Preaching Thru John and What I’m Learning

By Pastor Nate Powell

              I don’t just wing it to come up with what I’m going to preach each week. I pray about it over the long term. I come to rest in a portion or book of scripture. Then we preach tactically and fully thru it.  In doing so, we try to make sure we preach thru the whole thing, especially the parts that may spark lots of questions.

Currently, we’ve been preaching thru the Gospel of John, and all I can say is “WOW!” I knew John, and I have loved John as a gospel, but studying it in depth has been both a true challenge and a blessing to me. It’s challenging in that the messages and patterns of the book are very clear, purposeful and repetitive. The purpose is to call you to belief in Jesus! (John 20:31) The book is laser focused on that purpose. But within that purpose, it really challenges me in my preaching. Is what I am saying fresh bread from God’s Word for his church today? Pray for me as I handle God’s word to handle it rightly, and to bring it to bear on our day and age in a contextualized and engaging way.

That being said, we are almost thru the Book of Signs (Chapters 1-12). In fact, I’m currently prepping this week’s message on the 7th Sign, the raising of Lazarus from the dead. It’s been eye-opening to see just how systematically John builds his case for who Jesus is, and I am hopeful that this series has been not only convincing for the church (as to who Jesus is), but convicting as well. Jesus calls the church to be the agents of his message of salvation and his call to belief for the world. Will you answer that call to give the call to salvation to your unbelieving family and friends?

As with any comprehensive book study, there are things which you notice, come to believe or become more convinced of in the process of your study. It is in that spirit that I share with you 3 things that I have become more convinced of as I’ve studied this great gospel.

  • John is the Author: I had already thought that I believed this before this study, but you would be surprised at the number of scholars (even pastors) who at times come to a study with certain presuppositions, deconstructing what has been written, and become less convinced that the scripture is authoritative and has authoritative sources. But I am more convinced than ever that this book is written by John. Kostenberger’s excellent book, “Signs of the Messiah”, outlines three internal criteria of identifying the author. The author “a disciple who (1) was at Jesus’ side at the Last Supper (hence one of the twelve) (2) who was at the scene of Jesus’ arrest and trial; and (3) who witnessed Jesus’ crucifixion and saw Jesus following his resurrection.” This limits the field of candidates to a VERY small number. On top of that, the author always refers to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved”, and he is closely associated with the apostle Peter. This seems to be some authorial modesty on the part of the author candidate. The other item that has stood out to me regarding knowing the Author is that it closely aligns with the other books that are commonly attributed to the Apostle John. John’s gospel has all the closeness & tenderness of John’s letters, someone who knew well of the deep love, compassion and forgiveness of Jesus. John’s gospel also shares a great fascination with signs and numbers, which are greatly emphasized in Revelation. As well, both John and Revelation emphasize the identity and Lordship of Jesus. In my own mind, I have no doubt: John is the author of John, and this increases my trust in the eyewitness testimony of this book.
  • You can’t separate the OT from Jesus: An argument could be made that all of the gospels show us this truth, but it’s been clear to me throughout the book that Jesus is not throwing the Old Testament scriptures under the bus. When he goes into clean house in the temple (in John 2), he doesn’t criticize or crush the worship taking place there but crushes the immoral money-changing practices taking place there. When Jesus is confronted about the Sabbath actions, he is taking concerning healing (as in John 5), he does not crush the Sabbath command, but confronts the legalistic tendencies of the Pharisees to pile their opinions on top of God’s words. When it comes to the celebration of the Jewish festivals (in several passages in John), Jesus celebrates and worships with everyone else, rather than tearing their holy days down. We must remember that Jesus was a Jew who came to and for the Jews. The modern tendency and call to unhitch from the Old Testament is not something that Jesus would have either recognized or blessed. As Jesus taught on, honored, and upheld the Old Testament scriptures, so should we. He did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. (Matthew 5:17) As Jesus said: “Scripture cannot be broken.” (John 10:35)
  • Modern Pharisees aren’t just Legalistic Christians: Often, when Jesus is facing criticism from the people in the book of John, they are referred to as “The Jews.” But Jesus is not simply being criticized by the Jews as a whole, but by the Jewish leaders and those that they influence. They are the Pharisees, the Sadducees and Teachers of the Law. They are the ones who are supposed to be the closest to God and know His Word the best. They are the ones who should recognize Jesus, but they don’t. Each time Jesus heals in this gospel, each time he does another miracle, there they are to criticize and condemn. One of the things we do in preaching or teaching (and we must do this work) is that we must cross a contextual bridge from then until now. Often, when you hear the Pharisees talked about, they are always likened to religious hypocrites, Christians who say one thing and do another. Certainly, that tendency is there in the church and must be fought against at every turn. But what has struck me in our current cultural moment is that there are Pharisees on every corner, not just “church” pharisees, but “irreligious” or even “atheistic” pharisees. Don’t believe me? Try speaking either on social media or publicly about a moral position that is formed by your biblical worldview. Whether that be a position regarding abortion, sex, marriage, race, expect to be chastised by the irreligious pharisees, because you have broken their manmade rules. There are even whole companies that are cancelling employees for taking a stand, or social media giants that have been locking down voices they’ve selected for cancelling. You see, you don’t have to be a Jew or a Christian to be a pharisee, you just have to be someone who values man’s rules and opinions over God’s law and objective truth. There is a Pharisaic tendency in every human heart. But Jesus calls us away from these thoughts and attitudes to come and follow Him.

These are just some thoughts that I’ve had in studying John. What have you been learning? What questions have you had? My inbox is always open:

Keep growing in God’s Grace and the knowledge of His Word,

Pastor Nate