THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO “JOHN”
John 1: 35-49
Evidence of the providence of God is all around us. It is God who has sustained us; God who loves us; and God who will not let us go. Our world seems to be coming apart at the seams with senseless and brutal acts. We are reminded that such events have happened even over the ages, and that sadly, some in our world have not evolved beyond acts of retribution rather than toward steps toward forgiveness and love. Even this week the author of my Wednesday Bible Study, Presbyterian minister LindaJo McKim, wrote: “
One day while reading [the Gospel of John], the great Scottish Reformer John Knox proclaimed that it is by faith alone that we are anchored. Because of this pronouncement Knox was in grave danger and remained in obscurity for three years. Later Knox became the personal bodyguard of George Wishart, another Reformer [Wishart was actually a relative of Ron Taylor’s, one of the men who used to be in the pipe band and one who helped me begin this service!] Wishart saw that he was becoming troublesome to the Roman Catholic Church [of his day] and told Knox to leave because of the danger, pointing out that one martyr was enough. That night Wishart was captured and burned at the stake.
So people have clashed over religious differences for centuries. Scotland is not the only country where people clashed over religious differences and freedoms. John Calvin also clashed with religious and political leaders when he took control of Geneva Switzerland not once, but twice! Meanwhile John Knox had the chance to visit Geneva from his native Scotland and said Calvin’s Geneva was “the most perfect school of Christ that ever was on earth since the days of the apostles.” And even in America, a land filled with freedom-loving rebels from England and other European countries, it was John Witherspoon, a Presbyterian minister and the sixth president of Princeton University, who became the only college president and the only Christian minister to sign our own Declaration of Independence. Biblically we are greeted in each of the gospels with other men named John: John the Baptizer-who, with fire in every breath-condemned sin and pointed to Christ. And it was John the apostle who gave us our most unique and theological book about the man he followed as Lord. Today on this occasion, let’s ground ourselves in Scripture—as Reformers always insisted on doing—and find out what parts of Scripture we can call the “gospel according to men whose names were John.”
According to John chapter 1, John the Baptist knew his role, as we need to know our own roles: John1:8 “He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light.” This is the first lesson from that most faithful man: “Bear witness to Christ as Savior: nothing more; nothing less.” You are not the savior of the world; I am not the savior of the world; but we know who is! Tell it! Show it! Live it! To do so is to do what John the Baptist did: he bore witness to the light. And, according to John chapter 1, he also gave Jesus a new title; a name that has stuck to the present day: John 1: 29 “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” That was a multi-layered comment. To an outsider, why would Jesus be called a lamb? To speak to a farmer is to find out that sheep are fearful, anxious, skittish, and dull of mind. Certainly John, who honored Jesus with his very life, did not mean that. No, the discerning reader, and the church over the years, knew how a lamb was used during Passover and Yom Kippur sacrifices. An unblemished lamb was considered to be rather rare and quite pure; it’s sacrifice paid the price for the sins of the Jews who came to the temple of God to confess their sins. So this, this is the meaning that John had: Jesus, like the lamb of the temple, was sacrificed to pay for the sins of the world. And, as God’s providence would have it, at the very hour on that dark Friday when Jesus breathed his last—3:00 p.m.—the lamb was sacrificed in the Temple on the other side of Jerusalem for the sins of faithful Jews. It was no coincidence. God continues to drop breadcrumbs of clues through the ages to say that the Almighty is not an absentee landlord; God is with us watching, working, and loving.
Second, we have John the Apostle. John the apostle seemed to be part of the inside circle of Jesus’ disciples, but he also is rarely named alone; he’s usually named along with others, not like Peter, who is often set apart. John told his gospel for a very different from Matthew, Mark, or Luke. He was obsessed with telling the world who Jesus was. His gospel includes more descriptions for Jesus than any other gospel. He is the “Bread of Life” in John 6:35; the “Gate” in John 10:9; the “Good Shepherd” in John 10:14; the “Light of the World” in John 8:12; the true “Vine” in John 15:1; and he’s “the way, the truth, and the life” in John 14:6. Just to name a few. John the apostle, without realizing it, was a brilliant teacher. When words seem inadequate to describe an event, a scene, or an experience, we often use figures of speech like metaphors, similes, and idioms. John fills his gospel with descriptive language for the Savior. All his titles and descriptions have stood the test of time.
Third, if you are Presbyterian and/or Reformed, you will always start with Jesus, who is head of the Church, or Kirk. You will then move to people like the prophetic John the Baptist an the theological and beloved John the Apostle. But many then will move to the great teacher about Christ, John Calvin. A Frenchman by birth, he is most known for taking a cesspool of corruption called Geneva Switzerland and turning it into the most Christian, the most progressive, and the most embracing city of it’s kind in his day. He instituted free education; he cleaned up the city with proper disposal of sewage and with health clinics. He gave God get all the honor and glory; he wanted no glory for himself. Trained in law but with a devotion to Christ, he wrote one of the clearest descriptions of the Protestant Christian way of living ever written called “The Institutes of the Christian Religion.” Everything in it was grounded in Scripture. In addition, his 22-volume commentary on the Bible, reviewing line by line, includes every book of the New Testament except Second John, Third, John, and Revelation; and most books in the Old Testament. People in our day, and people in his day, often employ the discipline called “Lectio Divina,” letting God speak through the slow, repeated, devotional reading of the Bible. John Calvin sometimes preached an entire sermon based on just one Scriptural sentence. In our day while some pride themselves with reading the Bible every year, how difficult would it be to spend your life savoring, considering, listening to, and praying over small portions of Scripture? It is but another way to listen for the Word of God.
Finally, we consider the preacher of Scotland, John Knox. He was not a shrinking violet; he did he turn from trouble. I have stood in the pulpit of St. Giles Church in Edinburgh Scotland from whence John Knox gave most of his sermons. Surprisingly few of his sermons have survived until today but we know of his work on prayer, on the Scots Confession, and his work to get Scotland free for Christ. You may not know that it was Knox who spoke out against kneeling for the Lord’s Supper, and so those of you who are used to such an act in other denominations are spared it in a Presbyterian Church as the Sacrament is administered, largely because of John Knox! In his comments on the subject in 1552, he wrote:
As kneeling is no gesture meet at the Table, so doth it obscure the joyful significations of that holy mystery. Kneeling is the gesture most commonly of suppliants, of beggars, or such men as, greatly troubled by the knowledge of misery or offence committed, seeking help or remission, doubting whether they shall obtain the same or not. But in the Lord’s Supper, chiefly in the action of eating and drinking, neither should appear in us [sorrow], poverty, nor sign of any misery.
So John Knox, not known for his light-heartedness, sustained a sense of the “Joyful feast of the People of God.” A holy meal for those invited. People seated by their Lord’s invitation. What a grand legacy.
And the footnote is about John Witherspoon who, in the beginning of our fledgling nation, brought high standards, good education, and was a well-informed man of college and the cloth, a man who influenced our forbearers and was glad to sign his name even to a document of revolt. It had been done before; it will surely be done again. He always fought for religious freedoms and was an influential educator. Presbyterians have always gleaned words from Scripture such as “For Freedom, Christ has set us free.” (Galatians 5:1)
And our drive for good and free education continues in our churches and in the halls of Congress.
So today let us learn from John: From the Baptizer, to bear witness to the Lord Jesus: nothing more, but nothing less either. From John the Apostle: to honor Jesus and his many titles, all for our benefit. From John Calvin: to be resilient about social reform, free education for children, and to remember we are saved by faith as our lives are grounded in the Word of God. From John Knox we remember that the holy meal is one to which we have been invited, not one that we have to grovel to attend. And finally we remember that John Witherspoon was involved; involved in his country, involved in education, and involved in connecting our nation, and connecting an early college of higher education, with our Lord Jesus Christ.
Go and do likewise. Learn from these disciples named John.
Let us pray:
O God of our forebears: we acknowledge that there were times when those who have gone before us got it wrong; but they also had determination, and a drive to bring the story of salvation to the nations. Today we lift up Jesus Christ as Lord, and we gather together as his disciples or his seekers to say thank you to you: God of our past: God of our present: and God of our future.
Holy is your name, O God. Amen.
Jeffrey A. Sumner January 18, 2015
was onearth since the days of the Apostles.” – See more at: http://www.reformationsa.org/index.php/reformation/92-john-knox-and-the-reformation-in-scotland#sthash.2QZ4ehJv.dpuf