How John Saw Jesus – Part 4

The final installment of Karen Murano’s essay on the Gospel According to John.

John’s gospel lights a path to develop the kind of disciple who sees himself as a sheep in the arms of Jesus, rescued and safely held. On a larger scale, to connect an overarching goal of spiritual formation, one must answer the question: Into what? Better yet: transform to be like Whom?

For the believer, formation needs to be rooted in Christ-likeness. John teaches the reader to heed the words of Jesus: to follow Him,

“Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” 8:12

I believe John’s gospel can speak to the intrinsic and innate desire of mankind to be fully known, loved and cherished. He wants us to grow in our knowledge of Jesus’ identity, which John lays out in his opening verses.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” 1:1–4

Out of perfect love, that has always existed, the world was created and has life. The Gospel of John continues to lead the reader through a transformation process with a specific backdrop:  eternal hope is in Jesus as the Messiah, the human and divine King, sent by the Father to provide a model for all to follow as His children

“But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.” 1:12-13

  This foundation helps us to discover the truth of our identity as beloved children of God who fulfill our unique calling: to carry His image as we rule and reign with Him, in His Kingdom. This is the kind of disciple John is hoping to form: image bearers. And so we end with the inspiring verse that John built his testimony to reveal at the start, look to the Father and you find the Son, image the Son by receiving grace and truth and you will glorify the Father, 

We have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14

If a church community dedicated an entire year to reading this gospel while committing to living out the way of Jesus as presented by John many themes could be lived out, and the body of believers could image Jesus the Christ in this way: (not an exhaustive list!)

  • They would represent the image of God as the light of life, and walk in freedom from the bondage of sin because they believe and abide in his word – “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.. … Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 8:12, 32-32
  • They would not fear man, but God alone, and worship him freely – “His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess Jesus to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue. … He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.” 9:22, 38
  • They would know their worth, no matter the earthly origin, all who belong to him will be with him – “And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” 10:16
  • They would honor Jesus the Messiah as the eternal Son of God, because he is Life  – “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” 10:17-18
  • They would boldly declare Jesus is the resurrection and the life, especially in the face of devastating trials – “She said to him,“Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” 11:27
  • They would be generous back to God in light of all He has done, like a fragrant offering – “Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.” 12:3
  • They would be servant leaders, and lovingly put on the towel – “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.” 13:14-15
  • They would live out a new commandment of love as his disciples to make Him known – “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” 13:34-35
  • They will do great works, empowered by the Holy Spirit, walking in peace and unafraid  – “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. … And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper,  to be with you forever, … But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you…. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. 14:12,16, 26-27
  • They would abide in the Lord’s love, keeping the joy, and loving others as He loves them – “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. … These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. … This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” 15:9, 11-12
  • They will proclaim He is risen! – “Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.” 20:18
  • They would be compelled to share their own testimony, proclaiming Jesus is the Messiah, bearing his image as children of God who will rule and reign with Him in His Kingdom – “This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true.” 21:24

Thank you, Karen, for sharing these weeks of insight into the gospel of John. I pray it helps us fully grasp more deeply how loved we all are by our heavenly Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit – One God with three distinct roles.

How John Saw Jesus – Part 3

A continuation of Karen Murano’s writing…

If it hasn’t already become obvious, I am particularly captivated by John’s message of unity, oneness, and intimacy that is displayed in multiple relationships: between Jesus and the Father, others, and particularly with John, himself.

I find him to be bold and humble in his gospel account. Some might say he was not humble at all, maybe even audacious to refer to himself as Jesus’ beloved, but I don’t see it as prideful at all. Frankly, I’m inspired. I’ve learned the hard way what it means to humbly receive love and the value of closeness. To fully receive love is a profound act of trust, and to allow intimate closeness offers a beautiful exchange of being known.

To me, this is the heart of John’s gospel. Because this message is tied to my personal testimony it makes me wonder if John started out with trust issues. As I stated earlier, physical closeness was not a cultural norm between men or women in John’s day. It’s kind of comical to imagine front door greeters at the synagogue, welcoming people with, “Love you, bro!”, and hugging all the religious leaders as they entered. Yet here is John, unashamedly locating himself in unusual closeness to Jesus… at His bosom, quite literally, “Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved.” 13:23 NKJV The scene is so focused on the table conversation that the line is almost missed.

On a personal note, I’d like to think that if I were at the table that night I would be angling for that spot, too. A vivid childhood memory often comes to mind of a scene like this: I was 9 yrs old trying to share the coveted spot next to our mom (in between us) as we watched a scary movie. Jealous words were slung at me, and unfortunately, the story ends with a sad example of my brother being the beloved son in what I experienced as a painful betrayal (which kicked off decades of trust issues). I’m sure this is why I am always intrigued by John’s gospel. After a season of healing and forgiveness I often look for authentic closeness that offers safety and love.

Maybe John had something of a recovery story, too. The disciples had followed their Rabbi very closely for over three years, and this was [unknowingly] their final night with Him. They didn’t understand, even as He prophesied about the impending betrayal and separation from them. Nevertheless, on His chest is where John rests. Seemingly included as a byline in the midst of an otherwise gripping account. But was it just a minor byline? Are we to believe that John just happens to make a specific reference of unique closeness as he compiled his well orchestrated testimony… all those decades later. I don’t think so. But if not, why is it there?

The Last Supper has been creatively reimagined by many artists, countless times, placing John in awkward positions of being near Jesus, so we know it has been wondered about by generations. If we likened this moment to a modern Instagram post, we might wonder why would John take such a vulnerable selfie? How is it relevant to the narrative he is outlining?  I appreciate the prompt for this paper to connect a gospel theme or story to the OT and show how the author chose to present Jesus as the culmination of Israel’s story. So to answer this and my own questions, I needed to break down the verse with a word study and place myself in John’s sandals, or cloak, as it were. (Since he was barefoot, but I digress.)

John would have known the Hebrew Bible well, especially the book of Isaiah; exposed to it first in his youth.  He grew up in culture that typically engaged in practice of midrash to better understand the text. His account seems to answer the prophetic announcement Isaiah made of the Messiah in 40:11. I can only imagine his passion to finally share his testimony to this prophecy. The prophetic words of the coming Messiah must have been jumping off the [scrolls] in light of the truth of his experiences with Jesus, the incarnate Son of God.

For context, Isaiah has been warning of judgment and exile for the first 39 chapters, but in chapter 40 he takes a turn and begins overflowing with hope and comfort that God has planned for his people – if they return to him. Verse 11 offers a particularly loving word picture of the ultimate Shepherd (the Messiah) as he delivers his sheep, protecting them in the safety of his bosom. The word bosom (heq, in Hebrew) is a direct link to the intimate scene where we find John nestled in safety with Jesus at the infamous table.

So we have our first answer, this description of John’s closeness to Jesus was not a byline, it directly correlates with Isaiah’s word picture. Many translations avoid using this word and use lap instead, but that totally misses the point of who Jesus is and what he came to do. In fact, (our second answer for the prompt) Israel’s story comes into full light with the incarnation of Jesus as the Messiah, the Good Shepherd who rescues His sheep, and desires intimacy with his people. A reflection of the original loving unity found in the God-head: Father, Son and Spirit.

“He will tend his flock like a shepherd; “I am the good shepherd. I know my own 

he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will and my own know me… 

carry them in his bosom, and gently lead My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, 

those that are with young.” Is 40:11 and they follow me. I give them eternal life,

and they will never perish, and no one will 

snatch them out of my hand.”  John 10:14, 27-28

Israel’s story, indeed. I can’t help but bring in the additional words of Isaiah in 52:6, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” The Good News, in fact, is for all mankind, as Jesus proclaims: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.” 13:20 There is no safer place to be than carried in the bosom of our Good Shepherd, Jesus the Messiah; who will never let us go. The loving relationship John embraced with Jesus on earth no doubt transformed him, but even more so after witnessing His death and resurrection.

As I read it, he authors this account like the beloved sheep that Jesus carried. John authoritatively proclaims the Good News he witnessed, just as Isaiah faithfully prophesied what God gave him to speak. Both accounts invite the children of Israel to recognize Jesus as the incarnate Messiah. John framed his gospel with the truth of Jesus’ perfect love, highlighting the intimacy found in Jesus as the Good Shepherd. When Jesus taught this message it was familiar and yet it was not fully grasped until he died and returned as the risen King. John’s gospel is undeniable as eyewitness testimony with compelling evidence to that end. As children of God, we find our identity in our loving Father; this is how it was designed from the beginning. John was able to walk in this love and he didn’t keep it to himself, thankfully he declared it to the world so that all could find oneness with Him. 

How John Saw Jesus – Part 2

My friend, Karen Murano’s insightful writing continues…

John connects the person of Jesus in the flesh (1:14) and the nature of his divine (8:58) and unified (10:30) relationship to God the Father as the eternal Son, framing a unified story with the theme of intimate oneness. This theme is presented over and over, like a thread connecting a literary garment. His goal seems to have a multi-faceted connection in mind. In careful imagery, he connects the person of Christ to God the Father as one (10:30).

Jesus reveals this truth even though they almost stoned him on the spot. What’s so amazing is that Jesus repeatedly offers divine unity to his disciples and to many people he encountered as they went from town to town (sadly, many rejected Him).

To add another facet to this story of intimacy, John’s desire is to unite the reader to the person of Christ as the Messiah (spoiler alert, it is the purpose of his testimony). He could not have known just how far and wide his testimony would travel, not to mention for two millennia. The portrait John paints of Jesus is as the Messiah, the incarnation of the Son of God, the resurrection and the life who has always been, and who proclaims He is the Way, the Truth and the Life (14:6). His testimony is given for the reader to “find life in his name” 20:21. The opening lines are radical and wonderful, and they boldly articulate an intimate relationship between the Word and God as Father.

By His Word, all things were created, and that He is the Light that has always been. John makes it clear that there is an eternal unity and intimacy between the Father and the Son, a most beautiful expression of abiding love which comes to life as we follow this gospel account.

To encourage his disciples, Jesus used a parable to reveal he is the vine and [we] are the branches, repeating his passionate plea to abide in him. This image of intimate trust and interconnectedness was designed to compel the hearer to desire this unique closeness more than anything. The most captivating line summarizes: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.” 15:9 (emphasis mine). What a radical offer! Indeed, unity is not just about the loving community of the god-head but it’s for us, the beloved children of God. John’s testimony is that Jesus is the eternal Son of God, the incarnation of the One who was prophesied about, and the revelation of God the Father who gave his Son to be a living hope, hope available to all who believe that He is risen!

His narrative is bold and often shares controversial statements Jesus made about who he is, claiming “I am” in the most provocative ways. Every Jew knew the story of Moses at the burning bush where God identifies himself as such (Ex3:6). It must be made clear, John is a human author of this gospel, compelled to set his pen to paper decades after his time with Jesus, but as an eyewitness and disciple who wanted to share the Good News he also knew this message belonged to Jesus. In writing his account, he honored the Spirit-inspired and transcendent words, refusing to exclude any offensive parts, and courageously heralding the life-giving message of hope for an unnamed audience to one-day hear and embrace.

I admire the trust and passion he had to testify about his experiences and share his account of the [very] Good News no matter the personal cost. The way I read his gospel account is in appreciation of his faithful and deep abiding, of being known and held by his Lord, and fully committed to testifying about this wonderful intimacy so that others can discover and receive Him. Jesus implored his hearers to abide in him (15:4), and his divine ability to embrace each and every one (then and now) never runs out.

Like a tapestry, John seamlessly weaves a pattern of Jesus’ supernatural compassion, his demonstrations of divine power in miraculous signs, and many powerful encounters with people as He reveals His divine Sonship. John’s sympathetic flow of the undeniable signs invites the heart of the reader to open up and consider following this true Light, embracing the Messiah just as he did. John knits into the narrative profound examples of Jesus revealing his identity in practical ways with parables, as a softer but still direct declaration of God’s truth and grace. This pattern shows incredible care and concern for the reader to respond in hope, and to be transformed by a divine encounter with a living Jesus.

John reinforces Jesus’ teaching about being the Door and the Shepherd in 10:14-15, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep””. It cannot be overstated that John writes from a perspective of knownness, and with an intimate friendship with Jesus 15:5, often describing himself as the one Jesus loved. Not that Jesus loved only him, but because John received it so completely it was his chosen form of identity (more on that later).

Jesus seemed to like pushing comfort zones and being uncomfortably close, he frequently went against the cultural norms: meeting with Nicodemus in private at night, speaking alone with a Samaritan woman, spitting on clay to heal a blind man, and after he fed a multitude of people he explained (seven different ways) that he is the living bread they must eat, ch 6:51-58. Now that’s close! John tells of a woman who was rescued at a compassionate show-down and set free from her shame. Personal encounters and transformations harmoniously criss-cross his stories as he builds up to the death and resurrection of Jesus’ dear friend, Lazarus; making sure to include the two devoted sisters. Martha, who truly yearns to grasp Jesus’ identity, and Mary who beautifully fulfills the prophetic nature of his name [Messiah] by anointing him with oil (soon after). They have especially close encounters with Jesus, and John includes how Jesus loved them (again, he didn’t consume this message for himself). Just before raising Lazarus, it was to Martha first that Jesus reveals he is the resurrection and the life, and she restates His identity with uncommon clarity, responding in belief when she is pressed (11:24-37). Not keeping this experience to herself, she runs for her sister.

Oh that every believer would be so bold, so quick to testify, so urgent in their sharing of Truth, but an unfortunate reality in churches today is of isolation and fear of looking weird. Many are afraid to show their faith and become consumers rather than freely sharing their zeal. We see that Mary responds by running to Jesus, kneeling at his feet. In her painful sorrow she is vulnerable and cries out for help. John shares Jesus’ tender response with something not exactly manly, His tears. Indeed, Jesus was repeatedly touched by the pain of others, expressing compassion and healing their infirmities for three years.

Chapter after chapter John wraps a thread of closeness and intimate encounters around declarations of Jesus as the Son of God. It’s hard to find a stopping point in this exercise. Throughout my study and recounting of John’s gospel, it’s as though the words will never stop flowing because there is so much to emphasize. Truly, the Word is alive, and just as John surmised – so much more could be written! 

How John Saw Jesus – Part 1

Recently, a dear friend shared a paper she wrote with me. I was so impressed with the content and her writing that I asked her permission to share it here. It isn’t my typical content, but I think it’s extremely valuable and I hope my readers will find it so as well. Without further ado, I give you “The Gospel According to John” by Karen Murano.

The Gospel according to John is a captivating testimony of eyewitness accounts as John followed Jesus (closely) during his earthly ministry. He draws the reader in with what feels like an ongoing invitation to relationally connect with God’s beloved Son, to be transformed by his love, and to find life in Him alone. He consistently weaves the identity of Jesus as the Christ throughout his account and leaves no doubt that Jesus accomplished the will of the Father as the incarnate Messiah.

His introduction is mind-blowing and beautiful with transcendent words into what continues to fascinate humanity to this day: origin, identity, and purpose (Jesus was, is, and eternally will be [our] divine King). The riveting touch-back to Genesis 1:1 with the beginning in his opening lines cannot be glazed over; they offer an anchor point for the rest of his account that tells of the incarnate King who came to rescue mankind.

He gets down to business in the first chapter with the testimony of John the Baptist proclaiming Jesus as the Lamb of God. This particular verse stands out to me as a sort of banner that the rest of the book supports with evidence to that end. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”. 1:14, As a basic outline, this is a sampling of his flow and context, but there are so many more details that could be included.

John lays out seven miraculous signs between chapters 2 and 11. They demonstrate Jesus’ focused desire to always honor the will of the Father 6:38. Interlaced with these signs are seven “I am” statements that metaphorically point to Jesus’ identity as the Messiah, between chapters 6 -15. Several chapters are dedicated to the final week before his crucifixion beginning in ch 12:1: “Six days before the Passover…”.

The narrative slows down for several chapters to capture very important details: Mary anoints Jesus with a fragrant oil 12:3, and the crowd cheered his entrance on a donkey into Jerusalem, “So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” 12:13 Before the crowd he was troubled, crying out to the Lord Who glorified him, and He declared: And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (fulfilling three  prophecies v7, 14, 32). Jesus proceeds to draw them especially close to him to prepare them for a very hard week. He shocks the disciples (especially Peter) with an unheard of example of servant leadership by washing their feet 13:4,13-14. He teaches them a new commandment of love 13:34. In ch 14:6, Jesus presses in and makes a profound and divine declaration: “I am the way, truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me”. Which he follows up with: “If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” 14:7  He teaches this one more “I am” statement: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.”15:1 so that they understand what it means to abide in Him.

Chapter 16 has hard teaching in it but it was necessary to explain the Helper, whom He will send, their sorrow that will turn to joy, and once again he helps them make the leap to know who He truly is. In ch 17, Jesus prays to the Father for himself and for every follower in the most loving and vulnerable way, reinforcing the testimony that Jesus is the Son of God and how he glorifies the Father in all things. (That prayer is so pure and heart-warming it always brings me to tears.)

Chapters 18 – 19 narrate the betrayal, brutal trial and flogging, and then his crucifixion, which John personally attended. An interesting insight about the trial and crucifixion is that the gospel accounts kind of skirt past the brutality of these scenes. Not because it wasn’t remarkable, but the reality of death was so commonplace it was kind of a non-event, especially because it was typically so public, so the people of that day were desensitized. John does lay out important details and the imagination is stirred as he describes what must have been visually striking moments. The post-modern church has a very small tolerance for the word death, nevermind attending such an event. It is important to note that our gospel writer, John, was the only one at the crucifixion as an eye-witness.

To conclude the outline and overview of this gospel we find John slows the narrative down again for some important encounters and to capture the gravity of the moments.. There is something special about firsts that are highlighted in scripture, “On the first day of the week …” 20:1. John is rather keen to begin the culmination of his testimony with a dramatic sunrise scene. He reintroduces Mary Magdalene at the tomb, her confusion about finding the Rabbi, and his announcement that He is ascending to the Father. “Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.” 20:18  (What a beautiful expression of love to reveal himself first to a woman, valuing her testimony even though the modern day culture would not accept the words of any woman.) They all bear witness to the evidence of the prophesied miracle, indeed the greatest miracle of all: an empty tomb – Jesus is risen! We find three strategic and very personal visits by Jesus to help the disciples understand: He explains He is sending them just as the Father sent Him. Thomas was allowed to examine and touch his physical wounds. Jesus then breathed on them the Holy Spirit. 20:22 John concludes his gospel in ch 21 with a beautiful epilogue testifying to the truth of his eyewitness accounts, and that much more could have been written.

Clearly, he intentionally crafted his selections of content based on experiences that deeply impacted him and many others. The patterns, structure, and focus in his gospel account unashamedly declare that Jesus is the human and divine King, and that his beloved followers will rule and reign with him, forever.