The Gospel of John reads very differently from the Synoptics, containing more philosophical statements and aphorisms rather than parables and pericopes. Repetitions of key phrases permeate the text, such as light, see/witness, life, believe, works/miracles/signs, and know. From this stylistic device of repetition, we may deduce the key theological elements which the author/redactor is trying to communicate to his audience. The thesis statement of the Gospel is presented clearly in 20:31, “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.” Thus the author aims not only to demonstrate that Jesus is the Messiah, but also to engender faith in that same Jesus, through whom those who believe may obtain eternal life.
The author views himself as a witness to Jesus (19:35) — someone who has not only seen what Jesus did, but who also declares it to others. The author is not the only witness; others include John the Baptist (1:19-34; 5:30-35), Jesus' miracles (5:36-38) and Moses and the Hebrew Scriptures (5:39-47). Jesus himself in a divine statement claims “I am the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness about me” (8:17-18). Prior to his crucifixion, Jesus also says that the Spirit and the disciples will be his witnesses in future (15:26-27).
At the same time, the author makes clear that those who testify about Jesus are commissioned or sent for that purpose. As John the Baptist was sent by God (1:6; 3:28), Jesus sends his disciples as witnesses in the world (17:18; 20:21), empowered by the Holy Spirit whom the Father sends in Jesus' name (14:26). To contemporary disciples, this is an encouragement that we are commissioned by Jesus, and at the same time a challenge to actually be witnesses to him.
Jesus himself was sent from the Father as a light (it is only by the light that we are able to see/witness), to reveal knowledge of the Father (12:44-46; 14:7-20). While such knowledge of the Father is eternal life (17:3), mere intellectual assent is insufficient. Jesus' true sheep are characterised by belief in him (10:27-28), and it is such belief that leads to eternal life (3:16-18; 3:36; 5:19-29; 6:40-58). This life comes about through Jesus' laying down his own life willingly and taking it up again (10:17-18; 15:12-13). The challenge is also for Jesus’ disciples to lay down their lives in order to bring God’s life (12:24-25).
What I find interesting about John is how throughout the Gospel, blindness and unbelief prevail in spite of Jesus' miracles. While this element is already present in the Synoptics (e.g. Mk. 8:11-26, Mt. 12:22ff), in John’s Gospel it is a key theme. Interestingly, there is a correspondence between Jesus’ healing of blind people and the blindness of the religious leaders in both the Synoptics and in John. In the latter however, the theme is highlighted more starkly by the repeated emphasis on Jesus as the Light —without coming to this Light, one will not be able to see a miracle that happens before one’s eyes.
As a modern-day disciple of Jesus, my attention is drawn to chapter 17, where Jesus prays that his disciples “may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me”. What does this “one-ness” and unity mean? Are we called to unity of purpose, of thinking, of activity, of behaviour, or what? How do we reconcile this call for unity with the celebration of diversity in other parts of Scripture (e.g. Paul’s analogy of the church as one body with different parts in Romans, 1 Corinthians), as well as with the visible differences in perspectives and practices between Christians, not only during modern times but beginning even in the late first century? I do not have the answers right now, but this would make a fascinating and relevant topic for further exploration.
HOLY SPIRIT, My LORD
Who would miss the miracles and wonders as manifestations of the baptism of the Holy Spirit in Acts? They are undeniable!
We read, filled with the Holy Spirit, the boldness of Peter and John before the religious leaders in face of threats (4:1-31). Full of the Holy Spirit, Steven interceded selflessly for the very people who were stoning him to death (7:1-60). Peter obeyed when the Spirit revealed salvation is also for the gentiles (10:1-48). Compelled by the Spirit, Paul surrendered his life even though prison and hardships awaited him (20:22-24). Courage, true witness, obedience and a life of surrender however emerge from these other recounts of being filled with the Spirit.
Immersed in the marketplace most of our waking hours, saturated with the secular reality where capabilities are paramount in determining our market value, social status and even personal worth, we may in turn be undiscerning in seeking the Holy Spirit for “competence of gifting” rather than empowerment for the quality of our faith. Holy Spirit, sanctify me, for to You faithfulness precedes giftedness.
The Spirit sent Ananias to open Paul’s eyes to his mission to the gentiles (9:1-19). The Spirit set apart Barnabas and Paul for missionary journeys (13:1-14:28). The Spirit deterred Paul from going to the province of Asia but Macedonia (16:6-10). While in Corinth, the Lord assured Paul that there were many belong to Him (18:9-11). The Lord’s undaunted will made known to Paul despite his chain, and for two years in Rome he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ (23:11; 28:30-31). Here I hear God’s directing voice “Go, pause, stop, turn and proceed”!
Whose voice do we most often consider and obey when labouring for God’s ministries? Singapore’s remarkable economic growth over the years is largely attributed by its leaders to sheer determination, hard work and intelligent harnessing of knowledge. Being part of this striving culture and enjoying its fruits as a result, we are sometimes susceptible to the illusion of the power of human engineering in ministry development and growth.
Thoughtful planning and organisation of church ministries is undoubtedly necessary. But the temptation of human leadership takes precedence over that of the Holy Spirit is always lurking. A perpetual self-examination is needful. Who should motivate an expansion of a church or ministry? Is it ones’ ambitions and interests? Or is it to increase ones’ power of influence, be noticed and successful (a prevailing marketplace model)? With the right mechanics in place, growing big and influential is always attainable on this earthly world. But is it always in line with God’s master plan which the Spirit is directing?
Living in an age where human hearts crave outward spectacular, would we still care to heed the warning of the tragedy of Ananias and Sapphira (5:1-11)? Perhaps we forget that the Spirit is not merely a source of power but a Person, God Himself, whom we cannot lie to or test with our shrewdness! Holy Spirit, in Your mercy, sanctify us.