Monthly Archives: January 2018

Life and Light (John 1.4 and 5)

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As we continue with the opening Prologue of John we are introduced to other key themes of the whole Gospel.
Life.
New life in Jesus for those who believe in him lies at the very heart of John’s Gospel. Every living thing and person was created by Jesus. Not only did life come through him, but it is integral to his very being. “I am the resurrection and the life”, Jesus declares (John 11.25) and then proves it by bringing Lazarus back to life. Cold and dead though our lives may be, Jesus can transform them. There can be no true life apart from him.
Already now Jesus has come to bring the fullness of life to his people. “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full” (10.10), Jesus declares. So John presents us with the answer for people who live to work in order to eat, who eat in order to be able to work and thus live . . . True satisfaction and abundance of life comes through faith in Jesus and our oneness with him.
We shall see in John 3 that Jesus’ promise of eternal life uses the Present Tense. “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life” (3.36). It is not just a hope for the future with ‘pie in the sky when we die’. The fullness of life is for now! Without Jesus at the core of our being we merely exist and do not truly live.
All of us commonly greet people with the question, “how are you?”. How often I hear the sadly joyless answer, “O.K., thanks”! John’s Gospel stands in direct opposition to such negativity which lies at the very heart of British culture. But our hearts react warmly when we hear the life-filled answer, “Flourishing, thanks”.
The fullness of life in Jesus starts now here on earth, but it also continues eternally in the glorious presence of the Father. Just as Jesus was sent from the Father and in his ascension has returned to the Father’s glory, so we as believers in Jesus are united inseparably to him. We too live today with the life of his resurrection and ascension. We therefore rejoice in new life on earth now and also in glory, eternally with and in him. So the climax of John’s Gospel is Jesus’ resurrection. Brilliant good news!
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The Gospel for Today
When we talk of ‘the Gospel’, we usually refer immediately to the writings of Paul rather than John. Paul’s gospel underlines the sacrificial work of Jesus in paying the penalty for our sin. He proves that through the cross we have redemption and are justified. We have therefore been cleansed from all sin by Jesus’ shed blood. Paul rejoices that salvation comes to us apart from works of the Jewish Law and is therefore available to all who believe in Jesus, both Jew and Gentile.
Still today some people are weighed down with guilt and a clouded conscience. For such people Paul’s gospel is indeed ‘good news’. But I would suggest that most people today have little awareness of sin and therefore Paul’s approach does not at first relate to them as ‘good news’. On the other hand, John’s message of LIFE hits the nail on the head. And also the assurance of eternal life is wonderfully good news for older people who know that their life on earth is drawing towards its end.
Paul’s message becomes good news later in our Christian experience. After we come to faith in Jesus, we begin to relate to the Father through him in worship and prayer. Then we all become increasingly aware how unworthy we are to meet with God in all his holiness. And we discover in Scripture by the Holy Spirit God’s demand that we should be “holy even as he is holy”. Then God’s word through Paul becomes good news indeed. Then we realise our desperate need for cleansing from sin, and Jesus’ death on the cross becomes wonderful good news.
Unlike John, Paul also stresses the once-for-all experience that we have been justified and redeemed. His regular use of the Greek Aorist tense assumes a clear-cut time when Jesus’ saving work on the cross is appropriated and received. This is of course theologically right and true, but many people today move more gradually into faith in Christ and into fellowship within the family of the church. John’s emphasis on a more gradual steady movement towards God is key in today’s world.
So in evangelism it may be appropriate to major on John’s Gospel with its message of resurrection life. But then in our discipleship and growth in holiness as followers of Jesus, Paul’s good news of redemption from sin will rejoice our hearts.
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Light
“That life was the light of humanity” (1.4).  Jesus asserts, “I am the light of the world” (8.12 and 9.5) and then proceeds immediately to give sight to a blind man. With Jesus our eyes are opened and he gives us understanding and a right view of life, so that we should no longer ‘walk in darkness’.
“The light shines in the darkness”. Of course! Turning on the light when the sun is shining brightly is ridiculous. We only appreciate light when it shines into the darkness and illumines everything. Through his Gospel John will emphasise how Jesus was sent into this world, into darkness. In this world sin and unbelief reign supreme. In the very beginning too, before the creation of the world, everything was shapeless and empty with ‘darkness over the surface of the deep’ (Genesis 1.2). Into this darkness God pronounced, “Let there be light!” and shattered the darkness. Tragically, because sin came into the world darkness again prevailed. And in our world today we feel the power of that darkness all around us. So what will happen when the light shines in the darkness? Will it be snuffed out? Can it survive or even triumph?
John answers such questions, affirming that “the darkness has not understood it” (1.5). The Greek verb translated “understood” has caused commentators to lose sleep as they search for the right meaning of the word. It may signify that the darkness has not understood the light, but it may also mean that the darkness has not ‘overcome’ the light. At times the light may appear weak and insignificant, but somehow it persists and continues to shine unabated.
Perhaps John was aware of the two-fold significance of the word. Perhaps he wanted to convey both meanings. Certainly both meanings have proved true throughout history and encourage us still today. We are very aware of how weak the light of the good news of Jesus often seems to be. Powerful enemies of the gospel may persecute and oppress Christians as followers of the light. Hedonistic materialism and irreligious hunger for unbridled freedom may ridicule any definite faith and intolerantly deny  assured truth in the name of tolerance. The media may proclaim the demise of assured faith and marginalise it, but amazingly the light of Jesus continues to shine! Likewise we may observe that people around us find it almost impossible to grasp the true significance of Jesus and the Christian faith. It doesn’t make sense to  them. The world “has not understood” it. But somehow we continue to see the Holy Spirit at work and some people coming to believe in Jesus and love him.
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All People
“That life was the light of humanity” (1.4). Jewish readers of John’s Gospel will react to this statement with astonishment. Among Jews it is common to assert that the Torah/Law and the Word of God is the light of Israel, but John cleverly changes that – not just the light of Israel, but of all humanity, both Jew and Gentile. We have already last week noticed this same emphasis on all humanity in John’s strong reference to the Word’s creation of “all things”. And as we continue to look at this opening passage of John’s Gospel, we shall note how he repeats again and again this foundational teaching that Jesus is not only the Jewish Messiah, but he has come for all people everywhere – Jew and Gentile.
In our globalised world this emphasis has become vital. Of course it undergirds the importance of international mission, reaching out to all countries in every continent. The international missionary call remains a vital element in God’s purposes for the church and for us all as followers of Jesus. And John’s emphasis has become essential locally also because we live today in amazingly inter-ethnic societies. Preaching, teaching and training which is not inter-cultural has now become obsolete and irrelevant as well as unbiblical.

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The universal Word (John 1.1-3)

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Like an overture often includes the main themes of a symphony, so the opening verses of each Gospel reveal the key emphases of the chapters that follow. Thus the genealogy in Matthew 1.1-17 declares Jesus as the son of Abraham and of David, who relates to women, Gentiles and sinners. It emphasizes that he is supreme. Mark 1.1 declares Jesus to be the Messiah and the Son of God. Luke1.1-4 underlines the historical truth of what Luke is writing about Jesus. His Gospel is to be trusted. We can therefore follow Jesus with confidence. All that Luke writes about him is true. John’s prologue contains the contents of his Gospel in a nutshell. 
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In the beginning (John 1.1 and 2)
John starts immediately with the statement that God’s Word, Jesus Christ, did not just live for some thirty years in Israel, but he already existed at the very start of creation and even before that. He was not merely a wonderful human being or prophet. In fact he was actually God (1.1). Already John is giving us a prelude to Thomas’ amazing confession, “My Lord and my God” (20.28) which climaxes the whole Gospel. Jesus was with the Father eternally and was sent by the Father into this world.
In 1.1 and again in 1.2 our English translations tell us that the Word was “with God”. ‘Pros’, the Greek word translated “with”, contains the fundamental meaning of ‘towards’. It is a word of movement, not just of position. Likewise 1.18 graphically declares that Jesus Christ is ‘into’ (not just ‘in’) the Father’s bosom. Although Jesus’ absolute oneness with the Father is entirely perfect, true relationships of love include constant movement towards the beloved. So also in our love and relationship with the Lord, let us come closer and closer to him. And that relates equally to our loving relationships within our family, in the fellowship of the church and in our love for our neighbour.
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The Word
The Old Testament strongly emphasizes the Word of God. Both in the Old Testament and in John’s Gospel the Word has a dual function – it creates and it reveals.
“God said . . .  and there was” (Genesis 1.3). His Word is never mere verbiage, it always has definite purposes of achieving something significant. It creates. John will tell how Jesus brings new life, a new creation. In John salvation consists of new life and even eternal life. The climax of his Gospel is therefore not only the cross, but particularly the resurrection. We shall look more at this gift of life and light next week when our blog will look at 1.4 and 5.
Throughout the Old Testament and now in John’s Gospel God’s Word also reveals. In our sinful world we are sated with empty and unreliable words. The German poet Goethe says in his table talk, “Words are given to humanity to conceal our thoughts”. But in contrast the Bible shows how God’s Word lifts the veil which hides God from us. The Word has ‘made God known’ (1.18). Without him God remains a distant and unknown power, irrelevant to life on earth. In our European churches today we have some times become disillusioned with ‘mere words’, but biblically we need to re-emphasize verbal witness to reveal the true beauty, glory and reality of God our Father and our Saviour.
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Universal
“God created the sun, moon and the whole universe. He also made the most delicate snow flake and the tiniest insect. What a mighty God!” In this way our children are taught the greatness and power of God. Many years ago some Manchester friends of ours, who had never before seen mountains, saw the great snow-covered Austrian Alps. “Wow!”, they exclaimed, “It must have been quite something when God coughed up that lot!” This may be a somewhat un-theological expression of biblical faith in the creation, but it reflects the common form of Christian teaching about the creation. We teach creation to prove the mighty power of God.
In the Bible however the fact of creation leads to a different application. God created everything, so everything belongs to him. God created all people of every nation, so all people belong to him. He is Lord of all, the universal Lord. So John affirms that “through him all things were made” (no exceptions) and for emphasis he repeats it. This teaching about God’s creation necessitates ecological and environmental concern. Then in 1.7 John goes on to state that not only “all things” were made through the Word, but also through him “all people” should believe. Our teaching on God’s creation must also underline evangelistic mission to all nations and peoples everywhere. This emphasis is repeated again and again throughout the first 18 verses of chapter 1.
John was writing quire late in the 1st century and by that time large numbers of Gentiles had flooded into the church. Was it really God’s purpose that the church might even become largely Gentile, that Jewish believers might even become a minority in the church? Or was this somehow a mistake, not within the purposes of God? As we have just noted, John’s Gospel will underline the international nature of God’s church – this is God’s purpose for his church. How relevant this teaching is also now for Western churches! In the West Christians are now a minority in our societies, and our churches are generally rather small. We can easily be flooded with large numbers of African, Caribbean, Asian and other Christians. Little local churches can be taken over by Iranian, Nigerian or Chinese Christians. A cross-cultural emphasis in our church life and teaching has become a vital necessity.
What an exciting adventure  and challenge lies before us as we progress now into John’s Gospel!
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Forgiven, love, feed (John 21.15-25)

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Forgiven
‘There’s no hope for me now’, Peter might have felt. He had deserted Jesus in his time of desperate need. He had denied any knowledge of Jesus or that he was a disciple of Jesus. Total failure. No wonder Peter tried to drown his feelings of guilt and despair in the busyness of his work as a fisherman!
Into this situation of hopelessness came the true solution – busyness never actually cures any problem or suffering. Jesus met with Peter with the new life of the resurrection. Jesus asked Peter whether he loved him more than all the fish he had caught, and what they represented. A good question! Which do we love more? Which has priority – success in our professional life or Jesus?
Three times Peter had denied Jesus. Three times Jesus asks him the key question – “Do you love me?” In the first two questions Jesus uses the more intense and intimate ‘agape’ word for love, but Peter cannot bring himself to confess such deep love for Jesus. So Peter only dares to use a lower word for ‘love’. Then in the final question Jesus lowers the intensity and comes down to Peter’s level, using the same word as Peter.
Jesus’ threefold question and Peter’s heartfelt profession of love for Jesus echoes the threefold denial. So his sin and despair are washed clean. He can start again to enjoy the new life of the resurrection. His profession of love is accepted.
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Feed and Shepherd
Jesus immediately gives Peter a new commission. He will be empowered for this ministry by the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, but already now he is given the task of feeding Jesus’ people. At the second question there is a slight change and Peter is told not only to ‘feed’, but also to ‘shepherd’ Jesus’ sheep (21.16). Jesus uses different words for ‘sheep’ which include not only mature sheep, but also lambs and smaller sheep. Peter’s task should include very ordinary and apparently less significant Christians.
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a) Feed.
It is vitally important that Christian leaders feed their people with the God-given food of his Word. Without good biblical teaching a church will remain spiritually immature and God’s people will not be equipped to deal with the realities of non-Christians’ questionings or the sufferings and temptations of life. We need not only topical preaching and teaching, but also good biblical exposition which systematically makes clear the meaning of one biblical passage after another. Thus the message of the Bible is clarified and applied. Sadly, many of our churches today lack quality biblical exposition in their preaching. Jesus’ command to Peter resonates with us too, “Feed my sheep”.
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b) Shepherd.
All of us carry certain scars from our background. However loving and wise our parents were, they were not perfect! Inevitably something of their imperfection lives in us. And our environment brings further insecurities and pastoral hurts. This is particularly true in societies where marriage breakdown is heart-breakingly common. A Christian leader’s task must therefore include loving and skilled pastoral care as well as feeding the flock with good teaching.
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c) Leader.
When Jesus first called his disciples to follow him, he instructed them to become ‘fishers of men’. But now in Peter’s commissioning as a leader in the church he is not given an evangelistic calling. Did Jesus just assume this? Or does the task of evangelism and pioneer mission lie more on the shoulders of all of us as ordinary followers of Jesus, rather than being particularly the responsibility of our leaders?
In Western patterns of leadership, as also in Asian Confucian-background cultures, authority lies at the heart of all leadership. But in the New Testament Christian leaders do not exercise authority. They are to teach God’s Word – and that Word does have authority. As God’s revelation the Bible has power and absolute authority over us all in all things. And leaders are to pastor the flock with the loving care which is expected of a shepherd. ‘Feed’ and ‘pastor’ are the key ingredients of Christian leadership.
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Follow me!
Peter’s call to the ministry of a Christian leader continues immediately with the further command, “Follow me!” (21.19, 22). Following Jesus inevitably implies a call to sacrifice, for Jesus is the Suffering Servant who brings salvation through his death. So Jesus gives a prophecy concerning how Peter would die (21.18/19). On the other hand, God’s will for John turned out very differently. He suffered long years of exile, but he lived on to a ripe old age. This also allowed John to write his Gospel with the benefit of long years in which he could think deeply and pray concerning his experience of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension. In concluding his Gospel John again emphasizes truth. He declares that the testimony of his Gospel is indeed true (21.24). And we today rest in the assured confidence that in God’s Word we have truth, indeed the unique truth.
So our blogs have come to the end of John’s Gospel. But I only started writing these blogs when my studies had reached John 10. So I shall start back at John 1 in my next blog and we shall hope to work our way through to where I started.
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P.S. You may also enjoy two books of biblical exposition which I have written: “Matthew and Mission: the Gospel through Jewish Eyes” (available from Jews for Jesus) and “Any Complaints? Blame God!: God’s Message for Today – Habakkuk the Prophet speaks” (Authentic Media).
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Dining with the risen Jesus (John 21.1-14)

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Some of the leading disciples were huddled together near the Sea of Galilee. Abject despondency gripped them after the crucifixion of Jesus. Coming to love him, they had sacrificed everything in order to follow him. Now they must have been plagued with terrible questions. Had their faith been misplaced? Was it all one ghastly mistake? What then should they do now?
Finally, the activist Peter takes the lead. Life’s got to go on. He determines to go back to his old job and get on with life: “I’m going out to fish”, he declared (21.3) and the others followed his lead.
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Jesus stepped into this situation of hopelessness and manifested himself to those disciples. Professional fishermen though they were, they fished all night and caught nothing. They must have felt awful when someone called from the shore, “Children (rather diminishing?), have you caught anything?” And then came the apparently ridiculous suggestion that if they just let down their net on the other side of the boat, they would do better. But they obeyed and duly caught a huge shoal of large fish.
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“It’s the Lord!” John now exclaimed as he recognised who the man on the shore actually was. This whole event of Jesus manifesting himself to those disciples was so vividly etched on John’s memory that in writing about it John some times slips into dramatic present tenses – e.g. John “says (not ‘said’) to Peter, ‘It is the Lord'” (21.7) and “Jesus comes and takes the bread and gives to them” (21.13).
Peter felt embarrassed because he was naked, hastily put something on and swam quickly to the shore. How he longed to be with Jesus! The others followed in the boat with the fish. With a fire by the edge of the lake bread and fish were duly cooked We can picture the disciples’ thrill as they ate that breakfast together with their much loved Master. As in African and Asian cultures today, so also in Jewish life, eating together has deep relational significance. So in Revelation 3.20 Jesus promises to all who will welcome him and open the door to him, he will ‘come in and eat with them’. So now we look forward to that great day when we shall feast with Jesus at the messianic banquet at the table of Abraham – and he has prepared a place for us (John 14.3)!
I have observed that church meetings in Britain today have a different feel and attract more people, if there is food before or after the meeting. Hungry or greedy? No! We experience warm fellowship when we eat and drink together. Perhaps we need to look again at our Bibles and develop a proper theology of food! Eating and drinking have deep significance throughout the Bible.
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Although the outward forms of this breakfast seemed simple, just bread and fish on the shore by the lake, Jesus invites the disciples to “come and dine” (21.12) – not just ‘eat’. He uses a rather superior word which in the New Testament is only otherwise used for the wedding feast (Matthew 22.4) and for when Jesus is invited to dinner with a Pharisee (Luke 11.37). So Jesus makes it clear to the disciples that this meal has greater meaning than just a picnic.
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The disciples must have thought back to the past when Jesus had given them the bread and fish which they then distributed to the crowds. That miracle had been unforgettable and it happened twice. Jesus had fed a Jewish crowd (Matt. 14.13-21) and then also a Gentile crowd (Matt.15.29-39) – still today Jesus longs to reach out to all nations. Perhaps they were also reminded of their first meeting with Jesus. He had called them to follow him and then immediately declared that he would make them “fishers of men” (Matt.4.19). Following Jesus should always go hand in hand together with mission. It is of course good to keep and beautify aquariums, but the primary call is to go out into the oceans to catch new fish. Teaching, pastoring and edifying the church is necessary, but let us never forget Jesus’ primary call to become ‘fishers of men and women’!
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Even before Jesus gave them the bread and fish, they had recognised Jesus, but the gift of bread and fish certainly confirmed it to them. What an electrifying thrill! The dead and buried Jesus was alive again and here with them! John notes that this was the third time the risen Jesus had appeared to his disciples (21.14). Proof of the resurrection was adding up! The disciples needed proof and Jesus gave it to them. Grace abounds! He knows exactly what we need and duly provides what we require. Some of us gain assurance through some miraculous experience. Others of us need more intellectual foundations for our faith. God knows us and lovingly makes himself known in just the right way for each person. But in one way or another, we all must come into an assured, loving and committed relationship with the resurrected Jesus.

PS If you have not had our annual Christmas letter with more of our news and would like to see it, do please get in touch and we will send it to you.

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