20 September 2017

Who is Jesus

Jesus Christ from four perspectives: part 5

It may only have been a rumour, but the apostle John wanted to put the record straight. Some people were claiming that Jesus had said that John would never die. John knew that this was not the case and so he ends his Gospel by repeating twice what Jesus actually said to Peter, “If it is my will that he (John) remain until I come, what is that to you?” (John 21:22)

John wanted no one to be deceived. Perhaps he was afraid that his own death might mistakenly undermine confidence in Jesus being the Messiah.

John must have smiled to himself at the irony of this rumour that he would not die. In his account of the life of Jesus, John constantly associates Jesus with eternal life. More than anything else, John wants to convince his readers that Jesus is the source of eternal life. As he states, in the best In this the last of five articles, Dr Desi Alexander invites us to take a fresh look at how the Four Gospels give an extraordinary portrait of Jesus Christ.

known verse of his Gospel, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Jesus spoke these words to Nicodemus, a very religious Jewish man. Soon afterwards John records what Jesus said to a less than religious Samaritan woman. Encountering her as she drew water at a well, Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty forever. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14). As with Nicodemus, Jesus brings the conversation around to the topic of eternal life.

In the chapters that follow, John records further remarks by Jesus about eternal life: “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes Him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24).

“For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:40).

In all of these passages, and there are more, Jesus presents Himself as the source of eternal life. As far as John is concerned, Jesus and eternal life go together.

When it comes to summarising why he wrote his Gospel, John remarks, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 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” (John 20:30-31).

If his Gospel is anything to go by, John must have talked frequently about Jesus and eternal life. You can easily see why people might have readily believed the rumour about John not dying.

John’s conviction that Jesus offers eternal life is reflected in how he structures his account of Jesus. At the very centre of his Gospel he deliberately places the story of Jesus raising Lazarus back to life again. This is surely no coincidence. Apart from the resurrection of Jesus, no other incident in all of the Gospels picks up on the theme of life and death in the way that this story does.

The story of Lazarus is exceptionally important. For John it encapsulates the Jesus story. As a story about death and resurrection life, it abounds in ideas or motifs that are central to John’s message. We see this in Jesus’ brief conversation with Martha, the sister of Lazarus. When Martha challenges Jesus for letting her brother die, Jesus replies, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to Him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world” (John 11:25-27).

Martha provides a perfect example of what John wants everyone to do. He wants the readers of his Gospel to believe in Jesus as the Christ and so receive everlasting life. The story of Lazarus epitomises what John wants to say: resurrection life comes through believing in Jesus.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16)

As stories go, the Lazarus incident is quite amazing. It is full of drama. When Lazarus hosts a celebration meal for Jesus, what does his sister Mary do? She brings a jar of expensive perfume, worth a year’s wages, and she pours the perfume on Jesus’ feet. Then she uses her hair to wipe them. This was Mary’s way of expressing her love for Jesus. Not a kiss on the mouth or a peck on the cheek – that would be entirely inappropriate. Rather a lavish gift, affectionately given as an act of worship. But this was more than a way of saying ‘thank you’ to Jesus for raising her brother to life. Her actions anticipate Jesus’ death and burial.

When Mary pours the precious perfume over Jesus’ feet, Judas voices an objection, “Would it not have been better for the perfume to be sold and the money given to the poor?” Jesus responds, “Leave her alone. She has kept it for the day of my burial. For you will always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me!” (John 12:7-8) According to Jesus, Mary has anointed Him for His burial. The one who said, “I am the resurrection and the life” anticipates that very soon He will be dead.

Ironically, because Jesus raised Lazarus to life, the Jewish religious leaders plotted His death. As they deliberate on how to get rid of Jesus, the high priest Caiaphas says to them, “You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish” (John 11:49-50).

John then comments, “He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad” (John 11:51-52).

While Caiaphas may not have understood the full significance of what he said, John certainly did. He appreciated that resurrection life would come to others through the death of Jesus.

To explain why this would happen, John draws on the Old Testament story of the Passover. When God delivered the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, the Israelite firstborn males were threatened with death. They would have died but for the blood of the Passover lambs sprinkled on the door frames of their houses. The death of the lambs saved them.

Remarkably, John presents Jesus as fulfilling a similar role. On two separate occasions he records how John the Baptist describes Jesus as ‘the Lamb of God’ (John 1:29; 1:36). Through His sacrificial death Jesus delivers others from death.

To underscore this link, John records that the bones of Jesus were not broken when He was crucified. This reflected a prohibition that God had placed upon the breaking of the bones of the Passover lambs. Quoting Exodus 12:46, John writes, “These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: ‘Not one of his bones will be broken’” (John 19:36).

On the basis of all that he witnessed, John believed that Jesus was the source of eternal life. He wants us to believe the same. By dying in our place, Jesus enables us to have eternal life.

This does not mean that we will not die. John understood this very well. What Jesus promised was resurrection life. As He Himself was raised to life, so too would John and all those who believe in Jesus as the Messiah.

When John’s Gospel is placed alongside those of Matthew, Mark and Luke, we get a truly remarkable picture of Jesus. As we noted in previous months, Matthew portrays Jesus as the son of David who establishes the kingdom of heaven. In complementary ways, Mark stresses that Jesus is the Son of God who suffers to ransom others, and Luke emphasises the compassion and humanity of Jesus as the saviour of the world who seeks the lost. To these John adds a further dimension by presenting Jesus as the Lamb of God who brings eternal life through a new exodus.

FOUR GOSPELS FOUR PORTRAITS AND ONE UTTERLY AMAZING PERSON

Dr Alexander has recently written a short introduction to the Four Gospels, entitled Discovering

Desi Alexander