Lesson 1: Introduction to John

Lesson 1: Introduction to John

As soon as you start reading John’s Gospel, you know you are into something very different. Mark starts with a carpenter having a religious experience and leaving his business and family; Matthew with foreign scholars worshiping an infant the Jewish king is trying to kill; Luke with shepherds of the third shift visiting a son born to a poor family thrown about by imperial politics. And then we have John who begins with a definition of God (1: 1-5, 10-13).

Matthew, Mark, and Luke go on to record events in Jesus of Nazareth’s life. John organizes his Gospel around seven “I am” sayings and supports each of these with a sign. For instance, he supports “I am the Bread of Life” by the feeding of 5000 people, the “I am the Resurrection and Life” by raising Lazarus from death, and “I am the Light of the World” by healing a blind man. This is John’s way of giving meaning to the earthly ministry Matthew, Mark, and Luke’s describe as teaching and healing. He clearly refers to God naming himself as “I am who I am” in Exodus 3 and means to proclaim that Jesus is God.

John also confronts the most critical question of the early Church, “How could a criminal executed as an enemy of humanity be God?” When Jesus asks the soldiers who come to arrest him whom they seek, they answer “Jesus of Nazareth” and he says twice, just to make sure we do not miss the significance, “I am He.” At the end of the Passion Narrative when the man John has been presenting as God stands before them, the politician representing the authorities of this world asks cynically, “What is Truth?” and Thomas representing the doubters confesses, “My Lord and my God.”

As you read on, you will find many more differences: The key role is played not by Simon Peter but the Beloved Disciple; the book does have a long list of teachings but only one command, “Love as I have loved”; it does not include numerous miracles but only a few typical ones it discusses at length; women play much larger roles; dates don’t match those in the other three gospels; some essentials events in the other three are omitted. The integrity of a honest and conscientious Fundamentalist is challenged.

So let’s look next week at John’s definition of God that is so central to his proclamation “Jesus is God.” You can prepare by reading the first chapter of the Gospel, especially 1: 1-5 and 10-13. Remember as we go that John does not put the final touch on the meaning of the proclamation. For the next 300 years the Church discussed, struggled and fought over how it changes our concept of God and how a human could be divine. Indeed, the struggle continues. Muslims, atheists, and many thoughtful Christians still find it to be the most controversial doctrine of the Christian faith.

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2 Enlightened Replies

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  1. Edward Egan says:

    How do we place DNA and Organ donor transplants into the words of the Matthew,Luke,Mark, andJohn?

  2. Pastor Fritz Foltz says:

    This is obviously one of the challenge for our day, Edward. I think John’s prologue offers us a context in which to make sense out of DNA, organ transplants, and such. When it speaks of Jesus as the logos or order of creation, it gives us direction in putting everything in creation in its proper place. Scientific findings are to be used in love to serve God.

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