At the very start of our new bible study, we take a look at the prologue of John; the structure of the first four chapters and tease out some key ideas that will help us over the coming weeks.
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.John Ch 1 v 1 – 5
The greek word in verse 5, here rendered ‘overcome’ has a wonderful double meaning employed by the author. By linking this opening to the Genesis narrative, John is saying that just as God separated the light from the darkness (Genesis 1:4), Jesus (the light of the world) shone in the darkness and the darkness could not overcome Him. John is stating the outcome of God’s salvation plan from the outset. Christ’s mission would not be frustrated, the powers of darkness would not prevail.
κατέλαβεν here could be translated as “overcame” or “understood”. Throughout the first four chapters of John we are going to see so many instances of people who haven’t quite understood.
It’s possible today that we could seek Jesus and read His word without truly understanding our saviour.
Jesus is the horizon of our theology
That means we can’t look beyond Jesus for answers about God.
John writes in chapter twenty the whole reason for his gospel.
30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.John Ch 20 v 30 – 31
The whole point of this Gospel and of scripture in general, is to bring us in to a closer relationship with Christ.
Getting it wrong – when we misunderstand.
The bible didn’t come to us chapter and versified. The history of these often quoted numbers is written about in Wikipedia (emphasis mine) :
Cardinal Hugo de Sancto Caro is often given credit for first dividing the Latin Vulgate into chapters in the real sense, but it is the arrangement of his contemporary and fellow cardinal Stephen Langton who in 1205 created the chapter divisions which are used today. They were then inserted into Greek manuscripts of the New Testament in the 16th century. Robert Estienne (Robert Stephanus) was the first to number the verses within each chapter, his verse numbers entering printed editions in 1551 (New Testament) and 1571 (Hebrew Bible).
The division of the Bible into chapters and verses has received criticism from some traditionalists and modern scholars. Critics state that the text is often divided in an incoherent way, or at inappropriate rhetorical points, and that it encourages citing passages out of context. Nevertheless, the chapter and verse numbers have become indispensable as technical references for Bible study.
The reason I make this point is because there is a clear theme running through the first four chapters of John. I’ll call this theme the misunderstood / misrepresented Christ.
The misunderstood / misrepresented Christ.
Since the beginning of creation it has always been the goal of God to be embodied in his creation. To be a participant, not in some mechanistic fashion, but in a true relational partnership with His creation.
God literally walked and talked in the garden with Adam and Eve.
He wrote the law for the Israelites so that they could image God to the nations.
He became flesh in a sleepy little middle-eastern village so that we could know Him.
John is saying that Christ is here for those who have had God misrepresented to them. Jesus came to set the record straight. To clear up the misunderstandings, to shine a light on how God was being misrepresented.
The Temple – Qualifications not necessary.
Jesus goes in to the temple to find God is being misrepresented. They have made the faith in to something it wasn’t meant to be. Jesus understands himself as the corrective to what faith has become.
People are being exploited in the name of God, they need to exchange money to buy animals to sacrifice so that they can qualify to be part of the crowd of believers.
Jesus says, “You have made my Fathers house, in to a marketplace.”
In some sense Jesus closes the temple that day. He opens a new one.
“Destroy this temple and I will rebuild it in three days.” – talking about His body.
Jesus breaks the status-quo religion that people needed to pay-their-way to have a relationship with God.
Jesus becomes the payment, He becomes the Way, so that we can have a relationship with God.
Nicodemus – We should really know better.
Nicodemus is a textbook example of how someone can have all the credentials of a person following God, whilst simultaneously missing the point entirely.
Jesus jumps straight to the heart of Nicodemus’s misunderstanding. He does this by telling Nicodemus that anyone who wants to enter heaven (the kingdom of God inaugurated at the end of the age) must be “born again” or “born from above” (either translation is possible). In other words, a person must experience a spiritual rebirth.
Jews at that time had a particular understanding of the future kingdom of God. Kostenberger elaborates:
Jews expected a future kingdom ruled by the Son of David (Isa. 9:1-7; 11:1-5, 10-11; Ezek. 34:23-24; Zech. 9:9-10, the Lord’s Servant (Isa. 42:1 -7; 49:1-7), indeed, the Lord himself (Ezek. 34:11-16; 36:22-32; Zech. 14:9). While not everyone was to be included in this kingdom, Jews in Jesus’ day generally believed that all Israelites would have a share in the world to come, with the exception of those guilty of apostasy or some other blatant sin (m. Sanh. 10:1).
Nicodemus doesn’t understand what Jesus is saying, so Jesus explains again that no human being enters heaven because of biology. Fragile and finite human nature only begets more fragile and finite human nature. The only way for a mortal human to enter heaven is for a spiritual intervention from God Himself. The fact that Nicodemus was born a Jew as a descendant of Abraham and Jacob, and is a devout member of the Pharisees, has no bearing on whether he will enter heaven. The effects of God’s spirit, like the wind, can be seen, but not controlled by human beings.
The Wedding in Cana – Trading a relationship for religion.
We will look at this miracle in more detail when we come to the passage but lets me just summarise the points we already made here:
Water jars – The old law – no amount of water could cleanse us from our sin.
Jewish ceremonial washing – harks back to the ritual washings of Aaron in Exodus and was also part of the Levitical law.
Like a version of our ‘grace’ before meals the washing was:
A sign of repentance
Repenting of all the evil and “unclean” things that had been contacted during the day.
The point of the ritual was repentance to be put right with God. However by the time we arrive in Jesus’ day the ritual has become the point.
What was meant to signify cleansing and repentance has become an empty religious performance.