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John 1–2 Jesus–The Incarnate Word
IN THESE FIRST TWO CHAPTERS OF THE GOSPEL, Jesus is first introduced from a spiritual point of view, then as the Christ to whom John the Baptist points, and finally from the perspective of the first disciples. John also reports Jesus' first miracle and his clash with the money-changers and merchants in the temple. Most importantly, John introduces words that he later develops as primary themes through the rest of the book. Read through both chapters i and 2 at one sitting to understand the scope of John's introduction.
Find the Facts
Whom does John believe Jesus to be? When did Jesus Christ the Lord come into being? What is the role of John the Baptist? Who are the first two disciples identified in this gospel? What need did Jesus meet in his first miracle? Why was Jesus angry at the merchants in the temple?
I. Unlike Matthew, Mark and Luke, John begins his account with a beautiful and moving hymn to Jesus' glory. Choose three or four words that John uses in 1:1-18 that describe the essence of Jesus.
Verses I-I8 of chapter 1 are often called John's prologue, for they preface the body of his gospel as a doxology, revealing both Jesus' divine source and his human origin and placing him in a timeless perspective. Rather than starting with Jesus' birth, John returns to Genesis. "In the beginning ..." reads GENESIS I:I, and that is where John places Jesus. This gospel, then, becomes a new creation story, the account of a new beginning in God's relationship with humanity.
John calls Jesus the "Word." The term word in Greek thought meant the controlling and organizing force in the world, the higher mind that held everything together. In Jewish thought, word represented the creative power of God. In the creation story (GEN. I), everything came into being through God's word. God speaking is synonymous with God acting creatively. Each of the six creation days begins with the phrase, "and God said ..."
John's choice of the word logos perfectly combines Greek and Hebrew thought and introduces Jesus to both cultures as the fullest expression of the depths of God.
2. In your own words express what you think is John's main point in 1:1-3.
3. What does John's claim about Jesus in 1:1-3 add to your understanding of Jesus? What does it clarify? What questions does it raise?
Light and life are key words in John's gospel. He uses them together here in verse 4 and many times more throughout the gospel. This life is different from the period of human existence we call a "life span." Rather, the life in Jesus has about it the essence of "Godness." He does not just have life, he is life. The eternal life that characterizes God's existence also characterizes the Word.
Jesus is a light to humankind. Powers loose in the world try to hide the life of God in the same way that darkness makes objects difficult to see. Jesus is light because his life and ministry illuminate the life of God so that we may perceive and receive that life.
In speaking of light, John again links Jesus with the creation story. When the earth was "a formless void" (GEN. 1:2), there was only darkness, chaos and disorder. God's first creative act was to bring light.
"Then God said, 'Let there be light'" (GEN. 1:3). In the same way, the light of Jesus drives away the chaos of spiritual darkness.
In John's day, light and darkness were not considered simply neutral qualities. Darkness was not just the absence of light; it was a force that was actively hostile to the light of God.
4. What kinds of darkness in the world try to overcome the life of God today? In what circumstances have you observed that darkness is unable to overcome the life of God?
5. In what sense do you experience the life of God as light? What kinds of darkness are hostile to the life of God in you?
John the Baptist has a critical role in preparing the people to receive Jesus' message. It is he who serves as the link between the Old Testament prophecies and the new kingdom that dawned with Jesus. John, the writer, takes great pains to put to rest any idea that John the Baptist is himself Christ. Rather, he prepares the way for Jesus.
Besides his role of preparer, John the Baptist serves as a "witness to testify to the light." Throughout the Gospel of John, witnesses come forth to testify concerning Jesus. John the Baptist is called as the first witness and later in this chapter (1:19-28) he is even "interrogated."
As a witness, John the Baptist points to Jesus—to his identity, to his message and to his mission (1:29-37). In the line of the Old Testament prophets before him, John the Baptist calls men and women to repentance, which prepares the way for belief.
6. In what ways is the ministry of John the Baptist a witness and a model for Christians today? How can you help to prepare the way for Jesus in someone else's life? Who would you call the preparer in your life?
When John says of Jesus that "the world did not know him," he explains a purpose for writing. Though the creating force of the universe resides in Jesus, people fail to recognize him. To miss meeting Jesus is tragic, so John writes to give people the evidence they need to see Jesus. Though Jesus' exhortation to be "born from above" comes later (3:3), John introduces this thought here. By receiving Jesus, we experience God's power (1:12), enabling us to inherit a position of privilege as God's children.
"And the Word became flesh and lived among us, full of grace and truth." John summarizes the Christmas story in this one sentence. The birth narratives from Matthew and Luke are useful in telling us what happened on the first Christmas, but John tells us what that day means. Like Matthew, John understands the incarnation as the presence of God among humanity (MT. 1:23), surpassing every other experience in the history of God's chosen people. In Jesus, God is with us more fully than ever before (EX. 40:34-38). The glory of the Lord manifests itself clearly in Jesus, explicitly in the transfiguration (which John possibly alludes to in 1:14) and implicitly in his ministry (2:11).
Grace and truth, two weighty words in John's gospel, perfectly describe this incarnate Word. Grace describes that unmerited favor of God, which Jesus embodies and communicates to us. Though the word grace never appears again in John's gospel, its presence here alerts us to watch for God's favor in all that Jesus says and does.
Truth becomes a refrain throughout the gospel. It describes the reality that lies behind all the confusion, misbelief and ignorance of our lives. In Hebrew thought, truth only had meaning in relation to God's character; the reality of God provided the basis for truth, and God's name represented the integrity of truth (IS. 45:19, 65:16; PS. 43:3, 51:6). For John, Jesus does more than simply tell us the truth; Jesus the Word is truth (14:6; EPH. 4:21).
Here John honors Moses' role as the giver of the law, but elevates Jesus in comparison. Moses told us how to conform our lives to God's truth; Jesus came to impart God's truth.
7. John says of Jesus, "we have seen his glory" (1:14). Do you think the "we" he was speaking of refers only to those who were eye-witnesses of Jesus in the flesh? Why or why not? How is Jesus' glory eternally present in our world today?
Many Jews of Jesus' day anxiously awaited their deliverer, their Messiah ("the Anointed One of God," Gk., Christ). A fiery leader like John the Baptist, who apparently rallied the people, might well have become such a deliverer.
Refusing any misdirected devotion, John the Baptist claims that he is neither the Messiah, Elijah nor the prophet. Through Malachi, God had promised to send the great Jewish hero, Elijah, who had not died (2 KG. 2:II), to prepare the people for the day of the Lord, the day of final judgment and the fulfillment of God's promised salvation (MAL. 4:5-6).
Though John the Baptist ministered "with the spirit and power of Elijah" (LK. 1:17) and thereby acted in a fulfillment of this prophecy (MT. 11:14, 17:10-13), he was not Elijah. Neither was he the promised prophet-like-Moses (DT. 18:17-18). Quoting from another great prophet, Isaiah, John the Baptist calls himself the preparer (IS. 40:3); the one who makes all things ready for a greater one.
John the Baptist then identifies Jesus as that One, the Lamb of God. Such a title recalls the sacrificial lamb slaughtered at Passover. Passover is the feast that celebrates the Israelites' deliverance from Egypt when the blood of lambs caused the angel of death to pass over God's people (EX. 12:1-14).
8. If you had been standing next to John the Baptist (1:29), what would you have felt and understood by "Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world"? In what way does Jesus take away sin in the world today?
One of the most obvious facts about the response of these first followers of Jesus is that meeting him inspired them to tell somebody else. Andrew told Simon; Philip told Nathanael. Presumably each of these four then told others. The coming of Jesus was good news, and the natural response to good news is to tell someone else.
Consider the obstacles these men had to overcome to believe that Jesus was the Son of God. Certainly skepticism and doubt were present. Nathanael also had to overcome his prejudice about Nazareth, an obscure town in northern Palestine. But when Simon and Nathanael came to see Jesus for themselves, they were convinced and followed Jesus. Simon received a new name (Peter, "rock"), the promise of rebirth. Nathanael received a commendation from one who had looked into his soul. (A fig tree was a favorite shady place for personal prayer.)
9. In what ways is the presence of Jesus in your life good news? Does this news inspire you to share it? What things make the good news difficult to share? How can we overcome these difficulties?
10. What obstacles hinder you in your Christian faith journey? Is there a way in which you can "come and see" for yourself?
John's account of Jesus' first miracle serves as another witness to support his claim that Jesus is the Son of God. Mary, too, "gives testimony"; in bringing her concern to Jesus, she discloses her confidence in Jesus' unique abilities.
In the Jewish culture of Jesus' day, a wedding was the occasion for a grand celebration, often lasting up to a week. Hospitality played a major role in eastern societies, and a wedding was often a critical measure of a family's hospitality. The lack of a sufficient supply of wine for the guests caused more than chagrin; it was a social disgrace. Jesus' gracious gesture demonstrates "his glory" and is the first of the seven "signs" John records. Each miracle in the gospel becomes a window through which the seeker can see the truth of Jesus. This sign in particular reveals Jesus' supremacy over the law, represented by the stone jars used in the Jewish purification rites. The law prescribed cleansing from every variety of defilement (Mk. 7:3-4), but was powerless to provide new life, as symbolized by the wine (Gen. 27:28; Num. 18:12; Dt. 7:13, 33:28; Jer. 31:12).
Not only did Jesus' action demonstrate the failure of the old covenant of the law, it proclaimed the unsurpassable abundance of the new covenant of Jesus (10:10). That much superior wine (120-180 gallons) would provide for weeks and weeks of celebration. Jesus' message was one of lavish grace (Eph. 1:7-8).
11. Of what is this first miracle a sign for you? Explain your answer. To what event in your life would you like to invite Jesus and his disciples? What miracle do you need Jesus to perform?
12. What is the significance in this story of the role of Mary? of the servants? of the steward? What part have you played in someone else's miracles? How has it revealed Jesus' glory and increased someone's faith?
The incident of the clash with the money-changers in the temple is also reported by the other three gospel writers, but each of them place the incident during the final week of Jesus' earthly life. John, on the other hand, puts it early in Jesus' ministry. Instead of writing a chronologically arranged biography of Jesus, John reported selected incidents that supported the claim that Jesus was the Son of God.
The practice of selling animals for sacrifice probably arose innocently enough. The temple in Jerusalem was the only acceptable place for sacrifice, and pious Jews from all parts of the ancient world would travel to Jerusalem to fulfill their religious duties.
An animal chosen for sacrifice must be unblemished (LEV. 1:10, 3:6, 4:3). Spotless at the start of a long journey, an animal would rarely be found without defect by the time the traveler reached Jerusalem. Appointed temple officials inspected each animal at a cost to the worshiper; if it were rejected, another would have to be purchased.
By the time of Jesus, these officials had probably become corrupt, rejecting most animals and charging exorbitant prices for acceptable ones. The abuse was compounded by the monetary exchange system of the temple. Only temple currency was accepted in the purchase and inspection of the animals, and the money-changers made a great profit by offering a poor exchange rate.
All of this business was being conducted in the outer courts of the temple, which was the only place Gentile "God-fearers" could worship. Instead of being "a light to the nations" (Is. 42:6, 49:6), Israel's religious center had become a marketplace.
Jesus passionately opposes this abuse. His violent demonstration of outrage calls forth the first signs of hostility from the Jewish leaders. They demand a sign of his credentials. Again and again they ask for proof (4:48, 6:30, 10:24), but reject the signs he provides (2:23). Here Jesus alludes to the ultimate sign of his authority—his death and resurrection. The temple, representative of the old covenant of the law, will indeed be destroyed and a new one raised (Rev. 21:22).
13. What does the incident in the temple reveal to you about Jesus? How do you feel about the power and emotion expressed? In what sense might Jesus operate in a similar fashion today? in the world? in the Church? in your life?
14. What habits in your spiritual life might be keeping you from pure worship and from being a light to others?
1. Distribute drawing paper and crayons and invite group members to express JOHN 1:1-5 as a drawing. When these are completed, invite volunteers to show their drawings.
Allow group members to discuss the feelings that each of the drawings raises.
What reassuring feelings are expressed? what empowering feelings? what feelings of worship?
2. List on a chalkboard or newsprint the various pieces of evidence that Jesus is God's Son and each of the "witnesses" that John offers.
Ask group members to imagine that they are on trial for claiming that Jesus is the Son of God. What personal witness could they offer to support their claim?
Have group members imagine that they are attorneys and decide how they would arrange the evidence that John provides for a presentation in Jesus' defense.
3. Ask the group to identify the various words and titles used for Jesus in the first two chapters of John. List these on chalkboard or newsprint.
Discuss the different aspects of Jesus that each title suggests:
In what ways do these words and titles reveal Jesus' divinity?
How do they define his mission?
4. Provide for group members a variety of the following materials: clay, aluminum foil, pipe cleaners, watercolors (and brushes), drawing paper, charcoal pencils, etc. Ask each group member to select one of the words or titles for Jesus that they listed above (or take time to list them now) and to illustrate it using one or more of the materials listed. Invite volunteers to explain their work.
John says of Jesus that "we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only Son" (1:14). Take a few moments to think about the ways in which you have "seen the glory" of Jesus. Try to remember how such beholding made you feel. Then record here any insight that this remembering brings, whether about Jesus, about yourself or about your relationship with others.
Stepstone to Prayer
"We have found the Messiah." And Jesus said, "follow me."CHAPTER 2
John 3–5 The Beginning of Jesus' Ministry
THIS PORTION OF THE GOSPEL REPORTS JESUS' encounters with four people. Jesus' ministry to individuals not only demonstrated his power, but offered evidence of his intensely personal care for each person. Perhaps more than any other gospel writer, John invites his readers into a close relationship with Jesus like those so tenderly portrayed in his conversations with people in need.
The four individuals were a varied group. One was a high-ranking Jew, a Pharisee. Another was from the dregs of Jewish society. A third was a woman of loose morals who belonged to a race hated by the Jews.
The fourth was possibly a Roman who held an important government position. John shows that Jesus bridges the barriers that often separate people.
Excerpted from FOCUS ON JOHN by Stanley H. Purdam, Kathleen Mulhern. Copyright © 2013 Morehouse Education Resources. Excerpted by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated.
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