Book of JOHN


Introduction to JOHN

Introductory Issues

A couple of introductory notes, there is a masterful commentary on John by Leon Morris, published by Eerdmans. It’s thick, but it is just a marvelous book. I had him as a teacher in seminary and he would always just lecture from his Greek Bible. He never had any notes and there were times we were following along his footnotes and he was quoting his footnotes from memory. He’s Australian, and it’s one of the best commentaries that I think there is.

Critical Issues

I need to say something about critical issues. I tend not to spend much time on those kinds of things in this class, but the Gospel of John is attacked ferociously by liberals and by some conservatives in terms of when was it written and other critical issues. If that’s something that’s important to you, if you like knowing why we think Matthew wrote Matthew and Mark wrote Mark and if you want to know the history of interpretation, an extremely good book is An Introduction to the New Testament by D. A. Carson, Douglas J. Moo and Leon Morris. It’s published by Zondervan. I used this as a textbook one year, and it’s a very good book. It’s very detailed, but helpful if you want to get into the detail of arguments, like why we think that John is accurate in his portrayal of Jesus when it’s so different than the Synoptics. Those are the kinds of questions they deal with in detail and all three of them are very conservative. I recommend the book highly.

There are three basic issues where the Gospel of John is going to be attacked. Let me just tell you what they are and give you a one sentence explanation. First, people like to attack John by saying that it’s not accurate and that it wasn’t written by the Apostle because it’s different from the Synoptics. The betrayal of Jesus in John is significantly different. There’s a different timeline; he talks differently. There are quite a few things that are different. The answer in a nutshell is that John was written after the Synoptics; I think everybody agrees with that. Matthew, Mark, and Luke were already around when John wrote and it’s generally believed, at least in Evangelical circles, that he just didn’t want to replicate what everyone else had done so he wrote his gospel after Matthew, Mark, and Luke were done. He wanted to present it from a different point of view and to give a fresh look of Jesus. In other words, it’s intentionally different. Now that doesn’t mean it’s wrong, it just means it’s different, and that’s okay.

Secondly, one of the criticisms leveled against the fourth Gospel is that the theology is more developed. The accusation is that it can’t be as historical because the theology is so developed. For example, if somebody said, “Well I don’t believe that Jesus is God” where would you go to prove them wrong? John. It’s mostly implicit (sometimes explicit) in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, but nothing like in John: “I and the Father are One.” Those statements that we find in John, you just don’t find in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The accusation is that the theology is more developed and therefore it cannot be accurate. The answer is simply that I believe John is making explicit what was historically implicit. For example, I don’t think that John is telling us anything that Matthew, Mark and Luke haven’t already told us, he’s just trying to make clearer to us what Jesus intended. For example, Mark can say, “I’m going to show you that Jesus is the Son of God,” so he starts showing you all the things that Jesus does and the conclusion that you draw implicitly from the story is the only person who can do all this—walk on water, power over sickness, power over demons—the only person who can do that is God. See that’s implicitly arguing for the deity of Christ. John records those sayings that just makes it explicit: “I and the Father are one,” “I Am.” These are things that we’ll talk about. I think that is all that’s going on. John knew what Jesus meant and he’s taking that and making it clear and more understandable. This is a difficult area. I’ll say it that way because I want to believe that every single word I read in the Gospel is exactly what Jesus said, but of course it isn’t, because he spoke in Aramaic and there’s no Aramaic in the New Testament. I think at most what I’m comfortable saying is that John has had some freedom with the handling of the stories and he’s not telling us anything that contradicts the Synoptics; he’s just trying to bring out the points that were implicit in Jesus’s words and he’s making them explicit. I don’t know of any other way to handle it and I don’t know of another evangelical scholar that would disagree with that. There’s a new book by Craig Blomberg on the historicity of the fourth Gospel and again that would be another good book to go to if you want to go into detail with this.

The third reason why the Gospel of John is attacked is because Jesus has a habit in the fourth Gospel of moving from dialogue to monologue. For example, in John 3, he starts in dialogue with Nicodemus, all the way up to verse 15. Starting at John 3:16, Nicodemus is not anywhere in the story; there’s no interaction with him at all. People have used that to say, “Obviously John’s just making it all up and therefore you can’t trust it.” Part of the answer is that the developed theology tends to be in the monologue section and not the dialogue. If this is too complex, that’s okay. I just needed to mention it because, for example, we had someone in church last year come up who was reading A Case for Christ by Lee Strobel. Lee Strobel’s book was written because he was an atheist and his wife was Christian, and he was going to prove that she was wrong, and in the process of trying to prove that she was wrong he became a Christian. It’s always dangerous to try to prove God wrong, but he says in there that he used these critical questions about John as a way to try to undermine her faith. That’s why I wanted to mention these in passing.

Some critics will say that the monologue is made up. I just think that part of the answer is in the monologue, John is trying to help us understand what he knows Jesus meant and perhaps what he said outside that setting. Also, you’ve got to understand that we are really picky about detail in this culture. In our view of history, if we said it happened on July 5th and it really happened on July 4th, that it’s a mistake and invalid. Ancient historiography simply didn’t care about. I know it’s hard for someone in Western culture to go, “What!” Was it 23,000 or 22,000 killed (when you compare chronicles with the other stories)? Ancient historiography just didn’t really care. You just don’t have this fascination with detail in the ancient writings. That’s true of all ancient literature. I’m just going to mention that in passing because I don’t want you to get caught unawares by someone who talks about these issues.

The concern in all of this is that you trust John because when it comes to understanding who Jesus is, John is our primary source. It’s mostly explicit in John, but it’s different. It truly is a radically different Gospel than Matthew, Mark, and Luke. It is the subject of intense discussion in some circles, but it’s different because I think he wrote it afterwards and he wanted it to have a fresh look at Jesus. I also suspect that John just looked at life differently. We all look at life differently, don’t we? My wife is sanguine; I am choleric. We can both describe the same situation and you’d have no idea we were talking about the same person. We just look at life differently. John, I think, looked at life differently.

Date and Purpose of Writing

The dating of John is generally in the late first century, but again all the arguments for why will be in Carson, Moo and Morris. Why was John written? Flip in the back of your Gospel of John 20:30-31. Just like Luke, John tells us exactly why he is writing, and it helps us interpret the book properly: “Now Jesus did many other signs” (and that’s an important word) “in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book (30).” In other words, he’s had to pick and chose like the other Synoptic writers. “But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (31).” John is a wildly evangelistic book, and he’s telling us that right up front. My whole purpose is to show you that Jesus is the Messiah, but what Messiah? He’s the Son of God Messiah, and there’s a lot of discussion about what it means to be the Son of God in John. But it’s not an intellectual discipline; what he wants you to do is to believe, and as a result of your belief to have life in Jesus’s name. There are two emphases here and this is what I’m going to emphasize throughout this talk. One is believe, or as he has said earlier, many believe into the name of Jesus. It’s about faith and it’s about Christology; it’s about who is Jesus and what it means to be the Son of God.

Structural Overview

In terms of the structure of the Gospel, it’s broken into four different groups or categories: the prologue, 1:1-18, is probably the most important eighteen verses in the Bible. Then, John 1:19 through the end of chapter 12 is the book of signs. Signs, or miracles, are very important to John; this is the life of Christ. The passion week is chapters 13-20, which has the Upper Room Discourse. Then chapter 21 reads almost like a tag on; it’s just an epilogue. Those are the basic divisions of the Gospel.

Prologue: The Divine Logos (John 1:1-18)

Let’s jump right into the prologue. When you’re talking to people and you’re trying to explain to them who Jesus is, this is a great place to take them, especially if it’s someone who says, “I believe that Jesus was a prophet” or “I believe that Jesus was a good man or a great teacher, but nothing more.” If you can just read the first eighteen verses of John to them and explain what the words mean, they’ll never say, “he’s just a good man” again because 1:18 is so strong. So I want to spend a little bit of time just plodding through this and explaining it. Some of you are aware of another website project I have, This is a very loose translation my father did of the Gospel of John and it’s designed specifically for evangelism. It’s translated in such a way that you can know nothing about Jesus or the Bible and you can understand these twenty-one chapters. It’s nice to know about this, because as you are sharing with people, if you don’t have a Bible with you—whether you’re on a bus you can say, “Oh by the way, if you want to read the story of Jesus, just go here. We chose John because the Bible says that John’s purpose is evangelistic and therefore in honoring what John was trying to do we chose John, even though I used to point people to Mark.

In the beginning was the Word (capital W) and the Word was with God and the Word was God. The Greek word behind Word is logos, which has roots in a couple of different things. It is a philosophical term from a philosophy called stoicism. Maybe you’ve heard that stoicism is a philosophy where you lean into trials and adversities, and the only virtue in life there is to get through troubles. Stoicism is actually a lot more than that. They believed in logos, and logos for them was an impersonal force that permeates and controls all things. It’s a force that surrounds all things, is in all things, and controls all things. For stoicism and Greek philosophy, that was the logos. But for them it was an impersonal force.

The other root of the expression is from Judaism. You know how in Proverbs, Solomon speaks as if wisdom is a lady, an individual person. It’s his personification of wisdom. As you go through the years from Solomon’s time, wisdom almost became a personification of God, almost as a separate entity. John has found a term that reaches into the mind of the Greek and into a mind of the Jews. This very thing that you all know about, this impersonal force in stoicism that controls all things, the wisdom of God we’ve reading about, those two things are really one, and that’s who Jesus is. While to us it’s an incomprehensible concept because we’re generally not very well versed in stoicism, it was a very prevalent concept in his day.

He starts by saying this thing that you understand to be permeating and controlling all things, let me tell you about it, it’s really Jesus. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” Now the Jehovah Witnesses make a big deal out of the fact that there’s no “the” in front of God. I can go into a long discussion which will bore you to tears, the Jehovah Witnesses do not know Greek and it’s simply not worth it to get into a conversation. They say, “Well, there’s no article so it’s not the God it’s a God; They believe that Jesus was a created lower being and this is one of their proof texts for it. There is no such word as “the” in Greek. There’s a word that we sometimes translate as “the”, but sometimes it’s “he,” sometimes it’s “our”; there are many ways in which it’s translated, but these people typically don’t study Greek, and so it’s not worth it to get into a discussion. They translate the same phrase later on as “the God,” so it’s not an issue of Greek.

Anyway, this is a fascinating statement of the divinity of Christ. It’s one of the central passages in Scripture that says Jesus IS God. Notice what John is trying to do, and this is what he does all the way through his Gospel. Does he say that Jesus equals God? He never says that. Why can’t he? Because of the Trinity. You can’t say that everything that Jesus is God is, or everything that God is Jesus is. It’s not accurate, because there’s God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. You can see it here: “The Word was with God.” Jesus is someone separate from God the Father, and yet “the Word was God.” This is John working at how to accurately say that Jesus is fully God, and yet there’s more to God than Jesus. There’s a whole lot wrapped up in 1:1. As you’re explaining this to your friend on the bus, you would just point out that it says that the Word, Jesus, is God. It’s the statement of divinity of Christ.

Verse 2: “He was in the beginning with God.” This is the doctrine of the pre-existence of Jesus. The pre-existence has been hinted at right in the genealogies. Jesus was, so it was thought, the son of Joseph. There have been some hints at that, but this is a flat out statement that Jesus existed before he was born. It’s what John the Baptist is going to say later on, and it’s all the way through John.

Verse 3: “All things were made through him and without him was not anything made that was made.” This is the doctrine of Jesus as the Creator. Who was God in Genesis 1? It was Jesus. In Colossians 1:16, it’s talking specifically about Jesus: “For by him all things were created, in Heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.” Even in John 1:10 you have, “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.” It was God the son who created all things. Sometimes the Bible will talk about God the Father as the Creator and the way we handle that is we say God the Father made the decision. God the Father held the ultimate decision making process of saying, “Let us create man in our image,” but it was God the Son who actually accomplished it, who did the work. God the Father plans and initiates; God the Son accomplishes, does the work; God the Holy Spirit completes. At its most fundamental level, that the biblical breakdown of the Trinity. You have God the Father being the creator, but he created through God the Son, and that’s what verse 3 is talking about.

Verse 4: “In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” Real life, salvation life, life after death, life in all its forms comes from Jesus. After all, that’s what 20:30-31 is talking about, “That you may believe and then by believing you may have life in his name.” Jesus is the origin of life. There’s a statement of uniqueness there isn’t it. That life was in Jesus, not anywhere else. The only place for true life is to be found in Jesus.

Verse 5: “The light” meaning Jesus “shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” This is the promise of conflict in Jesus’s life. Even though he created the world, he is going to come and be in conflict with it, but the world will not overcome him. He goes on and talks about John the Baptist for awhile. Then in verses 12-13, he talks about the world rejection of Jesus, saying “but to all who did receive him,” not who earn their way into Heaven but simply receive him or believe in him, “who believed in his name he gave the right to become children of God who were born not of blood nor the will of the flesh nor the will of man, but were born of God.” Again you have Jesus being the author of salvation. It’s a right that he gives, and it’s not something that you can earn.

Verse 14: “The word became flesh and dwelt among us.” This is a verse we used back in the beginning of Matthew when we talked about the incarnation. Remember, incarnation is the doctrine that Jesus was fully God and fully human at the same time. This was the verse we went to, the word flesh is the stuff that hangs off your bones, and dwelt is actually the verb form of the word tabernacle. The tabernacle was the dwelling place of God on earth. Jesus came fully human and tabernacled, lived, among us. “We have seen his glory, the glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Jesus is the only Son. This is the phrase that in the King James they translated that he is the only begotten. This is a possible translation, but it’s not the most likely. The emphasis is not that God the Father begat God the Son, rather, the emphasis is on the uniqueness of Christ. It’s not from any form of the word “to be born”; it’s from another word that’s primary meaning gives us the only Son. What you have here is a super strong affirmation of the uniqueness of Christ, that he’s the only Son of God that there is.

Jump down to verse 18 to see two more things. “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” Who is “the only God?” You’ve got to think about this one for a second. If you supply Father and Son you can see it. “No one has ever seen God (the Father); the only God (the Son) who is at the Father’s side….” The only God can’t be the Father because the only God is at the Father’s side. They have to be two different people, again, this is one of the strongest statements for the divinity of Christ.

John is not wanting to be crystal clear. John writes like Jesus speaks. He writes in a way that you have to mull it over; you have to think about it, reflect on it, and once you do that you can say, “Oh, that’s really clear.” It’s designed to make you think and to mull. They play with your mind a little. That’s what parables do, right? When the lawyer said, “Who’s my neighbor?” Jesus didn’t say, “Whoever needs your help.” Jesus said, “There once was a man who went from Jerusalem to Jericho…,” and so he tells a parable. Why not just say it? Well, because he wants people to mull it over, to think about it, to reflect on it, to commit themselves to it. John’s doing the same all the way through this Gospel. You can’t just read it through like you can Mark. That’s why the translation we did in is very loose, because we were trying to explain it as we go.

“No one has ever seen God, the only God (this is Jesus), who is the Father’s son, he has made him known.” Two statements: (1) Jesus is the only God, and (2) No one reveals God except Jesus—not Buddha, not Confucius, not Mary Baker Eddy, not Joseph Smith, no one. Jesus is the revealer of God. You have these two very strong statements in verse 18.

I would encourage you to spend some time getting comfortable with these 18 verses. Pick up a commentary and read through it, because it’s one of those passages, as you’re talking to people, if the setting is right you can read through and just read a verse and explain it, read a verse and explain it and it’s a very powerful passage for understanding Christology and who Jesus is.

The Book of Signs (John 1:19-12:50)

We start reading about Jesus’s public ministry in 1:19 all the way through chapter 12. There are seven signs. The other Gospels call them miracles. John calls them signs because the primary function of miracles in John is to identify Christ, is to point to Christ and to say this is who he really is. He doesn’t use the word miracle; he uses the word sign. For example, there’s the feeding of the 5,000, and then Jesus says, “I am the bread of life.” The feeding of the 5,000 is a sign that Jesus is the bread of life, that it is he who provides sustenance and the things that bread do for you and for me. The miraculous works for John are first and foremost signs pointing to the true character of who Jesus is. There are 7 major ones in the Gospel.

Also notice that in 2:13 it says, “The Passover of the Jews was at hand.” We’ve said that we believe that Jesus had a public ministry of three and a half years, because there are  three Passovers in John  and some time on either side so it works out to roughly three and a half years. There is an unnamed feast in John 5:1, if that’s the Passover then his public ministry may have been 4 years, but it’s these references in John that give us an idea how long the ministry was. I don’t think you’d have any idea in reading Mark that Jesus’s public ministry was for 3 years because it’s so abbreviated. There’s the first of the Passovers.

John the Baptist (John 1:19-34)

We read about John the Baptist; he identifies himself as the forerunner of Jesus, as getting people prepared. The citation that he gives is from Isaiah, but the function that he is performing is in Malachi. It’s the last 2 verses of the Old Testament, where Malachi prophesies that God is going to send Elijah before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD, and he will turn the hearts of fathers to their sons. The forerunner was a person who was getting everyone ready for the coming of the Messiah, and John is claiming to be that person.

You’ll notice in John 1:29 that John says about John the Baptist, “The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (29)! This is he of whom I said, “After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me (30).”’” Again there are sermons in every one of these verses, so I’ve got to pick and chose. There is a statement of the pre-existence of Christ, that he was before me, even though we know that John was born before Jesus was born. One of the most important things there is that John makes it clear that Jesus is the Lamb of God; he is a sacrifice of God; his purpose is to die for the sins of other people.

In verse 32, “32John bore witness: ‘I saw the Spirit descend from Heaven like a dove, and it remained on him.’” This is John reflecting back on Jesus’s baptism when he heard the voice from Heaven and he saw the dove come down. The reason this is so important is that John is saying that Ezekiel 36 is now fulfilled. In Ezekiel 36:26-27, Ezekiel prophesies that God’s spirit would come and would give us new hearts. That promise in Ezekiel was joined with a promise of a new covenant in Jeremiah that the new covenant, God’s law written on our hearts was going to be brought about through the work of God’s spirit. John is saying that that’s what Jesus is doing: he’s the Lamb of God; he’s going to die for the sins of the world; he is fully possessed by God’s spirit; he is going to give us the new hearts and change us the way Ezekiel promised that God’s spirit would change us. Verse 34: “I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” John is drawing attention to pre-existence, filling by the Spirit, fulfillment of Ezekiel 36, and that he’s the Son of God. There’s a lot in a short paragraph. You can’t read this and say, that Jesus was just a good man.

The Wedding at Cana and Cleansing the Temple (John 2)

We move into chapter 2, and Jesus does his first miracle. At the Wedding at Cana, he turns the water into wine and evidently very good wine, which is more of the indication of the quality of Jesus’s miracles than anything else. That was the first sign that was pointing to the fact that he was more than just this Galilean prophet or Rabbi.

Jesus goes down to Jerusalem—again we wouldn’t know this from the Synoptics. He had an initial ministry in Jerusalem where he cleanses the temple. We talked about how most likely what happened was that he bookended his ministry with this act. Here in John, he goes into the temple into the court of the Gentiles, and the Jews had turned the court of the Gentiles, the only place that Gentiles could go to pray to God, into a market place. So here at the beginning of his ministry, Jesus goes in, he overturns the tables, and he releases a lot of the animals. It’s a statement of judgment on Judaism and how wicked and how irreligious they had become. Most people believe that he goes through his whole life and at the end of his ministry he does the very same thing all over again because they’re still the same nation. They had turned the temple into a place to make a lot of money.

Nicodemus and the Necessity of Rebirth (John 3)

He’s still in Jerusalem in John 3. This is the story of Nicodemus. Especially the first fifteen verses here are phenomenally important verses. Nicodemus was a Rabbi who came to Jesus at night, either because that’s when Rabbis studied, or because he didn’t want anyone to know that he was talking to Jesus. Verse 3: “Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’” Nicodemus did not have a clue what he was talking about: “How can a man be born when he is old, can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” I can only image that Nicodemus was being very sarcastic; I don’t think it was a friendly response. “Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.’” That’s a tremendously important phrase. The important thing here, and actually the important thing in the whole paragraph, is what is water and spirit? There is some controversy on this, but I think that the water is a reference to John’s baptism and John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. I think that when Jesus says that you have to be born of water, it means that if you’re going to enter the Kingdom of God, first and foremost, you have to repent. This is the same message that John the Baptist had been preaching. Jesus’s baptism is a baptism of the spirit—a baptism of regeneration—it’s a baptism of renewal. So what Jesus is saying is that you can’t get into Heaven until you have repented and God has changed you. By the power of his spirit he has regenerated and renewed you. He’s made you into a new person and he has given you a new birth, or in Paul’s language, he’s made you into a new creation. This is why the Ezekiel’s 36 passage is so important. That’s why I pointed it out earlier because I think that helps explain some of the imagery. Remember Ezekiel says that God’s Spirit was going to give us new hearts—hearts of flesh—and that’s the imagery that’s being carried over. In order to enter into the Kingdom of God you have to be born of water and spirit, both John’s baptism of repentance and Jesus’s baptism of regeneration and renewal. These are elsewhere referred to as baptism of water and fire.

What’s interesting is that as you start reading through chapter 3, the language changes. In verse 16, Jesus is still talking about the same thing, but the language has changed: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” Being baptized in water and spirit becomes believing in. Entering the Kingdom of God means that you have eternal life. It’s critical that you see the connection, otherwise you’ll misunderstand what believe means, but as you read through this passage, you’ll realize that while the language is changing they’re still talking about the same reality. If you want to get into the Kingdom of God you must be born of water and the spirit, if you want to have eternal life, you must believe in his son, you must believe in Jesus. We’re talking about the same reality; the terminology has just shifted.

“Belief” in John

I’ve talked in the past about my views of what I call event Christianity — that Christianity for some people is a single event, and whether you live the life of a disciple afterwards is irrelevant. The people who hold to an “event Christianity” position go to John to say that there’s no doctrine of repentance in John. You don’t have to repent you just have to have this one positive experience and you’re forever saved from the fire of Hell. The reason the connection between verses 3, 5, and 16 is so important is that it helps you to not misunderstand what John means by believe when he says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” I believe in him. In verse 5, believing in Jesus is being born of water and the spirit. It’s undergoing repentance AND undergoing the change that happens when you and I become Christians. As I’ve started to say now, changed people live changed ways. To believe in the Gospel of John is to be born of water and the spirit; it is to have this important event of repentance and renewal, but once you’ve been changed inside, it’s going to affect how you are changed outside. This point goes all the way through John. It’s true that he doesn’t use repentance language, but he makes it crystal clear that you and I are to be different from the rest of the world. It’s explicit there in verses 3 and 5, but also in verses 19-21: “This is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil (19). For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed (20).” Then does it say, “but whoever has walked down the aisle of a church and signed the Roll Book”? No, but “whoever does what is true.” There’s no room in John’s way of thinking of having this momentary event.

In fact, John is stronger than everyone else put together in saying that he who is born of God does not sin. If you confess your sins, God will forgive you, but don’t sin. There has to be a change. Your deeds have to become deeds of light and not deeds of darkness and wickedness. For example, in John 17:14, it’s going to talk about the world hating us. Why does the world hate us? Because we’re different, and we’re not different because we raised our hand or said a prayer or had an important conversion experience, it’s that our lives are changed, and we live in contrast to the world. John’s picture of the Christian life is abiding. It is very clear that John expects the person to change and that God changes them in a conversion and then they live changed way. That’s what “believe in” means. I’ve repented, God has changed me and now I’m going to abide in him and I’m going to live a life wherein a decreasing measure sin has any role at all.

You can handle the misunderstanding of believe by looking at the disciple’s lives and John, but also to look at the phrase “believe in.” The Greek is not “believe in”; the Greek is “believe into,” and John is breaking Greek grammar. This horrible Greek grammar, which cannot find in any of the archives of ancient Greek literature, is intentionally terrible Greek, because John doesn’t want us to misunderstand belief as simple intellectual assent. The preposition into means that we are moving out of ourselves and into Jesus, that there’s movement. It’s a real mystical concept and so it’s really hard to define, but I think that what John is saying is that biblical belief is no longer believing in ourselves, but in transferring our trust out of ourselves into Jesus. Paul’s version of this is that you and I are in Christ, that there’s this mystical union that exists: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”

For John, when he says, “I want you to know that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God and that by believing in him you may have life in his name,” what he wants is for us not only to come to the point of faith, to not only come to the intellectual apprehension that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God, but in doing so to move trust out of ourselves and to start trusting in Jesus. That’s why the event Christianity is so bad because there’s none of that. If you read the Psalms 46, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble (1). Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea (2), though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling (3).” No matter what happens it is God who is my refuge and God is my strength. Why? I trust him. What is there to trust about him? The answer is everything, absolutely everything. We stop trusting in ourselves and move that trust into Jesus.

It was what Jesus was talking about in Mark 8; denying yourself, taking up your cross and following me, saying no to yourself and saying yes to following Jesus. These are all different ways of saying the same thing. Sometimes in Greek, John does say believe in, but most of the time, it’s believe into, and like I said, he’s butchering Greek grammar in the same way that you and I will intentionally make a grammatical error to make a point.

The Samaritan Woman (John 4)

In chapter 4, Jesus is going back north to Galilee, and he goes through Samaria and enters into an interesting discussion with a woman of Samaria. Verses 23-24 are especially important. He gets a little close to home with his questioning, so she says, “Where do you think you should worship? The Jews think Jerusalem, but we think here.” And Jesus said, “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth (23).” By spirit, he means it’s not tied to a specific geographical location, but it’s something that is inner and it is in fact, something that is the work of the Spirit (Capital S). It’s not something that is localized, it’s Spirit, and it’s in truth in that it’s in accordance with Scripture.

Jesus Heals like his Father (John 5)

In chapter 5 there is a healing of someone at a pool in a place called Bethesda in Jerusalem. There are a lot of things going on in this passage, but perhaps the most important is the emphasis that Jesus is the Son of God. Let me say a few things about Son of God. Now remember that John’s purpose for writing is to show that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God, so this is central to what’s going on in this Gospel. John 5:17: “But Jesus answered them, ‘My Father is working until now, and I am working.’” He says that God is his Father. This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, and in their minds what this means is that you’re making yourself equal with God.

Jesus is referred to as the Son of God, and in some religions or some cults what they will claim is that he’s not claiming to be God, just God’s son. The answer is to say that even alluding to God as your Father is enough for the Jews to understand that you’re claiming to be God. Now in our registers when we hear that word we would never make that conclusion would we. If someone said, well God’s my father, we may think that he’s a nut case or something, but we wouldn’t think that he was claiming to be God, but there was something in that culture that made that equation. That’s really important because if you’re trying to prove to someone that Jesus claimed to be God, they could come back and say, “No, he never claimed to be God, he just claimed to be the Son of God.” This is one of the two important places to go to say, no, when you start using family language of God, he is claiming to be equal to God; he’s claiming to be God.

Even in his trial in John 19:7, the Jews say to Pilate, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God.” The law they’re talking about is blasphemy—claiming to be God. In their minds, family language, being a Son of God was claiming to be God. What is fascinating, and I’m just going to read them really quickly to you, is to read the Book of John and write down all the ways in which God the Father and Jesus are connected: Jesus does God’s will. Jesus gives eternal life to whomever he wishes and yet later on he says that he’s giving eternal life to those God the Father has given to him. Which one is it Jesus, is it whoever you wish or are you giving eternal life to those that God the Father has given to you? Jesus says that he speaks only by the Father’s authority; he only does what he sees the Father doing and he does only what the Father has taught him to do. To believe in Jesus is to believe in the Father. To know Jesus is to know the Father. To see Jesus is to see the Father. The Father dwells in Jesus and Jesus dwells in the Father. To glorify Jesus is to glorify the Father. To not honor the Son is to not honor the Father. There’s more, but you see what John is doing is that he’s giving us Jesus’s teachings about the unity that exists between Jesus and God the Father. The only possible conclusion to draw is that Jesus is either a liar, a lunatic, or God, because God the Father and God the son in the Gospel of John are intertwined so closely that it’s impossible that these statements be true unless Jesus is God. It’s interesting to read through the Gospel and keep track of those things.

Feeding the 5000 and the “I Am” Statements (John 6)

In chapter 6, we have the story of the feeding of the 5,000 where Jesus multiplies the loaves and the two fish. He moves into the discussion that he is the bread of life and then some of the more important statements in terms of Christology occur—these are called the “I am” sayings; there are seven. Jesus says, I am the bread of life, in other words, I am fully satisfying, I am your nourishment. “I am the light of the world I am your source of illumination and truth. I am door of the sheep, in other words, you go through him to go out to pasture, that Jesus is the true revelation. I am the good shepherd; I am someone who is going to lay down my life for the sheep. In the story of Lazarus, he says, I am the resurrection and the life, I am the source of life. I am the way, the truth and the life, in other words, no one comes to the Father except through me. I am the vine; I am the source of spiritual nourishment. You have all of these I am sayings, which are great in and of themselves. You may not suspect that there’s anything more going on in these phrases, but turn please to John 8:58 and you’ll see the full significance of what the I am sayings are trying to say.

Jesus is arguing with the Jewish leaders, claiming to be older than Abraham and that Abraham saw Jesus’s day. Verse 57: “The Jews said to him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham (57)?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am (58).’” In other words, therefore, because of what you just said, they picked up stones to throw at him. They were going to kill him. Why would they kill him? Blasphemy. What did he say that was so bad? “I AM.” When Jesus says, “Before Abraham was, I am,” he’s claiming to be the God of the burning bush from Exodus chapter 3, and the Jews recognize it immediately. The bush is burning, it’s not consumed, Moses goes over, and God reveals himself to Moses. It turns out that it was God the Son who was in the burning bush. Moses said, “What’s your name?” God answers, “Yahweh, I am who I am,” and the “I am” became God’s most Holy, personal name. When Jesus says, “Before Abraham was, I am,” they would have instantly understood the reference, and they did because they tried to kill him for it. The actual phrase, “I am,” while it sounds like it’s just a subject and a verb, it’s much more than that. It’s a reference to Jesus being God. Once you see this in John 8:58, then you can go back to the other I am sayings to see there’s something else going on here rather than just saying “I am the bread of life.”

This then leads to the other statement in John 10:30 that needs to be marked in your Bible. He’s once again arguing with the Jews and in verse 30, he says, “I and the Father are one.” The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. There again is your affirmation of the deity of Christ. Again you can hear Jesus valuing the trinity, that’s probably not a good way to say it, but he can’t say, I’m God because he knows that God is more than he is, even though he’s fully God. So he says, “The Father and I are one.” He’s claiming divinity and deity. Later on in verse 36 Jesus says, you are accusing me of blaspheming because I say I am the Son of God. “Son of God” is the commentary of what “I and the Father are one” means. It’s really important that you have these verses marked in your Bibles so that you can explain that Son of God in that day in age meant God.

Continued Conflict with the Jews (John 7-8)

The story continues in chapter 7. There’s the Festival of the Booths and Jesus is getting mixed reaction, they want to know whether he’s the Messiah or not.

In chapter 8, you have this interesting comment about the adulterous woman. In the ESV right above 7:53 it says: [The earliest manuscripts do not include 7:53–8:11.] This story doesn’t really start appearing in the copies of John until around the sixth century. Most commentary writers think that the story of the woman caught in adultery actually happened, but we’re absolutely confident that John didn’t write it initially and put it here; it was inserted later on. We talked about that when we talked about text criticism.

Jesus continues to have conflict with the Jews. There’s a four volume commentary series called Zondervan Illustrated Bible Background Commentaries, edited by Clint Arnold. It goes through the New Testament and discusses not the text primarily, but the background behind the text. It gives you all the historical and cultural background in the New Testament. For example, it’s at the end of the Festival of the Booths and what happened was that there was a great candlestick or a menorah that was lit during the Festival of Tabernacles. So you’ve got this big candle or set of candles glowing and Jesus says, “I am the Light of the World.” There was also ceremony where the priest would go to the pool of Siloam and take out water and come and pour it as an offering on the altar. John 7:37-38 says, “On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink (37). Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water (38).’” So you can see all this symbolism of all this water pouring going on the altar and Jesus says, No, believe in me and the water will flow out. Of course, he’s talking about the Holy Spirit. It’s sometimes very helpful and fun to study the background of these stories, and these volumes fill it all out for you. The conflict continues to grow, in these chapters; when you read it in one sitting, you can feel the tension beginning to grow and to build and to get more and more tense.

The Man Born Blind (John 9)

Chapter 9 is one of my favorite stories in the Bible. It’s quite self-explanatory. Jesus gives sight to a man born blind and the Jewish leaders are upset, because he did it on a Sabbath. They are trying to find some way to explain it without giving any credit to Jesus. I love John 9:25. Starting in verse 24, “For the second time they” (the Pharisees, the Jewish leaders) “called the man who had been blind and said to him, ‘Give glory to God,’” in other words, not to Jesus, but to God. “‘We know that this man is a sinner.’” In other words, Jesus doesn’t follow our rituals and the man born blind answered, “‘Whether he is a sinner, I do not know.’” My guess is that the look on his face would that he didn’t care whether he follows your rituals or not. “‘One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.’” That’s the power of a personal testimony. That’s why we should all have them; we should be able to say, “This is what happened in my life and it can only be explained by the power of God.” I don’t think any of us was born blind and can now see, but we all have testimonies, we all have ways in which we can share our stories in powerful ways. I just love the way the man says its, “You know, there are a lot of things I don’t know. I’ve been blind my whole life; I just know that I can see; go figure that one out.”

The discussion continues and they try to get the man to say that he wasn’t blind, and then you get to the man’s mini lecture. Now, understand that this man has been blind all his life; he’s been a beggar sitting there with his hand out, and now he can see all these Scribes and Pharisees, and he’s starts to lecture them. That’s what happens when you have a personal testimony. When God has been at work in your life, you really don’t care what the other preachers and pastors and scholars think. It’s not that big of a deal to you, because your life has been changed and you are free—you want to tell people that. That’s what he does here. Beginning in verse 30, “‘Why, this is an amazing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know’” (or you could even say, well even I a dumb beggars knows) “‘that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him (31). Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind (32). If this man were not from God, he could do nothing (33).’ They answered him, ‘You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?’ they cast him out (34).” I think it was probably worth it; I think he probably got kicked out smiling. That’s a great story and well worth reading.

The Good Shepherd (John 10)

Chapter 10 is a chapter of marvelous encouragement, and I would encourage you to read it. You and I are the sheep. Jesus begins by saying I am the door, I am the opening that you walk through to life and salvation and pasture. Then he changes the metaphor in verse 11, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Verse 14: “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.” Verse 16: “They will listen to my voice.” You have this marvelous picture of us as the flock of God, and Jesus as our Shepherd who knows us and we know him. We are a unit; we’re a family and nobody can rip us out of the flock. He protects us, he’s our shepherd and it’s a powerful, powerful picture of that thing.

Raising Lazarus from the Dead (John 11)

Chapter 11 is the story of Lazarus. Again, this is one of those really important signs. Jesus loved Mary and Martha and Lazarus deeply. I love how John writes this, starting in verse 4, “But when Jesus heard, that Lazarus was sick, he said, ‘This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’” Jesus loved Martha and her sister Mary, and therefore because he loved them, when he heard that Lazarus was ill he stayed two days longer. In other words, Jesus wants to make sure that Lazarus was truly dead before he gets there. The ideas seem to conflict: He loved him so much and he let him die, because what’s more important than death is the glory of God, and God being glorified through what Jesus does and what we do. He waits until he’s truly dead, and he goes back. Then you have this marvelous interchange with Mary and Martha, verse 24, “Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day (24).’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live (25), and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this (26)?’” She said, absolutely. This is a powerful picture of Jesus. One of his very best friends dies so that he could bring glory to God by giving him life again and illustrate the point that he is the resurrection and the life.

The Triumphal Entry and Rejection (John 12)

From here on to the end of chapter 12, it’s mostly just getting worse. The tension is building. In chapter 12, they are getting close to Jerusalem. Mary anoints him, which is a prophetic act in preparation for his burial. Then there’s a plot to kill poor Lazarus—one of the few people that had to die twice. You have the triumphal entry. The Jews had seen Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead and all of the other signs starting back in chapter 6 with the feeding them the loaves and the fish. This is something that the Jews thought the Messiah was going to do, and here he started doing so many more miraculous things that people think he’s the Messiah, the King. In the triumphal entry, they proclaim him King and receive him into their city. Chapter 12 ends on this final statement of judgment of unbelief on the people and Jesus’s pronouncement on it.

Starting in chapter 13, which we will look at next time, Jesus goes into the Upper Room and starts the Upper Room Discourse in his last night alone with his disciples.

Structural Overview

Just a couple quick notes about structure, this section of the Gospel breaks into 3 pieces. The first of the sections is what’s called the Upper Room Discourse in chapter 13-17, also sometimes called the Farewell Discourse. We’re going to focus most of our attention tonight on these chapters. It’s really important to keep the discussion in context. We’re at the end of Jesus’s ministry, he’s got a couple of hours probably at max in which he can summarize the essentials of his ministries to his disciples, who have consistently shown a knack for not getting it. Whenever that happens you have to pay really close attention to the words and to the concepts that are being used because these are the prime things that Jesus is trying to get across. The Upper Room Discourses is in 13-17, then the Passion is in chapters 18-20—Jesus’s death and resurrection. There are a couple of things that we’re going to look at there and then chapter 21 almost reads like an epilogue. It’s as if the book ends at chapter 20 and then John sticks on one more chapter of odds and ends. Most people treat 21 as a separate section.

The Upper Room Discourse (John 13-17)

Servanthood (John 13:1-20)

Let’s look at the Upper Room Discourse. Jesus begins the Upper Room Discourse with this very powerful parable on the whole issue of servanthood. I want to take a little bit of time here because this is how he starts this most important two-hour segment with his disciples. The first and perhaps the most important thing you need to get right off the bat is the whole issue of servanthood. Let’s just work our way through this paragraph. “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come,” you know all the way through John Jesus says my hour’s not yet come, Jesus is in complete control of what’s happening and where he’s going, but now finally he knows that his hour has come—that towards which his whole life has been pushing, his death and resurrection is now here, “to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end (1). During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him (2), Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God (3),” these are just a whole bunch of different clauses where John is trying to set the stage. This expression that’s translated “loved them to the end” is an example of something that John does a lot. He will say things that have a double meaning and he does it so much that the assumption is that it’s always intentional. He “loved them to the end” means that he loved them to the very end of his life, he didn’t quit in other words, but he loved them to the uttermost—to the fullest extent of his love. What that phrase is doing is setting us up to understand that this foot washing story that’s going to happen has to do with the cross. There’s a connection that’s going on between servanthood and foot washing, and Jesus loving his own to the very end to the fullest extent by dying on the cross. You have to interpret foot washing in light of Jesus’s complete and total love which is exhibited on the cross. There’s a connection in John’s mind going on there. Now the one piece of information that John doesn’t tell us that Luke does in chapter 22 is that during this time, they were eating the Passover meal together and the disciples were arguing about who’s the greatest. That’s another important background piece of information because then it really makes what Jesus does stand out even more so. That’s the context: he’s at the end of his life, he’s in control of his life, he loves his disciples, he understands that the betrayal is going to happen, he understands who he is and that this death is his pathway back to his father so that all sets the stage.

Then verses 4-5, Jesus rose from supper. “He laid aside his outer garments.” You’ll notice that garments is plural, so he stripped down to a loin cloth which is what a servant would have worn, he didn’t just take his coat off, “and taking a towel, tied it around his waist (4).” It was a very long towel that a servant could tie around and still have enough to do his job with. “Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him (5).” The custom in that day and age was to take a bath before you went to a banquet, but the sandals were all open-toed so by the time you got to the banquet, your feet were dirty, so a servant would put the bowl under your feet and pour the water on top to get the dirt off of your feet. What Jesus is doing is picking up the role of a servant. Then you get to Peter. I like to try to put myself in Peter’s shoes. No pun intended. They’re sitting there watching their Rabbi, of whom they have said, “Yes, we believe that you are the Messiah” taking the role of a servant, which they never expected him to do and foot by foot work his way toward them. Just imagine how Judas felt. I like to imagine sometimes that Judas and Jesus looked at each other and what their eyes would have said, but I know what Peter was thinking because it tells us. Peter is getting more and more nervous as Jesus gets closer and closer to him.

Verse 6: “he came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, do you wash my feet (6)?’ Jesus answered him, ‘What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand (7).’ Peter said to him,” (basically, “No, I’m not willing to wait, I’m not willing for this to happen”), “’You shall never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered him, ‘If I do not wash you, you have no share with me (8)’ Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!’” In other words, I’m going to bath again (9). “Jesus said to him, ‘The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. You are clean, but not every one of you (10),’” meaning Judas. Peter had already been bathed in preparation for the banquet if you want to carry the metaphor over. He’d already been bathed, he had already believed in Jesus, he already had been cleansed, and Jesus says that elsewhere. Bathing is a non-repeated event; it’s not something you do over and over again. Jesus died on the cross once, we are bathed by Christ’s death on the cross once—it’s a non-repeated event. Jesus says to Peter, “No, I don’t need to bath you again, you’ve already been bathed.”

What’s Paul language for what Jesus is discussing? Justification—the bathing is our justification, our being cleansed. You understand that Western Christianity’s terminology is almost always Pauline and so what’s helpful when you’re looking at the Gospels is to say what’s the word I tend to use for what is going on here? Jesus is saying, “I’ve bathed you, you’ve been cleansed by the Word of God, it’s a non-repeatable event. That’s what Paul calls justification—they are right with God in other words. While Peter’s been bathed in preparation for the banquet, he still must be daily washed. In other words, as you and I and as Peter walk around this sinful contaminated world, our feet get dirt. Paul’s terminology for that is sanctification. The bathing and the washing of the feet are what Paul calls justification.

Sanctification is being made clean by God and yet the need to deal with the sin that we come in contact with and that we do on a daily basis. This involves confession and forgiveness. Jesus is laying out this basic thing that Peter’s already been cleansed and of course Peter doesn’t get it. That’s clear, but Jesus is going ahead and saying this stuff because he knows that especially when the Spirit comes and he makes all things clear to the disciples they will then understand what Jesus was doing when he did this baptism. You have the bathing, which is justification and yet the ongoing need for you and for me to confess our sins, to be forgiven of our sins, to be cleansed of our daily sins because we walk in a sinful world. It’s interesting—both of the things justification and sanctification, bathing and confession of sin—all this is made possible by the cross. That’s the point that is going on here. Jesus goes through this whole thing, and Peter’s once again put in his place.

Then in verse 12 Jesus explains what he’s done, and the word I like to use is this is an “enacted parable.” We talked about this with the fig tree in Mark 13. Instead of saying the parable, Jesus is acting out the parable. He begins to explain himself in verse 12: “When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, ‘Do you understand what I have done to you (12)? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am (13).’” In other words, understand the relationship that exists: I’m the boss, you’re the servants, I’m the Lord, I’m the Master, I’m the Rabbi, you’re the disciples, you’re the followers, you’re the learners—remember that. “‘If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet (14). For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you (15). Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him(16).’” In other words, I’m the Master, you’re the follower. I’m the teacher, you’re the learner, I’m the boss, and you’re the servant. He’s emphasizing that if given their relative position, if our boss does this to us then we certainly should do it to one another. “‘If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them (17).’” What Jesus is saying is that discipleship, the life that you and I live is to be filled with humble service. Our lives are to be lived in service to one another. Discipleship is not about power. Discipleship is not about worldly greatness, reputation, fame and fortune, but rather discipleship is about service to one another.

Why do you think this was the first thing that Jesus did in the Upper Room Discourse? He’s setting the tone. He doesn’t explain why, so we’re guessing, but I think part of the answer is that if you don’t get this right, you don’t get anything else right. It’s foundational. He’s later going to talk about love. What does love look like? Well, washing one another’s feet. Look at the disciples, they never understood it until they received the Spirit, which we have, so they have an excuse that we don’t have, but they had over three and a half years with Jesus and they still don’t get it. They’re sitting there, in the Lord’s Supper arguing about who is the greatest. If you don’t get this, I’m not sure you can get anything else about the Christian life. It certainly sets the tone, it summarizes a lot of the things that Jesus has said: he’s been talking about discipleship ever since Peter’s confession, about denying yourself. He’s been saying that the one who is the least is the greatest and that if you want to be great be least. All of these teachings get summarized in this one passage. I don’t know for sure why he did this first because he doesn’t tell us, but I suspect it’s something along those lines.

How much of your Christian experience shows that Christians understand John 13:1-20? There are a lot of convicting things like this in the Upper Room Discourse. It’s all heightened by the fact that we are at the end of Jesus’s ministry. He’s pulling the prime things together; he’s trying to drive those main points home one last time. That’s why it’s so convicting. I’ve been in employment situations where the bosses were very fast to use the phrase “we’re servant leaders,” but they understood nothing about servant leadership. There’s so much baggage with the phrase that I won’t use it myself. I can remember the time when I was paid $16,000 a year to teach in a college with a PhD and one of my bosses was driving an $80,000 Mercedes telling us all about the fact that he was our servant leader. It’s really sad; a lot of these things just do not epitomize the church or Christian organizations.

Foot Washing as an Ordinance?

The other thing I need to talk about really briefly is whether this is an ordinance or not. An ordinance is something that we are commanded to do. I would like to hear about your experiences. Let me lay the ground work for just a second and you can sit there and think about it. The Protestant Church recognizes two ordinances, which are baptism and communion. They are things we were commanded specifically to do. The Catholic Church recognizes seven, but Protestants have two. One of the questions that comes out of this passage is, should we have three, and the foot washing be the third ordinance? In other words, are we commanded to wash one another’s feet? Is this a ritual that we are to practice in the church? Jesus says, “I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.” Is he commanding a ritual or is this something that is symbolic of something else? One of the arguments that it’s not an ordinance is that if he intended it to be an ordinance he would have said, “Do what I’ve done,” but he says, “I have given you an example.” Through the history of the church, they’ve tended not see this as an ordinance. The early church and the disciples never saw any need to do this on a regular basis. There certainly were some examples of it, and yet, it can be a very powerful thing. In fact, when I preached on this passage a while back we really went back and forth about whether to have foot washing in the church. I know most people would have gone blank looking at us because we’ve never done that before, but it would have been interesting.

The problem with any ritual is that it can become meaningless. Baptism can be meaningless, the Lord’s Supper can become meaningless, and foot washing can become meaningless. I read some things that Luther and Calvin said about foot washing that were really strong, because their experience with it was that the people didn’t mean it, and they thought that if I just wash my friends’ feet then I don’t have to be a servant to anyone else. They used it as an excuse.

Let’s hear from Katy, who’s from a tradition that does foot washing. Tell us what it’s like and why you have enjoyed it.

Katy: Well, first of all, I come from a Grace Brethren Church. For communion, we gather together and the pastor would set it up, and we would all go down to our Fellowship Hall and have a meal together. We call it three-fold communion. We do a meal together, then we break off and the men go with men and the women go with women. It’s a neat time, there are two basins of water that go around and you sit next to a friend or your mom. Often times people will have a time of confession, and they’ll work through issues that has been something that has been dividing them. We bring hymnals and we sing while we do this. It just a really neat time and we have a long towel that we wrap around our waist, we just wash their feet and dry them off and then you give them a hug. It’s really a cool time. Then we get back together and we finish the communion time with the bread and the cup.

So the three-fold time involves the meal, the foot washing and then communion. I don’t believe it’s an ordinance. One of the arguments is that you have very clear teachings on baptism and very clear teaching on the Lord’s Supper, nothing on foot washing. The early church didn’t practice it, it’s not in the Epistles, and it’s not in the Book of Acts. What I wanted to suggest is that perhaps at some point in time, it might be something that’s helpful to do. Again, this is at the very beginning of the Upper Room Discourse, there’s something that’s pivotal about this and I thought through whose feet would I wash. I can think of some people whose feet I probably wouldn’t want to wash, because it would embarrass them to death. I wonder why we wouldn’t do this. I wonder why we would be hesitant to go through an act that says, I’m here to put you first; I’m here to serve. We even thought about washing hands because in one sense it’s your hands that get dirty because they are exposed, because we don’t have sandals normally. I don’t think it’s an ordinance, but yet I think there’s power in doing it, and I want to know why I don’t want to do it. Something to think about, motivated mostly by something in my heart that says I’ll never do that, and I want to know why that’s in my heart. Maybe I understand less about servant leadership than I think I do. You’re putting yourself under their power, humanly speaking, and that’s a humbling thing. Why do we fight that? Pride. This is why the story is at the beginning, it’s setting the stage, but it’s encapsulating a lot of what’s been going on in Jesus’s teaching. I’ll let you all reflect on that.

A New Commandment of Love (John 13:34-35)

Jesus goes on and he talks about the fact that he knows that Judas is going to betray him. Then in verse 31 you get to this whole passage about the new commandment, the commandment of love. I want to say a few things specifically about verses 34 and 35. Jesus says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another (34).” Now this is a guy that is stripped to a loin cloth and washed their feet, you’ve got to keep all of this in context. “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for…” me? no that’s not what it says: “if you have love for one another (35).” You would expect “me” wouldn’t you? This is how you show people that you love me, but no, it’s your love for one another, that’s the point. This whole theme of love was introduced back in chapter 13, and we’re going to read about it in several other places.

One other passage I think that’s helpful to read is a passage written by the same author, but in his letter of 1 John, 2:8. In fact this whole paragraph is about a new and an old commandment so it all relates. 1 John 2:8, let me start with verse 7, “Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. In fact, the commandment goes all the way back to Leviticus 19:18, where is says, “but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The commandment to love one another isn’t new; it goes all the way to the beginning of the Jewish nation. “The old commandment is the word that you have heard. At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him” (Jesus) “and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light” (who is Jesus) “is already shining (8).”

That’s a related passage that helps. In what sense is this commandment in John 13 new? It’s not new in the sense that no one has ever said it. It had been around for a while so it’s not new in the sense that no one had ever thought of it. Let me read you what Leon Morris in his commentary says: “The new things appears to be the mutual affection that Christians have for one another” (nothing new there except to the Christians) “on account of Christ’s great love for them. A brotherhood has been created on the basis of Jesus’s work for men and there is a new relationship within that brotherhood.” It’s not that the commandment itself is new, what’s new is that it is now a possibility. It’s new because it’s in Jesus, it is in Christ, and the ability to truly love one another is now possible. It wasn’t possible before, but it is now possible in a way that it never was before because of Jesus’s death. We love because Jesus first loved us, right? John tells us that later. What’s new about the commandment is that now we are able to actually do it in a way that has never been possible before, in any community.

Verse 35 is a pretty powerful verse, because what it shows us is what’s at stake. Why is this love thing so important? “By this (by loving one another) “all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (35).” Again here’s another convicting statement. How many times have you heard someone say that they were attracted to Christ because his followers loved each other so much? Now, if we hear that people come to church and it’s a friendly place, then we’re pretty happy with that. Certainly, like in Carolee’s situation, Craig and Christie loved you, and you were attracted to Christ because Craig and Christie loved you so much as a new neighbor. But if this is the heart of what Jesus wants for his disciples should it not be the case that we could spin off account after account after account of how many times we have witnessed people respond to the love that Christians have for one another, and so be attracted to Jesus Christ? I can’t think of a single incident, now I’m sure there are some in history if I went reading, especially if I read in some of the missionary accounts, I would assume that I would start coming across this stuff with more frequency. It’s just a convicting thing.

I’ve often said from the pulpit and I’ll say it again that I think, for me personally, the worst case scenario for this church is that this church becomes known as a place where you can come and get some good preaching and good worship and leave. That’s the knell of death. I think that means we’ve failed. If we are known as a place you can hear some decent Bible preaching and some decent singing and go home, then we’ve failed. I don’t see that in John 13; what I see is people coming into the church and seeing a group of Christians who so obviously love each other that they feel like they want to be a part of it. They are attracted to the fact that we love each other as a group. To have the church be consumed with a servant-like love for one another that’s palatable, that you can see it when you walk in—that’s what Jesus wants for this church and for every church. Because then when people see that, people will know that we are disciples of Jesus. He says some more things about this later on.

A Definition of Love

I think it is critical that define love. What is it that people should see when they walk in? Well, I struggle a lot with defining this word love and I’ve found it’s really a generational thing, because in different generations, the pendulum swings different directions. In my dad’s generation, if you pushed that love is an action, if it’s to move you to treat people a certain way he’ll say, “Of course it is, what else would it be?” But if you start talking about love being an emotion as well as an action, the response is that there is a difference between emotion and obedience. My dad’s generation tends define love not as an emotion, but as an action. Now my generation is the exact opposite: “I love you man, I love you.” And the next day, they hate me. It’s all this emotional hype, but there’s no activity. My generation fails, so it’s up to your generation to get it right.

What Jesus is talking about here can’t be our normal definition, if for no other reason there’s no way that I will love any of you the way I love my wife or my kids, it isn’t going to happen. It’s impossibly emotionally and physically.

The best definition I know of for love doesn’t ever use the word love, but its in Philippians 2:3-4. Paul’s telling the church, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves (3).” That’s the best definition I know of love. Paul continues, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others (4).” This love that is supposed to so characterize us and flow through us has to be an activity. John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he” thought about? No, “that he gave his only Son.” Love always propels a person to action. It has to involve emotions otherwise it’s obedience, and love and obedience have to be different. It is put in the other person first, it’s affection, it’s a hard word to define because it is so abused today. In fact, personally, one of the things that I’ve decided to do is that I generally don’t tell people I love them—that may be a horrible thing, but it’s used so much and people have said it to me, and I know they don’t mean it. I don’t want to use the word, but that’s my baggage.

What Jesus is saying is that the way that everyone’s going to know that you are my disciple, that you’re my follower, that I am your Master, and he’s going to add more to that later on—is if you love one another. I think it’s fair to say that this is something that is sadly missing from the American church as a whole. It has become an institution, a place you come to for one reason or another—whether it’s to get fed or do your religious thing or to look good by going to a socially posh church be the case.

The Upper Room Discourse Continues (John 14)

The Farewell Discourse, as it’s also called the Upper Room Discourse, continues in chapter 14. There are some marvelous verses, starting in verse 1, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me (1). In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you (2)? if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also (3).” Some of the most comforting words in all of Scripture I think. You have an I AM saying in verse 6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” In verse 9 you also have a very important verse when Jesus is talking to Philip he says, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” Jesus is the unique revelation of God the Father so some very important and fun verses at the beginning of chapter 14.

The Holy Spirit

But I want to move on to the discussion of the Holy Spirit that we meet in the Upper Room Discourse. This is one of the most important discussion in all of Scripture of the Holy Spirit, who he is and what he does. He is mentioned four different times in the Upper Room Discourse.

Monotheistic and Trinitarian

Let me first review two phrases. One is that we are monotheists. Monotheists are people who believe in one God, so we believe that there is one God. Yet we are also Trinitarian—it’s an English form of a Latin word that means threeness. It is a word that was developed by the early church. The statement of faith for the Institute states it this way: God exists eternally in three persons — Father, Son, Holy Spirit — equal in essence and divine perfection. In other words, God the Father, God the Son and God the Spirit are fully God. All three uncreated. In other words, Jesus is not a Son of God in the way the Mormons say. Executing distinct, but harmonious offices. What that means is that the Trinity, the Godhead, has different functions, and the basic way in which theology states it is that God the Father plans, that God the Son accomplishes, and God the Spirit completes. God the Father makes a decision to create the world, but God the Son actually created the world, and God the Holy Spirit is going to complete the purposes for which the world was created. God the Father decided that there would be salvation, God the Son accomplished salvation and made it possible on the cross, and God the Holy Spirit completes the cross by applying the forgiveness of the cross to individuals. When we talk about the Holy Spirit, it’s that third member of the Godhead, fully God, but with a distinct and different function in the Godhead.

Another Helper (John 14:15-17)

There are four places it’s discussed. The first is in chapter 14:15-17: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments (15). I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever (16), even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you (17).” There are four fundamental things that come out of that. First of all, the Holy Spirit is called a Helper, it’s an impossible Greek word to translate. Have you ever heard of the word paraclete? That’s the Greek word, parakletos, it is just brought into English because it’s such a difficult word to translate that sometimes we just give up and call the Holy Spirit the Paraclete. Other translations will use a word like Advocate or Counselor. What the word appears to refer to is a friend who will argue your case in court; that’s the most fundamental meaning. I’m accused of some crime and I go into court and not necessarily legal counsel, but Don would come and Don would argue my case before the judge as my friend. There’s a nuance that it’s in a court, but it’s also a nuance that you’re a friend so you get helper, advocate, and counselor. That’s who the Holy Spirit is. The basic message is that God is on our side. He’s not the one on the other side trying to destroy us; he’s on our side trying to help us and encourage us to argue our case in court.

Secondly, notice that he’s called another helper. In other words, the Holy Spirit is in one sense simply going to keep doing the things that Jesus did. Jesus had a certain relationship to his disciples—teaching them, caring for them, watching out for them, correcting them—all these kinds of things. The Holy Spirit is going to keep doing the same thing, but the difference is that Jesus has to go away before the Holy Spirit can come. Jesus says, “No, you really do want the Holy Spirit more than me; it’s a good thing that I’m going away; you want me to go away because he can’t come until I’m out of here.” I think we tend to think we’d rather have Jesus right here. Jesus says, “No you don’t, you’d rather have the spirit than me.”

Thirdly, he’s in conflict with the world. This is one of the strong themes in the Upper Room discourse: “whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him.” The fact of the matter is that you cannot convince someone of the Holy Spirit. By argumentation or by force, you cannot convince the world of the existence of the Holy Spirit, the goodness of the Holy Spirit, the power of the Holy Spirit; you can’t do it. Jesus already laid down the ground work for that in John 3 when he told Nicodemus, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit (6).” They are separated, and you can’t argue the Spirit to the world, the world isn’t go to see him, it’s not ever going to see him. That’s why it takes the Spirit, that’s why it takes a supernatural act of the Spirit to bring someone into the Spirit realm. The world is over here, it hates Jesus, it hates his disciples, it’s father is Satan. In John 8 I think it is, they can’t even recognize the power of the Holy Spirit. It’s so bad that when the Spirit through the Son does a miracle, they think it’s the devil doing it. On this side, that which is born of the Spirit is Spirit, is empowered by the Spirit and knows the things of the Spirit. It’s setting up this dichotomy, this break.

But the fourth thing that is worth emphasizing is this last phrase: “he dwells with you and will be in you.” One of the interesting questions is that before Pentecost, before Acts 2, how did the Spirit relate to followers of Jesus Christ? There’s not a lot of good clear biblical information on that, but I think this is what he’s saying: he’s with you in some sense, the Spirit is here, maybe through Jesus, but he’s going to be in you, which is a reference forward to Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit and the indwelling of the believer and the permanent possession of the believer by the Spirit and the permanent possession by the Spirit of you and me. That’s why it’s good that Jesus goes away. We talk about Jesus being in my heart; it’s not really Jesus is it? It’s the Holy Spirit—that’s his function. Jesus is before the throne right now, but we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit because of the nature of the Godhead. It gets confusing because God’s in the Son and the Son’s in God, but the indwelling of the Spirit is the fulfillment of the New Covenant promises in Jeremiah and Ezekiel that the law that we follow is not written on tablets of stone, it’s written on our heart. We’re given a new heart of flesh that the Spirit can work with. The law is written on our heart and the Spirit is given to us to empower us to live our lives out. That’s why it’s better that Jesus go because the Spirit can’t indwell us until Jesus is gone.

Brings All to Remembrance (John 14:25-26)

The second passage is in John 14:25-26. Actually the material between these two is still talking about the Holy Spirit in the background, but in verse 25 we get right to it: “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you (25). But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you (26).” Now this passage is quoted a lot in reference to you and to me. My problem is that I don’t think that’s what it means, because I don’t know about you, but God has never brought to remembrance everything that Jesus said to his twelve disciples. I think, and the commentaries agree (although it’s not a popular understanding of the verse), that this is a promise just to the eleven disciples. This is why I trust the Bible so deeply; this is why I’m absolutely convinced that they got it right, because Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, when they are writing their gospels, have been promised by God the Son that God the Spirit would cause them to remember everything that he had said to them. So, I think this verse is not for ongoing inspiration today, but it does explain why we can trust the Bible so much. Jesus promised that they would get it right. Now you’ll hear that preached other ways a lot, but that’s my take on it and again this is a standard commentary position.

Bears Witness (John 15:26)

The next passage is John 15:26. There Jesus says, “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you” (notice that in the previous passage it’s my Father’s going to send, so you simply cannot divide the activity of the Trinity too much, the Father sends, Jesus sends, all the same thing in a sense) “from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me (26). And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning (27).” One of the functions of the Holy Spirit is to bear witness about Jesus. In John 16:14, Jesus says, “the Holy Spirit will glorify me.” In other words, one of the functions of the Holy Spirit is to help people deal with what Jesus did on the cross, to interact with his teaching, and conviction. Wayne Grudem, in his Systematic Theology goes to quite length to argue that that’s not the only thing the Holy Spirit does. I remember growing up, at a youth meeting, the pastor said, “The Holy Spirit is a flashlight; it doesn’t shine any light on himself it only shines light on Jesus.” And I thought, but what about the fruits of the Spirit? One of the functions of the Spirit is to illuminate Jesus—what he did on the cross, the significance of his death, the meaning of his teachings, but it’s not the only thing that he’s going to do. Here again you have the Trinity at work. You have the Spirit proceeding from the Father, sent by the Son, helping us to understand the significance and to complete the process of salvation as the work of Christ is applied to you and to me. You have the interaction of the Trinity here.

Convicts (John 16:7-15)

The fourth passage is John 16:7-15. I really want to focus just on two verses, that of verse 8 and 13. I’ll start at verse 7: “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away.” You want me to leave, I know you don’t think you want me to leave right now, but you want me to leave. “For if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you, but if I go, I will send him to you (7). And when he comes,” then here’s this three-fold function of the Spirit and this is a verse that our Statement of Faith draws from: “he will convict the world concerning sin, concerning righteousness and judgment (8): concerning sin, because they do not believe in me (9); concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer (10); concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged (11).”

The Holy Spirit has a convicting function, and he’s going to convict us of three different things. He’s going to convict the world of its sin. This is the really easy one to interpret: he’s going to convict the world of its sin when they don’t believe in Jesus. In evangelism, if you can’t get someone to the point of recognizing their sin, you’re still trying to do the wrong thing. It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to convict the world of sin, not mine, it’s not our spouse’s, it is the Holy Spirit’s function to convict us of our sin. In one sense, this convicting power is a gracious thing. Conviction is not necessarily a bad thing, it is a gracious act of saying you are in the wrong, but it’s also a necessary act because the world can’t respond on its own: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” The convicting power of the Spirit is actually a gracious action visited on people who otherwise could not even identify their sin, much less repent of their sin.

Now the interesting question is how does the Spirit do its work? Well it does it through conscience and other things, but it also does it through you and me. I want to emphasize that while the Spirit does his work, God works through his people. If I never preached a sermon like I did last week on sin, how is anybody going to know they are a sinner? If you’re not willing to step up to the plate to talk to your children or your neighbor about sin, since it truly is ultimately the Spirit’s work to convict them of their sin, how are they going to hear the message unless you and I give it? While this is a function of the Spirit, the Spirit is working through us in order to do it.

The second thing that the Spirit convicts the world of is righteousness, namely, that it has no righteousness on its own, but positively that there is righteousness available through Christ’s death on the cross. That’s what verse 10 is talking about: “concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer.” The idea is that when “I go to the Father” it’s through the cross, and on the cross you will see the righteousness of God. That’s how the world is going to get convicted. It sees that it has no righteousness of its own, it’s poor in spirit, but rather the only righteousness there is to be had is through what Christ did on the cross. How is the Spirit going to convict the world of righteousness? Through you and me. Except for very unusual circumstances where God chooses to talk to people directly, generally, this conviction comes through you and me sharing the Word with people. It’s the Spirit’s job, he the one that does the work, but he works through us.

Thirdly, he’s going to convict the world of judgment, namely that Satan stands condemned, and his children are condemned with their father. How’s the world going hear the message of the Spirit that they are condemned? Through you and through me. There’s a very powerful balance going on here that this is the function of the Spirit. It is ultimately his responsibility. I don’t have to beat conviction of sin into people. Yet the Spirit works as you and I preach and share the gospel of Jesus Christ in all its fullness, including the message of sin and judgment.

The Holy Spirit obviously is mentioned elsewhere in Scripture, but the bulk of what we know about the Spirit comes out of these four passages in John. We’ll get different aspects of the Spirit in other lessons. The whole thing is a mystery. How do you describe something that is indescribable? How do you describe something that has no analogy? There simply is no way; it’s just what the Bible teaches.

Student: I think this whole thing makes your presentation of the Gospel to other people easier because it’s God who does the saving, it’s not us; we just present it.

Response: Yes, that’s the message we need to hear over and over and over again. My neighbors are going to hate me unless God does a work in their lives and draws them to himself, because they hate Jesus, and John 8, their father is Satan. You go into it feeling powerless, because you are powerless, humanly speaking, but God’s not powerless and God can do his work. The only time you fail in evangelism is when you don’t share. Our success or failure in evangelism is an issue of whether we share the Gospel or not. How they respond is none of our business. I heard about one guy, and I’ve never been able to track this down, but he was an evangelist, and yet he only had one convert his entire life, but that convert was Billy Sunday, who God worked through to have thousands of converts. So was the guy who preached to Billy Sunday successful? Yes, he was successful, because he shared the Gospel with people for years, but God chose to work in Billy Sunday for his glory.

Abide in Christ (John 15)

You cannot go through John without looking at John 15; it simply would be a crime against nature. John 15 is one of my favorite passages, and again it’s one of those concepts that is really hard to get a hold of. Yet, it is crucial for a healthy Christian walk. Jesus starts in verse 1, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser (1). Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit (2). Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you (3). Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me (4). I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing (5). If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned (6). If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you (7). By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples (8).”

Now if that’s not a mouthful I don’t know what it. There’s a lady, she and her husband are in charge of children’s ministries at Bethlehem Baptist where John Piper preaches. She is the one that has been writing all of their curriculum, and several years ago she said to God, “I want to write a year’s curriculum on the concept on abiding in Christ. What does it mean to abide, live in him and have him live in me? What does it mean to be a branch that draws nourishment and strength from the vine? What does it mean to produce fruit, but only because I’m still attached to the trunk of the vine? What does it mean to abide?” She became incredibly sick and was bedridden for a year. Now when she looks back she says, “That was the only way I could write about abiding in Christ because it was the only way I was ever going to learn what it meant to abide in Christ.” Her name is Sally Michaels. It’s an interesting story, and it one of those things where you have to watch your prayers because sometimes you might get them answered, but she wanted to learn what it means to abide in Christ, so God just shut down her life and put her in a position where all she had was pain and Jesus. In the process, she wrote a year’s curriculum for kids on Abiding in Christ. It is a difficult concept to get your hands around I think, but this is what our lives are. This is what it is to be a Christian, it’s not someone who said the magic prayer or raised the hand and goes out and lives any way they want. That’s not Scripture. Christianity is about abiding in Christ.

Let me just say a couple of things about abiding. One is that obviously this has to do with relationship. Christianity is all about relationship: personal relationship. It’s not a series of doctrines that we hold to; it is a relationship that we enter into as we abide in him and he with us. He is our source of strength and he becomes our nourishment. If we don’t do that, what happens? We are swept away with all the dead branches and burned. I’ll let you figure out what that means. It has to do with relationship.

Second of all, look at the necessity of abiding. That should scare the living daylights out of people. I don’t know why the Bible doesn’t scare people more because I think it really should scare people. He says, you’re the branches, you’re grafted into me, I’m the trunk, I’m the vine. If you don’t abide in me, if you don’t stay in relationship with me, you’re thrown away and you’re going to whither and you’re going to be gathered together and burned. Now that should strike fear into the heart of anyone who thinks that they can live anyway they want and still get into Heaven. All other theological decisions aside, that verse should scare people, I don’t know why it doesn’t, it would scare me, but there’s a necessity for disciples to abide in Christ.

Thirdly, what does it look like to abide in Christ? Well, we have a hint here in verse 10: “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.” In 1 John 2:5-6 the same author writes, “By this we may know that we are in him (5): whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked (6).” Abiding in him is substantially greater than this, but at least it includes the idea that we are in a relationship with him, and that relationship is defined by things that we are called to do and things we are called not to do, otherwise known as obedience. If we don’t want to be burned, then we abide in Christ and that means, among other things, we do what he has asked us to do, and we don’t do what he’s asked us not to do. Now I don’t want to spend a year in bed, so maybe I don’t really want to know what it means to abide in Christ, but I think that’s the starting position. Abiding in Christ, John 15, is really worth meditating on.

The High Priestly Prayer (John 17)

Jesus is finished at the end of chapter 16. He’s said all the basic things that he felt needed to be said to his disciples before he leaves them, but you always leave with a prayer. If you ever wanted to know what it was like to be a fly on the wall when Jesus was praying, here it is. This is how Jesus prays, and it’s a wonderful close to the Farewell Discourse, but it’s even better, an insight to the relationship that Jesus has with his Father and it is even more than that in one sense, a call to us. There are more ouches in chapter 17 than anywhere else I think.

Jesus Prays for “Himself” (John 17:1-5)

Jesus begins in verses 1-5 to pray, and I said for “Himself” in quote marks, because it’s not a selfish prayer. His prayer begins at the end of verse 1: “Glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you.” Ultimately what he wants is all praise, all honor, in other words, all glory to go to God the Father. He doesn’t want to receive it. He’s looking forward to the time of crucifixion; he knows that it’s here, and while the world saw the cross as a place of shame, Jesus sees it as a place of glory because it is at the cross that forgiveness of sins is made available. Through the cross, is he able to go back to Heaven and have the glory he had before he was born he says. When you think about the glory of the cross, you and I live in constant glory of the cross, because without it we would all be going to Hell. Jesus wants God to glorify him, he wants him to preserve him, he wants him to strengthen him, he wants to get through the crucifixion on the cross because he understands that’s why he came and ultimately all praise and honor and glory are not going to go to Jesus, they are going to go to God the Father.

Jesus Prays for the Eleven Disciples (John 17:6-19)

In verses 6-19, he turns and he prays for the eleven disciples, Judas is gone by this time, and his prayer is that they are unified, that they are one. Verse 11: “Keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.” Again another concept that we’ll never understand this side of Heaven and maybe not even Heaven is that the unity of believers is in some way analogous to the unity of the Godhead. That’s why the fragmentation of the church is so terrible. That’s why what we’ve done to the church is so bad, because Jesus’s prayer is that we be one, united in love, even as the Godhead is united in love.

There’s one other thing that I really like in this section, and it’s in verses 15-16: “I do not ask that you take them out of the world,” in other words, Jesus was not asking the Father to make the disciples into monks or to live out in the desert by themselves, but his prayer is, “but that you keep them from the evil one (15). They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world (16).” Our statement of faith talks about being in, but not of the world. This is where that statement comes from. You and I are in the world, we are not called to hide from the world, to go off in a corner and to have no contact with the world. We are to be in the world, how else will the Spirit does his convicting work if it’s not through us? How else, as Paul says in Romans 10, will they hear if we don’t preach? We as Christians don’t have the option of separating ourselves totally from the world. We are in the world, this is where we are supposed to be, we’re salt and light, but we are never to be of the world and that’s the balance. We’re in the world, but we’re not of the world and it affects everything. It affects how we dress; it affects what movies we watch and how we spend money—the list is endless, but for me those are the two prepositions: in the world and not of the world. That’s one of those kinds of internal checks that I do when I’m thinking about something to do or how to spend some money, or how to set a goal.

Jesus Prays for Future Disciples (John 17:20-26)

Jesus prays for the disciples, that they be protected and then you get to what has to be one of the top passages of Scripture in verses 20-26, where Jesus prays for all future disciples. He says, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word.” That’s you and me, this is the only place that you and I are directly addressed in Scripture. Everything else is inference, but here it is direct. Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took the time to pray to God for us, and that’s really cool.

What is his prayer for us? What did he pray? Well, he prayed for unity; he’s going to end on this note of unity. Verse 21: “That they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us.” Verse 22: “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one,” Verse 23: “I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one,” and then the end of Verse 26, “that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” John 13:20 and 14:20 both introduce the same topic as well, so he’s pulling bits and pieces together. Jesus’s primary prayer, at least as expressed in John 17 was that you and I be one. Isn’t that amazing? Look at the history of the church. Jesus’s prayer in John 17 was that we be one, that we be united by love.

If that’s not convicting enough, ask yourself, what is the purpose of that unity? The topic has already been introduced, but at the end of verse 21, the purpose of the unity is “so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” As outsiders, as non-Christians, walk into this building and see how you and I love each other, Jesus’s promise is that they will then come to the conclusion that God the Father sent God the Son. I don’t know about you, but that just blows me away. That when an outsider comes in sees how we love each other, they will be drawn to the conclusion that Jesus came from God and was sent by God to save us from our sins. Verse 23: “So that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” As outsiders come in to this church or any church, when they see the unity of believers bound together by love, the world will know that God the Father sent God the Son and then just to top it off, they will understand that God the Father loves each person even as God the Father loves God the Son. You and I share the same love that the Father has for his Son. You have to let that sit for awhile. God loves you with the same love with which he loves his Son. Think of some human analogies, is the love that I have for any of you the same love that I have for my children? No, I’m not there yet. I just think that is such a fundamentally powerful concept that you have to sit there and think about it.

Our mission as a church is that we are bound together in love. That’s the last question: “What does this unity look like?” It’s the love commandment in John 13:34-35; it’s the call to obedience. That’s why you have to define your terms so carefully. As you and I become a biblically informed community in the way that God intends us to be, then that’s pure evangelism. People will see it, they’ll say, “I’ve never seen anything like that on the face of the earth, and I want to be a part of that.” That’s our goal for this church—it should be our goal for any church. I just can’t help being impressed with how badly we fail at this one little thing that Jesus prayed for. You know, we have great systematic theologies, we’ve got a good men’s program coming, we’ve got great Sunday School teachers; you go through the things that we put so much time and energy in to. But do we love each other with the love that is God’s love? Love that is so powerful that when people walk into this church they understand what God the Father is saying to God the Son? I hope so. It’s a growing process.

To become a church where people can come in and sing songs they like, hear the Bible explained and go home—what a waste of a life. It’s a waste of my life and it’s a waste of your life, and it’s a waste of our money. I don’t want anything to do with that church. What I want is to be part of a church that understands that God’s one prayer for us is that we love each other with a supernatural love that is so powerful that it becomes our primary tool of evangelism. I would love it if we didn’t have to, in one sense, go out into the neighborhood, but that the neighborhood could come in and be so overwhelmed with how we treat each other, how we put each other ahead of one another, how we have genuine emotional attachment to one another that they think, “This is something I’ve never seen, this is something that satisfies to the deepest core of my being, this is what I want to know.” Yet that’s not generally what church is like. May that be all of our prayers—that God answers Jesus’s prayer in John 17 in this place and in many other places.





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