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Little things in John, the

Today, since we have been reading the gospel of John, I'd like to concentrate on a few of what I call "the little things of John". These are simple statements -- almost deceptively simple -- scattered like so many bright jewels upon the fabric of John's gospel. Statements that are so very simple on one level, scarcely noticeable except on a second glance. But when we pause and look a bit more closely, then these "little things" take on different meanings, having what we might call "heavenly insights". And depths of meaning are gradually revealed in what seem at first to be the most unlikely places.

The second meaning, the almost hidden meaning is there also -- and, almost invariably, it lifts the passage out of time and into eternity. Lights go on, trumpets sound, and we realize that God's word reaches across the expanses of time, from a little land in Roman-occupied Palestine, in the first century... to you and me sitting here today, in the twenty-first century, and to multitudes besides -- in every age. And we are invited -- no, we are commanded -- to take these words personally!


John 2:5: Jesus and his disciples have been invited to a wedding in Cana, and it transpires that there is not enough wine. Mary approaches Jesus, as if to say, 'Now is the time!' At first he seems unsure, but then he seems to understand that, Yes, now IS the time to perform the first of the miracles by which he will be made known to Israel.

"His mother said to the servants, 'Do whatever he tells you' " (John 2:5).
Here we have a statement that is true enough in the quite limited parameters of the wedding feast itself. But it is also a statement that echoes down the corridors of history. The essence of obedience; condensed into five little words: "Do whatever he tells you!" Not what you choose to do, not what you would like to do, not a little of 'this', but leaving 'that' undone. "Do WHATEVER he tells you!"

And, the implication is surely there also... "Do it NOW!" Not tomorrow, not next week, not when you get around to it, or feel like it. Do it... NOW! Do not question the reasonableness of it. Do not say, "Maybe later -- when my affairs are in better order... or the children are in school... or I have retired... or I have graduated." Do not say, "Let George do it!" As if Moses were to have said, "Here I am, LORD. Now, please send Aaron instead!"

"Do whatever he tells you." And if it seems too hard, remind yourself that a life of faith is not for the faint in heart. And he that questions what Jesus says is unstable, of two minds, and halting between two opinions -- he is like a wave of the sea, being pushed first one way and then another. Don't wait to see which way the wind is blowing, don't stop to check the weather, don't say to yourself, "There may be a lion in the streets!" Just... DO IT.

These are the last recorded words of Mary the mother of Jesus. And we realize that she is speaking them to us!


The next words are written by John the narrator; they were not spoken by Jesus. But they surely express the will of Jesus:

"The Lord... left Judea and went back once more to Galilee. Now he had to go through Samaria" (John 4:3,4).
Notice this: he "HAD TO" go through Samaria. Not... he "chose" to go through Samaria; but he "HAD TO" go through Samaria.

And why was this so? On one level, as we study a map, we might think, "Well, of course he would go through Samaria -- it was the most direct route!" But it was apparently not as simple as that. We are told that many Judeans circled through Perea, east of the Jordan River (taking the long way around), rather than simply travel through Samaria. Why did they take a detour? Because their hatred of the Samaritans was so great. This hatred is expressed time and time again in the teachings and writings of the rabbis; one common prayer was: "May I never set eyes on a Samaritan... May I never be thrown into company with one." Other rabbis said that to partake of the bread of a Samaritan was like "eating swine's flesh" (Edersheim 1:401).

So, if anything, we might think that a devout Jew like Jesus would not only not "HAVE TO" go through Samaria, but that he would "HAVE TO" go some other way!

But not Jesus! He takes his disciples and journeys directly into the heart of Samaritan territory, deliberately defying Jewish social conventions. Why does he do this? Is it for typical reasons -- that is, to foreshadow the preaching of the gospel to the Gentiles? That would certainly be a good reason.

But it is, I think, more personal, more immediate than that. He MUST go through Samaria because he MUST meet that woman at the well. It is God's will that, at this time and in this place, he will meet this woman. Never mind that she is a Gentile, a despised Samaritan -- never mind that she has been married five times and is currently living with a man who is not her husband. He is going to tell her that he, Jesus, is the Messiah, and to invite her to learn more of him, and to drink of the living waters that flow from him.

He is going to tell her that "I who speak to you am he [the Messiah]" (John 4:26). The first time Jesus directly proclaimed his Messiahship was to a woman, a Samaritan and a sinner! The devout Pharisee traditionally prayed, "I thank thee that thou didst not make me a Gentile, but a Jew... not a woman, but a man." But Paul proclaimed that in Jesus there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither male nor female (Gal 3:28)! All, whatever their social status or race or gender, whatever their past sins, may share equally in the blessings of the Messiahship of Jesus.

Do we believe this? We should.


"Study diligently the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life" (John 5:39).
Here is an interesting verse; it is often read (or misread): "Study diligently the Scriptures because by them you possess eternal life." In other words, it is treated as a ringing endorsement of the Bible, as the only source of eternal life. And that's the thing: such a statement is so close to being true that we readily accept it. "Yes, that's right. Read the Bible. That's all you need!"

But here it's important to read every word of this verse. "YOU THINK that by these Scriptures you shall have eternal life!" Remember that Jesus was speaking directly to his enemies, those who were persecuting him, even seeking his life. It was not going to be enough for them to "search their Scriptures" -- they were doing this already, more diligently than were any other people. But all they were doing was combing through their scrolls looking for ammunition to use against Jesus! All they were doing was looking for "proof texts" to show this Galilean preacher-upstart how wrong he was... and thus the Scriptures were going to be their downfall and not their salvation... UNLESS they did one other thing! And this is explained in the last part of v 39: "These are the Scriptures that testify about me."

In other words, the Pharisees were avid Bible students, but with their self-righteous attitudes and Bible trivia mentality, they had overlooked the most important point of all -- their need for redemption through the coming Messiah. Here in plain view of these Bible students, before their very eyes, was the personal culmination of scores of Bible prophecies, and yet this escaped the attention of their hardened hearts. "Yet you refuse to come to me to have life" (v 40).

It is never enough to be knowledgeable in the Scriptures in a theoretical sense. The study of God's Word must lead us to embrace Christ, with our whole heart and mind. We must see... HIM... in every book of the Bible -- for surely he is there. Knowledge by itself is sterile; it may even puff us up in pride (1Co 8:1). But intimate, personal experience of Christ brings about deep and lasting changes in our lives, and leads on to the eternal life that may be possessed only through him.

That is the message of John 5:39!


After the miraculous feeding of the 5,000, Jesus told his disciples, "Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted" (John 6:12).

Here is the evidence that, in ministering to others, Christ's followers lost nothing themselves. (In the sacrifice of Christ, there is ample provision for all to be filled. God's grace is a stream whose blessings never fail, a sea without a shore, a pot of oil that is continually replenished.)

This he says more plainly later in the chapter, when he prays to his Father: "That I shall lose none of all that he has given me" (Joh 6:39). Here, in this enacted parable of the miraculous multiplying of the loaves, the "bread" (which represents the body of Christ) will not be broken up and scattered -- no parts will be lost. At the last day, all the "fragments" will be gathered together into one! And again, later in this same gospel, John recalls the conversation between the High Priest and the Sanhedrin, in which (inadvertently) the High Priest "prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one" (John 11:51,52).

We should recognize that the words of Jesus here, then, were not just for the disciples who went about through the crowd, gathering up all the fragments of the miraculously created bread. His words are for us too: an exhortation: remember to "gather up the fragments" of the body of Christ, that might otherwise be lost. Seek out the lost sheep, and bring it back to the shepherd's fold. Leave no one behind. Remember that we are all in this together, and each of us -- even those who seemingly are most insignificant -- are a part of the One Body.


"The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life" (John 6:63).
Here is perhaps the simplest answer to all the Holy Spirit "difficulties" and "questions" that occasionally arise. God's Word, preached and believed, and acted upon, is the only real source of spirit-power and eternal life -- and that of course, only if it leads us to Christ, and keeps us in the care of Christ.

But there is more to it than this. God's spirit-word has the power to remake lives, to open the eyes of the blind, to open the ears of the deaf, and to raise the dead! Jesus performed no greater miracles, with the lepers, or Bartimaeus, or Lazarus at the tomb, than his "word" does every day, even today. There IS no greater "miracle" than a life recreated, and turned around, and lifted up from the natural to the spiritual realm -- and this happens every time another person accepts Christ in baptism.

We come nothing short of the believers in the first century. True, we do not see the dead literally brought back to life -- not quite yet, anyway! But we do see those who were dead in their sins raised up to walk in newness of life. Can we ever praise God enough for this most wonderful of all miracles? God's Word -- and God's Spirit, through that Word -- is just as powerful today as it ever was.


The next "little thing" in John is the simple combination of two verses, one following the other. Why don't we notice this as we should? Because the two verses are artificially separated by a chapter division:

"Then each went to his own home (John 7:53)... but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives" (8:1)!
In contrast to all the others, Jesus had no home to go to! "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head" (Mark 8:20; Luk 9:58).

If we find our lives a complex of tensions and pressures, and a source of distress and uncertainty, let us learn this lesson of living with God. Let us see Him in every aspect of our lives, in every part of our day. This was the case with Jesus who, though he had no permanent abode, no established residence, was more surely grounded than any man who ever lived. He always dwelt with God, and God with him. Here, at the end of one of his long days, we catch a glimpse of the meeting between Father and Son, as the Son retires to the mount of Olives to spend the night with his Father. Even though he had no "home" in the accepted sense, not any more, even though he was a stranger and a pilgrim in the earth -- yet he made the Almighty God his home, and pitched his tent under the sheltering wings of the cherubim. The words of the psalmist are his words: "LORD, YOU have been our dwelling place throughout all generations" (Psa 90:1).


At the time of the last Passover, there came Greeks up to Jerusalem to worship. And while the Jewish leaders plotted and schemed as to how they might arrest Jesus, and kill him, these Greeks sought out Philip: "Sir," they said, "we would like to see Jesus" (Joh 12:21).

What examples for us! While the Jews were rejecting their own Messiah, these Gentiles were humbly and diligently seeking him. Nothing else would do. They would not be put off.

Do WE desire to see Jesus... in every part of our Bibles?

Do WE desire to see Jesus... in every aspect of our lives?

Do WE desire to see Jesus... on Saturday night as well as Sunday morning?


The Passover meal was ending; the lessons, and the warnings, had been given by Jesus. But Judas left early; his "cover story" was that he had some legitimate errand to accomplish; the other disciples supposed that -- because he was the treasurer -- he had business to attend to. But little did they know what that "business" was!

Now, "as soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out" (John 13:30).

Judas "went out" -- there is such a finality in that simple declarative statement. In this he was like Cain leaving the presence of God (Gen 4:16). In this he was like the unforgiving debtor -- like Judas, also obsessed with money -- who went out to acquire more (Mat 18:28). And in this "going out" he demonstrated irrevocably that he did not belong with the others -- all this John saw. And he recalled this very incident when, years later, he spoke of those who abandoned their faith, and the family of believers: "They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us" (1Jo 2:19).

And then John adds the powerful "And it was night!" (John 13:30).

It was an utterly self-evident statement, for only the Passover -- of all the Jewish feasts -- was always celebrated at night. Why did John bother with such a statement?

As at the very first Passover, when some Jews did not abide in their blood-sprinkled houses, Judas went out into the Egyptian "darkness" of death. Inside the upper room, there was truth and love and joy and light. Outside, there was only error and hatred and sorrow and despair and darkness and, at last, death. Judas abandoned the only true Light, and went out to the place where the darkness of night evoked the darkness of death. The shadows in the streets were the shadow in his soul. "He went out, and it was night."

John hears the door close on that night with an absolute and tragic finality -- like a prison gate slamming shut, or a great stone rolling across the entrance of a tomb. And he wants us to hear it too -- and never to forget how awful it sounds.


"I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. In that day you will no longer ask me anything. I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name" (John 16:20-23).
It was true: "In that day you will no longer ask me anything" (v 23). When the glorified Christ revealed himself to his disciples, their joy was such that all previous doubts and misapprehensions faded away, and they basked contentedly in the radiance of his love. Well enough, that's easy to understand, we think to ourselves.

But is there something more? Is Jesus speaking, down through the ages, to us as well? John seemed to think so, for he added his postscript to the book: "These things are written, that YE (the readers) might believe... and have life" (John 20:31).

Have we not all had the pestering little thoughts, of the right or wrong of some complex moral tangle, or perhaps of some puzzling verse that seems to defy exposition? Or perhaps spent countless hours with some of those favorite Christadelphian time-killers: as, for example, who were the angels that sinned? is Elijah dead, or alive? or who, if anyone, was the tempter in the wilderness? Then we tell ourselves, "Someday, when Christ comes, we'll know all those things!"

But what does Jesus say? "In that day (when the glorified Jesus reveals himself to his disciples)... your hearts shall rejoice... and ye shall ask me nothing." There is a profound reassurance in his words: not so much that our perplexing questions will all be answered, but that they will disappear! Nothing else will matter when that day comes. At that time we might have anything we desire from the Father, but no matter! We will already have everything we need: we will have Christ!


Even a man like Pilate could, from John's perspective, contribute "little things" which convey something of value to John's readers. For the cynical, worldly Pilate could ask the most profound of all questions, when he asked Jesus, "What is truth?" (John 18:38). And then, in John's narrative, he could answer his own question, when first he presented Jesus to the crowds: "Pilate said to them, 'Here is the man' " (Joh 19:5)... and yet a second time, when he said to the Jews, "Here is your king" (Joh 19:14).

John wants us to see that the man who is king of the Jews IS also the "truth" -- and that there is no other. "Truth" in Greek, and as used by John in his gospel, means "that which is real, in contrast to that which is but a shadow or a pattern". There is no other reality but Christ -- he is "the real thing"! When gems and monuments and, yes, even royal crowns are all decayed into dust, Christ will remain. When all the accomplishments, all the buildings, and all the great projects of mankind are practically forgotten -- a dim memory in the collective consciousness of a world that has been redeemed -- Christ will remain. When sin and death are no more, and every tear has been wiped from every eye, and when God's glory will fill the earth, Christ, and nothing else, will remain.

What is true? What is real? What is enduring? What will never fail?

The man who is King of the Jews.


"Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written" (Joh 21:25).
At first glance this is a bit hard to swallow, and one good-naturedly dismisses it as a well-meant but extreme exaggeration.

But perhaps our failure to appreciate the greatness of Jesus' work arises from our subconscious insistence on placing limits on this man. And here is THE ONE MAN who cannot be limited by time and space. His work continues to this very day, in all those who believe. Here we have the plausible explanation of what first seemed to be John's rather silly attempt at exaggeration.

It is a real jolt to realize that WE are the "books" that are being written, every one of us who has chosen to follow Christ. There are so many of us, in fact, that the "world" could scarcely contain all of us; but nevertheless it will on the day of the saints' glorification!

God has spoken and, miraculously, His word has been made flesh and dwelt among men, and does so still by the added force of the written word, in which are recorded the words and works of Christ. This incarnation of the Word of God, the man Christ, has worked within us, impressing upon the fleshly tablets of our hearts the principles of godliness. At the judgment seat Christ will open up each one of us and read us like "books", to see if the word of God has indeed been imprinted in our lives.

If it has, then each one of us will become an individual, unique "gospel" of the Son of God, bound and stamped with the seal of immortality: "Herein is the word of God, which lives forever! Herein are the further works of Jesus!" "The Gospel according to Glenn... or Margaret... or Robert... or Ellen."

And the "books" that have been "written" will then fill the earth with the living glory of God.

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