Here's Sunday's sermon (02.04.18), our first in our new series through John. You can catch the audio at karischurch.org.
Tom Brady goes after his sixth Super Bowl ring tonight. He can also add to his record with his 5th MVP award. A few years back, he said these words on CBS’s 60 Minutes:
Why do I have three Super Bowl rings and still think there's something greater out there for me? I mean, maybe a lot of people would say, “Hey man, this is what is.” I reached my goal, my dream, my life. Me, I think, “God, it's got to be more than this.” I mean this isn't, this can't be, what it's all cracked up to be."
The interviewer, Steve Croft asked, “What’s the answer?” Brady responded,
What's the answer? I wish I knew. I wish I knew. I love playing football and I love being quarterback for this team. But at the same time, I think there are a lot of other parts about me that I'm trying to find.
This isn’t the only time Tom has mused in interviews about the meaning of life. In a Details magazine interview, he said this:
Life is not living in the suburbs with a white picket fence. That's not life. Somehow our American culture has made it out that that's what life needs to be—and that if it's not that, it's all screwed up. It's not. You go through life and you try the best you can.
But it seems like Tom would say he’s now figured it out. I know some of you have caught episodes of “Tom vs. Time” on Facebook. There and in his book The TB12 Method he now presents a kind of religion. Tom’s the guru. His book’s the bible. That’s how the Washington Post puts it, in an article on Friday: “For Tom Brady, football has become religion. No, really.” There Brady is quoted as saying this:
I do want to know the whys in life. I do want to know why we’re here, where we’re going; trying to find that deeper purpose. To live it, through sports in a very authentic way, makes so much sense to me.
We’re all looking for life. We are. A meaningful life. A joyful life. But most of the time, we look for it in the wrong places. Football. Fame. Money. Sex. We go after it in the wrong way. In our own strength. “You try the best you can.” We do.
Today, we begin a journey through the gospel of John. Here the author, whose name is John, shares with us where true life can be found. He’d been taught this. He’d experienced this for himself - as a part of Christ’s inner circle. He writes this book late in life - likely between 70 and 100 A.D. in Ephesus. He’s had many years to remember and reflect and let it all soak into his bones. But he just has to get it all out.
John is the same man who gives us the book of Revelation and the three letters that bear his name. He remembers Christ’s words and works. He labors to press them into our hearts. He is an eyewitness, and again, a close friend. To Jesus, and here to us. He is a teacher. But he doesn’t just want to give us information. He calls us near to worship. And he points us to life.
We’ll spend weeks, months, likely even years soaking in this glorious gospel. And it’s our prayer as elders that we’ll find and experience true life here together. Today, I’ll introduce you to the book and explain the book’s theme. I think you’ll also see why this gospel is so very relevant still today.
Life Has Come
John teaches us here that life has come. Now John is one of four gospels - four accounts of Christ’s life. You can think of them like four different views from four different news sites. You read the New York Times, the Washington Post, even USA Today, and you basically get the same thing. A presentation of the facts. A few editorial comments. That’s Matthew, Mark, and Luke - the other three gospels.
John is whole ‘nother animal. It reads more like a news magazine. The Atlantic. The New Yorker. Some things aren’t included. A few things are added. But what’s talked about is dealt with on a deeper level. And it’s presented with such richness and beauty. And what the disciple really wants us to see is the richness and beauty of the life Tom Brady and each of us are looking for.
The other gospels focus more on the “kingdom of God.” John likes to talk about eternal life. That’s his theme. And you probably already know that, even if you didn’t realize it. That’s because one of the Super Bowl cameras today is more than likely going to pan past a guy holding a sign. And on that sign is going to be the Bible’s most famous verse. And that’s a verse that proclaims this life. John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
Eternal life. Now this is a life that’s certainly in the future. But it also is meant to be experienced here and now. Hear chapter 5 and verse 24: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” It doesn’t say that you’ll some day have life. Jesus says, “You have it now.” He wants us to experience this life presently. Not just life after death. But life before it, also.
One way to illustrate this is through adoption. You’re not just given a piece of paper. You’re brought into a new relationship. You’re in this new family. You eat, drink, work, play, and sleep in this new household. You laugh and cry with them. It’s an entirely different realm of existence. That’s the way it is with this eternal life. We’re brought into it now. We experience this on into eternity.
If we asked 100 people what they wanted in life, I think a common response would be that they want happiness. But this life we’re talking about here provides something even better. It’s joy. On this side of eternity, in a fallen world, life is hard. Bad circumstances will erode that happiness quickly. But joy can weather the storms. It’s deeper. And it’ll last forever.
God offers us life. As Jesus says elsewhere in John 10:10, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” This life we’re all looking for. The Lord, through John, wants us to find it and experience it.
Found in Jesus
And He wants us to experience it in Christ. That’s the second big theme I want you to see today, and as we go through this book. Friend, the thrill from that victory will diminish. Brother, the buzz from that party goes away. Sister, the feeling from that promotion will fade. Family, the excitement from those purchases will not last. We’ll be back on Amazon soon enough. Jesus is where it’s at. Life is found only in Him. That’s the answer to Tom’s question and ours.
Next week, we’ll jump right into chapter 1. We’ll see the prologue, this poem, where John reveals all his cards. He shows us where he’s going from the outset. Listen to verses 1-3.
John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
John 1:2 He was in the beginning with God.
John 1:3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.
More on this next week, but this “word” is Jesus. But what does it say about Him? He was there in the beginning. He was with God. And He was God. And everything was made in the beginning through Him. Jesus is God! That’s the disciple’s agenda. To show us this. He wants us to see it for ourselves and wonder!
He unfolds it to us in two primary ways. Through Christ’s works and words. Let’s first take His works. One distinctive thing about John’s gospel is his presentation of these signs of Jesus. There are seven of them. He turns the water into wine in chapter 2. He heals a sick boy in chapter 4 and a paralyzed man in chapter 5. He feeds the 5,000 in chapter 6. He walks on water also in chapter 6. He restores a blind man’s sight in chapter 9. He raises Lazarus from the dead in chapter 11.
All of those signs, all of those works, of course point ahead to the biggest, the greatest. His work on the cross. The sign of the resurrection. And they all have a purpose. And it’s given after John shares the first.
After telling the story of Jesus turning the water into wine, he says this, in verse 11 of chapter 2: “This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.” Why does Jesus do these things? Why does John spotlight them? That we would see His glory. That we would believe. More on that second idea in a minute.
Second, take Christ’s words. John’s gospel has more extensive teaching from Jesus than the other gospels by far. And it’s mind-stretching, heart-moving stuff. But those teachings spring out of, or culminate in, these massive claims that Jesus makes.
What do I mean? Important in the gospel are the “I AM” sayings of Jesus. The Lord makes these seven claims in this gospel. He says, “I am the bread of life” in John 6:35. He proclaims, “I am the light of the world” in chapter 8 and verse 12. “I am the door” is what He claims in 10:7. “I am the good shepherd” is what He says in chapter 10 and verse 11. Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life” in John 11:25. In John 14:6, Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” In chapter 15 and verse 1, Christ preaches, “I am the true vine.”
So what’s the big deal? They’re just sentences, right? And they each have a first person singular pronoun - “I”, a “to be” or “linking” verb - “am”, and a predicate noun - like “door.” Right? Wrong. They’re a really big deal. What Jesus is doing is making a claim about who He is. He’s linking himself to the God of the Old Testament. To see that, we need to turn briefly to the book of Exodus. There the Lord meets Moses in a burning bush. There the Lord calls Moses back to Egypt. And the reluctant prophet responds like this:
Ex. 3:11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?”
Ex. 3:12 He said, “But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.”
Ex. 3:13 Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?”
Ex. 3:14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”
Ex. 3:15 God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.
Moses says, “Who do I tell them sent me again?” God says, “Tell them ‘I AM’ did. The One who just is. That’s who. Tell them ‘I AM.’” Now that’s the name Jesus is applying to Himself. He’s labeling Himself the eternal, independent, self-existent, unchangeable Creator and Lord. He’s taking the covenant name of God - Yahweh in Hebrew - for Himself. In Greek, the language of the New Testament, it’s ego eimi. I AM. In those two simple words, Jesus is unmistakably calling Himself God.
This becomes clear in John chapter 8. There Jesus explicitly calls Himself this covenant God. And that’s why the religious leaders were getting so mad. Look with me at John 8.
John 8:56 Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.”
John 8:57 So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?”
John 8:58 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”
John 8:59 So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.
Why are they about to stone Him? He’d just called Himself God. That was blasphemy. And therefore, in their minds, Jesus deserved to die.
Now another six times in the book - so 7 total, Jesus uses those two words “I am.” He says, to the Samaritan woman, in John 4:26, “I AM, the one speaking to you.” To the fearful disciples while He’s walking on water, in chapter 6, verse 20, He proclaims, “I AM; do not be afraid.”
To the religious leaders, in chapter 8, He also says, “Unless you believe I AM, you will die in your sins,” in verse 24. “When you’ve lifted up the Son of Man, you’ll know I AM,” he also says in verse 28.
We’ve already seen his most explicit claim, in verse 58 of chapter 8. But in chapter 13, verse 19, Jesus says this, after predicting who would be betray Him: “I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I AM.”
And perhaps in the most striking example, in John 18:5, Jesus identifies Himself to those coming to arrest Him. He says, “I AM.” Then, verse 6 says those leaders and soldiers fall to the ground. He’s God. They’re in the presence of great power. But One who would soon lay down that power for our salvation.
Now each time Jesus utters those two words, He’s reminding people of His identity. He’s God. Full stop. Now it’s common today to claim you’re a person of faith. You draw your teachings from all sorts of different sources. And you certainly have respect for the teachings of Jesus. He’s deep. He’s profound. What a teacher, people say.
But you know what? He claims to be so much more than that. He claims to be God. You can’t take some things He says and believe those. And ignore things completely. He’s God. We see it through His works, through these signs. We hear it in His words, though these claims. He’s God. And eternal life is only found in Him. He is its source.
Comes By Faith
And that life only comes by faith. More specifically, the word John uses is belief. Or really, he uses it predominantly as a verb, “believe.” 98 times that verb is used in this gospel. 98 times! That’s how you and I experience this eternal life. By faith.
This is believing versus doing. Life doesn’t come by, as Brady put it, trying the best we can. Believing is the opposite of our striving. Works don’t make us right with the Lord. It only comes through faith. It comes through bowing a knee, looking up to heaven, emptying our hands, raising them up to heaven. Faith is trusting in Christ’s works. The message isn’t “Get to work.” It’s, “It is finished.”
This is belief in an object. Today it’s cool to say things like this: “it really doesn’t matter so much what you believe, as long as you believe it. It’s sincerity that counts.” That’s faith in your faith. But it’s not about us - the amount of our faith or the steadiness of it. It’s not the sincerity of our love, but rather the object of it. Jesus - belief in Him - is the only pathway to life.
This is trusting and not just understanding. We’re not just talking about accepting a list of facts in our heads. This is giving your life to these truths. You don’t just look at the bridge and say it looks safe. You walk across it. And you see the view as beautiful and sweet as you do.
Lest we again think that faith is merely mental acceptance, John the disciple and author of this book uses parallel words to “believe” that make that clear. He uses words like “receive” or “drink” or “hear” or “come” or “behold” or “eat” or “abide” or “love” or “know.” This isn’t just a head thing. It’s a heart thing. It’s delighting in Jesus. It is seeing Him as your treasure. And it comes out through our hands, also. It also leads to action.
This is belief that leads to works. Our doing doesn’t make us right with God. But it flows out of our relationship with Him. Another theme of John can be summed up with these words in John 14:15 — “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” We don’t receive this life by works but by faith. But those words show that our faith is real, that we’ve experience this life in Jesus.
Those who receive life in Jesus don’t labor for it. They stretch out empty hands and receive it as a gift. That’s the pathway to it. We believe in Him. We deeply love Him. As we’ll see in just a few Sundays ahead, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:11). Adopted into His family. Life in Him.
So life has come. It’s found in Jesus. It comes by faith. We see that emphasized in the book. We also hear it in John’s purpose statement in chapter 20, verses 30-31.
John 20:30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book;
John 20:31 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.
Why did Jesus do these signs and many more? Why did John labor to write them all down? So that we would believe. That we’d believe He’s the Christ, God’s Son. Again, that He’s God in the flesh. And that we’d find life.
People debate the intended audience of this gospel. Some say it’s for non-Christians. John says, “These are written so that you may believe.” Others argue back, “But that word ‘believe’ is in the present tense.” In other words, it also could mean, “These are written so that you may keep on believing.” But I think both sides are missing the point. Belief kicks off this eternal life. It goes on for an eternity. We’re made right with God initially by faith. We’re grown in our relationship with Him by faith. Believing is what the Christian life is about. It’s the way we experience this life. It’s the way we know the great I AM.
Knowing I Am
We’ve entitled this series “Knowing I Am” for a couple of reasons. First, that’s the God’s desire for us. That we would know, that we’d believe, in this Jesus who is God. That we’d see His identity and trust Him.
But second, it’s also so we’d get our identity straight. John Calvin, in his famous Institutes, wrote that knowledge of self and knowledge of God go together. They both feed off of each other. And before we can know ourselves truly, we have to see God for who He is. Looking at Him, we see where we stand in our sin. We then look up and see Him as a Savior. And if we then become His, we know also that we’re loved.
I just talked a bit about the audience. Think about the author, John, with me again. Interestingly, he’s not mentioned in the book - at least by the name we expect. But there’s this person spoken of, several times in the book, who’s come to deeply know I AM. The first instance is in John 13:23. “One of His disciples, whom Jesus loved,” it says, is reclining at the table next to the Lord. And He asks Him, after Jesus says one of them will be betray Him, who exactly that man is.
In John 19:26-27, when Jesus is hanging on the cross, this same disciple is standing next to our Lord’s mother. Christ says to Mary, “Woman, behold your son.” This man again is called “the disciple whom he loved.”
In chapter 20, and verse 2, this disciple, “the one whom Jesus loved” is there with Peter as Mary Magdalene runs up with some big news. The tomb is empty!
In John 21:7, this man is the first to recognize the risen Jesus. This “disciple whom Jesus loved” cries out to Peter, “It is the Lord!”
Who is this man? Our suspicions are confirmed when we read the end of the book. Listen to it with me:
John 21:20 Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?”
John 21:21 When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?”
John 21:22 Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!”
John 21:23 So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?”
John 21:24 This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true.
John 21:25 Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.
Now this strikes me as funny and sounds like the Peter we all know. Jesus tell him he’ll suffer and die. He turns to the guy next to him and asks, “Him, too?” Jesus answers in a cryptic way. “If I let him live, why’s that your business?” People then go around saying that the man wouldn’t die. That man is the author of this gospel. That man is the one that Jesus loved. That’s our guy John here.
Now do you think John is the only one Jesus loved? Do you think John’s saying Jesus loved Him more? No. This disciple is so moved by Christ’s love for Him, that He just has to talk about it. He wants to dissolve into the background. He’d rather be nameless. He’s so blown away that this Jesus has loved Him. He’s taken that on as His identity: “the one Jesus loved.” And He loves Him so deeply in return.
Changed by Love
Here’s a question. John doesn’t talk about Himself much here. But we do learn about Him in the other gospels. Jesus calls him and his brother James as His disciples. They’re the sons of a man named Zebedee. But what’s their nickname? The one Jesus gives them? Boanerges. What’s that mean? Mark 3:17 tells us. They’re the “sons of thunder.” In Luke 9, John wants Jesus to stop someone from doing exorcisms that’s outside their team. Shortly thereafter, he and his brother ask Jesus to call down fire on a village that rejects their message. And, of course, those are the same two guys who ask Jesus for seats right next to Him in heaven (Matthew 10:35-45).
What’s my point? This John the disciple has been profoundly changed. And trusting God the Son can even transform us.
Take anger. I can be a Son of Thunder myself. The kids act up at home and I lose my cool. That’s what I do. Why? I forget who I am. I act like I’m an orphan, like I’m alone, that I have to control everything. What I’ve done - lose my temper - reflects me forgetting who I am.
But deeper than that, I’ve forgotten what He’s done. He’s brought me into His family. He’s made me His Son. And I’ve forgotten who He is. He’s my Dad. He’s in control, not me. That’s His job, not mine. I’m His kid. I can relax. I don’t have to freak out.
Knowing the loving I am changes everything. We’re become gripped by His identity. But that means knowing ours, as well. I now am a new person in Christ. I’m in right relationship with this glorious God. Knowing I am loved also changes everything.
So let me go back to where I started. Life is ours. Not just life later, but life now. But it won’t come from going about it in the wrong way. By working harder or smarter. It only comes through believing. Through knowing. And we’ll never find it in the wrong places. Other things will only leave us disappointed. Life can only be found in Jesus. Only in the great I AM. Let’s come to know Him and ourselves better as we journey through the gospel of John together.