Simplicity and Profundity of John

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In His divine wisdom, God chose four disciples to write a biography of Jesus’ life, so that together they would paint a fully rounded portrait of His Son persuading people from every culture under heaven to believe in Him. The first three Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) are called the Synoptic Gospels. “Synoptic” means to give a comprehensive view so that the whole picture can be seen in its entirety. That’s why many of the stories and teachings in the first three gospels are repeated. Each of the writers is helping to fill in the details so we get an accurate portrait of God’s Son.

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But that wasn’t John’s purpose for writing. He repeats very little from Matthew, Mark, or Luke. For example, he says nothing about the birth, the genealogy, the baptism, or the temptation of Jesus, because that wasn’t his purpose. He didn’t want to present another earthly narrative of Jesus’ life; he wanted the events of Jesus’ life to prove His Deity. As a result, 90% of what John includes is found nowhere else in Scripture. For example, He devotes five chapters to Jesus’ parting words to His disciples on the night before His death. He also includes just 8 miracles—water turned to wine, healing a nobleman’s son, curing a paralytic, feeding the 5,000, walking on water, restoring the sight of a man born blind, raising Lazarus from the dead, and the miraculous catch of fish. Each is included for one purpose only—to prove that Jesus is Lord of heaven and earth with all authority given to Him by God the Father.

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It is also the simplest yet most profound of the Gospels. As a student of Koine Greek, the language in which the New Testament was written, I can tell you that John is by far the simplest of all the books to read. However, its truth is so profound it will take the most brilliant scholar among us eternity to plumb its depths. J. Sidlow Baxter says of it in his introduction to the Gospel of John,

“My pail I’m often dropping deep down into this well;
but it’s never touched the bottom however deep it fell;
and though I keep on dipping by study, faith, and prayer,
I have no power to measure the living water there.”

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The reason is because of what it’s trying to communicate to our finite minds—the infinite power, majesty, and wisdom of the Son of God whose heart is revealed in this Gospel like no other. The Bible teacher, John MacArthur, calls it “the Holy of Holies of the New Testament, for in it the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ is displayed and what was inaccessible to people in the Old Covenant is now accessible to us in the New Covenant, because the veil has been torn in two and the way is now open, so that we may come boldly into the presence of God. In this Gospel we fellowship in the deepest way with the Lord Jesus. We hear His beating heart. We touch His wound prints and hopefully with Thomas will say, ‘My Lord and my God! In some ways this gospel is simple enough for a child, yet as sublime as an angel; as gentle as a lamb, and as bold as a lion; as deep as the sea and as high as the heavens, and yet its truths can be and must be contained in a single human heart.”

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One advantage of the language, because it is so simple, is that it gives us an opportunity to learn a little Greek together. The reason I want to do so is because there are several controversial passages in the book of John which are translated in very different ways by the translators, which means they’re interpretations rather than translations. So one of the things we need to do is go behind the translations at certain points and see what the simple Greek text says. That’s our goal at Principles for Life Ministries. Instead of relying on the teachings of a church or organization, we want to develop a Biblical theology based on Sola Scriptura—the Bible as the sole authority for what we believe and do.

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Join me tomorrow as we practice this Reformation principle by hearing, understanding, and believing the message of John. (At that time, I will also provide both the written and audio studies of this entire introduction, so you can share it with others.)

Meet the Authors of John’s Gospel

Every passage of Scripture has two authorsthe Lord Himself, for as 2 Timothy 3:16 explains, “All Scripture is inspired by God.” And yet, except for the two tablets containing the Ten Commandments, which were written by the finger of God, the rest of the Bible was penned by human authors who, as 2 Peter 1:21 explains, “were carried along by the Holy Spirit,” so that only what God wanted written got written. So if God ensures the reliability of the Bible, why does it matter who the human author was? To determine his credibility and if he had the authority to speak for God. In the case of the Old Testament, the test was: Does he have the marks of a true prophet? For the New Testament, he had to an apostle or the associate of an apostle who, like Luke the traveling companion of Paul, wrote under the authority of an apostle.

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So what about John’s Gospel? Who wrote it and did he have the authority to do so? One interesting fact is that the author never names himself. Instead, he calls himself “the disciple Jesus loved.” (13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7; 21:20) Then how do we know who wrote it? Because of the unanimous testimony of the early church! Irenaeus, the early church father and disciple of Polycarp, said his master (a disciple of the Apostle John), testified that John wrote it during his final years while serving as an elder in Ephesus. John, of course, was given the authority to write it by the Lord Jesus who promised His disciples on the night before His death, “When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth…and declare to you the things that are to come…and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (John 16:13; 14:26)

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Then why didn’t John simply name himself and remove all doubt? He is mentioned by name many times in the first three Gospels but never in this one. The only John who is named in this Gospel is John the Baptist. So why not clarify who he was? I think it was due to humility and thankfulness. John didn’t want to detract from the glory of Christ, so he made it all about Jesus and not at all about himself. He also never got over the fact of how much the Lord loved him, so he simply chose to call himself “the disciple Jesus loved.” After all, if you wanted to write a book and give all the glory to Jesus, what better way to do it than remain anonymous and refer to yourself as “the disciple Jesus loved?” Besides, having an apostle’s name affixed to a gospel doesn’t guarantee it was written by an apostle. The fact is there were many false gospels claiming to be written by an apostle and were not. So it turns out that the best evidence of all was the testimony of the early church.

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Another reason it’s helpful to know who the human author was is to see how the truth he taught changed him. In John’s case, it turned his life upside down. He was, you will recall, the little brother of James and the son of Zebedee and Salome who was, according to John 19:25, the sister of Mary, Jesus’ mother. That means like John the Baptist, John the Apostle was the cousin of Jesus. Together John and James and Zebedee their father owned a fishing business and were partners with, according to Luke 5:10, Peter and his brother Andrew also, which means Jesus’ first four disciples were already close friends who had learned to trust one another. All of this was planned by the Father who was providentially preparing a team of followers for His Son. So I say to you never take for granted the work God is doing in the hearts of your children, nieces, nephews, and grandchildren just because they are family, for God may be preparing to do a great work through them the likes of which you’ve never dreamed.

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By the way, you should also know that Zebedee and sons did very well in the fishing business. Mark 1:20 says they hired servants who helped them in the work. William Barclay the historian adds that that’s why John can also later say of himself that he was “known to the high priest” in Jerusalem and allowed to enter his courtyard where Jesus stood trial. One of the big businesses in Galilee was the salted fish industry. It is therefore likely that John was responsible for delivering fish to the high priest and other wealthy families in Jerusalem. But then Jesus called him and said, “Follow Me, and I will make you a fisher of men.” And without hesitation, John left it all behind to follow Christ.

Of course, like you and I, he was a diamond in the rough when Jesus found him, with a big ego that had to be ground down and a fiery temper that had to be tamed. He and his brother James were the two young men who ignited an argument among the disciples when they asked their mother Salome (Jesus’ aunt) to use their family connection to ask Him to let them sit one at His right hand and the other at His left hand when He came into His kingdom. They were also hotheads who, when a village of Samaritans didn’t welcome them into their town, asked Jesus, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” (Luke 9:54) Jesus quickly corrected them, “The Son of Man didn’t come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.”

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But Jesus’ training paid off, just as it does in our lives, for by what name is John known today? The Apostle of Love! Over 80 times he uses the word “love” in his writings. In fact, it’s said near the end of his life while he was living in Ephesus, his disciples had to help him into the worship services where he only had enough energy to repeat one phrase. He would say, “Little children, love one another; love one another; love one another!” In fact, Jesus had such trust in John what favor did He ask of him while dying on the cross? He asked him to take care of His mother. That’s who the author of this Gospel was and how the Lord changed his life.

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Join us again tomorrow as we discuss and appreciate the uniqueness of John’s Gospel!

John, Please Introduce Us to Jesus!

I grew up in the church. Each week my parents took me to Sunday School where I worshiped in the same building where my grandmother first took my mother to church. But I didn’t know Jesus. Bible study wasn’t the focus of our church, and I needed reasons to believe. God inserted into my personality when He made me a ruthless need to be intellectually honest. So I refused to believe anything that wasn’t rooted in reality.

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My dad, on the other hand, was raised Roman Catholic with a terrible fear of hell which he tried to ease by insisting that a loving God couldn’t send anybody to hell. But I didn’t buy it. I’d read my Bible and knew that Jesus was the most loving Person who ever lived and had issued warning after warning about hell. So who do I believe? My dad or Jesus?

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I knew John 3:16 where God the Father promises eternal life and forgiveness to anyone who believes in His Son. But that was my problem. I didn’t believe! So week after week I sat in that sanctuary praying for faith without any apparent answer to my prayers.

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Fast forward 10 years to 1972 and my second year of college. By now, with major life decisions ahead of me, I was desperate for God’s direction. So I became a religion major. But that didn’t help. Now I knew what different cultures and peoples believe. But I was still faithless without any definitive answer from God Himself.

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So finally I made a commitment. I promised God I would read all the accounts of Jesus’ life—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—and keep reading them until I determined if they were fact or fiction. John’s Gospel had the greatest impact on me because he insisted that in Christ, God Himself had become a Man. Sure enough, by my third time through the Gospels, I had made up my mind. Looking back I realize now that it was the Spirit of God using His Word to give me faith to believe. I also remember sitting in a religion class one afternoon praying, “OK, God, I’m now ready to believe whatever You say about Your Son Jesus.”

Not coincidentally, that afternoon a fellow student began to witness to me, explained the Gospel to me more fully, and invited me to his Bible study. I went and from that day on, I’ve been a fully-convinced follower of Jesus who in a matter of a few minutes went from not believing in the Bible, the devil, the Resurrection, and other miracles of the Bible to accepting whatever God says in His Word. I figured if Satan could blind my mind to the truth about Jesus, I’d better not trust my own reasoning powers about anything else in the Bible. God would eventually help me understand all those things too.

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I’ve also made it my practice since then to encourage anyone who is searching for the truth to read the Gospel of John because it more than any other book in the Bible makes it clear who Jesus is and how to follow Him with all your heart. The Greek scholar, A. T. Robertson, said of John’s Gospel, “It is the most wonderful of all books in the world!” I couldn’t agree more, for this is the means by which I was born again!” It’s also the book I want to introduce to you in our next several studies, for I know it will be a faith-builder for you too. Over the next few days we’ll look at the first five verses together. By the way, I hope you’ll have your Bible in front of you as we study. Because what’s important is not what I say, but what God says about His Son in His Word. Together we will: 1) Meet its authors; 2) Appreciate its uniqueness; and 3) Clarify its message.

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So join us tomorrow when we meet the two authors of John’s Gospel.

 

Gospel Door Opens in Cuba

Last week we introduced you to the miraculous work of church planting in Nicaragua. However, I failed to mention at the time that because of his success, Pastor Rigoberto Reyes is now director of church planting in all of Central America – Belize, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Panama.

More amazing is the fact that God has also opened the door for him to train pastors where North Americans are not always welcome – the country of Cuba. Below are two short prayer letters – the first from Rigoberto summarizing his trip in March with an estimate of costs to continue this ministry. The second letter is from Yoan Garcia, a Cuban pastor, who describes how Rigo’s visit was received.

Yes, money is necessary to pay for these trips. So I say again, if anyone would like to invest in this ground-breaking ministry, you can donate it to PFL and we will send 100% with no charge for overhead. Or you can send your gifts to Rigoberto Reyes’ account at Missions Door. God bless you for caring!

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To download these letters and read them in their original form, click on Cuba Letter #1 and Cuba Letter #2. Please pray and let your friends know about this new work in Cuba!

Check out this additional letter from Randy Churchill, a good friend who made a recent missions trip to Cuba. Just click HERE.

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