Monday, June 4, 2012

John's Gospel

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.    --  John 3:16

These words are perhaps the most familiar words in the New Testament.  They are so familiar that many people merely refer to them by chapter and verse, "3:16."  For many people, this verse is the essence of the Christian faith, the essential message.  Believe in Jesus and you will have eternal life with God.

But, what does it mean to "believe in Jesus"?  Does it mean to believe that Jesus was God's only Son?  Is that why God sent Jesus:  because he wanted everyone to believe that Jesus was special, unique?  Is that the Gospel message, God's message of Good News to the world:  if you believe that Jesus is God's only Son then you gain eternal life, but if you do not then you perish? 

I seriously doubt it.  If God loves THE WORLD, why would God divide it in such a way?  Why would God cast off Jews, Muslims, and anyone else who loves God with all their heart, mind, body, and soul, but who cannot believe that Jesus was his only Son?  That is the opposite of Good News.

No, the passages in the Gospel of John about Jesus' relationship to God have an underlying purpose.  The whole reason that John is so insistent on belief in Jesus' uniqueness -- as God's only Son, as God's Messiah, as God's Word made flesh, as the bread of life, as the light of the world, as the fount of living water, etc. -- is so that we listen to his message, and trust his word.  It is his word that gives us eternal life.  In John's Gospel, Jesus' word is God's word.  There is no difference.
For John, this is a living word.  This word was in the beginning with God, was made incarnate in Jesus, and will always be with us in the Spirit.  (No wonder the above verse was in the Gospel reading for last Sunday:  Trinity Sunday!  God and Jesus and Spirit, all found in God's word.)

Because God's word is a living word, particular to each person, time, and place, John rarely shares Jesus' teachings.  There is no Sermon on the Mount; there is no Lord's Prayer.  There are no lists of rules in John's Gospel.  John does tell us that Jesus taught crowds of people, often in the temple, and amazed everyone with his understanding, but John rarely states exactly what Jesus taught.  John does not want us to get tied down to specific rules.  He does not want us to search the scriptures for rules to follow.  That is not how you find eternal life.  Though that is how many people read Scriptures.

For John, eternal life is knowing the only true God and Jesus Christ. (17:3).  It is found by abiding in him, drinking the water that he gives, and eating his bread, God's bread.  Jesus' message, which John shares more than anyone else, is that the way to eternal life is found directly with God.  Abide in God, put your trust in God, and listen to his will for you.  Everything else that is necessary for you will follow from that. 

This, I believe.  The one thing that has changed my life more than anything else, because it has made me aware of God's continual presence, is finding time every day, connecting with my spirit, my deepest concerns and musings, and listening to God's word to me.  This word often comes in a daily Bible reading.  But it also comes in other daily readings, or in the words of a song, or in the words of a friend or stranger.  But it always comes, and always in words.  I would not know God at all, if I did not take time to abide in the spirit, and if I did not open my ears, and my eyes, to God's message for me each day.

Dear God, thank you for John, and for his Gospel.  It resonates with my experience of you.  Your word is my daily bread.  And it fills me like no other food possibly can.  Love always, Pam

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