John 11 – Raising the Dead

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It’s hard to imagine that a miracle so great as raising someone from the dead warrants the harsh reaction of the religious leaders that we see here.  But for them, it was the last straw.  It isn’t entirely clear here why it comes down to this, but in the end, they put forth a plot to capture and kill Jesus.  For John’s Gospel, this is the turning point in Jesus ministry, the divide between the book of signs and the book of glory.

Yet even in the midst of all the scheming and plotting, God’s will and plan are still being worked out.  Remember in Matthew 27, when the people screamed for Jesus’ blood to “be on us and on our children”?  Here we see yet another irony as Caiaphas speaks to the current predicament: “it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”  Little does he know how right he is.

All of this, as Jesus often reminds us, has to happen for His glory to be revealed.  As we begin to shift our focus from Jesus’ earthly ministry to His glorification on the cross, we need to keep in mind the recurring themes that John infuses into His writing.  First, Jesus is the light of the world, the one who gives true sight, but the world hates the light and does not recognize it.  The Pharisees are still in the dark here.

Second, and more importantly, Jesus is the great I AM, and the way that this is going is, as He reminds us here, the only way… He is the only way for life, freedom, and true sight.  As Jesus moves forward now, His actions will expand the resurrection from local, one man, to a universal reality.

John 10 – The Voice of the Shepherd

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References to Jesus as the Good Shepherd are a fairly familiar part of “Christian-speak.”  This is yet another one of the “I AM” statements that John records in his Gospel and it is one that we like to resonate with.  The Shepherd both cares for and protects the flock; we like to be cared for and protected.  You don’t hear much about sheep getting “disciplined” or “told what to do.”  We like that too.

But what Jesus says here is important if we are to play well the role of the sheep: Sheep listen to the Shepherd.  The only way that they can do this is if they know the sound of the Shepherd’s voice.  They follow the Shepherd because they know Him, need Him, and trust Him.  Sheep have no natural defenses;

Sheep have no natural defenses; they rely solely on the Shepherd for their very lives.

The fact that this is a metaphor for us (the sheep) and Jesus (the Good Shepherd) may not come as a surprise, however, the depth of the Truth that Jesus presents here could be.  We are born into this world steeped in sin; there is nothing that we can do to get away from it.  Humans possess no “natural” defenses against it.

We need the Shepherd to protect us.

Unfortunately, Christians are becoming less and less able to recognize His voice.  We spend a diminishing amount of time reading Scripture, the Word of the Shepherd, and much more time listening to the cacophony of voices in the world pretending to be “shepherd” like.  Yet Jesus also says that He is the Gate.  Even though we might listen to other voices, the only true way to the fold is the gate and the only way to find the gate is by listening to the Good Shepherd.

If you have moment, read Psalm 23 and then listen to this song:

John 9 – Blindness

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John continues with the theme of testimony which he started in chapter 8 and weaves it into to ongoing theme of darkness and light that is present throughout his Gospel.  Here it takes on a deeper meaning as he relates light to the ability to see.  But as we read, we are presented with the question of what exactly “true sight” is.

At face value, we see Jesus healing a blind man.  This is, by itself, miraculous.  The teaching that comes with it, that his blindness is not a result of the sin of him or his parents is important for that culture because the prevailing notion was that debilitating conditions like this were the result of sin.  Sometimes we still think along these lines: “what did they do to deserve that?”  Jesus corrects this cultural assumption and directs their focus away from the idea that God caused this and toward the beauty of how God is working in the midst of it.

In doing so, Jesus helps His disciples to make the transition from thinking about physical sight to having a greater vision of what God is doing.  He also talks about being the light of the world while illuminating their vision of God’s work and the expansion of the Kingdom.

This reaches its climax when the discussion turns to the Pharisees, the religious leaders who claim to have “sight.”  By the end of the chapter it is clear that this man has received so much more than physical sight while the religious leaders themselves don’t even recognize their own blindness, so worried about the Law that they cannot see God at work.  It is interesting that this lack of ability to recognize their blindness, their claim that they have “true sight,” it what ultimately causes their guilt.

John 8 – Testify

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When Jesus declares Himself to be the Light of the Word, effectively saying that God is the light and that He is God (see John 6 for more on “I AM” statements), the religious leaders once again try to challenge Him.

The basis for this challenge comes from Hebrew law that talks about the valid testimony of people for conviction.  Deuteronomy 19:15 says, “A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.”  Jesus’ declaration of Himself as God, to be valid in the eyes of the Pharisees, must be established by the testimony of two or three people.  They knew no one else would validate Jesus’ claim and probably thought that they had the basis to both challenge and nullify Jesus’ teachings.

Jesus would not be undone by such an argument.  The one who testifies on His behalf is much greater than any human testimony.  “I stand with the Father, who sent me,”  Jesus says.  He then proceeds to point out that, if they truly knew the law they were trying to use against Him, they would know God the Father and would not be challenging Him to begin with.

Sometimes in our lives as Christ followers, we feel like we are standing alone.  People challenge the teachings of Scripture as well as the message of the Gospel often.  They will point to a “lack of evidence” or a “contradictory” passage as sufficient evidence to discount our testimony.  Yet we, like Jesus, do not stand along.  Paul writes in Romans 8 that “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.

Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to dwell within us so that we would never stand alone in this world but would always have a witness to the Truth of the Gospel in us.

John 7 – Who Are We Looking For?

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In the time of Jesus, there was a considerable amount of unrest within the Jewish community; they were on the hunt for a Savior.  In fact, between the time of Malachi, the last book in the Old Testament (mid 500s B.C.), and the time that Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans (70 A.D.), several people rose up as prospective messianic figures and whose rebellions were summarily snuffed out.  Suffice it to say, the people were on the lookout for a Savior.

When Jesus comes on the scene, He works miraculous signs, fulfilling Scripture left and right, and teaching with an authority much greater and more pronounced than the other religious leaders.  We see that something sets Jesus apart by the comments that the people make about Him.  Many are impressed by His teachings while others are extremely threatened by Him.

One of the reasons that the Jews were looking for a Messiah was because of the cultural and political climate that was present in that time.  Roman rule and oppression had been going on for years but the Jewish people had a vision of a “restored kingdom,” like that of King David, and thought that the prophesied Messiah was going to rise up to overthrow the oppressive regime and restore Israel to its former glory.

Sound familiar?  The current state of the U.S. and the political climate of the 2016 presidential election seems to have taken on some of the same themes.  No matter the political affiliation that you hold, many are angrily looking for someone to be America’s “savior.”  We seem to be willing to listen to just about anything that offers some semblance of hope.

Sadly, doing this relates us more closely to the Pharisees, those who doubt Jesus’ identity, than to His disciples, those who follow Him.

John 6 – I AM

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Here we see the first of 7 “I AM” statements from Jesus.  These statements are intimately connected to John’s major theme of Jesus as the Divine Son of God.  Jesus statements here are scandalous, even blasphemous to the Jewish people, an offence that warranted death by Jewish law, but once again connects Jesus to the Father as His statements do in John 5.

The connection to this comes all the way back in Exodus 3.  God reveals Himself to Moses in the burning bush, calling Him to go and challenge Pharoah for the freedom of the people of Israel.  When Moses asks God for His Name,

God said to Moses, I AM who I AM.”  And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.'”  

This becomes the name by which the Israelites know God, a name so Holy that to even say it was a desecration of the Name.  They even came up with a number of substitutes like “Adonai” and “Jehovah” to refer to God without taking God’s name in vain.

God’s name would have been recorded in Hebrew, but as the centuries passed and languages changed and evolved, the Old Testament was translated into Greek, a text known as the Septuagint.  At this time, the Hebrew name of God was translated to the Greek: “ἐγώ εἰμι,” (pronounced“egō eh – mi”).  Literally this means “I I am” or more appropriately, (I AM that I AM).

So when Jesus makes the statement “I AM the Bread of Life,” or any of the other “I AM” statements, this Greek phrase, that would have been recognised by the Jews especially, is present.  This statement, then, is a two-fold claim:

  1. God (I AM) is the only one who sustains and nourishes.
  2. Jesus is saying “I AM God.”

John 5 – Father and Son

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The major theme of John’s Gospel is to reveal Jesus as not only our Savior but also as the Divine Son of God who is also one with God the Father.  Much of John’s writings, themes, and theology form the basis for would later be known as Trinitarian Theology.  The Athanasian Creed lays this out well:

We worship one God in trinity and the Trinity in unity, neither confusing… nor dividing the divine being.

For the Father is one person, the Son is another, and the Spirit is still another.

But the deity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one, equal in glory, coeternal in majesty.

 John begins to lay this foundation through Jesus’ conversation with the religious leaders.  Jesus doesn’t mince words at all, talking about Himself as being equal with the Father, and especially doing the “Father’s work.”  In fact, Jesus points out that He can do nothing apart from the Father.

There are some difficult sayings here too, but ones that we must take seriously.  Jesus says that those who do not honor the Son do not honor the Father.  In an age where many people seem to think its ok to say “we all serve the same God,” Jesus’ words add a caveat to that.  Several major world religions find their roots in the Old Testament, but only through honoring Jesus as Lord do we find the true way back to the Father.  Watch for more of this theme later in John.

One other thing to consider: Jesus does only what He sees the Father doing.  As the body of Christ, the Church would fall into this same function.  I wonder if we are focused on looking for where the Father is working so as to know what we should be doing?

John 4 – The Samaritan Woman

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I always admire the irony of the things people say to and about Jesus.  When Pilot has Him before the crowd in Matthew 27, they cry “His blood be on us and on our children.”  Little did they know what they were truly asking for.  Here the woman points out that the well is very deep and Jesus has nothing to draw water from it.  Little does she know in that moment how deep the Well of Living Water truly runs.

As people often do, this woman points to the tradition that she knows, the story of Jacob digging that well to give them water.  For them, especially the Samaritans, it was their tradition that gave them their identity.  Yet getting too caught up in that tradition can have dramatically negative consequences.

These folks thought this well, one that Jacob himself, the father of Israel, had dug, was one of many links to their past and therefore to God, and that drinking from it gave them life.  Jesus, however, points out how empty they really are without the true, life giving water that He offers.

When this is all laid out for her, she and the whole town come out to see Jesus and places their faith in Him.  Contrast this harvest of new believers with those that Jesus encounters in Cana, the very place where He turned water into wine.  These people demand more signs so that they could believe, a sad testimony to the faith of the Jews if there ever was one.

Through Scripture, God reveals Himself to us especially in the person of Jesus Christ.  It is important that we find our identity here and not in our own traditions or denominations lest we find ourselves demanding more signs rather than believing God’s Living Word.

John 3 – Nicodemus

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Whenever the Pharisees and Jesus engage in a conversation, it is pretty much expected that sparks are going to fly.  This conversation with Nicodemus though, seems rather anticlimactic; Nicodemus’ seems almost normal, at least for a Pharisee.

In many cases Jesus is always on the defensive when it comes to Pharisee interaction, but what we see here is Jesus interacting on a personal level, fielding questions from someone that doesn’t quite understand completely.  While at times Jesus seems disappointed in Nicodemus’ lack of understanding, that is because of his status as a religious leader, not because Jesus doesn’t welcome the questions.

One of the realities that we see here, actually, is that Jesus welcomes the questions from anyone, on any level, at any time.  He doesn’t run away from the questions, doesn’t reject the asker, and doesn’t sugar coat the answers either because reality of the answers, whether we like them or not, always come back to the over-abundance of grace and love that God has for everyone.  We see this in the words of Scripture’s most famous verse: John 3:16.

John’s Gospel is full of recurring thematic imagery that is good to be on the lookout for.  Back in John 1, the Apostle talks about Jesus as the “Light of the World.”  He also talks about Jesus as a light that the world does not recognize.  Here we get some of this imagery again as Nicodemus comes to Jesus in the dark of night, but also comes to Him in the dark of who Jesus really is.

Verses 16-20 reflect this even more as John writes a bit of his own commentary on the interaction between Jesus and Nicodemus leading to His conclusion about the state of the word’s love for darkness and also its hope for the true Light.

Psalm 8 "Our Father in Heaven…"

Our Sermon Series “Teach us to Pray” continues with the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer.  First and foremost we must recognize who God is as the Holy God, creator of all things.

Pastor Sarah Farkas preaching.

John 2 – Wine and Dine

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The story of Jesus turning water into wine is a favorite among pastors wanting to show that Jesus approves of weddings and marriages.  Some have also used it to point out the fact that Jesus approves of alcohol consumption because of what He did at this wedding.  Sadly, both of these attempts at proof-texting completely miss the point of the passage here.

Jesus’ miracle at this wedding in Cana is the first documented miracle that He performs in His public ministry.  The miracle itself is rather spectacular and compassionate, saving a poor young couple from the embarrassment of ruining their own wedding celebration by not purchasing enough alcohol.  But, as is true in the Gospel of John, there is a great deal of symbolism that is found deep in this narrative.

When the dreadful lack of wine is discovered, Jesus tells Mary that His “hour has not yet come.”  The implication is that Jesus knows who He is and what He has come for.  Interestingly, even though it was not His hour, she still believes and He still performs this miracle.

These nearby stone jars are something that every Jew would recognize; a symbol of Jewish ritualism and the Law.  The fact that they were not full is interesting in itself, and what happens to the water once they are full is even more miraculous!  He takes the empty jars of Jewish ritualism and overflows them with the abundance that is the Kingdom of Heaven.

This is one of many revelations about the Kingdom of Heaven.  In God’s economy, there is always abundance.  More than this, though, is that the best things are yet to come, and will be realized when this Kingdom comes in its fullness when Jesus returns and we celebrate together at God’s banquet table.

John 1 – Prologue

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The opening words of John 1 give a beautiful introduction to the message of this Gospel.  It is a high point from which we can look down on the whole of the Gospel, a point to which we can always return as we being to move through this book.  This is the perspective that John invites us to take as we are introduced to Jesus the Messiah.

John’s whole purpose in writing is to paint a picture of Jesus as God, a theme that is picked up instantly in chapter 1, and is carried throughout the whole Gospel.  Jesus is revealed as “the Word,” coming from the Greek word “Logos,” referring not only to “words” but also to divine wisdom.  Jesus is the “Wisdom of God,” as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians and was present with God the Father before the beginning began.

Contained within John’s Gospel is also a microcosm of the greater Biblical story, from beginning to end.  We get a sense as John talks about creation and the many people that came before “the light” who witnessed to it.  John the Baptist joins the ranks of so many who came before Jesus, testifying to the light of the world that is Jesus Christ.

One of the most beautiful things about this is how John, and really all of Scripture, draws us into the story and then shows us that it is our story and that we are a part of it.  When we meet Jesus, He says to us like the call of Nathanael, I saw you while you weren’t here, but you will see greater things than this!  We are called to be witnesses to the light as well, to testify to all that we have seen and heard, and to the grace that we have experienced.

Introduction to John

The Gospel of John is the fourth and most unique of the four Canonical Gospels.  John the Apostle wrote this Gospel later than Matthew, Mark, and Luke and writes to a much wider audience as well.

John records the life of Jesus in an effort to prove Jesus’ identity as the divine Son of God who is one with the Father.  His writing is highly symbolic, a literary masterpiece.  One could read John on the surface and gain considerable knowledge and wisdom, or start to dig deep and find truths and wisdom that come alive in the text.  I have heard it likened to a swimming pool: you can splash around in the shallow end or dive into the deep end; in either case you will still get wet!

Because of the way John writes, this Gospel is not considered a “Synoptic” Gospel.  John records things in a way that brings out the truth that is being proclaimed here.  Some have argued that, because of John’s lack coherence with the other Gospels, it calls into question the truth of Jesus.  Yet it is important for us to know that “facts” and “truth” are not necessarily always the same thing.  While facts are always true (think: timelines, dates, weights, etc.), truths are boundless and timeless (think: parables, stories, proverbs, etc.).  The Gospel of John contains some of the deepest truths about Christ, even if its timeline is not the same as the other Gospels.

Things to look out for:

John’s Outline:

  • Prologue – 1:1-1:18
  • Book of Signs – 1:19-12:50
    • Sometimes considered the general revelation of Jesus.  Contains 7 miracles of Jesus during His public ministry.
  • Book of Glory – 13:1-20:31
    • Sometimes considered the special revelation of Jesus.  His public ministry finished, Jesus shares with His disciples and then goes to the cross.
  • Epilogue – 21:1-21:25

John records 7 statements made by Jesus, all pointing to who He is as God. Photo Credit:

John records 7 statements made by Jesus, all pointing to who He is as God.
Photo Credit:

Luke 24 – Emmaus

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The narrative of the Road to Emmaus is unique to the book of Luke and sets the stage for Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances.  It also shows us a very particular way that God reveals Himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ through the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.  It was in the moment in which Jesus broke the bread that His true identity is revealed to the two men that were with Him.  We believe that this continues to be true when we come to the Table of Our Lord.  When we eat the bread and drink the juice, Jesus is revealed to us in a unique and mysterious way.

There is another thing that is happening in this story that is really special; it is a narrative of those who are searching for answers and finding them in God’s Word which is the revelation of God and points to Jesus Christ as the true Messiah and Savior.

These two men are walking a road from Jerusalem, after seeing and hearing all of what happened in Jesus’ death.  The implication here is that they are part of those who followed Jesus and were at least somewhat familiar with Him.  But they are also confused about what just happened.  Sometimes this is true with us as we see God at work in our lives; we don’t truly understand it.

Yet Jesus appears, not miraculously and powerfully to chastise them for their questions, but instead comes along side them and joins in their conversation, gently and purposefully revealing Himself through the teaching of Scripture.  God is not afraid of our questions or our faith struggles; He directs us through the Holy Spirit to the true and certain revelation of who He is and His love for us in Scripture.

Luke 23 – Stark Reality

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The series of events that directly leads to Jesus death include at least two hearings of a judicial nature,a beating, torture, a death march, the act of crucifixion, and the process of dying which took hours.

Crucifixion is the most horrific way ever invented to kill a human being. Jesus death took that to an entirely new level. Most people didn’t actually survive a flogging much less a march down main street after being flogged.  It makes the term “cruel and unusual punishment” looks like a warm summer day at the park.

As cruel as all of this seems, there is a deeper reality that we don’t often think of when it comes to this: Jesus did this for us while we were still sinners.  Sometimes we who believe in Jesus do not realize this, having found our Savior and experienced His grace, but Jesus died for those who don’t believe too.

This, my friends, is the true depth of God’s love for us; Jesus died so that anyone and everyone would always have the possibility of salvation, even if they never come to know Him.  The true beauty in this self-sacrificial death is that the act itself is not dependent on a decision from us, but rather it creates the possibility of a decision for all, whether they take it or not.

While it may seem of little consequence to those longing for loved ones to come to know Christ, it is important to remember that the fact they can even consider the question of “who Jesus is” comes from the stark reality of what Jesus did.  Like a parent who loves a child, even in the midst of rejection, so God loves us and always leaves the porchlight on for those who want to come home.