John’s gospel is the odd one. The other three, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, tell a similar story- that’s why they are called the “synoptic” (one eye/view) gospels. But just when we thing we have Jesus figured out, the Gospel of John comes along.
The author of “John” has a different view of Jesus. Now John isn’t fabricating a whole new Jesus, rather he has some particular things he wants us to know about Jesus. Remember Jesus isn’t a one dimensional character any more than you or I are.
While Matthew and Luke begin with an often over sentimentalized birth story ( neither the gospel writers fault nor intent) and Mark begins with the quirky John the Baptizer, John begins with, well, the beginning. The real beginning, the beginning of everything. The first 18 verses of John are some of the most stunning in scripture.
But I want to look at what comes after. The story of John the Baptist. You can read it here. The first thing you might have noticed is that John the Baptist is not called John the Baptist. Here he is simply John. He is not the prophet railing against the “brood of vipers”. No discussion of the baptism of repentance. In this gospel, John baptizes to reveal Jesus to Israel (v31). In fact the baptism of Jesus is not narrated in this gospel, what we have is a second-hand account, told by John. But Jesus’ baptism is where John recognizes Jesus for who he is; God’s messenger- the one who reveals God’s word and the one who is God’s word. Right away with the first story this gospel impresses on us the importance of recognizing who Jesus is and then, like John, telling others.
Notice also, how this gospel tells us about the disciples. There are no lists of disciples. The disciples of John who leave him and follow Jesus are unnamed. Does it strike you as surprising that they leave their teacher- with their teachers encouragement- and follow Jesus?
It’s an odd story. The gospel writers telling of it works on two levels.
When John’s former disciples approach Jesus they don’t ask permission or apparently even speak, they simply trail along behind Jesus. They follow in the most literal sense of the word. Yet their actions demonstrate their new commitment to a new rabbi. When Jesus notices them, he doesn’t ask what they are doing, he asks “What are you looking for?” . A two level question. He doesn’t walk up to the disciples and command ,”Follow me.” as he does in the other gospels. Jesus invites them to “Come and see.” See what? To see Jesus, and to live and explore and discover this new life of faith.
What do these disciples do? They tell others, just like John told them. In this gospel, the most important things for disciples to do is to recognize who Jesus is, follow him and tell others.
In my denomination, Presbyterian Church (USA), to join the church you must be baptized and profess your faith in Jesus Christ and want to join the church.
For better or worse, that’s pretty much it. You don’t have to prove you know anything. You don’t promise to believe a list of things. You don’t even have to define what you mean when you affirm Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. And what’s more, we don’t ask. Now some might think we are overly lax, even lacking in standards, but I don’t think so.
Jesus, in John’s Gospel, takes whoever shows up and they journey together. In John’s gospel Jesus doesn’t call his disciples, they find him. They find Jesus because someone told them where to look and who to look for. And that, I think, is a big part of what it means to be followers of Jesus, the church. We welcome whoever comes, who ever wants to join us. Then, together we figure out life along the Way.
I’d like to know, what do you think?
I’ll offer two resources for the study of John’s gospel (out of many,many good ones). The always reliable, New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. IX, Luke, John. Leander Kech, Ed. The “John” commentary is written by Gail R. O’Day. And a book by my former seminary professor, Warren Carter, John: Storyteller, Interpreter, Evangelist.