19. The Tide of Acceptance (1)

Meditating on Great Themes in John:   19. The Tide of Acceptance

John 12:9-11  Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and putting their faith in him.

A sub-title for this study might be, ‘The Battle for Belief’. When we come to chapters 11 and 12, with the raising of Lazarus the battle for belief that has been going on throughout the book seems to come to a climax. This battle for belief is rather like the tide that goes in an out. In this study we will note the incoming tide and then in the next one the outgoing tide. The incoming tide is belief, the outgoing tide is rejection. We have earlier commented that one of the main overriding themes of John is the identity of Jesus. This theme of belief in him is rather like a sub-theme to that, how people responded to the revelation of who he was. (That we will see very clearly in the next study after this one).

John hinted at this tide early on in the Prologue when he wrote, The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” (Jn 1:5) and then, “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. (Jn 1:10-12) There it is simply laid out – three things people did not do in respect of belief, but nevertheless there were some who obviously did believe and came to be children of God. As we go through John we will see the signs of this tidal movement. So, let’s look at the incoming signs.

“This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.” (Jn 2:11) In chapter 1 we saw individual responses of the early disciples to meeting Jesus (see Jn 1:41,45,49). Having seen this miracle their faith is bolstered. Yet things were said and done that even they struggled with: “After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.” (Jn 2:22) i.e. at the time they did not understand what he was saying.

Nevertheless the things he did swayed the general people: “Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name.” (Jn 2:23)

`        When he left Jerusalem and returned to Galilee via Samaria, after the encounter with the Samaritan woman we find, Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers. They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.” (Jn 4:39-42)

He leaves there and goes to Cana in Galilee where, you remember, he healed the official’s son from a distance and we read, “Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” So he and all his household believed.” (Jn 4:53) After the feeding of the five thousand we find, “After the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus did, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.” (Jn 6:14,15) But the tide can change so quickly. Before the end of the chapter we read, “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” (Jn 6:66)

The conflict of belief versus unbelief becomes clearer in the following chapters: “Again they tried to seize him, but he escaped their grasp. Then Jesus went back across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing in the early days. Here he stayed and many people came to him. They said, “Though John never performed a miraculous sign, all that John said about this man was true.” And in that place many believed in Jesus.” (Jn 10:39-42) When the opposition rose, Jesus stepped away and allowed there to be opportunities for belief to grow in others.

We see the peak of his approval on what we call Palm Sunday, “The next day the great crowd that had come for the Feast heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna!”   “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Jn 12:12-13) and a little later John explains why this peak of popularity: “Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. Many people, because they had heard that he had given this miraculous sign, went out to meet him.” (Jn 12:17,18)

There is still a growing opposition in some quarters that we will examine in the following study, but the battle for belief still raged: “Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue.” (Jn 12:42) John likes that word ‘believed’ for it occurs 19 times in this Gospel. The identity of Jesus is a key theme but how people responded to it is equally important in terms of volume of the reports in John.

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9. The Man of Power

Meditating on Great Themes in John:   9. The Man of Power

John 4:49,50  The royal official said, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” Jesus replied, “You may go. Your son will live.”

We are, remember looking for big themes in this Gospel of John. Apart from the theology that John has imparted in his writing, we have seen Jesus exercise power just once – turning water into wine. Now what is intriguing is that back in chapter 2 after that miracle we find Jesus going back to Jerusalem to the Passover where he overturns the tables in the Temple but in what follows we find John recording, Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name.” (Jn 2:23)

Now we have already commented on John’s references to ‘miraculous signs’ but when we get to the end of the passage at the end of chapter 4 we are going to find, “This was the second miraculous sign that Jesus performed, having come from Judea to Galilee.” (4:54) Now a careless reading might result in someone saying, “Why only the second miraculous sign; surely he has already done more of them in Jerusalem?” Our answer has to be yes, but perhaps the emphasis should be on the words, “having come from Judea to Galilee,” meaning this was the second sign up in Galilee. The first sign up there had been turning the water into wine, so what happened here and why was it so special and what does it say about Jesus that John wants to emphasise?

Before we go on to answer those questions we need to note something in passing. When we said, ‘that John wants to emphasise’, we are reminding ourselves that this particular Gospel is almost a series of cameos (short sketches making important points). Yes, he puts them in historical context but all we are seeing is the tip of the iceberg as far as the things Jesus did are concerned. Already just now we noted that summary verse about his activities in Jerusalem where he obviously did many things that John just didn’t bother recording, and at the end of the Gospel he emphasises all this when he writes in his closing words, “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.”  (Jn 21:25)

So what is so special about the incident we’re about to look at and why did John include it? From our previous study we move on and the Samaritan women has returned home and told her people about Jesus. They come out and meet him: “Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers.” (Jn 4:39-41) First, some of them believe because of her testimony but when they meet him and he stays with them for two days, more of them believe in him.

After this he continues his journey to Galilee and there he is greeted warmly because a number of others had returned from the Passover at Jerusalem telling of what he had done there. (v.45) It is in this context that we find Jesus returning to Cana where the water into wine incident had occurred and there he is accosted by a desperate ‘royal official’ (presumably from Herod’s palace) who had come from Capernaum when he had heard Jesus had arrived back from Jerusalem (v.46,47).

The man is desperate for his son who is near to death (v.47) and he begs Jesus to come and heal him. Jesus is challenging but it is unclear whether he means the man or the people of Galilee generally when he says, “Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders, you will never believe.” (v.48) Now whether he is simply stating the obvious about their unbelief or whether he is highlighting the words, ‘miraculous signs’, or whether he is simply seeking to provoke the man to outright faith is not clear. The man persists: “The royal official said, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” (v.49)

It is what follows that makes this so remarkable. “Jesus replied, “You may go. Your son will live.” (v.50); it simply lacks drama. Now to make sure we understand the significance of this, John records, “The man took Jesus at his word and departed. While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living. When he inquired as to the time when his son got better, they said to him, “The fever left him yesterday at the seventh hour.” Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” So he and all his household believed.” (v.50-53) In other words Jesus in Cana speaks the words and the son, some seventeen or eighteen miles away in Capernaum is healed. John identifies this as a miraculous sign (v.54) and so it clearly was.

It is one thing to somehow turn water into wine when you are in the same room, but to heal a dying boy many miles away by a simple word takes us onto a much higher plane where we are considering Jesus. So we have now seen the power to change material things, talk of the power of resurrection and the power to bring about a new birth, the power to bring living water as a new life source and now the power and authority to bring about an amazing healing at a distance by a simple words. Any questions?

4. The Life Transformer

Meditating on Great Themes in John:   4. The Life Transformer

 

John 2:11   This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.

So far, John has given us light-bulb revelations, knowledge of Jesus  that comes in quick bursts through the mouths of others. Suddenly that all changes. As we move into chapter 2 John recounts an incident, early in Jesus’ ministry, that he calls the first of Jesus’ miraculous signs. John is big on signs; he sees the miracles of Jesus as signs that reveal him for what he is.  We find the phrase ‘miraculous signs’ appear in 2:1,  2:23,  3:2,  4:48,  6:2, 6:26, 7:31, 9:16, 11:47, 12:37 and 20:30, i.e. 11 times!  The words ‘miraculous sign’ appear in  2:18,  4:54, 6:14 , 6:30, 10:41 and 12:18 i.e. another 6 times. So seventeen times John refers to Jesus’ miraculous activities as signs pointing to himself. We will also see later the number of times John uses the word ‘testify’. The two things go together as ways things point to Jesus to reveal who he is.

So here we find Jesus and his first followers a few days later at a wedding in Cana back in Galilee. They are there because Jesus’ mother is a guest and so Jesus has been included and he simply brings along his few followers. It’s an ordinary wedding but soon things go wrong: the wine runs out. Some Christians are a little sensitive about drinking alcohol but whether this was full blown wine or watered down wine, the fact is that wine was the drink to have at a celebration because it tasted good and it lightened people up. Don’t forget that latter part. Yes the apostle Paul did teach, “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.” (Eph 5:18)   The thrust of his teaching was don’t lose self control.

So the wine runs out which would be both a cause of shame to those organizing the wedding celebrations and a dampener on the remainder of the party. To cut the story short for emphasis, Jesus gets large jars filled with water and then turns that water into what turns out to be very good quality wine. Now we sometimes so focus on the nuts and bolts of a story that we miss the big picture, the things being revealed in the wider sense.

First, this is a miracle, of that there can be no doubt. If Jesus had leant on a neighbour or nearby friend who had a large source of top quality wine, the logistics of ferrying it all in without anyone knowing would have made that impossible. Similarly if this story got out afterwards and it had not been true, the servants would have said so. Likewise there is no possibility that the person running the celebration would have held back a secret store of top quality wine because a) that would have reflected badly on him when the news of no more wine leaked out, and b) the practice was to use the best wine first and then bring out the poorer quality wine when every had had too much to drink (v.10) and were less discerning!

Second, this is about transformation. At the heart of it is water being transformed into wine, the ordinary being transformed into the special. Water simply slakes thirst, wine blesses the palate and releases the heart: “wine makes life merry.” (Eccles 10:19) There is no doubt about it that alcohol in small measure lifts the spirits (sorry for the pun!). Yes, in excess it causes unpleasantness, but winegrowing was a particular characteristic of the Promised Land. Remember the spies came back bringing bunches of grapes from Canaan (see Num 13:23). It had already got Lot to act without knowledge there for drinking too much of the produce! (see Gen 19:32-35)

But this is a major issue in this particular incident. Jesus isn’t simply helping out, he is revealing his purpose in life to bring life transformation, from the humdrum to the boosted joyfulness. Do you remember when the Spirit was poured out on the Day of Pentecost  the effect on the disciples was to have some to accuse them of being drunk (Acts 2:13). Joy is a normal response to being filled with the Holy Spirit.

When Luke was recording the early events of Jesus’ ministry, he used the incident of Jesus reading the scroll in the synagogue: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed,  to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Lk 4:18,19 quoting Isa 61) That also is all about life transformation. Luke’s record had been around many years so John didn’t need to repeat it. Instead he conveys the same thing but through the first of the acts of Jesus, the miraculous signs.

Jesus in his teaching conveyed this, speaking indirectly of what he was doing as ‘new wine’: “Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” (Mt 9:17)  The message is clear, Jesus came to bring an effervescent life to replace the gloom and darkness of the sin-laden life. As Jesus’ ministry developed and crowds were healed, joy must have been the primary characteristic of what was going on. That is what Jesus had come to bring and John conveys it through this miracle.

21. Bringer of Signs

Jesus in John’s Gospel : 21 : Jesus, bringer of signs

Jn 2:11 This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him

John, as we said in the Introduction to these meditations, writes in old age, much later than the other Gospel writers, and has had time to ponder on the things that happened with Jesus. He has come to realize that the miraculous things that Jesus did were supposed to act of signs for those who were seeking, signs that would lead them to realize who he really was. We need to itemize them to appreciate them:

Ref. Miracle-Sign Message of it
2:1-11 Water into wine Power of transformation
4:46-54 Heals official’s son Power limited by space or time
5:1-16 Heals a lame man Power over disease despite sin
6:5-14 Feeds five thousand Power of supply
6:17-21 Walks on water Power over nature
9:1-7 Heals man born blind Power over birth defects
11:1-44 Raises Lazarus Power over death
21:1-14 Gives catch of fish Power over circumstances

Seven signs included by John before death, one added after resurrection. (In Biblical numerology, seven is the number of perfection, eight the number of resurrection). Obviously, as the other Gospels show us, there were considerably more miracles than this but John includes these eight as specific signs pointing to Jesus. As John put it: Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (Jn 20:30,31). To make the point, at the close of his book, John writes, 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 (Jn 21:25). Oh yes, John is very open about his intentions: he is writing a limited account of what Jesus did, but the things he is including are here to show us, the future readers, the wonders of this person called the Christ.

Did these signs work? Well in this example above we see, He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him. This starter-miracle was enough for his disciples. For the second one we read,Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, ‘Your son will live.’ So he and all his household believed.” (Jn 4:53). For the third one, The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well (Jn 5:15). After the feeding of the five thousand, After the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus did, they began to say, ‘Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” (Jn 6:14). On the lake, he said to them, “It is I; don’t be afraid.” Then they were willing to take him into the boat (Jn 6:20,21). Of the blind man, Then the man said, ‘Lord, I believe,’ and he worshiped him (Jn 9:38). After Lazarus, Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him.” (Jn 11:45). On the final time, None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord.” (Jn 21:12). At every one there was some positive response, yet it wasn’t until John wrote that the significance of these things was fully recorded. Have you followed the sign?