John 1:35-2: “You Believe Because”
Sunday morning worship, January 7, 2018
Matthew, Mark, and Luke are called the Synoptic Gospels because so much of their source material is the same and then, from the heart of the writer, that material is tailored to different audiences. We say Matthew wrote his Gospel to a predominantly Jewish audience, Luke to a predominantly non-Jewish audience, and that Mark, based upon Peter’s experiences, was the first Gospel and designed to get the major parts of Jesus’ story to as wide of an audience as quickly as possible. Their culture’s traditional way of citing quotations and source material differs slightly from ours, so some scholars and Bible readers are troubled by these traditions and therefore dismiss the material as inauthentic. They charge the Gospel writers with being fast and loose with the truth. The Gospel of John is different. John’s Gospel was most probably the last Gospel written and presupposes that Matthew, Mark, and Luke have already been circulated and are known to a great portion of John’s readers. John’s Gospel is considered more of a “Christology” or a study of Jesus’ life and ministry from a theological perspective. John Himself tells us near the end of his Gospel, “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 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 20:30-31).” With this goal in mind, John skips much of birth material already known about Jesus, and after bringing an eternal Jesus into the human time/space continuum, immediately introduces us to how people come to believe in Jesus.
Last week we saw that John the Baptist “believed” because he “saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on [Jesus]. And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One (1:32-34).” This week, in John 1:35-2:25, we will see how Jesus’ first disciples, some of whom became His chosen apostles, and “many people” in Jerusalem for the Passover feast came to believe.
It might seem that our cell phones which now provide direct access to the internet and store as many pictures and as much music as the sim cards we purchase can hold have changed our habits. But it’s still not uncommon to see people “snuggled up” with a good book in a coffee shop or on the beach in the sun or in some other favorite spot passing a day away. A good novel or a study that matters to us can hold our attention for hours. I wonder what would happen if we could spend that same day with the author of that book, or with the musician who writes or performs our favorites songs. Would we continue reading their books and buying their music, maybe even trying to collect everything associated with that person, or would the time we spent with them color our reading or listening in a negative way? When Jesus passed by John the Baptist’s disciples, John once again testified about Jesus, “Look, the Lamb of God (1:36)!” Freed by John to follow Jesus, Andrew and others began following Jesus. The Apostle John writes, “So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him (1:39).” After spending this day with Jesus, “The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus (1:41-42).” One day spent with Jesus changed the lives of Andrew and Simon Peter forever. After one day with Jesus, they followed Jesus the rest of their lives. I wonder what would change in our lives if we purposely set aside an entire day and spent it with Jesus. Who among us is willing to take just the four Gospels and spend a day totally alone with those Scriptures reading them and searching for the heart of Jesus Christ in prayer and listening for what He wants to say personally to us?
It didn’t even take Philip and Nathanael a day; it only took two words and one very brief conversation. Jesus ‘found Philip’ and said to him, “Follow me” and Philip did (1:43). Philip then found Nathanael and told Nathanael about his encounter with Jesus. But in his recounting of his experience with Jesus, Philip told Nathanael Jesus was “the son of Joseph” who was from Nazareth. Nathanael, a Jewish elitist from Bethsaida challenged Philip, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” But Nathanael did follow Philip who brought him to Jesus. Even before Nathanael was introduced to Jesus, Jesus confronted Nathanael and his character: “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” Nathanael didn’t object to Jesus’ characterization or try to defend his viewpoint. An incredulous Nathanael simply replied, “How do you know me?” When Jesus told Nathanael, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you (1:48)” Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.” C.G. Kruse writing in his commentary on John (Vol. 4, p. 89. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press) says, “To sit under one’s own fig tree was a sign of prosperity. Jewish scholars sat under fig trees to study the Law. Whatever Nathanael’s experience under the fig tree involved, it must have had significance for him.” The knowledgeable Nathanael met a Jesus who had access to knowledge beyond the knowable by normal human means. Nathanael recognized only by having a direct line to the God of the Jews could Jesus have known this about him before he ever met Jesus. Nathanael goes beyond Andrew’s characterization of Jesus as the Jewish Messiah. Nathanael recognizes Jesus is also the Son of God and the King of Israel. What Nathanael was reading under that fig tree prepared his heart to meet Christ. I ask again, how many of us are willing to take just the four Gospels and spend a day totally alone with those Scriptures reading them and searching for the heart of Jesus Christ in prayer and listening for what He wants to say personally to us?
John next takes us to a wedding in Cana of Galilee, away from Nathanael’s Bethsaida. Here Jesus was dealing with a different culture, a culture in which to run out of wine before the days of the wedding feast were over would have been a major social blunder for the family. Only at His mother Mary’s urging without which Jesus would have not have performed this miracle, Jesus changed the water in six stone jars, each of which held between 20 and 30 gallons, into wine so good tasting, the “master of the banquet” told the bridegroom, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now (2:1-10).” Over the years I’ve read many different explanations of this story, none of which have totally satisfied me. This miracle seems out of character for Jesus, more like something Merlin of King Arthur’s day would do, or something out of Harry Potter’s Hogwarts training. I offer no comment beyond John’s: “What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him (2:11).” This miracle is not in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, who chose a different miracle to display of Jesus’ power over nature. In Matthew 8:23-27, Mark 4:35-41, and Luke 8:22-25, Jesus “rebuked the winds and the waves and it was completely calm (8:25).” While one encounter with Christ can change our lives, often how the social/relational problems this world brings our way and especially the life-threatening experiences that challenge us are resolved either bring us closer to or further away from Jesus. That is why I believe that although one day spent alone with the Gospels searching for the heart of Jesus can change us, we still need that experience reinforced repeatedly and in other forms. This miracle caused the already believing disciples who came to this wedding with Jesus “to believe in him (2:11)” in a way that was yet different from the belief they had already expressed. We will see as we go through this Gospel that the apostles’ faith will be continually challenged and their faith will wane and wax, but it is not until the book of Acts that this inconsistency vanishes. This truth should both comfort us and challenge us to continually seek the presence of the Holy Spirit in every moment of our lives.
These same disciples see another side of Jesus’ character when Jesus challenges those who have turned the temple in Jerusalem into “a market (2:13-17).” When challenged by the Jewish authorities, Jesus offers the change His coming gift of the Holy Spirit will make in each of our lives. Jesus says His body is a temple that will be raised to life three days after the ones who are now challenging Jesus’ authority to call the temple in Jerusalem “my Father’s house” put Jesus’ body to death on a cross. John 2:22 says, “After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.” Sometimes in life we need a new perspective before our faith solidifies. We have a truism which states, “hindsight is 20-20.” By it we mean if we had known then what we know now we would have made a different decision. A true perspective on our character, the people in our lives, and the events of our lives is difficult to obtain. We often falsely accuse others. When we talk to ourselves internalizing what has happened to us, we often internalize those events in ways Jesus would alter if we let Him internalize them for us. In Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13:12 “now we see through a glass, darkly (KJV)” or “for now we see only a reflection as in a mirror (NIV).” The next time you close the bathroom door and take a hot, steamy shower that fogs up your mirror, stand in front of it and try to see yourself accurately. If we stand there long enough, the steam will slowly dissipate and we begin to see our outline, and eventually more and more features. If we turn a hair dryer to the mirror or turn on the fan we can speed this process. In a similar way, there are things we can do to speed or slow down the deepening of our faith. What life brings our way will and does change us. My prayer for all of us in 2018 is that Christ will remove the fog that keeps us from seeing Him and ourselves more clearly and that in that process our faith in Christ will grow by leaps and bounds.