Today we begin our journey through the Gospel of John. Last week I joked about how long this would take us. It may take us one year, it may take us more. It took Pastor John MacArthur 43 years to preach verse by verse through the New Testament. In an interview in 2013 he said that he went through it too fast.
However, there is danger in going to slow. DA Carson in his commentary on the Gospel of John warns against spending too much time in this Gospel, and I would add, in any book of the Bible. The Apostle Paul says this to the Elders of Ephesus in Acts 20:27
- Acts 20:27 – “for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.”
Why Expositional Preaching through a Book
As we begin this journey I do want to spend a little bit of time, once again, explaining why we are doing this. We have a fair number of you who have just started to come to Cornerstone so you haven’t heard this before. For those who have, bear with me.
First, there are two ways to preach, topically and preaching through large portions of scripture at a time. Most of you have been raised on topical preaching. This would include sermons on marriage, finances, the incarnation of Christ, etc. In my opinion topical sermons are good, but they have their major disadvantages, such as you are held hostage to the Pastor’s preferences. Because of these pastoral preference, you miss out on a lot of deep and important and sometime difficult Biblical teaching.
When you preach through a text from beginning to end, like we are doing with the Gospel of John, you are required to preach the Word as it comes, whether you like it or not. There is no picking and choosing.
Once again regarding teaching the whole counsel of God, John MacArthur said this, “preaching verse by verse through books of the Bible is the most reasonable way to teach the whole counsel of God. If I am obligated to teach the whole new covenant message and all of the mystery unfolded, the only systematic way that I know to teach it all is to take it the way it comes, one book at a time from beginning to end.“
At Cornerstone Church I have chosen to balance these two preaching techniques, and preach mostly through large portions of the Bible, but in between those times, to pick topics that I believe will be beneficial to us as a local body. I truly believe this is the best approach. So if you are committed to Cornerstone Church and plan on being here for years and decades to come, this is what you can come to expect. And to be honest, my guess is that most of you will prefer when I preach through large sections of the Bible, for there will be a cohesion from Sunday to Sunday, and you will be able to go deeper in the text, perhaps than you have ever gone before.
Context is Crucial
As we begin today, we will start with a brief introduction and we will focus our attention on the context of John. What do I mean by context? By context I mean the genre, the people, the historical setting, and the purpose of this book. We want to set some foundations before we attempt to unpack what the Bible is saying.
Why do we want to do this? Because when you open up the Bible, it should be your goal to get to the absolute truth of a text. It is important for us to recognize that the Bible is not relative, it is unchanging and absolute.
- Psalm 119:89 – “Forever, O LORD, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens.”
Understanding the context keeps us in check, and gets to the meaning as intended by the original writer. We must never forget that this book was written by a real man named John. He was a real person, in the midst of real circumstances, writing this book with an audience and purpose in mind. This is not to say he was not inspired by the Holy Spirit, for he was. It merely is saying that the Spirit worked through a historical person at a historical moment and conveyed absolute truth. So today, due to our limited time, I will talk briefly about three aspects of the context of John: Genre, Author and Purpose.
First, the genre. By genre we are asking, what literary form is this book? In the Bible there are many different genres. There is the genre of narrative, law, wisdom, poetry, prophecy, apocalyptic, letters, and Gospel. Figuring out the literary genre helps in determine how to understand the truth that is being proclaimed. For example, if a writing is poetry, they are most likely using some form of imagery and the imagery is not reality, but merely helping you get a picture in your mind of the authors meaning. Narratives on the other hand are factual, and descriptions are historical events.
The Gospel of John, is obviously a gospel. What does this mean? The Word Gospel means good news. The news portion of it is the news of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is the reporting of actual historical events. The goodness of this news is that the reader, if he believes the news, will be saved from Hell. Understanding that the Gospel of John is a report of historical facts with an end goal of salvation assists us in trying to figure out meaning of certain passages.
Having said that, the Gospel of John is different then the other Gospels. If you have read all of them you will know what I mean. It is truly a gospel that stands out. Matthew, Mark, and Luke are what is known as Synoptic Gospels. The word synoptic means to take a common view. If you read Matthew, Mark, and Luke you will notice a vast amount of similarities. In fact, 90% of Mark is found in Mathew. When studying on part of Luke, you can easily turn to Matthew or Mark and read the parallel accounts from a different vantage point. For John, this is not the case.
For example, take parables. When you think of the Gospels you generally think of Jesus teaching in parables. There is not one parable in the Gospel of John. Interestingly there is also no mention of Jesus casting out demons. No mention of Jesus' temptations. And no mention of the institution of the Lord's Supper, which is interesting because John spends five chapters laying out the events and teaching of the last supper.
Having said that, there are things in John that are not in the Synoptics, such as Jesus turning water into wine, His famous encounter with Nicodemus, His ministry in Samaria, and the resurrection of Lazarus.
It is also interesting to know that not only is the Gospel of John different than the synoptics in substance, but it is also different in form. In my preparation I read or heard two scholars say that the Gospel of John is written in simple Greek, with a very small category of Greek vocabulary. This is somewhat shocking due to the theological depth and richness of what John is saying. However, this should not surprise us for our as we sang earlier, God has ordained His Word for the peasant and the King.
Lastly, regarding the genre. In the Gospel of John we will uncover of variety of dualism, or opposites. Examples of this are light and darkness, life and death, sight and blindness, etc. If you plan to make this the year of John for you both on Sunday mornings and during the week, I would encourage you to spend some time finding and focusing on all of the opposites we will encounter in this simple masterpiece, and ponder what John is attempting to achieve.
Next, regarding context, let us to dwell upon the author. It is commonly believed that this Gospel was written between 70-100 A.D. From the location of Ephesus, and of course it was written by the disciple, John.
This is an important fact for us to remember as we work through this text. Neither Luke or Mark can claim this. Both of their Gospels were a collection of other eye witnesses accounts, this is not true for the Gospel of Mathew and John. In fact, I like the way that John puts it in another book he wrote the book of 1 John 1:1-3.
- 1 John 1:1-3 - “ That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— 3that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.”
This is not some radicalized follower decades later. This was an eye witness. An eye witness that was so convinced that Jesus was who he said he was that he gave everything he had to proclaim and testify that he was the Son of God. If you do not believe these words of John, then you have to believe that John was certifiably crazy along with the other disciples. For many people will suffer and die for a lie mistakenly believing that it is true, but no one suffers and dies for a lie that you know is a lie.
The next thing I want us to briefly look at is the beginning of John following Jesus. Turn briefly to Matthew 4:18-22.
- Matthew 4:18-22 – “While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 19And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 20Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. 22Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.”
Last, I want to us start our journey through this book knowing exactly why it was written. Thankfully, John tells us.
- John 20:31 – “but 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.”
Why was this a goal of Johns? Because it is through believing in Jesus that people will be saved from Hell and live forever with the Lord. I cannot overemphasize the importance of this statement. All eternity hinges on this reality, and John knows it. There is no more important question on the planet and in your life, then who is Jesus.
And with this said, John's purpose, is also my purpose. Over the next year of walking through the Gospel of John, it is my prayer that for you that believe, your faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God will grow stronger and stronger. And this confidence in the Lord will compel you to be like John and spend the rest of your life following and proclaiming these same truths that are found in this Gospel.
It is also my hope that this year as we unpack the Gospel of John, that it will be a year of Kingdom growth. We are three years into Cornerstone Church. God has provided us a place to worship and seats that are empty. Let us spend this year, week in and week out inviting our family, friends, neighbors and co-workers to hear the good news of Jesus Christ. Let us invite them so that they may hear these words that are written so that they may also believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing they may have eternal life.