The First in a Series of Sermons on the Gospel of John
It was Augustine who supposedly said of the Gospel of John, “John’s Gospel is deep enough for an elephant to swim and shallow enough for a child not to drown.” Whether Augustine said this or not, the sentiment is certainly true. John is a remarkable Gospel which can instruct a child and yet challenge the greatest of theologians. It is to this gospel that we now turn our attention as we begin a new series on the Gospel of John.
In years past we have made our way through the gospels of Matthew and Mark, and we have covered John’s epistles (1, 2, 3 John) as well as the Book of Revelation, which I believe was also written by John. But we’ve never covered John’s Gospel, which is different in style and structure from the so-called synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). The reason for these differences–which is expressed in the Gospel’s purpose statement (our New Testament lesson; John 20:30-31)–is that John’s gospel is written for the purpose of answering the question “who is Jesus?” Or more specifically, John answers the question “who is the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God?”
Christians would not ask these questions because they already knew the answer. Since these were questions Jews and non-Christians would be asking, it is clear that the Gospel of John was written to equip Christians to evangelize those who were asking about Jesus, including Jews, Jewish proselytes, and God-fearing Gentiles. In may ways, John’s gospel reflects a time of chaos. After the events of AD 70, Jews were asking the question, “what would become of the people of God after the temple was destroyed and Jerusalem had been occupied by the Romans?” Furthermore, after the loss of their homeland the Jews had been dispersed throughout the Mediterranean world, and were encountering Christians in virtually every city in which there was a synagogue. In answering the question “who is Jesus” John is not only addressing one critical question many Jews were asking, but he also directs his readers to trust (believe) in that one whose own body is the greater temple (John 2:21). The coming of Jesus Christ (the true temple), is God’s answer to all of these questions regarding the fate of the nation of Israel.
John’s gospel was not intended to replace the synoptic gospels, nor was it intended to serve as an evangelistic tract to give to unbelievers (and Jews). But it was written to offer Christians instruction about how to answer the question Jews and God-fearers were asking about Jesus’ identity and about God’s purpose for his people. Who is this Jesus in whom Christians were trusting? What were Jews to do now that the temple was destroyed and they had been cast from the promised land. How is Jesus their Messiah? And how are Christians to relate to Jesus now that he has ascended into heaven? This is why John’s gospel is structured as it is, and this is why this gospel is every bit as relevant to us now as it was to John’s original audience. Living in an age of religious chaos and uncertainty as we now do, we too need to listen to John’s answer to the question many are still asking, “who is Jesus?”
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