John the fleshly Gospel!


I’ve thought of John as the spiritual gospel because of the more theologically themed way it is structured. This time through the gospel in my Genesis/John/Revelation program, I have come to see that John is very related to the flesh.

It starts in chapter 1 with “..the Word became flesh…” (1:14).  Of course this is a classic text on the Incarnation of the Eternal Word.

What follows are various physical entry points to the Gospel:

  • Taste – water turned to wine at the Wedding of Cana – chapter 2
  • Birth – the need to be Born Again (or Born from Above) – chapter 3
  • Thirst – living water and the Woman of Samaria (begun with a request for actual water because of actual thirst) – chapter 4
  • Speech – Jesus spoke and the officials son is healed – chapter 4
  • Sight – the idea of signs and asking for signs  – Chapter 2, 4, 6…
  • Walking – healing the man crippled from birth – Chapter 5
  • Hunger – feeding the 5,000, talk of bread – Chapter 6
  • Thirst – water at the festival of Tabernacles – Chapter 7(v. 37)
  • Sight – mud, spit and water to cure blindness – Chapter 9
  • Hearing – sheep hear the shepherd – Chapter 10
  • Death – Lazarus raised – Chapter 11
  • Feet – Jesus anointed at Bethany – chapter 12
  • Voices – Triumphal entry – chapter 12
  • Washing – Jesus washes feet – Chapter 13

So far this is an observation, but John is, pardon the pun, grounded in the material world and is revealed by physical senses and actions.

Do you find any other examples?

Dual Dual Natures

creation_of_man_by_hel999We are reading and I am preaching Genesis, John and later Revelation side by side.  This is an interesting way to see these books from a different perspective. The text’s should not be forced to correlate, but it is interesting how often they do.

In Genesis 2, there is a clear statement of the dual nature of the first human.

“Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”    Genesis 2:7

So this states that humanity is of the dust of the earth – we are made of the matter that surrounds us.  Unlike some views that see the world as a trap or an illusion, the Bible calls the material world (before sin) good. It is doing what it was made to do.  And so human nature ties us to the world.  Adam and Eve are created in the context of a material place – Eden.

While all creatures have the breath of life in them, even the mouse living in your attic has that. Only of “adam” was it said that God directly breathed into him the breath of life.  So this is to say there is a spiritual nature.  The word for “breath” is used here, but it suggests the spiritual nature of humanity.

We have a dual nature – we live and are tasked with working, caring for and enjoying life on the earth – together with others.  Yet we in a unique way have a bond with the creator that is unlike the members of the animal kingdom.

In John 2, there is a wedding.  Jesus and his disciples are in attendance. This is the same Jesus who was described in John 1 with this statement.

“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” John 1:14.   In this chapter the Word is the pre-existent, eternal Son of God – present with the father at the creation of the world.  So we see the divine nature of Jesus.  yet the Word became flesh. He did not take up humanity as a disguise, but he became a man.  Jesus has a dual nature that is far beyond ours. He is Divine (“the word”) and Human (“became flesh”)

At the wedding, Jesus took water and with the power of the Creator (“through him all thins were made” John 1:3) turned it into wine.  Compared to Genesis 1, this is a small act.  but compared to how men and women usually make wine, it is a sign of his divine nature. “What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory and his disciples believed in him.”  John 2:11


The church councils did a lot of work to hammer out our confession that in Jesus we have one person who is fully God (the Word) and fully man (became flesh).

People sometimes accuse these theologians of splitting hairs, but it seems to me that Genesis and John are written in simple terms (we can all understand words like word, dust, breath and flesh) but are also deeply theological.

Not everything can fit into Twitter.


“Born Again” Elections & the Bible


“Born Again.”

This was a book by Charles Colson back in the 70s.  There was a shocking statement by Jimmy Carter, also in the 70s. He said, “I am born again” and sent journalists to their dictionaries.  We are much more used to this term, but it has not come to mean what you think it means.

Born Again in 2016 in America means a voting bloc, mostly in the Republican Party, mainly in the Midwest and South.  It refers to social and economic conservatives.  So much so that pollsters ask voters if they are Born Again.   Now, political candidates seek the favor of this group.

It is time to reclaim this term from the pollsters.  It is an important biblical idea.  It comes to us most famously in John 3.

Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do, unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born anew.’ The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with every one who is born of the Spirit.”                           John 3:1-8 NRSV 

I have crafted 6 sentences about what this term means in John’s Gospel.

  1. New Birth joins us to God’s family.
  1. New Birth is a decisive act.
  1. New Birth is God’s act alone.
  1. New Birth means born again and born from above
  1. New birth comes by belief.
  1. New Birth by the Spirit means we see, believe and live.



“7 Words for Pastors” – Second Word: Seekers

oldest fragment of John

oldest fragment of John

II. SEEKERS    John 3:3

 In reading John for the purpose of preaching it to others, it preached to me over and over.  John has many things to say about being a pastor.  It has become my favorite church growth book.

There is much said about “seekers”.  John 3 tells us about Nicodemus, a “seeker” if there ever was one.

The problem with “seekers” is that they are different from us.  They do not belong to the tribe we call “church goers”.  There is a cultural divide between the church-goer tribe and the seeker tribe.  Our language and our customs are far apart from theirs.  What they expect to see on a stage is not like what we want to see on a platform.  What they expect to hear from a motivational speaker is not what we hear from a pastor.  How they talk around the water cooler or at the soccer game is not how we talk in church.

Nicodemus was a prominent man, a member of the ruling council that had retained some jurisdiction even under Roman rule.  He was a Pharisee, which meant he was well-educated in the tradition of the scriptures and their detailed application to life.  He was just the kind of man who was not likely to be found in Jesus’ inner circle.

Jesus’ inner circle was mostly working class. With the exceptions of Judas and Matthew, they worked with their hands, and came from a very provincial backwater to the north.  How would Jesus speak to such a man as Nicodemus?

 First, Nicodemus must have been watching and listening from a distance.  He was very aware of Jesus’ work and his reputation.  He had concluded that Jesus was some kind of prophet.

It is interesting that Jesus went out to speak to the people, but he did not go out to find Nicodemus.  He could have found the right words and images from Nicodemus’ world and approached him in the kind of forum or debate that was common to such men.  Instead we see Jesus who usually spoke a much more common language.  He spoke about the things of the common man and woman.  He used sheep, seeds, yeast, birds, flowers, coins and families to illustrate his talks.  He used crooked judges and crooked servants as well.  It was all quite commonplace to a man like Nicodemus.

Even so Nicodemus saw and heard this strange talk and recognized it as being from God.  “Rabbi,” he said, “we know you are a teacher who has come from God.”

I wonder if we should work, as we are told we should, to make ourselves sound familiar to the people in our target audience. I wonder if they might not ignore us because what we say is like what they hear all the time.

The thing that needs to be heard is what causes them to say, “Yes, this teaching must be from God.”

Second, Jesus’ answer to Nicodemus question was challenging, confusing and blunt.

Nicodemus really did not ask a question.  He stated that Jesus must be from God.  Jesus replied to what Nicodemus wanted to ask.

“I tell you the truth, no one can see the Kingdom of God unless he is born again.”  John 3:3 (This is the second word for pastors.)

The answer was a challenge.  No one, even a sophisticated man of the world, can see God’s Kingdom as he is.  If he can’t see it, he certainly can not enter it.  He must be born again.

Jesus gave the altar call before he preached the message.  He did evangelism before he did the “necessary” pre-evangelism and before he had studied his audience.

Maybe when we try to make people comfortable, and try to establish trust, and develop a relationship, and then deliver the truth we are being less direct and honest than Jesus.  The message is more important than the messenger.

The answer was confusing.  This breaks all the rules of seeker sensitivity.  Our answers to seekers are supposed to be readily understood.  We should use familiar terms.  We should use their words.  Jesus broke these rules.

Jesus took about 17 verses to explain to Nicodemus this one verse.  He had to explain how a man can be born again. He had to explain the difference between physical life and spiritual re-birth.  Even his explanations were confusing as he got into the theology of the Holy Spirit and the theology of the Cross.  He used images such as wind, serpents, and light. Each of which needed its own explanation.

Jesus’ answer was blunt.  He started by telling Nicodemus that he was in need of a life-change that he called being born again.  He continued by saying, “You are Israel’s teacher and you do not understand these things?  I tell you the truth….but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?”

Nicodemus had to know that he was being accused of stupidity.  Jesus did not mean that Nicodemus was lacking in grey cells, but that he was not using them.  He was not using them because he lacked something.

“I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”

We say that if we use good methodology we can attract people to the Gospel.  This is the church-of-the-world view, and over the centuries only the methodology has changed.   The disciples wanted miracles and crowds, but Jesus chose preaching in Mark 1.  He refused a temple in Matthew 17.  The Pagans had ceremonies and temples with priests and fancy word-formulas – so the church developed all of those and out-paganized the pagans.  Gutenberg’s Press and the Mimeo machine as well as TV, Radio, Movies, Videos, the Telephone and the Internet have all been hailed as the tool to break through to the people.  Sociology tells us about group size and dynamics.  Psychology tells us how to make people feel better.  Business tells us how to get some money and then to organize to get more.  Management consultants tell us how to dismantle old institutions and rebuild the old raw material into new ones.

Jesus said that no one in the world can even see the Kingdom of God.   If you can’t even see it, how can you enter it?

Jesus spoke of the Spirit, because the Holy Spirit has to give life to the words and He has to move invisibly in human hearts.  Jesus spoke of the Cross, because we have to come to the Cross to enter the Kingdom.  He spoke of the truth, because our only tool is the telling of the truth.  The truth which is testified to by the Spirit and by the evidence of God’s blessing on our ministry.

That is Jesus’ formula for reaching “seekers.”

One of my favorite ironies is the name of our church.  Bethany Evangelical Free Church.  I like to say that we became seeker sensitive in 1926 when we changed it from the Norwegian (Betania Ev. Fri Kirke) to the English.  If any community would be resistant to a church with “evangelical” in the title, it would be central Madison.  This neighborhood voted for Ralph Nader for president, recycles religiously, rides bicycles to work, mocks Republican suburbanites, and detests “Evangelicals” as closed minded bumpkins.  To be an evangelical pastor is to walk around with a scarlet “E” around my neck.

My best conversations come when people ask me what Evangelical means.  I tell them that it means we are committed to the authority of Scripture.

I gave that answer recently at a school outing, later the questioner asked me a much deeper question about the scriptures.  This “agnostic” had been reading the scripture and had a question that no one could answer.  “How could God have laws supporting slavery in the chapters after the giving of the 10 Commandments?”

God was opening her eyes, and the term “evangelical” was the doorway to our conversation.

Crossing Barriers, Facing the Issues – John 4

9 The woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans.  

 She said to Jesus, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?”

10 Jesus replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.”

11 “But sir, you don’t have a rope or a bucket,” she said, “and this well is very deep. Where would you get this living water?

Crossing Barriers.  You are probably familiar with the point that the text makes.  There was a long standing hostility between Jews and Samaritans.  This was based on religious differences, and on racial differences.

We know how fierce hatreds can exist between two nations who live side by side – such as between Irish and English or between Swede and Norwegian.  This sort of conflict existed between these two nations.

Most Jews would travel around Samaria, and never pass through the middle.  It was safer and more familiar.

I have friends who hate cities and never travel through the middle.  They take the freeway around the city.  How boring is that.  Every McDonalds and every Home Depot looks alike from the freeway.  But people and neighborhoods within cities are always changing and always interesting.

Jesus passed through Samaria – which was easier than going around it.  What is the straightest line between two points?  Is it a large circle, or a straight line?

Jesus spoke with a woman there.  Now men did not speak with women and Jewish men did not talk to Samaritan women.  It was not done.  Jesus did it.  But this was also easier.  Jesus could have climbed down a rope into the well, took some water and climbed out, but wasn’t it easier to ask this stranger for water?  Yes, I think so.

Jesus made lots happen because he did not let fears and frontiers scare him away.

Facing Issues.  Now let me list you what things Jesus spoke with the Woman about in these few verses:

  1. Jacob and his well
  2. Living water
  3. The woman’s multiple husbands
  4. Jewish vs. Samaritan worship (aka Religion)
  5. True Worship
  6. The Holy Spirit in conversion.
  7. Who is the messiah?

By my count they covered seven difficult issues.  For example if it were an Islamic Woman we might discuss Isaac and Ishmael.  Living water is a very spiritual concept.  Speaking of someone’s failed marriages or relationships is not calculated to make friends.  Religious differences are to be avoided in public.  Have you heard of the worship wars between hymns and choruses? What of those between Jerusalem and Samaria?  The Holy Spirit, now there is an easy subject for conversation, as is the Messiah.

Jesus did not avoid these. He did not paper them over.  He spoke simply and wisely about these.  Is it hard?  I think it is hard to live a life of ignorance. And it is hard to live a life where we ignore the issues that people talk about.  If you are a thinking person, and if you have been listening in church, bible study and in your own reading, you have thought about many of these things.

Is it so hard to speak of them?  No, it is hard to shut up all the time.  At least for me it is!

John 4 and Evangelism

For the rest, come to Church this Sunday.

John 4:38

I send you to reap what you have not worked for.  Others have done the hard work and you have
reaped the benefits of their labor.


      What I am about to say is not, therefore my opinion.  It is  what Jesus said to the 12. The 12 turned out to be pretty good evangelists – if  they failed none of us would be here today!

Jesus said that evangelism is NOT hard work.

(Therefore, if you get exhausted from sharing the gospel, you are doing it wrong.)

Evangelism is not hard work, FOR US.

(If it is hard, it is because we are doing work that belongs to the Lord.)

John 21 – Style or Significance

In the three repetitions of the questioning of Peter by Jesus on the beach post resurrection, there are interesting variations  in the vocabulary.  there are two words for love (agapao and phileo), two for tending the flock (bosko and poimaino), to for the flock (arnia and probatia) and two for know (oida and ginosko).  A lot of attention has been given to Jesus switching from the so called “higher” word for love (agapao) to the lesser word suggesting friendship (phileo).

F. F. Bruce states that the two words for love are used interchangeably when the OT word is translated, that agapeo does not necessarily indicate a higher sort of love, and John tends to use them interchangeably (the father loves the son in John 3:35 and 5:20 are agapeo and phileo respectively; “the disciple whom Jesus loved” is written with both words 13:23; 20:2).   (F. F. Bruce, The Gospel of John, Eerdmans, 1983, p. 441)

We agree that the variation is more stylistic – it is common in Greek and English to vary the words for the avoidance of repetition.  The point then seems to be that the three repetitions answer the three denials by Peter in the chapter 18.

With word-studies it is important to look at all the factors before leaping to a conclusion.