Category Archives

2 Articles

Gospels/Christology

I Always Do What Pleases Him

Posted by M.Ferris on
The Humility of Jesus in John’s Gospel

John’s gospel is a unique document, and students of the life of Christ rightly set this gospel apart from the others. There are the synoptic gospels, and John. John contains 879 verses, and only 124 of these are traceable to the other gospels. This means a full 86% of John’s material is unique to his gospel. A striking aspect of the book is how often Jesus refers to his father. When referring to God, Matthew contains 42 occurrences of “Father.” Mark has 4, and Luke 13. But John’s gospel has 113 such references. What do these many references to God as the Father of Jesus tell us?

Jesus the Eternal Son

The character of this gospel is to present Jesus as the man from heaven. He is the one coming from above, the Word of God, the one in the bosom of the Father, making God known.

The deity of Christ is unequivocal in John. Jesus is equal with God (5:18), he and the Father are one (10:30, 17:11). Before Abraham was, Jesus tells the Jews, “I am.” There was no mistaking what he meant, for the Jews took up stones to kill him. “I am” is a clear reference to the covenant name of God, revealed to Moses in Exodus 3:14, I AM THAT I AM. One cannot read anything in John as a new category, that is, as Arianism claims, a god, but not THE God. In 17:3, Jesus says, “This is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” If Jesus and the Father are one, and there is but one true God, a lesser god, and one in whom we find eternal life, is not possible.

The intimacy of the Father and the Son

In the gospel where the deity of Christ is so manifest, the book also displays the relationship of Jesus as the Son of the Father with great intimacy. The Father loves the Son, and shows him all that he is doing (5:20). He tells the Twelve that whoever has seen him has seen the Father. (14:9). If they know him, they know the Father also. The 14th chapter is filled with references to the Father doing, acting, loving toward the believer, and the ground of it all is the relationship of the Father and the Son. Jesus will ask the Father, and he will send the comforter (14:16.) The words of life, all that Jesus has heard from his Father, he has made known to the disciples. (15:15). But the self-giving love of the Son means that this intimacy is shared with believers. “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.” (15:9). And those who love the Son will be loved by the Father (14:21.)  The great hymn writer Horatius Bonar captures this sentiment when he writes:

So dear, so very dear to God,
More dear I cannot be;
The love wherewith He loves the Son,
Such is His love to me.

The humility of the Son

A wonder of John’s gospel is the portrayal of Jesus in his humility. He is the Son who does only what he sees the Father doing (5:19). He seeks not his own will, but the will of him who sent him (5:30). This, of course, culminates at the cross. Giving himself freely, out of love for the Father, and in submission to his Father, this is Calvary. “The cup that the Father has given me, shall I not drink it?” Peter would intervene, but Jesus explains that in going to the cross, coming to this hour, that the Father is glorified (12:28). Paul muses on this mystery in Philippians 2, when he says Jesus humbled himself by becoming obedient unto death, even death on a cross. This, believer, is the substance of our worship. The Son’s humility in going to the cross, fulfilling what his Father sent him into the world to do, accomplishing all, made it possible for Jesus to utter “It is finished.”

This display of humility in the eternal Son of God is the substance of our worship. We can never stray very far from the condescension of Calvary. We should never, for Christ crucified is the heart of the gospel. This makes a frequent celebration of the Lord’s Supper an important reminder to us. Considering his humiliation, his death, never gets old, never becomes routine.

His life of humility is also the pattern for the believer. In John 13, when Jesus set aside his outer garments, and took up a towel, washing the disciple’s feet, he presented a model to them. “For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.” Later, in his first epistle, John will expand on this, “whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” A sin-cursed world needs to see believers satisfied and marveling at the wonder of Calvary. But it also needs to see believers modeling the example of Jesus.

Bible/Gospels

Getting to Know the Gospels Better

Posted by M.Ferris on

One cannot study the gospels without the idea of harmony coming to the fore. Specifically, in the synoptic gospels, the idea of laying one gospel alongside the other two has a very long history. Beginning with Tatian’s Diatessaron in the 2nd Century, putting the gospel records side by side to see both similarities and differences can show you an awful lot. Tatian intended to highlight the fact that the gospels are one story. He reduced the 3780 total verses of the four gospels to 2769 in his “harmony” – a reduction of about 25%(!) One can see some logic in his method. The Lord Jesus did not live four different lives, each evangelist giving us but one of them. His earthly ministry, death, and resurrection are relatable as a single narrative story. What Titian’s method obscures, however, is that the Holy Spirit inspired not just one evangelist, but four. Each of the four has a distinct perspective on the life of Christ, and so attempts at harmonization can mask the diverse pictures each gospel writer provides.

In one of the books I’ve been using for gospel study, the author recommended marking in your Bible which gospel incidents (aka ‘Pericopes’) occur in which gospels. An pericope is not just a narrative of an event, or a parable, but any unit teaching Jesus spoke, or something the evangelist recorded. It can be as short as a single verse, such as Mark 14:51, the young man who flees from the garden after the arrest of Jesus. In looking at the gospels in these incidental portions, you’re better able to better compare them, and importantly, to glean from them more of what each author put there differently from his fellow evangelists. I did this, and I believe it has indeed given me a better understanding of the gospels. It isn’t a short exercise, and it requires a fair bit of grunt work, but I see it paying dividends. There are a couple of steps to doing this.

1.  Get a list of gospel periscopes. There are several online, and various folks count them differently. The one I used is from the Semantic Bible site.  This list has 355 distinct periscopes. Note that things like Matthew’s genealogy and Luke’s genealogy are counted as different. Your first thought may be, “Both Matthew and Luke contain genealogies of Jesus.” They do, but they differ enough from one another that you should ask how and why, and it makes sense to count them as different.

2. Mark your Bible with an different colored dot for where these periscopes occur. I chose purple to represent Matthew, green for Mark, red for Luke, and blue for John. Any color will do, you just need to be consistent. It took me several hours over 3-4 days to do this. It’s laborious, because you have to constantly refer back to the list, and make sure you’re in synch. This is the result:

The above is from Matthew 12, and you can see that beginning at verse 22, this pericope is found in all 3 synoptic gospels. However, with verse 31, only Matthew and Mark record the portion about the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. At verse 33, the tree and its fruit is found only in Matthew.  You can thus see how each writer frames the same story a little differently, and you begin to ask why. You ask not only about the material they include, but how they record it is significant. For example, all three synoptic gospels record the baptism of Jesus. Only Matthew contains the dialogue with John about needing to baptized by Jesus, and Jesus’ answer about fulfilling all righteousness. Why? Matthew and Luke both say that afterward the heavens were opened, (though Matthew says “the heavens were opened to him”) but Mark says the heavens were “torn open.” Why? These are examples of the subtle differences you begin to notice in the gospel records, and doing so helps you go deeper into these narratives of the Lord Jesus. Asking good questions of the text of Scripture helps you better understand God’s Word.

Another thing you notice is what material is unique to each writer. For example, all of Luke 15, and about half of chapter 16 are unique to this gospel. Why? Even without the markings I describe above, it’s fairly easy to see that a huge amount of John is unique (On the basis of verses to be found in other gospels, it’s nearly 86% of them that are found only in John.) But something else I noticed is that as the gospels progress, and Jesus comes closer to his death and resurrection, this material is found in all four gospels. This tells me what Paul echoed to the Corinthians, that what is of first importance is, “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” The atonement is the heart of the gospel, and it is the heart of the gospels. That is but one small example of the benefits of studying the gospels in this degree of closeness.

Jesus is the Logos, the Word, the one in whom God has, in these last days, spoken to us. The very words of Scripture are the way we know him. Studying these words with greater focus, greater detail, can only yield spiritual treasures.