JOHN 3: Humility and Love

By Stephen W. HiemstraMrPersonality

Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:3-4 ESV).

Have you been born again?

The Apostle John actually uses the enigmatic expression, born from above, to talk about spiritual rebirth (vv 5-6).  Commentators often wonder why Nicodemus was surprised by Jesus’ teaching because the prophet Ezekiel wrote something similar:  And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules (Ezekiel 36:27).  Nicodemus was perhaps surprised, not because he does not know his scripture; he is surprised because the usual Jewish teaching focused on complying with the Law of Moses.  Pharisees taught that the law could be obeyed if the proper rules were known and followed—God’s intervention was not required to comply with the law.

Being born again implies that God comes to us—we do not come to him.  Following the law; being good; attending the right church will not bring you closer to God.  God is not far from us in terms of physical distance; He is far from us in terms of holiness—moral distance.  He is infinite; we are finite.  God must choose us; because we cannot choose him.  And when God chooses us, we are radically changed.

The discourse with Nicodemus is the first of three sections in chapter three.  The other two are Jesus’ teaching on love and further comments by John the Baptist.

The dialog with Nicodemus ends with a series of statements by Jesus which ends in verse 21.  Among these statements is the familiar passage:  John 3:16—For God so loved the world…

God’s love of an unholy world is unexpected.  The rebellion of the created order from God sets the world in opposition to God.  This was, for example, the reason for God sending the flood but saving Noah and his family (Genesis 6:5-7).  Jesus, as God’s son, is the champion promised in Genesis 3:15 who would defeat Satan.  God’s love in Christ not only allows God to keep his promise, but Christ’s example also sets God’s people apart from the world—when they pay attention.   By looking to that example, we are saved (Numbers 21:9).

In the sermon on the mount, Jesus said:  Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust (Matthew 5:44-45 ESV).

In our own lifetime, Bishop Desmond Tutu applied this principle of love for enemies when he formed South Africa’s Truth and Justice commission.  The abolishment of Apartheid accordingly became an opportunity for healing rather than an excuse for genocide.  John the Baptist, who recognized the power of God in Christ, voluntarily gave up his own ministry to make room for Jesus saying:  He must increase, but I must decrease (v 30).  In like manner, the people of South Africa gave up their legitimate claim for revenge to make room for Christ’s love and became an example to the entire world.

Do you want to love the world?  Give up your rights and practice Christ’s love.

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JOHN 2: Wine, Whips, and Waste

By Stephen W. HiemstraWeddingRings

When all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread. Pharaoh said to all the Egyptians, Go to Joseph. What he says to you, do (Genesis 41:55 ESV).

How does God reveal himself to you?

In John’s Gospel, Jesus first reveals himself to a couple of newlyweds in danger of being stigmatized for their poverty (not enough wine).  More generally, God reveals himself through super-abundance of wine (2:1-11), bread (6:5-14), and fish (21:3-13).

Chapter one ends with Jesus encountering Nathanael and offering a prophecy paraphrasing Jacob’s ladder (Genesis 28:12):  Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man (John 1:51).  Nathanael came from Cana (John 21:2).  In chapter 2, this prophecy is fulfilled in a wedding at Cana.

The miracle of water being turned into wine is rich in messianic imagery.  The prophet Isaiah, for example, writes of the messianic banquet:  the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined…He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces… (Isaiah 25:6-8).  When Moses sends spies into the promised land, they come back with a huge cluster of grapes (Numbers 13:23).  Building on the vineyard theme, many of Jesus’ parables tie vineyards to God’s judgment (e.g. Matthew 21:33-40).

In case we missed the significance of Jesus’ first miracle, John writes:  This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him (John 2:11).  John’s use of the word, glory, to refer to Jesus associates him with God’s Shekinah cloud revealed at Sinai (Exodus 24:16-17) and associated with the tabernacle (Numbers 14:10) and, later, with the temple in Jerusalem (1 Kings 8:10-11).  John makes this temple association explicit in verses 19-21.

When Jesus cleanses the temple with a whip, he prophetically acts out divine judgment as a prelude to temple abandonment (Psalm 69:9; Isaiah 56:4-7; Jeremiah 7:9-11).  When Jesus died on the cross, the temple sacrificial system became redundant because the atonement for sin had been made for all time (Hebrews 10:12).  Jesus’ resurrection completed the symbolism (John 2:18-21; Acts 17:30-31). God abandoned the temple and it was destroyed by a Roman army in AD 70.

Which of Jesus’ miracles do you remember best?

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JOHN 1: Who is Jesus Christ?

By Stephen W. HiemstraJesus

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1 ESV).

Who is Jesus Christ?

The session of my home church asks each new member three questions:  Tell us about your walk with the Lord?  Why do you want to join this church?  And, who is Jesus Christ to you?

The Apostle John wrote his Gospel, in part, to answer this final question.  John’s answers include:  Jesus is the incarnate word of God (v 1); the pre-existent one  (v 2); the creator (v 3); light and life of the world (v 4); the victorious light that drives out darkness (v 5); the one about who the prophet John (the Baptist) spoke (v 7); the unknown one (v 10); the one rejected (v 11); the one who introduces us to the family of God (v 12); the one born of spirit rather than flesh (v 13); the one who shows the glory of God (v 14); the one who ranks above the prophet John (the Baptist);  the one who brings grace (v 16); the one who brings both grace and truth (vv 14, 17); the one who is worthy (v 27); the one on who the spirit of God rests (v 32); the one who baptizes not with water but with the Holy Spirit (v 33); the Lamb of God (v 36); the sought after teacher (v 38);  God’s Messiah (v 41);  The one who says “follow me” (v 43);  the good thing that came from Nazareth (v 46); the one who knew Nathaniel before he was born (under the fig tree!; v 48); the Rabbi, Son of God, and King of Israel (v 49); the one of whom Jacob was given a vision (Genesis 28:12; v 51).  The Apostle Peter answered directly:  You are the Christ (Mark 8:29).

Who is Christ to you?

Chapter one of John’s Gospels divides into three parts.  The first part is sometimes thought to have been an early church hymn with four stanzas (vv 1-2, 3-8, 9-13, and 14-18) [1].  The second part focuses on the witness of John the Baptist.  The third part describes the calling of the first disciples.

John’s Gospel is thought to have been the last one written, in part, because it is the most spiritual.  For this reason, it was known in the early church as:  The Eagle.

[1] Gary M. Burge. 2000.   The NIV Application Commentary:  John.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan. Page 53-61.

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References for Gospel of John

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Bauckham, Richard. 2007. The Testimony of the Beloved Disciple: Narrative, History, and Theology in the Gospel of John. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic.

Burge, Gary M. 2000. The NIV Application Commentary: John. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Keener, Craig S. 2003. The Gospel of John: A Commentary. Vol. 1 & 2. Peabody: Hendrickson.

Morris, Leon. 1987. The Gospel According to John. New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

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