Immersion, inspired by a fresh translation—the Common English Bible—stands firmly on Scripture and helps readers explore the emotional, spiritual, and intellectual needs of their personal faith. More importantly, they’ll be able to discover God’s revelation through readings and reflections.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Immersion Bible Studies
By Carol J. Miller, Jack A. Keller Jr.
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2011 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
The Mystery of God
Claim Your Story
I am what you might call "directionally challenged." I can and do get lost anywhere, which makes me more than grateful for my GPS! I once got lost in my own kitchen. No, really! I had come into the kitchen for something in the middle of the night; and as I prepared to leave the kitchen, I turned off the light—the only light on in the whole house. I missed the door out of the kitchen, turned around, and became disoriented. I couldn't find a door or the light switch. I stood in the middle of the kitchen for a second and thought, I don't believe it! I'm lost in my own kitchen! I hasten to add that this was only for a second or two. As soon as I found and switched on the light, all was clear, obvious. The light made all the difference.
Almost everyone will admit to feeling lost in the dark at some point in their lives. It might have been in the terrors of a pitch-black cave or on a dark, unfamiliar road on a moonless night. Beyond being lost in physical darkness, human beings struggle with feeling lost in life, unsure of the next step, unclear about who they are and what they are here for, unable to find a light that would give them the knowledge they need to see the way ahead. What is the "right" direction? Is there a right direction?
Enter the Bible Story
Many times our feelings of being lost and in the dark stem from our inability to understand God. We feel like the writer of Psalm 8 as he looks at the vast number of stars and wonders about the mystery of their Creator. The God of black holes in space and the intricacies of the created order is not like us! How can we know such a God? How can we know what such a God wants of us? Someone has described our ability to understand who God is as being similar to an anteater's ability to understand quantum mechanics. We simply don't have the mind to comprehend the scope of the created order, much less eternity. How then can we know the God who authored them? How can we find our way out of such a profound darkness?
When we go to a party with people we may not have met before, it is important to engage in small talk. In order to know someone or be known by them, we have to speak. When we are honest in our speech, we reveal something of who we are. We can't know a person who will not speak to us. We are left in the dark! John speaks about the "Word" (logos in the Greek) being with God and in fact being God (1:1). God is speaking to us—God is revealing God's self to us. What God has always been is now being offered to us so that we can know who God is and how God relates to us. God's speech reveals God's nature, just as our true speech reveals our nature.
God does not use the kind of speech we think of when we think of one human talking with another. God's Word, in order to be understood by us mortals, becomes human: a form we can understand, a form with which we can interact. John writes, "The Word [the self-expression of God] became flesh and made his home among us" (literally, "pitched his tent"; 1:14a).
The overarching topic of the Gospel According to John is the nature and mission of Jesus Christ as the one who makes God known. Here is a Gospel that does not look or sound much like the other three Gospels (the Synoptics). Here we will find no parables. John sets out to answer three questions: Who is Jesus? Where did he come from? Where is he going? These questions will be answered time and time again throughout this Gospel. For example, in Chapter 9, which is the story of Jesus healing the man born blind, Jesus' opponents show their blindness when they say about Jesus, "We don't know where this man is from" (9:29b). The formerly blind man, however, shows his insight when he responds, "If this man wasn't from God, he couldn't do this" (9:33). Throughout this Gospel, Jesus and the Gospel writer will tell people exactly who Jesus is, where he came from, and where he is going: "Jesus ... knew that he had come from God and was returning to God" (13:3b). Look for these statements throughout the book.
We can only speak of God in metaphor. No words of ours are adequate to contain the nature of God. Throughout the Old and New Testaments, metaphors are used for God: the rock, the fortress, the mother hen, the Father, the shepherd. John uses more than one metaphor to describe the nature of God that has been enfleshed.
In John 1:4-5 he uses the term light to describe what this expressed Word of God does for us. John tells us that the incarnate Word of God is "the light for all people" (1:4b). God has not sent the Word into the world for only one or two groups of people. All people are offered light. The word world in John is a technical term. It refers to those outside of the covenant faith community. God sent Christ for the "world," not just for those who were already religious. In John 8:12 Jesus proclaims, "I am the light of the world." The confusion concerning our place in the world, our reason for being, is cleared up when the light of the world is revealed. Our direction becomes obvious. The psalmist spoke of God's law as being "a lamp before my feet and a light for my journey" (Psalm 119:105). It shows us the way to go, the way to life, the way to God. So too the incarnate Word of God.
John also refers to the Word as life: "What came into being through the Word was life" (1:3b-4a). In this Gospel, Jesus, instead of referring to "the kingdom of God" or "the kingdom of heaven," speaks of "eternal life." All these terms mean the same thing—being present to God in a loving, trusting relationship that time cannot destroy. John describes this as being truly alive. In John, Jesus himself is referred to as life—"I am the resurrection and the life" (11:25b)—and the bearer of real life: "I came so that they could have life—indeed, so that they could live life to the fullest" (10:10). Jesus will use metaphors to describe himself in "I am" sayings scattered throughout the Gospel (e.g., 10:7). "Who Jesus is" is an overarching theme of the Gospel of John. He is the incarnation of the Word of God; he is the light that shows us the path; he is life—robust, authentic life in this world and the world to come.
The Prologue to the Gospel (the first eighteen verses) mentions most of the central themes of John's Gospel: the incarnation of the very nature of God, the testimony of John the Baptist, being born of God, the acceptance by God of anyone who receives God's Son, the glory of the Son, grace, and truth. There is a great deal of theology (study of God) in these eighteen verses! I once had a professor who studied in Switzerland under Karl Barth, a great twentieth-century theologian. Barth and his students were studying the Gospel of John. For the first two-hour class, Dr. Barth lectured on the phrase "In the beginning was the Word." Following that class, my professor was called back to the United States for a family emergency. He says that six weeks later, he returned to class. Walking in a little late, the first words he heard Dr. Barth say were, "and the Word was with God." Barth had lectured for five weeks on the first six words of the Prologue! John's Gospel is rich. The symbol for John the Evangelist is the eagle because his writing soars! Do not be fooled by John's simple vocabulary. His words have deep meaning; they are meant to be mulled over and looked at from many angles.
John the Baptist
Next to Jesus and Paul, John the Baptist is the most mentioned person in the New Testament. John was a prophet at a time when no prophet had spoken for almost 200 years. John denies that he is Elijah, the Old Testament prophet Jews believed would come preparing the way for Messiah. He also denies being the Messiah or "the prophet" (1:20-21). In John's Gospel, John the Baptist assumes a low profile. There were still followers—disciples—of John after the coming of Jesus. Our author wants to make it crystal clear that John is not on a par with the Christ. He is "the voice crying out in the wilderness" (1:23a). In fact, in this Gospel, Jesus' first disciples are former disciples of John. It is appropriate that they leave John and follow Jesus. John himself points Jesus out to them and proclaims, "Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" (1:29). The Lamb of God would be a sacrificial lamb, given for sin. John testifies to seeing the Holy Spirit descend on Jesus (1:32). In the Synoptics, we see the Holy Spirit descend "like a dove" during Jesus' baptism (e.g., Matthew 3:16). The baptism of Jesus by John is not recounted in this Gospel, probably in order not to show John in a superior position over Jesus. The Holy Spirit is God. The term "Holy Spirit" is shorthand for "God present with us now." We affirm the Trinity as the three ways God reveals God's self to us: as Father or Creator; as Son—the Word who was incarnate in Jesus—and as the Holy Spirit—God with us, enabling us to be, in Paul's words, the body of Christ (e.g., 1 Corinthians 12).
One of Jesus' first followers is Andrew. Andrew's claim to fame is that whenever we see him, he is bringing someone to Jesus. Here he brings his brother, Simon Peter (1:41- 42). We don't hear Andrew preach or teach, but we see him doing the most important thing one human being can do for another: He opens the door to God for the other to step through! Jesus calls disciples as well. He calls Philip (1:43). Then Philip finds Nathanael (1:45), who doesn't have much use for people from backwater places such as Nazareth.
John the Baptist has testified that Jesus is Son of God (1:34). Does he mean "a chip off the old block" or "just like his dad"? The term "Son of God" is a metaphor. Jesus is God's "spitting image." The Son is intimately related to the Father. Today we might say he has the same DNA to indicate the closeness of the relationship. That too would be metaphor. Nathanael calls Jesus "Son of God" after Jesus tells Nathanael that he saw him "under the fig tree" (1:48-49), which obviously meant more to Nathanael than it does to us!
The Father-Son relationship in John is strong. Jesus consistently refers to God as "Father." He sees his mission as "making his father known" (17:26). In 14:8 Philip says to Jesus, "Lord, show us the Father." Jesus responds, "Whoever has seen me has seen the Father" (14:9b).
It seems strange, then, that people are continually ascribing to God the Father things they would never in a million years ascribe to Jesus. For example, how many well-meaning but utterly thoughtless people have said that some young person's death is "the will of God" or "all part of the plan"? Yet no one would ever associate Jesus' will with the death of the innocent. We need to remember what John emphasizes—that Jesus reveals God. Jesus shows us the nature of God. This is at least part of what it means to say that Jesus is the Son of God. Our theology, our thinking about God, must be consistent; and it must be coherent. We cannot believe contradictory things. Either Jesus reveals God or he doesn't. Good theology makes sense.
The First "Sign"
The final text in this session, 2:1-11, describes the first of the signs that Jesus performs, turning water to wine. John calls them "signs," not "miracles." These unique actions of Jesus are signs of God's presence in Jesus, and they are signs of God's desired relationship with us. Here Jesus shows the abundance and richness of life with God. In Jesus' parables in the Synoptic Gospels, a banquet or party is a symbol for the kingdom of God (e.g., Luke 15:11-32). Even though those parables are not found in John, I don't think we are too far off if we say that in this sign Jesus is showing us the abundance that is life with God. The point of signs is not that Jesus does what is not possible for people to do. Neither signs in John nor miracles in the Synoptics are magic tricks. They are not proofs. The point of the signs is to show the nature of the relationship God chooses to have with humanity. Jesus' signs in John have to do with abundance, life, sight, and self-giving love. The point is not to be "wowed" that Jesus turned water into wine. The point is to see that God is bringing life and sight and acceptance to all people.
The queen in Alice in Wonderland said that she was quite capable of believing "six impossible things before breakfast." Many people today seem to think that faith means just to believe that Jesus did strange signs or miracles—that we must simply set reason aside and believe. But that is not faith; believing "six impossible things" does not draw us closer to God. The signs show us what God is bringing to God's people. We are not called to see the signs that Jesus does as "proofs" that he is the Son of God. Rather, the signs show us specifically the nature of God—who God is and what God wants for us. It is that good news in which Jesus calls us to put our trust.
Live the Story
The Gospel of John soars with theology that attempts to touch the mystery of the God who is beyond us yet incarnates his nature in Jesus of Nazareth. At once we are asked to contemplate the transcendent God and the God with us. Perhaps one way to make John's words our own is to think about one small part of the text for a day or two—sort of like Professor Barth! Who is God? How does God want to relate to you? Think of Jesus as the incarnate Word. Then remember what you can of Jesus' words and actions in all the Gospels. What is God saying to you through Jesus?
To see the God of all creation as presented in the words and life of Jesus can really turn on the light. What does this God want from us? What is this God calling us to? Here is a way we can see and follow. Here is a way out of the dark and into the light of God.CHAPTER 2
Jesus Offers Life
John 2:12-22; 3:1-21; 4:4-42; 6:1-59
Claim Your Story
In Arthur Miller's play The Price, a middle-aged couple looks back at their life so far. Although they had planned out their lives, gotten their degrees, and had their goals in order, nothing much had happened. The wife says to her husband, "Everything was always temporary with us. It's like we never were anything, we were always about-to-be." Perhaps that sentence sums up the dissatisfaction of many people today. For all our trying, restlessness remains. Life lacks a center. More than a few people come to the last quarter of their lives; look over their shoulders toward the past; and think, "Is that all there is?"
The restlessness is like a hole in our lives. We feel as though something is missing. There needs to be more. In our "thing"-filled society we often think it is just a lack of things that makes us restless. Those of us who are middle-class have a long history of trying to fill that hole in our lives with stuff—new stuff, shiny stuff, the latest stuff, expensive stuff, the "in" stuff. My favorite bumper sticker is "The one with the most toys when he dies, wins." It points up the absurdity of trying to find a life worth living in the accumulation of things.
Perhaps others think that their restlessness stems from a lack of adventure or a lack of attention. Whatever you think the cause is, you may long for something just out of reach.
"Thou hast formed us in Thine own Image, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee." Thus wrote Augustine after his conversion. When have you known this restlessness? Does Augustine's statement resonate with your experience?
Enter the Bible Story
In the texts from John, Jesus is offering an answer to that haunting question: "Is that all there is?" His answer is, "No! That is not all there is!" There is a new life, and it is available to everyone! In 2:12-22, Jesus brings to a screeching halt business as usual in the Temple at Jerusalem. The Temple was the heart of Judaism and the heart of the nation of Israel. It was symbolically the residence of God. The chief priests were in charge of the Temple. It was they who must have allowed the dealers to set up shop in its precincts. It was they who had authority over what went on there. Jesus entered the Temple and cleansed it from exclusiveness, moneygrubbing, and hunger for power. The authorities demanded to know what right he had to challenge what went on in the Temple. The answer was shocking. Jesus pointed to his own coming death and resurrection as his authority (2:19). He himself incorporates the holiness that had always been associated with the Temple. Jesus, not the Jerusalem temple, had become the sign of God's new life. This life is offered to everyone through Christ's sacrifice and through his power to create life. The temple that matters is not a building but Christ himself. He is the one in whom God's acceptance and love are centered.
Excerpted from John by Carol J. Miller, Jack A. Keller Jr.. Copyright © 2011 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsIMMERSION BIBLE STUDIES,
1. The Mystery of God,
2. Jesus Offers Life,
3. Do You Want to Live?,
4. The Law and Freedom,
5. Who Is the God Whom Jesus Reveals?,
6. To Be a Disciple of Jesus Christ,
7. The Holy Spirit Creates and Sustains the Church,
8. The Glorification of God,