I think we’re finally ready to wrap up our survey of John. Based on the passages we’ve looked at and the themes of his book, if asked to articulate the gospel in more than a few sentences, I think John would put it something like this: “Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, put death to death on the cross and gave his life in order to give us life.” And he didn’t stay dead, either, which is where today’s passage, the entirety of John 20 comes in. It’s John’s account of Mary Magdalene and the disciples discovering the empty tomb, and Jesus’ post-death appearances. Death doesn’t get the last word. The Word gets the last word.
Jesus has entered Jerusalem by this point. Some Greek Jews are there for the passover, and they ask Philip to take them to Jesus. Fun fact, “Philip” is a Greek name. It means “friend of horses,” it’s got the Greek word for “horse” (Ἵππος) in there. You know, like how “hippopotamus” means “river-horse?” The text also notes that Philip “was from Bethsaida of Galilee” (21). Was Bethsaida known for Greek cultural influence or something? Anyway, I don’t really know where I was going with that stuff.
Why does the account of Lazarus’ resurrection only appear in John’s gospel? Of all of Jesus’ deals prior to his own resurrection, it’s probably the biggest; he raised a dude from the dead, and deals don’t get much bigger than that. How did this not make it into the other gospels? It’s weird.
But Jesus’ acts of healing, as we’ve seen, go hand-in-hand with the gospel. They’re a sign that God is straightening what’s gone crooked in his creation–and what greater sign is there that things have gone south in the universe than death? You think back to the garden of Eden, and after Adam and Eve sinned, God essentially says to them, “Well, you’re gonna have to not live forever now.”
You’ve probably already noticed: the Bible isn’t all ice cream and roller skates. To be honest, sometimes as I read and write for this blog, the chocolate I eat with it is the spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down. But this passage? This passage reads like a chocolate slab.
So Jesus gets to the city of Sychar in Samaria, and he’s straight-up exhausted, so when a woman comes up to the well there, he asks her to get him a drink. Mindful of the hostility between the Jews and Samaritans, she starts asking him questions, and when he starts talking about some “living water” that only he can give, she’s doubly baffled. Then Jesus says: “Everyone who drinks of this water [from Jacob’s well] will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life” (13-14). This is Jacob’s well we’re talking about here. You know, the patriarch Jacob, from Genesis? To a first-century Hebrew, it’s the most famous well imaginable. And Jesus is saying that he’s got a source of water that’s even greater than this.
John 3:16: the best-known verse in the Bible? Likely the best-known reference in the Bible, at least; we’ve all seen the John 3:16 guys holding up their signs at sporting events, but I couldn’t tell you how many of us could actually quote it. It was probably the first verse I memorized. My go-to verse as a definition of the gospel is usually 1 Peter 3:18, but the notion that God shows his love for us by giving his Son in order to bring us eternal life…well, that’s a worthy summary of the good news too.
Welcome to the gospel according to John the Baptist.
Jesus’ arrival is mad good news for John. As he’s baptizing, he sees Jesus coming and says, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (1:29). As a Jew speaking to Jews, John is making a reference to the Passover lamb, sacrificed every year to commemorate the Exodus. When God killed the firstborn of every Egyptian, he spared the Jews because of the sign of lamb’s blood that they applied to their doorposts. John uses the lamb as a metaphor for Jesus’ own sacrifice, suggesting that those who count on Jesus’ blood to cover them will be spared from God’s wrath. John the Baptist has been critical of both the ruling Roman state and his Jewish countrymen; he knows the world’s neck-deep in its own sin, so the news that Jesus will take away its sin is good news indeed.
Among Biblical scholars, in contrast to the “synoptic” gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, John’s gospel is known as the “weird” gospel. It’s written in a more philosophical style than the other three and relates several events that aren’t present in the other three (exclusive content!). Moreover, while Mark begins his narrative with the ministry of John the Baptist preparing the way for Jesus, and Matthew and Luke begin with Jesus’ birth, John’s gospel is the only one that can be said to begin its story before the creation of the world.
In this passage, Jesus compares the gospel to a mustard seed that grows into a tree, and leaven that makes bread rise. Nothing fancy here, just the simple message that the kingdom grows. It starts small, but give it enough time, and it’ll become a tree big enough for birds to nest in. The kingdom of God plays the long game.
Of the six instances of the word “gospel” in Luke, two of them (Luke 4:18, Luke 7:22) are references to Isaiah 61:1, “The Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted.” Three are simply statements that John the Baptist, the apostles, or Jesus himself are preaching the gospel (Luke 3:18, Luke 9:6, Luke 20:1). And then there’s one where Jesus says, “Since [John the Baptist’s] time the gospel of the kingdom of God has been preached” (Luke 16:16). We’ve looked at all of these, and I’m still not feeling like I’ve got a handle on how Luke would state what the gospel is, so I’m going to dig a little deeper.