There’s been a lot of talk recently about fake news. In case you’ve missed out on this phenomenon, fake news refers to misinformation that is deliberately spread on social media or even actual media cites often for political or financial gain. (The term can also refer to news media outlets making news stories out of nonstories.) One would never expect this sort of thing to happen in church since the church is to be the bastion of truth, in particular, the truth of God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. Continue reading
A young computer programmer (Thomas Anderson, aka Neo) comes to understand that the world as he knows it is not real, but a simulated one situated in 1999. He and millions of other human beings are being used as the power source (similar to batteries) for super intelligent machines in the year 2199. In case you didn’t already realize it, this is a synopsis of the movie The Matrix (1999). The matrix is the computer generated world the machines use to keep the humans under submission and blind to the ways things really are. In order for Neo to take his place in the fight against the machines, he must be reborn and freed from the computer induced dream state. We too need to be reborn, but how? Continue reading
Perhaps one of the most well known and popular advertising slogans has the take line “Reach out and touch someone.” The purpose of this slogan was to encourage AT&T customers to make more long distance phone calls. The idea conveyed to the consumer was that ones closest friends and loved ones were only a phone call away. Somehow, someway, the intimacy experienced while speaking face-to-face could be replicated by dialing a phone number. But anyone can tell you talking on the phone or texting or whatever alternative form of communication you choose to communicate with someone is not the same experience as speaking with someone in the flesh. God had historically and customarily spoke to human beings through spokes persons (think prophets). Wouldn’t it be better if he spoke to people in the flesh? Continue reading
Today we wrap up our look at the theme of discipleship in the Gospel of John. The final person I wish for us to consider is John, the beloved disciple and author of the Fourth Gospel. John never identifies himself by name in the book. However, many scholars believe the occurrences of the “beloved disciple” are John’s way of referring to himself. This title (or some variation) is found in John 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; and 21:7, 20. The beloved disciple shows up at the last supper (13:23), is found with some of the Twelve and is very likely one of them (21:2), and is a close associate of Peter (13:23–24; 20:2–10; 21:7). All three of these can be said of John the apostle. These three pieces of evidence, along with the testimony of church history (see Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3.1.2; Eusebius, Church History, 6.14.7) point to John the son of Zebedee as the beloved disciple. So what might we learn about discipleship from John’s example? Although he occurs only briefly, I believe there are several things we may learn about discipleship from the beloved disciple.
We first encounter the beloved disciple (hereafter called BD) on the night the Lord was to be betrayed. The BD is found next to Jesus at their final meal together reclining next to him (13:23). It was customary for first century Jews to recline on their side as they ate a meal, especially the Passover. This is the reason for the BD’s head resting against Jesus when he asks him who the betrayer will be (13:25). But it may also suggest an intimate relationship with Jesus, as some scholars suggests (Culpepper, Anatomy of the Fourth Gospel, 121; Palatty, “Discipleship in the Fourth Gospel,” 297). Perhaps even more interesting is the language used to describe the closeness of the BD to Jesus, which mirrors the relationship Jesus shared with his Father in 1:18. Just as Jesus is “in the bosom of the Father,” so also is the BD “on Jesus’ bosom” (NASB). Jesus’ nearness and intimacy with the Father makes him eminently qualified to make him known. It would appear, in similar fashion, the nearness of the BD enables him to make Jesus known, which he does through the record of the Gospel according to 20:30–31.
The second occurrence of the BD is at Jesus’ trial and crucifixion (19:15–16, 26). While the rest of the disciples either flee for their lives, or in the case of Peter deny Jesus three times, the BD does neither of these things. He remains near Jesus throughout the entire ordeal. He uses his personal contacts to remain near his teacher as Jesus is questioned before the high priest (19:15–16). Although Peter is present also, he falters in his faithfulness to follow Christ and denies even knowing him. However, the BD remains even under the treats of arrest and death, which the disciples of Jesus certainly entertained (cf. 20:19, 26). Later one finds the BD at the foot of the cross among several of the women who were prominent in Jesus’ ministry. It is the BD to whom Jesus entrusts the care of his own mother (19:26). His fidelity to Jesus is one possible reason for this responsibility.
The next time we see the BD is at the empty tomb (20:2). Both he and Peter receive word from Mary Magdalene that the stone had been moved from the entrance of the tomb (20:1). As the younger of the two, the BD arrived before Peter. Peter, however, entered the tomb first, followed by the BD (20:6, 8). The result of this experience was belief that Jesus had been raised from the dead (20:8). What is interesting is that no mention is made of Peter’s belief in Jesus’ resurrection at this moment. Only the BD is said to believe when provided with the initial evidence of Jesus’ resurrection.
The final appearance of the BD is in the last chapter of the Gospel (21:7, 20). The BD is the first to recognize Jesus on the shore of the Sea of Galilee (21:7, cf. 21:12). Lastly, we see the BD doing what all true disciples of Jesus do, that is following him (21:20). Remember, the verb “I follow” (akoloutheō) is often synonymous with discipleship in John’s Gospel.
When we look at the brief pictures of the BD it is easy to see why so many scholars identify him as the ideal disciple, the model disciple to be followed, or the paradigm of discipleship (Culpepper, Anatomy of the Fourth Gospel, 121; Hulitt, “‘Come and See’: Disciples and Discipleship in the Fourth Gospel,” 293; Palatty, “Discipleship in the Fourth Gospel,” 296; Siker-Gieseler, “Disciples and Discipleship in the Fourth Gospel: A Canonical Approach,” 221–222). So then, what might we learn about following Jesus from the BD? First, we find that he is close to Christ. Similarly, we see someone who is absolutely faithful the Jesus Christ. He does not leave Jesus’ side even when it takes him to difficult places. In both instances one might say the BD abides with Christ. Second, he is clearly a witness to Jesus. The entire Gospel, which he penned, is written to tell other people about Jesus so that they too might believe he is the Son of God and have life in his name (20:31). Third, he believes in Jesus, particular what Jesus said about his resurrection (20:8). The resurrection is foundational for Christians so much so that our faith is worthless if Jesus did not raise from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:14). Finally, the BD is a follower of Christ. This is clear from his first to final appearance in the Fourth Gospel. He is unashamedly a disciple of Jesus.
What follows is a final paradigm of discipleship according to the portraits of discipleship we have been studying in the Fourth Gospel. Number eleven has been added from John 9, healing the man born blind:
Paradigm of Discipleship
- Follow Jesus
- Abide with Jesus
- Bear witness to Jesus
- Called of God
- Believe in Jesus/Place faith in Jesus
- Spiritual growth
- Bear much fruit
- Experience joy
- Hear Jesus’ words
- Not bound by gender or ethnicity
- Consequences of following Jesus
One thing that has gone without saying during this discussion is the community aspect of discipleship. Jesus’ followers were not just individuals scattered here and there, but a group of people brought together with a common faith and mission. It is easy in our culture to become more and more isolated from one another, even while we experience the connectedness of social networking. What is meant to bring us together can be the very thing that drives us apart. We need each other. Discipleship does not occur in a vacuum. It is necessary for God’s people to come together, as Christ’s body, to strengthen and equip one another to go back out into the world to be his disciples.
I hope that through this look at discipleship according to selected characters in John’s Gospel you have found yourself inspired to live more consistently and fully for Christ. If that is the result, then my goal in taking on this brief study has been successful.
Today I want to continue with our look at the theme of discipleship in the Gospel of John. Here we come to the anonymous character of the man born blind in John 9. The chapter begins with a question. Jesus’ disciples see a man who has been blind from birth (John 9:1). This leads them to wonder why this man is in this condition. Did he or his parents’ sin (9:2)? This is a pretty silly question when you come to think of it. Obviously, this man’s blindness couldn’t have been the result of personal sin. He was born this way, after all. But were his parents somehow at fault? David’s child that was the result of his affair with Bathsheba dies because of his sin. So is something similar happening here in John 9?
Jesus says, no. “Neither this man nor his parents sinned … but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in him” (9:3, emphasis added). This truth may be hard to swallow, but Jesus clearly says this man was born blind “so that” God might be seen through his life. The phrase “so that” is the translation of a short Greek word hina. In this case, hina signifies purpose. There was a purpose behind this man’s difficult life. There was a purpose behind his reliance on others for his mere, everyday existence––and it was so that God would be magnified through his life. All of this man’s struggles in life were for the singular purpose of God’s own glory being put on display.
Jesus eventually heals the man and he is able to see (9:6–7). Jesus’ healing of the man leads to several responses. Some are astonished at the sign he has performed (9:8). Others are not sure if this is the same person who previously was blind (9:9). Still others want to know more from the man about what happened and who healed him (9:10). The man provides the basics of the story to his questioners (9:11–12).
But his neighbors are not the only one’s curious about how he came to be healed. The Pharisees interrogate the man not once (9:13–17), but twice (9:24–34). They even question his parents to get to the bottom of things (9:18–23). In the end, the Pharisees resort to threats (9:22), insults (9:28), and name calling (9:34), before they excommunicate the man from the synagogue, which carried with it expulsion from the life of one’s community (9:34–35).
Jesus, hearing the Pharisees had expelled the man from the synagogue, went and found him and asked him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” (9:35) The man expresses that he does and after realizing that Jesus is the Son of Man falls at his feet in worship (9:36–38).
When we look at the man born blind, what might he teach us about discipleship? Does he affirm any of the conclusions drawn from previous narratives? First, it is interesting to see that even before expressing faith in Christ, the Pharisees identify the man as one of Jesus’ disciples (9:28). What is it that the man is doing that convinces them that he must be one of Jesus’ followers? The only thing that makes sense is that the man was bearing witness to Jesus. He was telling everyone who wanted to know that it was Jesus who had healed him and that this Jesus was “a prophet” (9:17) and a man “from God” (9:33). Second, the man clearly placed faith in Jesus, not only for his physical healing, but also for his salvation from sin. The man acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of Man and worships him (9:38). Finally, we see something of the consequences for following Christ. This is something that has not been unfolded in previous narratives we’ve reviewed. We read in verse 22 that those who confess Jesus as the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. It may be that this man was prepared to accept expulsion from the synagogue and as a result, separation from his community. The man who had been on the fringes of society his entire life was now able to reintegrate as a full member, but he traded this privilege away, so that he might follow Jesus. Jesus had become, or was becoming, his all-surpassing treasure (cf. Matt. 13:44–46). Jesus was of more worth to him than being accepted into the life of his community. Not only this, but the man was insulted and called names for his defense of Jesus Christ.
Which of these might you find yourself struggling with? The time is coming and has arrived for some in the west to endure hardships for their faithfulness in following after Jesus. Are you willing to follow Jesus even if it means people will think less of you and maybe even persecute you? Could you, like the apostles, rejoice because you have been counted worthy to suffer disgrace for the name of Jesus (Acts 5:41)?
Today we continue with our look at the theme of discipleship in the Gospel of John. Some time later, after Jesus performed his second sign in Cana of Galilee, he and his disciples went to Jerusalem to attend one of the Jewish festivals (John 5:1). While in Jerusalem, Jesus went to a pool near the Sheep Gate, “which in Aramaic is called Bethesda” (5:2). Five colonnades covered the pool. Gathered at the spot were several people who were disabled, “the blind, the lame, and the paralyzed” (5:3).
There appears to have been a tradition that believed an angel of the Lord was responsible for stirring the waters, and that somehow this action resulted in the healing of whoever was first to lower themselves into the water. The NIV, as well as many modern translations, exclude verse 4 based on insufficient textual evidence. Verse 4 was likely at one time a “marginal gloss,” a marginal note intended to explain the reason for so many infirmed persons gathered around the pool waiting for it to be stirred (Ridderbos, The Gospel according to John, 185). Eventually, some later manuscripts included this content that resulted in verse 4. In all likelihood, the bubbling of the water was caused by an intermittent spring that feed into the pool. Some ancient manuscripts even note the redness of the water, which was believed to have had medicinal qualities (Carson, The Gospel according to John, 242). Regardless of the precise reason for the perceived healing quality of the pool, a tradition was established that led to several persons gathered around it in hopes of being healed.
Jesus singles out one individual, a man who had been lame for thirty-eight years (5:5). This man had been in this state for most of his life. Most persons only lived to around forty years of age. He like so many that had gathered at Bethesda was hopeless. After finding out a bit about the man, Jesus asked him if he wanted to get well (5:6). The hopeless state of the man is revealed in his response. He does not say, yes, but tells Jesus’ of his helplessness to lower himself into the water. He does not recognize what Jesus can do for him. In turn, Jesus replies, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk” (5:8). Immediately, the man becomes strengthened in his legs, takes up his mat, and begins to walk (5:9).
John includes almost as an aside that this event took place on the Sabbath. Because of this, the Jewish leaders, seeing the man who Jesus healed, questioned why he was carrying a mat, and therefore, according to their tradition breaking the Sabbath (5:10). The man replies that “the man who made me well” told me to do it (5:11). The Jewish leaders ask for the name of this person, but the man had no idea (5:12–13). He had not even taken the time to learn Jesus’ name, the very person who ended his thirty-eight years of misery.
Later Jesus found the man in the temple precincts. There he confronted the man, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you” (5:14). The man was clearly not at the temple to worship. What sin Jesus has in mind is not stated. Jesus’ words seem to indicate that the man was living in a state of unrepentant sin. After Jesus corrected him, he returned to the Jewish leaders to inform then that it was Jesus who had made him well (5:15).
Does this man, conceivably a former paralytic, whom Jesus healed, display any of the qualities contained in the paradigm of discipleship? In a word, No. The man shows no indication of becoming a disciple of Jesus. In fact, when Jesus finds him, his words are not an encouragement to follow him, but are meant as a warning. The man should fear something far worse than being unable to walk; he should fear eternal punishment. After this warning the man does not have a change of heart. Instead, he seeks out the Jewish leaders to rat out Jesus. This narrative shows all too well that the performance of a miracle does not necessarily lead to faith in Christ. Even this one who was healed in this instance, shows no indication of moving toward saving faith. Just the opposite appears to be the case. This should serve to temper some who think that divine displays of power automatically lead people to believe in Jesus. Nothing could be further from the truth.
What do you make of the lame man? Does he show any indication of drawing to faith in Christ? If miracles do not necessarily lead people to come to faith in Christ, then what or who is necessary for people to experience saving faith?
Today we continue with our look at the theme of discipleship in the Fourth Gospel. Following Jesus’ stay in Sychar he left for Galilee, where he was welcomed, because many had been witness to the signs he performed in Jerusalem during the Passover (John 4:43–45; cf. 2:13, 23–25). They likely hoped Jesus would do some signs for them also (4:48).
For the second time in John’s account, Jesus visited Cana in Galilee, where he had previously turned water into wine at a wedding celebration (4:46; cf. 2:1–12). John then makes us aware of a “royal official” from Capernaum “whose son lay sick” (4:46). The official was almost certainly a Gentile centurion in Herod Antipas’ court, which was also stationed in Capernaum, some 20 miles away. When he heard the news that Jesus had arrived in Capernaum, he went to Jesus to beg him to heal his son who was at the point of death (4:47). The tense of the word “begged” indicates repeated action. This helps us get a clearer picture of just how dire the situation was. The father’s repeated pleas to Jesus would have indicated the desperateness of his situation. The son was also about to die. He was not getting any better. Not only that, but the father was desperate enough to leave his dying son to travel 20 miles to Cana to find Jesus.
Jesus’ initial reply to the seriousness of the situation seems harsh. He rebukes the crowd that had come to simply see him perform “signs and wonders” (4:48). Jesus’ desire was that people believe in him because of his words, first and foremost. He knew that “sign faith” was often spurious (cf. 2:23–25).
The royal official, undeterred by Jesus’ response, pleads with him to “come down before [his] child dies” (4:49). Jesus’ second response is full of authority, “Go your son will live” (4:50). He will not perform any sign in the sight of the crowd. Instead, he will do something even more impressive, something that shows his glory all the more. He will heal the boy from a distance. The father returns home trusting Jesus at his word (4:50).
While the royal official was on his way home, his servants greeted him with joyous news: his son that was near death was now alive (4:51). The father inquired about when his child got well. He realized it was at the exact time Jesus had said his son would live (4:52–53). As a result, “he and his whole household believed” (4:53).
So what might this narrative teach us about discipleship? First, we are reminded that disciples of Jesus are not from any one ethnicity, for here we have an individual who was likely a Gentile expressing faith in him. Second, although it is not explicitly mentioned, the royal official, the head of his household, likely relayed the account of what transpired to his household, which resulted in their belief in Jesus. So, he bore witness to Jesus Christ. Third, the father and his whole household, which would have included more than his relatives, but also any servants, believed in Jesus. John does not go into great detail as to the nature of their belief. Since no negative statement accompanies the mention of their faith, one may assume that they believed in Jesus for salvation. Fourth, the royal official heard Jesus’ words and trusted him based on them, rather than some initial sign. Finally, like most of us, and many in the biblical narrative, the royal official and his household would have followed Jesus as his disciples, but only from afar. There is no indication that they, like the Twelve, left everything they had to literally follow Jesus around. This would have made them no less Jesus’ disciples, even as today, Christians are no less disciples of Jesus for not having physically followed him.
Do you see any additional features of discipleship in this passage? Which of those mentioned might the Lord be challenging you to greater faithfulness?