Southminster Presbyterian Church

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It's Personal

Ken Onstot

Scriptures: John 1:1-18, Genesis 1:1-5

            To begin our fall sermon series on the Gospel of John, I

have asked Al Schwarz to come and do a short skit with me that I have adapted from a book called Worlds of Youth by Herb Brokering. The scene is a book store.

            Ken: Hello, I want to buy a Bible.

            Al: Any particular kind?

            Ken: What kinds are there?

            Al:           All kinds.  There is RSV, KJV, NIV, TEV, NEB,

NLT, NRSV, and NASB—to name just a few.

Ken: Hmm. Sounds like government agencies. Well, I don’t care what kind it is, just so it has what Jesus said is in red.

            Al: Do you want a concordance?

            Ken: A what?

            Al: A concordance.  You know, to look up cross-references.

            Ken: Ah, sure, as long as it’s not too expensive.

            Al: How much should it cost?

            Ken: I don’t know.  As little as possible, as long as it has

what Jesus said in red.

            Al: Why do you want Jesus’ words in red?

Ken: Well, it makes it easier to find all the things Jesus said. You know, like the Beatitudes, and the Golden Rule, and the Lord’s Prayer, and all the parables.

            Al: Are the things Jesus said more important than the rest?

            Ken: The rest of what?

            Al: The rest of his life.  Is what Jesus said more important

than what Jesus did?

            Ken: What do you mean?

            Al: Are parables and stories more important than the

miracles Jesus performed?

            Ken: Oh. I see.  Well, then, change the order?

            Al: To what?

            Ken: Get me a Bible that prints all the things Jesus did in

red.

            Al: There is no such Bible.

            Ken: Why not?

            Al: Are you now suggesting that what Jesus did is more

important than what he said?

            Ken: Oh, now we’re right back where we started.

            Al: Do you really think so?



            In a sense you could call John’s gospel “The Red-Letter

Gospel.” If you had a red-letter Bible, where the words of Jesus are in red, John’s gospel would have more red than other book of the Bible. But in the process John leaves out many well-known stories of Jesus’ life. For example, in John’s gospel there is no account of Jesus’ birth, baptism, temptation, or of Jesus serving bread and wine to his disciples at the last supper. There are also very few healing stories in John’s gospel. John describes only four healings that Jesus did, compared to 13 in Mark, 14 in Matthew, and 17 in Luke. Clearly John’s gospel puts more emphasis on Jesus’ words than on Jesus’ actions.

            And yet, in John’s gospel many of Jesus’ most famous

teachings are absent. There is no Lord’s Prayer, no beatitudes, no Golden Rule, and almost no parables. Instead we find long speeches by Jesus which no one seems to understand.

            But here is the key to John’s gospel.  In John’s gospel the

focus is not on what Jesus said or on what Jesus did, but on who Jesus is. Or to put it more precisely, John reports what Jesus said and did primarily for the sake of telling us who Jesus is.

            We see this already in chapter one.  Compare our two

scripture readings this morning. Genesis 1 starts with the words, “In the beginning.” John’s gospel begins the same way. Genesis says that God created the world by his word. God spoke, and there was light. John says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God.” Then John says, “All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.” Notice how the Word has become a person, an agent of creation. Next Genesis says, “God separated the light from the darkness,” and John says, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

            The beginning of John’s gospel clearly echoes the beginning

of Genesis, and it does so for a reason. John wants us to know that when we meet Jesus in the pages that follow, we are meeting the Creator of the universe. That is John’s point in verse 14: “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” Then in verse 17 John says, “Grace and truth came to us through Jesus Christ.” Do you see the connection? The Word of God that created the world became flesh in Jesus Christ. John concludes in verse 18: “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.”

  In the pages that follow John goes on to describe many of Jesus’

actions and teachings. But these actions and teachings are told to reinforce the truth about who Jesus is. For example, in chapter 6 Jesus feeds 5000 people with five loaves of bread, but he does this not just to feed the hungry but to help people understand who he is: that he is the bread of life. Likewise in chapter 9 Jesus gives sight to a blind man, but he does this not just to help the blind man see but to help all of us see—to help us see that he is the light of the world. Finally, in chapter 11 Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, but he does so not just to heal Lazarus but to show us all that he is the Resurrection and the Life.

  Jesus is not just a great teacher or the ultimate social worker.

That’s what John wants us to understand. Jesus is not just a religious guru like Buddha, or a religious/political leader like Mohammed, or even a model of non-violent resistance like Gandhi. If that were the case, John would be more concerned about Jesus’ words and actions than his identity. But Jesus is not just a wise teacher or a model social worker. Jesus is God come to us in person, something Buddha, Mohammed, and Gandhi would have never claimed. In the end it is not just advice that God gives us in Jesus, or even healing. In Jesus God gives a personal relationship with the Creator of the universe—a God who comes to us in person so we can live with him forever.

  One of the most famous rescues in recent American history was the

rescue of Jessica McClure, an 18-month old toddler who fell down a well in Midland, TX, and got stuck at the bottom. Because Jessica was stuck, it would do no good to lower a basket down to her and expect her to get in, or a harness and expect her to put it on. Jessica could be rescued only by someone who went down into the well to get her. The well, however, was too small for an adult to fit, so they had to bore a parallel shaft next to the well, so an adult could get down to Jessica.

  But the rock next to the well was extremely hard.  They had to bring

in a special drill from Houston using water pressure to cut through it. It took 58 hours. For 2 ½ days the whole nation watched and held its breath while rescuers struggled to free little Jessica, who could be heard at the bottom of the well singing nursery rhymes. Finally, after 58 hours a rescuer reached Jessica, fitted her into a harness, and held her as they were pulled out of the well.

  Now here is the question: What in the end saved Jessica?  It was not

someone at the top of the well shouting down advice. Jessica did not need a self-help book on steps to climbing out of a well. Nor did she need a great moral example. Someone who had fallen down a well and gotten himself could describe his experience to Jessica, but it would do her no good. The only thing that would help Jessica is for a person, at great price, to come down to Jessica at the bottom of the well and bring her back up.

  According to John, we are Jessica.  We are stuck at the bottom of a

well dug by our own self-centeredness, by our own poor choices, by our own egos that keep us from accepting help. It will do no good for someone to shout down instructions to us on how to climb the wall. Even less helpful is someone throwing down a self-help book on how to find happiness in the mud.

  Actually, if you think about it, these things only aggravate the

problem. If our problem is self-centeredness, then a self-help book will only make matters worse. If our problem is pride, then thinking that we can climb out of the well on our own will only make things worse. We don’t need a teacher, we don’t need a self-help guru; we need someone who will pay the price to come down to get us.

  And that someone is Jesus.  Jesus does not simply show us the way; he

is the way. Jesus does not just preach the truth; he is the truth. Jesus does not give us merely an example of how to live; he makes life possible for us, just as God did at the creation. John wants for us nothing less than a personal, everlasting relationship to the God who created the universe, a relationship made possible by God coming to us in person.

"Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care."

Psalm 95:6-7