Why John? (John 20:30-31)
Topic: One Truth: Your Word is Truth Passage: John 20:30–20:31
I. A Unique Contribution
This morning, I'd like to invite you to join me on a journey. Over the course of the coming months, I'd like us to look together at a book we know as The Gospel of John. It's an ancient book, one that (along with many others) was preserved in that collection traditionally called, the “New Testament”. I think most of you are familiar with John. And if you're familiar with this book, you're probably also familiar with the three others Gospels of the NT: Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
Now, with this in mind, I think it would be understandable for you to ask, “Why John?” Why study this book before others from the NT? Why study this Gospel right now, instead of the other three Gospels? Some may ask, why dig into this book at all?
Well, I think most of you would agree that every book in either the Old or New Testament is worth our time and attention, especially if we recognize these writings to be God's own voice. But each book does make a unique contribution. Therefore, I think another way to express our question is, “What is the unique contribution of John's Gospel, and why is it so important we hear this book today?”
To answer that question, let's look at the Gospel of John together, starting at, oddly, the end of the book. Grab your Bible and head over to John 20:30-31.
II. The Passage: “You Believe in Him” (20:30-31)
Let me simply read those verses, then we'll go back through and talk about some of the key ideas we find here. Now, I won't spend much time making a case for the identity of the author. The writer does not identify himself explicitly in this Gospel. But I think, based on clues from within the book and some strong traditions from early in church history, the author is in fact, John, the son of Zebedee, the brother of James, an Apostle and one of the first followers of Jesus. If you want to go deeper, there are plenty of places online where you can learn more about this question of authorship. With that being said, let's look at what John writes in 20:30-31
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book;  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.
Notice there are two ideas that carry over from verse 30 to verse 31: “Jesus” and “signs”. And if we focus just on verse 31, what we find there is clearly an explanation of why the writer wrote what he wrote. Do you see that? Verse 31 is his purpose statement. That's him telling us, “This is what this book is about.” So with that in mind, let's use some of the key concepts in this passage to look back at the rest of the book in order to understand the unique contribution of the Gospel of John.
First, we need to dig into this word “signs”. The first time hear the Greek word behind out English word is way back in 2:11. This is what we read...
This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.
So the context here is Jesus turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana. But please don't miss how John describes this miracle: it was “the first of his signs”. Interestingly, we find a similarly numbered description two chapters later in John 4:54...
This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee.
But notice the specific wording here. This was not the second time Jesus ever performed a sign. It was simply the second sign he did in Galilee (the first being at the wedding in Cana). We know Jesus had already done more miraculous works because of what we find in chapters 2 and 3:
2:23... Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing.
3:2... This man [Nicodemus] 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."
Now think for a minute about our main passage, 20:30-31... Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written... What does John mean, “these are written”. Which signs is he talking about? He's already numbered two. Are there are others that should be included with these first two? Yes! Like those first two signs from chapter 2 and 4, the Gospel of John explicitly identifies and describes in detail only seven signs of Jesus.
If you are familiar with the other three Gospels, this is very interesting. Why? Because those Gospels include lots of miracles. Yes, more ink is spent on certain miracles in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, but many others are simply identified like this: And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons. (Mark 1:34) In John's Gospel, not only are there no exorcisms, but there are no summary descriptions like this. There are only seven miracles or “signs” identified and described by John.
Again, John tells us throughout this book that Jesus did many other signs. But he limits our gaze to just these seven. So when John tells his readers in 20:31 that “these are written so that you may believe”, he's talking about these seven signs. So what were these miracles, specifically? Well, you already know the first: Jesus turned water into wine at the wedding in Cana (2:1-11). We then read about...
The healing of the royal official's son in Capernaum in John 4:46-54
The healing of a paralytic at Bethesda in John 5:1-15
The feeding the 5000 in John 6:5-14
Jesus walking on water in John 6:16-24
The healing of the man blind from birth in John 9:1-7... and
The raising of Lazarus in John 11:1-45
Now, one of the things you might have noticed right away with this list is the increasing magnitude of each sign. From turning something impersonal like water into wine, to, in the end, raising a person from the dead, there does seem to be an intensification from one sign to the next. We'll look into that more in the coming weeks and months.
But even though we've identified these seven signs, think about the following exchange...
So the Jews said to him, "What sign do you show us for doing these things?" 19 Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." 20 The Jews then said, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?" 21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body. 22 When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. (2:18-22)
When the Jews ask for a “sign”, that's only the second appearance of that key word. But Jesus does provide a sign for them, doesn't he? So when we combine this passage with the fact that our main passage in chapter 20 is the conclusion of John's account of the risen Jesus, we realize that this apostolic writer has, in fact, given us an eighth sign: the resurrection of Jesus!
So why only seven signs, and then an eighth? Well, you may already know that, for the Jews, seven was a number of divine perfection or completion, since the creation of the universe is described using a seven-day cycle. And the Hebrew week followed this same pattern: six days, and rest on the seventh, the Sabbath. That would mean the eighth sign falls on, not only the first day of a new week, but also symbolically, on the first day of a new creation. Isn't that amazing!?
But please don't miss the ultimate goal of these signs. Remember what John told us in 20:31? He told his readers plainly: ...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. The seven signs (or eight signs) were recorded by John in this Gospel in order to point his readers, in order to point us, to the truth about Jesus.
But how are we to take that word, “believe”? What's interesting is that in the Greek copies of John there are actually two verb tenses used in different manuscripts. The most common tense is more of a past or 'point in time' tense that might indicate an evangelistic goal. “I want to tell you about these signs so that you might turn to Jesus in saving faith.” (i.e., believe for the first time) But some manuscripts, and the oldest copy of this passage, contain a present tense form of this verb, “believe”. How does that change things? Well, that would have John saying something like, “I want to tell you about these signs so that you might continue in your faith.”
You see, when John wrote this Gospel near the end of the First Century, false ideas about Jesus were becoming more and more common. These were depictions of Christ shaped by popular ideas, movements, and religions of the day. John's readers were not immune from such distortions. This Gospel may have been written in order to help believers, maybe young believers, understand the truth about Christ, and thus safeguard them from these kinds of temptations; these distortions. But of course, what John provides here is far better than simply safeguards. He provides his readers with an incomparable vision.
3. “Jesus is...”
And that brings us to the key phrase in our main passage. These “signs” were communicated so that we might “believe”... that we might believe “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God”. Whether the reader is being introduced to Jesus for the first time, or corrected and strengthened in a growing faith, the vision is the same: Jesus, the Christ; that is, the Messiah of God, the king from David's line, God's Son, who would bring light and life into our darkness and death.
Seven signs that help us understand exactly what that means as they point us to the truth about Jesus. And this emphasis on his incomparable identity is also seen in another set of seven we discover in this Gospel. Not only are there seven signs at the heart of this book, there are also seven declarations of Jesus, declarations revealing aspects of his divine identity. What are these declarations? They all begin with “I am”... 1. “I AM the Bread of Life” (6:35), 2. “I AM the Light of the World” (8:12), 3. “I AM the Door” (10:7), 4. “I AM the Good Shepherd” (10:11,14), 5. “I AM the Resurrection and the Life” (11:25), 6. “I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (14:6), 7. “I AM the True Vine” (15:1).
III. A Vision of Jesus
Brothers and sisters, friends, why did John wrote this Gospel? And why do we need to hear itso badly. Because... John wants to feed our faith with a sound and profound vision of Jesus. That's the unique contribution of this book. In one book, it presents Christ to us in a way that is far fuller, far richer, far more exalted than any other book or chapter or verse in the NT.
Now think for a minute about why we need that. Like the closing years of the First Century, the early years of the Twenty-First Century are filled with plenty of false ideas about Jesus; depictions of Christ shaped by popular ideas, movements, and religions of the day. And yes, there are certainly many false Christs explicitly defined in the creeds of this or that cult, or this or that spiritual movement, or this or that world religion.
But there are also false Christs in the church; even in this church. How? Where? Wherever there are imperfect and sinful people like us, there will be distortions of Jesus. Do you recognize that? Do you recognize that about your own heart? No, you may not be confessing a false Jesus because you've accepted some heretical teaching. You might simply have an incomplete knowledge. Or maybe you've accepted things about Jesus that come from tradition or TV, but not God's word. Or maybe you've simply allowed your preferences to shape your vision of Jesus, rather than the Spirit of God.
However we might be struggling, all of us need God to feed our faith with a sound and profound vision of Jesus. Gospel means “good news”. And the good news is that God wants to feed us in exactly this way through this book. Are you hungry? Please hear this: your healthiness as a true believer is directly related to the healthiness of what you truly believe about Jesus. That's why all of us desperately need to understand John and the seven signs of Jesus.
What do you believe about Jesus? Do you want to know the truth? Do you want to grow in the truth? If you do, then let's take this journey together. Let's admit our emptiness in light of the fullness God has for us in this book; in the Jesus who fills this book to overflowing. May God bless this study and every one of you who comes with a humble heart and with ears to hear. Let's pray and ask God for exactly that.