy to be mentioned by name, yet Jesus loved even me and called even someone like me to be his disciple. How great his love!"
After Pentecost, John preached the Gospel in Jerusalem along with Peter and the other Apostles. Church history tells us that sometime later he settled in Ephesus, which had become a center of Christianity. Unlike the other Apostles, he seems to have died a natural death probably around the year 100. He is the same John who wrote 1, 2, and 3 John and Revelation. All these were probably written in the last decade or two of his life. He is the last of the inspired writers, and no doubt the Lord used him to help guide the early church to recognize which writings were inspired and therefore the Word of God.
Since he wrote several years after the other three Gospel writers, he doesn't repeat much of the material that was already well-known from them. Rather he draws our attention to the words of Jesus that testify that he is God's Son, sent by the Father, the Savior we desperately need. Without him we perish. Through faith in him we have eternal life. "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" (John 3:16 NIV1984).
Like an eagle, John's Gospel soars to heights unknown. His style is simple and straight forward. His vocabulary isn't difficult. His sentences aren't complex. But the thoughts and concepts he expresses are out of this world. They soar far above our reason, like an eagle above our heads.
From the very beginning John soars back farther than any of the other writers. Mark started with the ministry of John the Baptist. Matthew took us back to Abraham. Luke traced Jesus' ancestry back to Adam. But John soars to before time. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning ... The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father full of grace and truth" (John 1:1,2, 14 NIV1984).
Again and again John records the testimony of Jesus that he is the Son of God, the Word made flesh, sent by the Father, sent to lay down his life for sinners, sent to take up his life again, sent that you may believe and have eternal life. Maybe a possible theme for John is: Believe the testimony of the Word made flesh.
Believe the testimony spoken by John the Baptist as he points to Jesus and says, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29 NIV1984). From the start the Gospel makes clear why the Word became flesh. He came to sacrifice himself as the Lamb. The Father sent him to take away the sins of the world by carrying all sin to the cross in our place. Believe the testimony. Jesus, the Word made flesh, has taken away your sin.
The cross is never far from the testimony of Jesus. In John 2 when Jesus clears out the merchants and money-changers from the temple for the first time toward the beginning of his ministry, he says, "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days" (John 2:19 NIV1984), referring to his body and his resurrection from the dead. In John 3 as he talks to Nicodemus, he says, "Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life" (John 3:14, 15 NIV1984), lifted up on the cross. In John 6 Jesus says, "This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world" (John 6:51 NIV1984). The Word became flesh to give his life to bring you life, dear friend. Believe his testimony. And in John 10, Jesus says, "I lay down my life for my sheep" (John 10:14 NIV1984). The cross is the center of Jesus' ministry long before Gethsemane and Calvary. As an eagle swooping down from heaven he became flesh and blood to give his life for you. Believe the testimony of the Word made flesh.
Believe the testimony, for see how the Father himself testifies that Jesus is the one he sent. He testifies through the works of Jesus and the words of Jesus. John refers to Jesus' miracles as signs, signs that the Father has sent him. And through the words of the Scriptures, the Father is also testifying. Listen to how Jesus explains it in John 5: "[T]he very work that the Father has given me to finish, and which I am doing, testifies that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me ... You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me" (John 5:36, 37, 39 NIV1984)
Believe the testimony. Even as you see Jesus as flesh and blood, condemned and crucified, believe he is your God, the Son of the Father. Believe the testimony of his divinity. For example, listen to what Jesus says in John 5: "Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor he Father. He who does not honor the Son, does not honor the Father, who sent him" (John 5:22, 23 NIV1984). Honor and worship Jesus as your God, for he is the Son of the Father. In John 8 Jesus says, "I tell you the truth ... before Abraham was born, I am!" (John 8:58 NIV1984). He is the eternal Lord, the unchanging I AM, the God of free and faithful grace. In John 10, he says, "I and the Father are one" (John 10:30 NIV1984). And in John 20, Jesus accepts the confession of Thomas, who says to him, "My Lord and my God! (John 20:28 NIV1984). How far this soars above our reason! Believe the testimony of the Word made flesh. Believe that this man, Jesus Christ, flesh and blood, is your God, sent by the Father to bring you eternal life.
In fact that's the purpose John states for writing this book: "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" (John 20:31 NIV1984).
There is so much more we could say. We see the opposition against Jesus grow as John makes it clear that either you believe the testimony of the Word made flesh or your unbelief drives you farther and farther away into the devil's clutches. We could talk about Jesus speaking to the Samaritan woman at the well or raising Lazarus from the dead, events only John records. Or how about the words Jesus spoke to his disciples on the night he was betrayed? Only John records how Jesus washed his disciples feet and spoke of how they were to love one another even as he loved them. He lifts their thoughts to heaven, speaking of how is going to his Father's house to prepare a place for them. He promises them the Holy Spirit despite the world hatred. He prayers for them and for all who would believe through their testimony.
Just as Matthew, Mark, and Luke do, John leads us to Gethsemane and the cross. Here is the climax as Jesus finishes the mission the Father sent him to do. He even declares from the cross: “It is finished” (John 19:30 NIV1984). His mission is accomplished. He proclaims the resurrection of Jesus, telling how even Thomas was convinced that Jesus had truly, really, bodily risen from the dead. We have passed over so much, but even the little we've been able to talk about illustrate how John soars like an eagle calling on us to believe the testimony of the Word made flesh. Believe so that you have eternal life through God's Son, Jesus Christ, sent by the Father to die for you and rose again.
Maybe the best way to close is with the seven "I am" statements of Jesus, recorded by John. How well these illustrate John's simple style. But how each one of these soar to heights that even a life time of contemplation cannot reach. Yes, dear friends, believe the testimony of the Word made flesh as he says to you:
"I am the bread of life ... that came down from heaven" (John 6:34, 41 NIV1984).
"I am the light of the world" (John 8:12, John 9:5 NIV1984)
"I am the gate for the sheep" (John 10:7 NIV1984).
"I am the good shepherd" (John 10:11, 14 NIV1984).
"I am the resurrection and the life"(John 11:25 NIV1984).
"I am the way and the truth and the life"(John 14:6 NIV1984).
"I am the vine; you are the branches" (John 15:5 NIV1984).
The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.