Monday, March 2, 2009

The voices of John

by John D Ramsey

Of the Gospel writers, the Apostle John stands out. Matthew, Mark, and Luke are known as the Synoptic Gospels because they each present a synopsis of Jesus’ life. Luke, as a researcher, compiled his history of Jesus’ life including the genealogy of Mary and the birth of John the Baptist. Luke tells us of Jesus’ presentation at the temple when he was 12 years old. Matthew delves into the historical context presenting the genealogy of Joseph, the account of the Magi, and Jesus’ early sojourn into Egypt. Mark begins his Gospel account with the advent of John the Baptist, but he writes his Gospel from a historical perspective, saying, “And it came to pass in those days, Jesus came from Nazareth of the Galilee, and he was immersed by John into the Jordan.” Mark 1:9

While the Synoptic Gospel writers compile oral histories into written form, John takes a much different approach. John writes about what he has seen, heard, and touched. While all four Gospel writers provide essential information regarding the life and teachings of Jesus, John’s writing is more personal. While Matthew, Mark, and Luke write like historians, John writes like a poet who weeps catharsis with the meter of his muse. Matthew, Mark, and Luke wrote synopses; John recalls vignettes.

Though the language of his writing is relatively simple, John appears to be profoundly aware of the literary importance of his work. He begins at the beginning,

In beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with the God,
and God was the Word.

John summarizes Jesus’ deity, the ministry of John the Baptist, and the purpose for Jesus’ incarnation and then he writes,

And the Word flesh became,
and tented among us,
and we saw the glory of his,
glory as an only offspring of Father,
full of favor and truth.

“John [the Baptist] witnessed concerning him, and cried out saying, ‘This was whom I said “The one coming after me was before me, for he was foremost over me.”’”

When we realize that the Apostle John writes about what he has witnessed, we realize that John, the Apostle, was likely an disciple of John the Baptist. In fact, when John the Baptist saw Jesus, he tells Andrew and another disciple, “Behold the lamb of God!” This unnamed disciple was almost certainly the Apostle John. John and Andrew joined Jesus about 10 o’clock in the morning and spent the day with him.

As we read the book of John, we should understand that it is mostly an eyewitness account. The few exceptions to this pattern are fascinating. In John chapter 7, Nicodemus stood up to the chief priests and Pharisees saying of Jesus, “Does our law judge the man if it has not heard from him prior and establish what he does?”

John could not have heard this exchange; rather, this indicates that John had a close trusting relationship with Nicodemus. When Nicodemus came to Jesus at night, which John gives his account in chapter 3, it was probably because of John that he came.

In John chapter 18, we see that John (“another disciple”) was permitted into the courtyard of the chief priest because, “he was known to the chief priest.” Not only did the chief priest know John, John had enough influence to open the gate to let Peter inside during Jesus’ trial.

The picture that begins to emerge of John, the Apostle is that of a young man who moves easily in and out of various social circles. He was a fisherman from Galilee. He was a disciple of John the Baptist. He followed Jesus, but he knew Nicodemus and the chief priest. Yet for all his ease among people, he preferred to stay with Jesus. He was the only disciple to witness Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus. He was the only disciple to hear and record Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well. John sat next to Jesus at the Last Supper and reclined against him. John followed Jesus through his trial. John stood beneath the cross while Jesus was crucified.

The other disciples had scattered, but John stood faithfully beneath the cross along with three women named Mary. Mary, the wife of Clopas, Mary of Magdala, and Mary, the mother of Jesus. Seeing his mother and John together beneath the cross, Jesus cried out. “O woman, Behold your son.” And to John he said, “Behold your mother.”

John records for us the specifics of the burial of Jesus. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea worked rapidly to bury Jesus body before the evening twilight. As a Pharisee, Nicodemus, would have followed the traditional Jewish calendar even while the priests, who were Sadducees, followed the Diaspora. According to the Diaspora calendar, the day prior to the crucifixion had been the Passover. To Nicodemus and Joseph, the day of the crucifixion was instead the day of preparation for the Passover. The evening of Jesus burial was the traditional anniversary of the Passover meal, and although Joseph and Nicodemus could not have participated in the Passover until the following month (according to Jewish law regarding handling the dead), they hurried to accomplish the burial before the hour had come.

Mary of Magdala, like Nicodemus, contributed her firsthand account in the Gospel of John. John’s Gospel was his personal testimony, yet the record was not complete without the contributions of Nicodemus and Mary of Magdala.

Like John, Nicodemus and Mary of Magdala, were passionate in their love for Jesus. Mary travelled with Jesus’ mother and aunt. John, Nicodemus, and the three Marys, stayed with Jesus when others had abandoned him. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea had been secret disciples, yet after Jesus had died, they revealed their allegiance to him by claiming his body and burying it honorably. Likewise, Mary of Magdala rose early Sunday morning with the other women to tend to Jesus body. The body absent, Mary of Magdala lingered behind in the garden weeping for her Lord when he appeared to her before appearing to his disciples. Mary of Magdala announced to his disciples, “I have seen the Lord!”

A few voices record the Gospel of John. Even the small accounts of Nicodemus and Mary of Magdala carry great drama.

John never ceased to passionately preach the deity of Jesus Christ, the atoning sacrifice of his blood, and the gift salvation by grace through faith. A few years after John had penned his Gospel he wrote his first letter in which he reminisces passionately again, saying,

Which was from beginning,
which we have heard,
which we have seen, our own eyes,
which we were spectators of,
and our hands handled
concerning the Word of Life;
and the life was made manifest,
and we have seen, and bear witness,
and announce to you the Eternal Life
which was with the Father and made manifest to us,
which we have seen, and heard, and report to you
that you also should have fellowship with us;
and indeed the fellowship,
the one of ours,
is with the Father and with his Son,
Jesus Christ.
And these things we write to you,
that our joy is being full.
And this is the promise we have heard from him,
and we announce to you,
that God is light,
and darkness is not in him in any way.

Scripture quotations from the Apostolic Bible Polyglot.

1 comment:

  1. thank you for writing this and sharing with us
    hugs from Meme