The purpose of John’s gospel

This talk was given by Sally at Christchurch Waterside, Chesham on Sunday 10th April during the Church@4 service. Although not recorded this is one of the few talks that was actually written up.

John 20: 30 -31 The purpose of John’s gospel

30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

He spoke, and galaxies whirled into place, stars burned the heavens, and planets began orbiting their suns – words of awesome, unlimited, unleashed power.

He spoke again, and the water and lands were filled with plants and creatures running, swimming, growing and multiplying – words of animating, breathing, pulsing life.

Again he spoke, and man and woman were formed, thinking, speaking, and loving – words of personal and creative glory. Eternal, infinite, unlimited – he was, is, and always will be the Maker and Lord of all that exists.

And then he came in the flesh to a speck in the universe called planet earth. The mighty Creator became a part of the creation, limited by time and space and susceptible to aging, sickness and death. But love propelled him, and so he came to rescue and save those who were lost and to give them the gift of eternity. He is the Word; he is Jesus, the Christ.

It is this truth that the apostle John brings to us in this book. John’s gospel is not a biography – the life of Christ; it is a powerful argument for the incarnation [embodiment of God in the flesh], a conclusive demonstration that Jesus was, and is, the very heaven-sent Son of God and the only source of eternal life.

Who wrote John’s gospel and why should we believe him?

It is widely agreed that it was the disciple John – son of Zebedee who wrote John’s gospel (brother of James – called sons of thunder).  There is clear indication in the gospel of knowledge of Jewish culture and customs – which would fit with John – son of Zebedee – a Jew from Palestine.  Also there are many eyewitness details in John’s gospel which could only have come from one of the 12 disciples.  It is clear that the author wished to remain anonymous referring to himself only as ‘the disciple Jesus loved’ and desire for anonymity can be further supported by the fact that John son of Zebedee is not mentioned in the gospel (except 21:2 – passing reference to sons of Zebedee on the fishing trip).  External sources such as Bishop Irenaeus of Lyons reports in early 2nd century that John the Lord’s disciple wrote and published the gospel in Ephesus.

The fact that John was an eye witness of Jesus teaching, miracles, death and resurrection make his gospel an important book as we seek to understand who Jesus really is.

Why did John write this gospel?  What was its purpose?

John tells us in 20: 30-31 why he wrote the gospel. Not as a life history or biograph of Jesus but as a selective record of signs that lead us to believing in Jesus as the son of God:

30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

John’s gospel is unique and 90% is different from the 3 other gospels (synoptic gospels – means a general summary).  Matt & Luke record Jesus birth, Mark starts with the OT prophecy fulfilled in John the Baptist preparing the way for Jesus. But John takes us back to creation to show that Jesus is God and was with God in creation.  The famous prologue John 1: 1-14 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.

John continues this theme throughout his gospel as an eyewitness to the signs of Jesus divinity and human nature and his life-giving mission.

There are 8 signs:

  1. Turning water into wine (2:1-11)
  2. Healing the officials son (4:46-54)
  3. Healing the invalid at Bethesda (5:1-9)
  4. Feeding the 5,000 with a few loaves & fish (6:1-14)
  5. Walking on water (6:15-21)
  6. Restoring sight to the blind man (9:1-14)
  7. Raising Lazarus from the dead (11: 1-44)
  8. Giving disciples overwhelming catch of fish (after resurrection) (21:1-14)

Every chapter reveals Jesus’ divinity, and his true identity is underscored in the titles John uses for Jesus – The Word, The one and only, Lamb of God, Son of God, true bread, life, resurrection, vine. John’s formula is the ‘I am’ sayings of Jesus:

  1. I am the bread of life (6:35)
  2. I am the light of the world (8:12, 9:5)
  3. I am the gate (10:7)
  4. I am the good shepherd (10:11, 14)
  5. I am the resurrection and the life (11:25)
  6. I am the way, the truth and the life (14:6)
  7. I am the true vine (15:1).

The greatest sign being of course the resurrection and the empty tomb to which John was an eye witness. He also records important post-resurrection appearances by Jesus to the disciples including Thomas who doubted, and Peter who was restored after his denial of Jesus.

Whilst the other gospels focus heavily on Jesus ministry in Galilee and his teaching through parables, John focuses on the drama around Jerusalem and features 5 chapters of discourse from the Upper Room when Jesus is talking to his disciples in the lead up to his death. (Chapters 14-17)

John gives us the signs to help us believe, to make that step of commitment, not just of reading the facts and filing them away with other knowledge to recall as trivia in a pub quiz. He wants us to believe that Jesus is the Son of God and in doing so to receive forgiveness and eternal life with him.

John 3: 16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

The song we sang at the start is designed to help us remember that most important scriptural verse. [For God so loved the world…]

Believing in Jesus is a decision that each of us can make, and when we make it we receive forgiveness and eternal life.

But what does it mean ‘to have life in his name’.  Well for me it’s about Jesus being the centre of everything and the most important thing in my life. It means Jesus is the person I speak to last before I go to sleep and is the person I speak to as soon as I wake up. He is the inspiration for my life, his love fills my heart, his strength and joy keep me going when things are tough.  It means my life is full to overflowing with Jesus and he pops up conversations with strangers, he guides me when I’m lost, I never feel alone because I know Jesus is with me.

And I would really love for you to feel the same. If you haven’t made that decision to follow Jesus yet and you want to we can pray a prayer of commitment to ask Jesus to become the Lord of your life.  If you’re not sure you’re ready for that but you want to find out more, I suggest you read John’s gospel from the beginning. One chapter a day and in 3 weeks you will know the facts which will help you to believe.

Let’s pray…