Losing our Sense of Wonder – John 2

When I read the story of Jesus clearing the temple I often wonder about how all those money changers got in there. Certainly no one walked up one day and said, “I have a great idea…let’s fill this place up so full of merchants that we will forget why we came here in the first place!” John points out that they are not in the temple proper. Rather, they are in the temple courts. The sounds of worship could easily be drowned out by the hustle and bustle of what, from a purely economic point of view, would be the perfectly placed market. The desire for profit quickly outgrew the desire for worship and the call to be emptied of self was replaced by the eager desire to fill their pockets.

How often do we stand in the presence of the divine and settle to be filled with the temporary? How can that happen? It happens when we stand in his presence for so long that we lose our sense of wonder. The extraordinary becomes the ordinary and before we know it we are peddling our faith as if it were on level with a watch or a new suit. It is little wonder that the same ones who failed to understand the awesomeness and majesty of the God and whose temple they stood in the shadow of also failed to recognize his glory when he hung on the cross.

We have a serious problem when we begin to trust the place more than the person and when we elevate religious practice over relationship. This was not a new problem. It had been repeated over and over again in Israel’s history (see Jer 7:1-15) and it still happens today. I hope that the senatorial investigations of certain ministries do not find that several high profile ministers in America have fallen into the ever common trap of having lost their sense of wonder. Although less visible, it is certainly no less significant when it happens in the pews rather than in the pulpits. Let us renew our sense of wonder by respecting God and remember that although we hear the message over and over and although he is present with us even today it does not lessen the significance of the fact that God is truly awesome.


Jesus Turns Water into Wine – John 2

In John 2 we have the story of Jesus’ first miracle. It is no coincidence that John prefaces this story by saying it took place on the third day. The beginning of his ministry and the end of it will start with a period of three days. Also, the next time we will find Jesus’ mother in the gospel of John will be at the cross. Wine will also preface the cross as Jesus will celebrate the Passover with the disciples he called in chapter one. Last, Jesus says that his time “has not yet come.” That is a clear reference to the glorification that he will receive. It will ultimately come at the cross.

The most important detail of this miracle is the object lesson Jesus uses to make his point. He has six stone water jars used for ceremonial washing filled with water and as we are all familiar with he changes their contents from water to wine. These jars would have had to been filled with “living water,” which they defined as water from a moving source rather than stagnate water. That will tie in to the woman at the well in John 4. Jesus’ message is that a new thing is happening in which the old order of things will be changed. Transformation is a major part of Jesus’ ministry in John. When Jesus, the Word made flesh, comes on the scene, things will never be the same. The old order will be fulfilled and open up a door into what had been planned from the very beginning. This act and first of his seven miraculous signs points ahead to the wedding banquet we will participate in when the church is wedded to the bridegroom in heaven (Rev 21). There is also a note of compassion as Jesus saves this family from social disgrace.

What needs to be changed in your life? What still awaits transformation? Maybe we have put it off for so long that we need to realize, “the hour has come” for those things to be purified by God through Christ. Let him take the old from your life and make it new. What traditions are you still holding on to that need to be released to serve a new and fuller purpose?

The Beginning of Jesus’ Ministry – John 1:19-3:36

This topic will span a couple of posts. As mentioned previously, John’s prologue to his gospel (1:1-19) gave us some witnesses as to who Jesus really is. His testimony comes from above (God) and is also displayed below in four ways:

  1. The creation that was made through him (1:1-5)
  2. John the Baptist (1:6-8 & 1:15)
  3. Incarnation (1:14)
  4. The early Christian witnesses/John the apostle (1:14 – “we have seen his glory…who came from the Father…”)

In verse 19, we return to the one who testifies below about Jesus’ divinity, John the Baptist. While the story of Jesus’ baptism is not present it is certainly implied (1:32). From the very beginning Jesus is referred to as “the Lamb of God” (1:29 and 1:36). Within that title is the recognition from early on as to what Jesus’ purpose is. He is the paschal lamb that will take away the sins of the world. Jesus is also recognized early as the Messiah by Andrew in John 1:41. As mentioned before this does not come out in Mark until halfway through the book (chapter 8).


Chapters 1-3 are bookened by John the Baptist and his understanding of the role he was assigned to. Chapters 2-4 are bookended by miracles at Cana. When John the Baptist’s followers leave him to follow Jesus (1:35ff), he knew that was part of his purpose. When he finds out that Jesus’ disciples are now baptizing more than his, he is filled with joy because he knows he is not in a popularity contest (3:27ff). He is filling a subservient role that points to someone greater than himself. It is summed up by John’s statement in 3:30 – “He must become greater, I must become less.” If more Christians subscribed to that attitude and each focused on doing our part to further the kingdom we would be much healthier and more effective in our ministries. Satan loves to try to get us to flip that statement. When we buy into Satan’s version it results in impotent efforts to reach the lost and infighting rather than fighting our real spiritual enemy (Eph 6:12).

The Nature and Character of Jesus’ Ministry

Between the John the Baptist bookends we find Jesus’ power displayed through the first miracle of his ministry, his zeal displayed through his clearing the temple, and his knowledge displayed through his conversation with Nicodemus. Each of these verify that the bookending testimony of the witnesses in the prologue is true. Each of these three characteristics of Jesus’ early ministry will be dealt with in upcoming posts.

Side notes

Before we get into that I want to toss in a couple of side notes that don’t really fit anywhere but I would like to have somewhere for future reference:

  1. 1:47 – there is a play on words between “Israel” and having “no deceit” as the name Jacob/Israel is an idiom in Hebrew for someone who deceives or “grasps the heel.” To be tripped up is to be deceived. Jesus again refers to “Israel” by his reference in 1:51 to Jacob/Israel’s experience with the angels.
  2. 1:48 – “How do you know me?” more literally reads, “Where do you know me from?” Jesus’ answer is a place, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree…”
  3. Messianic ties to the fig tree (1 Kings 4:25 and Micah 4:4)
  4. Water to wine – the only miracle in John not in the synoptic gospels.
  5. 2:4 – “Woman” was not an impolite term (Mtt 15:28, John 4:21, 8:10, 19:26, and 20:13).
  6. 2:10 – older translations supply the word “men” but it is not original
  7. 2:12 – “he went down to Capernaum” – the landscape is more elevated at Cana than Capernaum. Jesus literally descended the hill to get to Capernaum.
  8. Jesus clears the temple – this is almost certainly in the outer courts/the court of Gentiles. There was a rule that there were to be no weapons inside this area. That is why Jesus had to fashion a weapon from what he found there.
  9. 2:16 – play on words – literally reads, “Stop turning my Father’s house into a house of market…” It is much more plain a play on words in Greek than in the NIV (which totally leaves out the word “house” in reference to “market.” I am thinking this would have been more plain in Aramaic than in Greek.
  10. For more references and background to Jesus clearing the temple see Josephus Antiquities 15.11.1, 380, Jeremiah 7:11, Psalm 69:9, Zech 14:21, Isa 56:7, Hag 2:7-9, Mic 3:12, and Ezek 40-46

Signs in the Gospel of John

One of the most important components of the Gospel of John are the presence of signs. In what appears to be John’s purpose statement for his Gospel (20:30-31) he states that the signs that have been recorded in this Gospel have been purposely put there to build our faith resulting in eternal life. N.T. Wright describes the meaning of Signs in the gospel of John like this,

The whole point of signs is that they are moments when heaven and earth intersect with each other. (That’s what the Jews believed happened in the Temple.) The point is not that they are stories which couldn’t have happened in real life, but which point away from earth to a heavenly reality. – N.T. Wright John for Everyone, 21.

Wright connects Jesus’ statement at the beginning of his ministry in John 1:50-51 with the meaning of the Signs, “Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You shall see greater things than that…I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” As Wright rightly stated, the signs are moments when heaven and earth are connected. They are moments when the heavenly reality becomes earthly reality. What the Jews believed happened only in the temple, the connection of heaven and earth, Jesus brings in his person. He is now the connection point between men and God. Let’s have a look at the Signs in the Gospel of John.

The Gospel of John can be divided into two parts. These two parts have been referred to as the Book of Signs (1:19-12:50) and the Book of Glory (13:1-20:31) with a concluding Epilogue (21:1-25). To show how clear a divide there is in the gospel on Signs initiating belief with the result of life for the people and death for Jesus have a look at the frequency and location of the word “sign” in John. It is used 16 times between John 1 and John 12. It is used only one time in the remaining chapters and that instance being in John’s purpose statement in 20:30-31.

The Book of Signs contains 7 signs that all lead up to the final sign that is contained in John 18-20, the glorification of Jesus on the cross and through the resurrection. There are actually more signs referred to (2:23) but seven that are described.

Book of Signs

  1. Water to wine (2:1-12)
  2. Healing of the official’s son (4:43-54)
  3. Healing a paralyzed man (5:1-15)
  4. Feeding 5000 (6:1-15)
  5. Walking on water (6:16-24)
  6. Healing a man born blind (9:1-12)
  7. Raising Lazarus from the dead (11:1-44)

Book of Glory

8. Resurrection of Jesus (18-20)

While the initial 7 signs are all connection points between heaven and earth, the final sign is the ultimate as Jesus is suspended between heaven and earth to bring forgiveness from heaven above to earth below. Jesus alludes to this in his speech to Nicodemus in John 3:14-15 “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

The first seven signs initiate the final sign, especially raising Lazarus from the dead which infuriates many of the religious leaders and leads to plots to kill Jesus 11:45-57. In these verses the Sanhedrin meets and they say, “What are we accomplishing? Here is this man performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation…” (11:47-48). Even they understood how the signs were resulting in belief. We also see the temple come up again. Little do they realize that Jesus himself is performing the function of the temple – God’s presence among his people, the sacrifice, and the connection between heaven and earth. Then Caiaphas unwittingly prophesies of the final sign in John by saying, “You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.” (11:50).

I appreciate the Gospel of John because I know how much my faith has been built by it. As Jesus told Thomas, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (20:29). I hope you receive a blessing from having a fresh look at the Gospel of John. Next up, John 1:19-51.

In the Beginning… – John 1

When I think of John 1 (English, Greek), I think of a text that a visiting or interviewing preacher would probably use for a home run sermon. I am not sure why I think this because there is so much to John’s prologue (1:1-18) that doing it justice is a pretty big undertaking. This post is going to point out a few things that I have found helpful in understanding the prologue to the gospel of John. The other gospels give us clues to who Jesus is from early on in their gospels. John starts out point blank – Jesus is God. He doesn’t talk about his infancy or the prophesies concerning his birth or his lineage. He goes back way before all of those things came to be – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men.” Without this on the front end what is about to happen isn’t going to make a whole lot of sense. He starts the story with the very beginning of everything and how Jesus Christ was present in the very beginning. He was active in creation and active in giving life to that creation. That is important to understand on the front end because throughout his ministry Jesus will continue to use his authority to transform creation and by those signs (8 of them in John) our response should be belief with the result of having life through Him.

Following the 8th and final sign, the resurrection of Jesus (which is the only sign in the “Book of Glory”…the other 7 signs being in the first 12 chapters), and the testimony of Thomas in 20:24-29 we get the purpose statement of the gospel – “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. All of these things are reflected in John’s prologue (1:12-13).

Believe – 98 times in John, 34 in the other three Gospels

Life – 66 times in John, 69 in the rest of the New Testament

Truth – 85 times in John, 78 in the rest of the New Testament

What is also mentioned is the fact that in order to make the kingdom of God come in all of its fullness it had to come as the Word made flesh. There will be several voices proclaiming who Jesus is in the Gospel of John. Even the Gospel itself is a voice recalling who Jesus was and what he has done. But there is only one Word and that Word has the power to create, transform, and even give life. John 1:14 – “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the father, full of grace and truth.” Here is the first instance of “monogenes” – the “one and only.” This is the same word used in John 3:16 of Jesus that basically means “unique.” The translation “only begotten” is not entirely accurate as this term is used in Hebrews 11:7 of Isaac as Abraham’s “unique” son. Abraham had other children. Jesus is still God’s only Son but it is important to realize that there is more to that term than that. We also find the pairing of “grace and truth” which was a common pairing in the Old Testament (Psalm 25:10, 61:7, 86:15, Proverbs 20:28 and later in Revelation 19:11. “Grace” appears 6 times in John all in the prologue. Truth appears twice in the prologue and 50 times in the remaining chapters.

The prologue closes by mentioning the law and Moses. Moses knew God “face to face.” Jesus is God and as the TNIV translates 1:18 – “and is in closest relationship with the Father,” which literally says, “Is in the bosom of the Father.” Jesus is entirely connected with God. He is not on a conversation level connection with God. He is God. When he is on earth as the Word made flesh he is a connecting point between heaven and earth. The Jewish temple was thought of as the connection between heaven and earth. In Jesus that is changed from a place to a person. Where Jesus goes, God is. No one else could claim that. That is why in John 1:51 Jesus tells his new disciples, “Very truly I tell you, you will see heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man…”

Structure of 1:1-18
Many believe John wrote the first 18 verses and 20:30ff after finishing the body of the gospel. In the first 18 verses we get many of the major themes of the gospel and are introduced to John the baptist. These verses have a very specific structure known as a chiastic structure that pivots on the central theme of the Gospel of John – that these things were done so that we would believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the incarnate Word. Craig Blomberg lays it out nicely:

A) 1:1-5 – The nature of the Word

B) 1:6-8 – John the Baptist

C) 1:9-11 – Incarnation

D) 1:12-13 (center) – Positive reception of the Word

C) 1:14 – Incarnation

B) 1:15 – John the Baptist

A) 1:16-18 – The nature of the Word

The prologue also gives us hints at John’s broader structure of the gospel. 1:11 foreshadows 1:19-12:50 (the Book of Signs) and 1:12 foreshadows 13:1-20:31 (the Book of Glory). Sorry if these thoughts are a little random. I just need all of these in one place for future reference!

Gospel of John – Starting a New Class

We are going to start studying the Gospel of John in our 20s & 30s class starting tomorrow. I will probably end up posting a few things on it as we go. There are a couple of things that stand out from the very beginning. The biggest thing, of course, is the differences between John and the synoptic gospels (Matthew ,Mark, & Luke). John leaves out many of the main stories of the other three gospels (Jesus’ baptism and subsequent wilderness temptations, Peter’s confession, the Last Supper. He leaves out many of the miracles and even the parables.

Mark leads up to the revelation that Jesus is indeed the Son of God halfway through his Gospel. Up to that point, Jesus urges people not to talk about him as the messiah. John hits us with it in the very first sentence – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.” Surprise! Without this piece of knowledge on the front end, the reader would left to struggle through Jesus’ teachings from that point on. Jesus makes no bones about it – he is divine.

I am also struck by the simplicty of John’s words (his Greek is among the simplist in the NT) and the complexity of his meaning. Several of John’s major themes and words are used in several different ways. There is also a lot of confusion over Jesus teaching as Jesus shifts the meaning of his teaching from earthly things (water at the well or being born again) to the heavenly things (living water or born of water and of Spirit).

What has stood out to you about the Gospel of John?