Introduction to John’s Gospel

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.  John 20:30-31

What do you believe?  And do you realize that what you believe is a matter of life-and-death?  What you believe, whatever it is, is either killing you or enlivening you.  And everyone has faith. Everyone is always believing something.  Even if you’re a nihilist and a skeptic, that is a very definite belief.  But by believing it, you do not have life in its name.

Faith is a powerful force inside every one of us.  For example, if you’ve painted the picture in your mind of that future career that will finally make you okay, then you must get into that top grad school.  If you don’t, something inside you dies.  And that mini-experience of death is a warning sign.  Beliefs that let us down are prophetic whispers, saying, “Don’t you see where this is going?”  We need to stop linking the category “faith” with the category “itty-bitty personal preference with no impact on anything I actually care about.”  The reality is, what you believe is taking you somewhere – either further into life or further into death, now and forever.

God loves people like us who cling to our self-invented theories that have never breathed life into us.  God cares so much that he came down and presented himself to us in Jesus, so that we could start believing in him and start living.  Even we today, 2000 years after the historical Jesus, can still access him.  One of Jesus’ closest friends, John the apostle, wrote this book, to connect us with the real Jesus.  Just before these two verses, Doubting Thomas sees the risen Jesus and says to him, “My Lord and my God!” (verse 28).  He saw, he believed, and he lit up.  Then Jesus says, in verse 29, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  John’s gospel is for everyone who couldn’t be there, because John’s gospel puts us there.

When we read John’s Gospel with an open mind, God collapses time for us.  God shows us Jesus with direct personal exposure, so that we believe and live.  Only God can do that.  The early Christian theologian Irenaeus, writing about 100 years after John, said, “The glory of God is man fully alive.”  When God waves the smelling salts of the gospel under our noses and we come alive, the glory of the real Jesus becomes obvious in the world today.  That is the impact of John’s Gospel.

Could anything greater happen in our city than more people connecting with Jesus?  That’s why this church is here.  And could anything more wonderful happen to us than, six or eight months from now, you and I are saying, “I couldn’t have become the person I am today without John’s Gospel”?  Let’s see what God will do for a bunch of sinners, with lots of crazy ideas in our heads, but we’re paying attention to Jesus according to Scripture.  That’s why I’m starting a new series from the Gospel of John. 

Here in John chapter 20, verses 30-31, the apostle tells us why he took this project on, what it’s meant to accomplish.  Three things.  John’s Gospel is modest, it’s enough, it’s powerful.


Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book

These two verses conclude John’s Gospel.  Chapter 21 is an appendix, P.S.  So here we are at the end of the body of the book.  And I can see John, an old man by now – there he is, sitting at his desk, and he has just written the story where Thomas says to Jesus “My Lord and my God,” and John loves the finality of that.  What a great way to end the book!  The point is obvious.  So John lifts his pen from the paper now, sits back in his chair, and stares off into space and thinks about this book he has just written.  Is there anything else to say?  He leans forward again and turns back over the earlier pages.  He looks at it through the eyes of his readers.  And he takes up his pen again to tell us what “this book” is meant to do.  That’s what verses 30-31 tell us.

And here’s what John’s Gospel doesn’t accomplish.  It doesn’t tell us everything.  It is not a biography.  It was not written to satisfy our curiosity.  It doesn’t even describe Jesus – the color of his eyes, his favorite food, his best joke.  There are many things we’d like to know, that John could have told us.  But he had a purpose, and he stuck to it.

That purpose is in the Lord’s signs: “Now Jesus did many other signs . . . .”  What is a sign?  A sign is a miracle.  It’s a display of what Jesus alone can do.  For example, in chapter 2, Jesus goes to a wedding and turns water into wine, better wine than the host had provided.  John called that a sign, because the miracle was full of significance, it was full of meaning.  The miracles of Jesus were signals, not stunts.

Our Lord’s teachings are wonderful.  But his miraculous signs are better.  Here’s why.  We don’t need primarily instructions in what we should do, but primarily we need hope in what Jesus can do.  And he did a lot.  There was so much John didn’t tell us.  His book avoids grandiosity and colossality and spectactularization and Hollywoodization.  What John did record is modest.  But it’s enough. 


. . . but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God

It doesn’t say, “. . . so that you may understand that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.”  What does it say?  “. . . that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.”  The book of John offers good and sufficient reasons to believe the two most important things about Jesus – that he is the Christ, and that he is the Son of God.

But initially, this verse disappointed me, as I thought about it this week.  John is talking about what we believe. He’s talking about theology, doctrine.  I care about that.  I do not agree when people say, “It doesn’t really matter what we believe, as long we love one another.”  It does matter what we believe, because what we believe is our only final reason to love one another.  But I did have a knee-jerk moment here with this verse, because I’ve met Christians who do believe the right things, but they aren’t much fun to be around!  So I wanted the verse to say, “. . . that you may believe in Jesus.”  That’s all about personal involvement and humility and vulnerability, which is so important to me.  And there is a lot in John’s Gospel about believing in Jesus.  For example: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  John uses the verb “believe” almost one hundred times here in his Gospel, and it’s usually “believing in Jesus.”  But here he says, “I wrote this for you, to help you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.  I wrote this to persuade you of these two doctrines.”

What’s the insight here?  The humility of God.  Do you remember how C. S. Lewis described his conversion? In his book Surprised by Joy, he tells us,

“You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen College, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet.  That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me.  In the Trinity Term of 1929, I gave in and admitted that God was God, and I knelt and prayed – perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.  I did not then see what is now the most shining and obvious thing – the divine humility which will accept a convert even on such terms.  The Prodigal Son at least walked home on his own feet.  But who can duly adore that Love which will open the high gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance to escape?”

I never would have invented a religion so humble.  I’d have made it demanding.  But God has low standards. The Bible tells us, “Step One is just believing.  Stop proving something about yourself and start believing something about Jesus.”  

Look how God defined our entry point out of death back into life.  In humility and kindness, God built a huge open door for us, big and obvious and objective – doctrine.  And not some way-out-there rarified doctrine, like Supralapsarianism.  Our entry point to the real Jesus is believing that he is the Christ, the Son of God.  That doctrine is what you and I must believe.  And if we are willing to believe this about Jesus theologically, we’ll be able to believe in Jesus personally.

What are the two doctrines we must believe?  One, Jesus is the Christ.  Two, Jesus is the Son of God.

One, Jesus is the Christ, that is, the Messiah, the promised hope of the Old Testament.  Who will bring justice to the nations?  Who will put an end to war?  Who will repair the damage our sins have done and make all things new again?  Who will defeat Satan forever?  We won’t.  The Messiah will.  Every other liberator and freedom-fighter throughout history has been a mere hint at what Jesus is – the Anointed One bringing good news to the poor, binding up the brokenhearted, proclaiming liberty to the captives (Isaiah 61).  Who is that but Jesus?  Is someone else out there better qualified to wear that mantle?  What do you believe?  The claim of the Christian gospel is that Jesus is the one who came to rescue this world.  By his death he paid for the sins of this guilty world.  By his resurrection he unleashed new life into this dying world.  That Messiah is the only final hope this world will ever see.

Two, Jesus is the Son of God.  As Messiah, he is man.  As the Son, he is also God.  John, our author, was a Jewish man.  He would have regarded human self-deification as blasphemous.  But John, who knew Jesus well, saw him as God in human form.  Jesus said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).  Seven times Jesus made his famous “I am” statements.  For example, “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58).  Every Jew hearing that in the first century would have known Jesus was identifying himself with Yahweh of the Old Testament (Exodus 3).  We’ve already seen Thomas calling Jesus “My Lord and my God,” and Jesus received his worship.  That is where John’s Gospel takes us – that we would join Doubting Thomas who finally believed that Jesus is God.

Some of you are frustrated right now, because you feel that your faith is so weak.  His disciples felt that.  They said to Jesus, “Increase our faith!” (Luke 17:5).  Last night I stumbled onto this in Hudson Taylor, the missionary, who was struggling with his own frustration and defeat:

How then to have our faith increased?  Only by thinking of all that Jesus is for us – his life, his death, his work, he himself as revealed in Scripture.  Not a striving to have faith, but a looking away to the faithful Christ.  That is all we need.   

And Taylor said of himself, “I looked to Jesus, and when I saw, Oh, the joy flowed!”

However weak you may be, if you will look away to Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, then he is yours, and he will never leave you nor forsake you.  If you don’t believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, the Gospel of John is enough to persuade you.  It may or may not make you a Presbyterian or an Anglican or whatever.  But it will help you get to Jesus.  And when you see him for who he really is, something powerful starts happening inside you.  Your heart comes alive, and the joy flows. 


and that by believing you may have life in his name

It doesn’t say “. . . by deserving” but “. . . by believing.”  The people who come alive to Jesus are sinful and weak people who know it, and that’s why they’re banking on him now as their Messiah and their God.  What about you?  You can’t understand him.  You can’t control him.  But you can have him.  Look at him here in John’s Gospel, and then decide.  If you will believe him, you will live.

A good way to illustrate how it works is this story.  And it’s a true story.  This past week a 91-year-old man died in Japan.  His name was Hiroo Onoda.  The New York Times ran the story, and for good reason.

In late 1944, Second Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda of the Japanese army was sent to the Philippine island of Lubang.  His mission was to resist the American advance, and he was ordered to fight on indefinitely.  The Americans landed about two months later, in February 1945, and Onoda kept fighting.  He never got word when the war ended six months later.  For thirty more years he went on fighting World War II there in the jungles of that island.  He lived in hiding, came out at night to steal food from the villages, shot at people now and then.  About ten years into it he found a newspaper article about himself, but he thought it was a trick to get him to surrender.  The Philippine authorities dropped leaflets into his area, with letters and photographs from his family, asking him to come out.  They brought loudspeakers into the jungle and shouted, “Onoda, the war is over.”  One day his own brother stood at the microphone and begged him to give up, but he thought it was propaganda.  He refused to believe it.  He kept fighting until 1974, when the Japanese government sent in his old commanding officer, Major Taniguchi, who went out and found him and ordered Onoda to surrender.  He finally gave up.

That man thought he was living in a world at war.  His mind was trapped in 1945, he shut out the good news of peace and lost 30 years of his life hiding in the jungles.  There are many people like him today.  Their minds are trapped in a war that was over a long time ago.  In his death and resurrection, Jesus went up against all our evil, and he won.  We have lost.  He has won.  The future of the world is his.  For 2000 years now God has been dropping leaflets of the good news into the jungles of our minds.  It isn’t a trick.  It’s real.  When will you believe, and surrender, and live?