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
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
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
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
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
"Then each went to his own home (John 7:53)... but Jesus went to the Mount of
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
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
Do WE desire to see Jesus... in every aspect of our
Do WE desire to see Jesus... on Saturday night as well as
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
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
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
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
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
What is true? What is real? What is enduring? What will never
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
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.