I like buying old books. There’s a mystique that old books have that’s hard to replicate in any other type of media. I often don’t even read them… I just thumb through them, smell the old musty pages, then put them on the shelf where I can admire their bindings.
I own books from which I’ve never read a single word. I don’t know their contents… and I don’t even care.
I find pleasure in judging a book by its cover.
This is ok when it’s a book… but people are different. People are more complex and complicated than books. There’s much more to people than their exterior bindings… where they live, what they do, and with whom they associate.
Sometimes it’s hard to look past a person’s cover… and reconsider what you think you know.
In John 3 and 4 the author introduces his readers to three characters that have questionable covers, but the content within presents unique stories of faith.
In John 3:1 we are introduced to a man named Nicodemus. At first it might seem like a simple introduction…
“Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.”
But it’s not quite that simple. John actually begins the introduction three verses earlier, at the end of chapter two.
In John 2:25-27, John describes how it was the Passover season, and Jesus had been in Jerusalem performing miracles. Jesus had caused quite a stir, and when people saw the signs He was performing… the text says many “believed in His name.” It says they were “believing” in Jesus… but that Jesus wasn’t “believing” (the same Greek word) in them. Here’s how it reads,
“Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing. But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man.”
All that to say, things were complicated in Jerusalem. Many were seeing Jesus for who He was, and believing in Him, but those same people were entrenched within a powerful religious system that didn’t recognize the same truth. This complication caused even believing men… to be unbelievable. Continue reading
In John 2:1-5, Jesus and His disciples make their way to Cana to attend a wedding. While they are there, the hosts run out of wine. In Jesus’ day, having the wine run out was a big deal. Weddings were multi-day events and usually were large social gatherings.
When his mother brings the situation to Jesus’ attention (in v. 4), He gives an interesting response,
“Woman, what does that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come.”
John intersperses into his gospel several allusions to Jesus’ impending “hour”. It is through these allusions that the reader begins to anticipate the arrival of that hour.
Mary may have hoped He would take this opportunity to make Himself known. She may have been imagining a king and His kingdom!
… but Jesus knew everything His “hour” would bring en route to His throne and glory. Continue reading
The first chapter of John’s gospel is a brilliantly planned invitation.
John wanted to invite both Jews and Gentiles (non-Jewish groups) to read his account of Jesus’ life and ministry. To do this, he literarily connected Jesus to concepts from both cultures. In this way, the beginning of John’s gospel is a unique invitation to read beyond the introduction into the heart of the story.
How did John invite a Jewish audience to read his gospel? Here are some examples from the first chapter.
- John 1:1 – “In the beginning…”
- this wording has obvious ties with the Old Testament story of Creation in Genesis 1:1 that opens with the same phrase.
- John 1:14 – “… the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”
- The Greek word translated as “dwelt” is literally “tabernacled” (lived temporarily). The tabernacle/temple was the center of Jewish worship.
- John 1:29, 36 – “Behold, the Lamb of God.”
- Lambs were often used as offerings in Jewish worship ceremonies.
- John 1:51 – “Truly, Truly I say to you, you will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
- This recalls a dream that Jacob (a father of the Jewish faith) had in Genesis 28:10-13.
In the movie, The Magnificent Seven, a selection of otherwise unrelated mercenaries prove to be more effective as a group when defending a village against a gang of thieves. These seven people were able to accomplish far more by working together than they would have as individuals. The movie had a promotional tagline, “Justice has a number.” And that number was seven!
In a similar way John, Jesus’ disciple and author of the gospel, organized information into groups of seven. He knew that information grouped into categories accomplishes more working together than the same information randomly presented on its own. For instance, readers may notice that, in his gospel, John includes seven miracles of Jesus. He organizes these into a related group by referring to each of them as “signs” or “attesting miracles”.
- John 2:1-11 – turning water to wine
- John 4:46-54 – healing of a royal official’s son
- John 5:1-15 – healing at the pool of Bethesda
- John 6:5-14 – feeding of the 5,000
- John 6:16-24 – walking on water
- John 9:1-7 – healing of a blind man
- John 11:1-45 – resuscitation of Lazarus from the dead