Throughout my ministry I’ve found that people either love John’s Gospel for its strong claims about who Jesus is, or have found the whole thing mystifying for its long winded and dense style AND its polarising claims around Jesus.
This gospel certainly takes some unpacking. It is bold and uncompromising, and it is full of contrast and conflict. But if we are willing to be interrogated by the text (rather than use it to bolster what we already know) we have an incredible opportunity to be destabilised by the love of God in Jesus.
And once we are destabilised by the gospel, we are open to see the glory of God in our neighbour, in our broken and vulnerable families, and even in the mysteries of our own lives.
At Hope we’re about to begin a few months of exploring John’s gospel together. We’re also really keen to engage with you in a number of ways. If you can join us on Sunday mornings in Maroubra, we’d love to see you. But if not, you catch the podcast every Sunday afternoon of the sermon and of the weekly interview with one of our members. Sharing our stories has to be one of the most powerful tools we have.
Each month you’ll also find a brief intro to the texts from John that we’re looking at; and some introductory thoughts to spark your own reflections.
And each month we’ll be sharing in a spiritual practice together to explore at home, at work, wherever you are.
The gospel of John offers us such an opportunity to be startled and shocked again by the mystery of God’s love in Jesus. It’s never settling, but it is entirely life giving.
- Sunday July 1st John 1:1-18
The opening to John’s gospel is both poetic and instructive as to what is to come in this book. By weaving together various traditions and images he makes a stark, bold claim about who Jesus is. He casts our minds back to primordial origins with the phrase “In the beginning” from Genesis 1. He draws upon the Jewish wisdom traditions (Sophia) in claiming that God now walks among us; and he riffs on the Greek philosophers with their claims of reason (Logos) as the basis of knowing.
John wants us to be clear, Jesus is not simply a good man, a prophet, or even a source of wisdom. God (the source of all life) takes on flesh, with all suffering and joy that this entails, and is right here in the dirt of life with us. And yet in Jesus the light of God will shine, pointing us to life and love eternal.
Reflection: Take a moment and without thinking too much, write down the first 10-20 words that come into your mind when you think of Jesus. What images and symbols do you come up with?
- Sunday July 8th John 1:19-34
John’s gospel is full on conflict and drama. From the first, Jesus (and all who associate with him) are questioned and grilled about who he is. It reads a bit like an extended legal drama. John the Baptist gives his testimony to the authorities first up. When asked who he is, John gives a reply less about himself and more about his relationship with Jesus. His identity is found in his role as the one pointing towards Jesus. And his cry echoes off the pages, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (v29).
In response to the legal and logical demands of the world, this gospel will regularly respond with the language of worship. Here we are oriented less by our own demands, and more by the love of God.
Reflection: Which hymn or church song sticks in your mind the most? What is the image of Jesus or God that it raises?
- Sunday July 15th John 2:1-12
There are many signs in this gospel to show us the glory of God in Jesus. The power of these signs is shown in radical, overflowing grace and beauty. In this wedding story, the six stone water jars (v6) are put aside for ritual purification. Yet as a sign that Jesus himself is the one to purify us all, he repurposes the jars away from fulfilling the law, to providing joy and prioritising community. The value of the wedding and all the relationships that it represents is the priority – as a result of Jesus, who will fulfil the role of making us clean. The grace of God in Jesus wants us to hold large, abundant celebrations because relationships and community matter.
Question: What have been the best weddings and parties in your experience? What made them so special?
- Sunday July 22nd John 3:1-21
Just as John responds to legal inquisition in the language of worship (1:18-34), and Jesus responds to legal requirements with a sign of joyful abundance (2:1-12); this most famous of John’s passages contrasts legal logic as against overflowing joy in Jesus. Nicodemus is seeking to understand Jesus’ ministry and life. He comes to Jesus at night (to be careful) and is duly confused when Jesus doesn’t respond with legal answers but offers a word play about being born again/from above/in the Spirit.
Jesus will not offer us a slight improvement on our life, a few words of wisdom to endure things more faithfully. No, the light that Jesus shines will transform all things, including all that we are – as if we are born again. That is the depth and breadth of transformation in God’s love offered by Jesus.
Action: Walk outside for 5 minutes today. Let the wind whistle around your ears and clear away the cobwebs! Offer a prayer to God that the Spirit might blow in your life, bringing understanding, joy, and faith.
- Sunday July 29th John 4:1-42
This is a long story! But it is worth spending some time with.
First up note how many boundaries Jesus is breaking. He is talking to a Samaritan, a woman, and one who is considered outcast by her community. And it is to her that Jesus asks for a drink – not very traditional Jewish practice. He is making himself unclean and outside of the law. The woman knows this and seeks to find out who he is and why he acts in this way. Then note that once again instead of responding to legal questions, Jesus will answer with the language of worship: living water, worship beyond the Temple in spirit and truth, and food that is the harvest of living in the light of God’s Kingdom.
Jesus makes himself unclean and outside the legal requirements to once more show the abundance of God’s love. Can we recognise the role and function of Jesus? “and we know that this is truly the Saviour of the world.” (v42)
Question: Verse 39 says that “Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony”. Whose life has been a witness to you (in their words and in their actions)?