A Living Testimony Amidst Religious Death
I want us to remember - for it will help us toward our object if we do so - that John in his gospel and its content especially relates to Judea. In this gospel what is being said and done is, in the main, within the compass of Judaism. The other three gospels mainly have to do with Galilee, but here the Lord is moving and working and speaking mainly in relation to Judea. That carries with it this significance, that it is the religious world in the midst of which the main part of that which is in John's gospel is being enacted. Judea especially represents the religious world; and as it was in the time of this gospel. There was a state of religious intellectual antagonism to Christ. And you see John's tremendous emphasis was upon Who He was, and that emphasis has its own implication; that the religious mind was not recognizing and accepting the ultimate fact of the Person of Christ as the Son of God; that the religious intellectual world was estranged from that basic fact of Who Christ was; and the emphasis here was in that realm; firstly, Whom Christ is, and secondly, what the Church's business is.
I see in this for ourselves: that it is, at any rate, not nearly so difficult to establish the fact of the Person of Christ among those who have never heard and never known, as it is to establish the whole testimony of the Lord Jesus among those who are full of religious history. It is in the realm of religious tradition, religious history, religious intellectualism, much knowledge of religious things, that the greatest difficulty arises in establishing the testimony of Jesus. And if you read through this gospel with that thought in mind you will be tremendously impressed. When you get on to chapters eleven and twelve you get into an atmosphere of tremendous spiritual antagonism to Him, coming from the religious people. They sought to stone Him; He went away beyond Jordan, and then the news of Lazarus came to Him. He tarried, then He said: "Let us go," and the disciples said: "Lord, will You go back there into Judea where they sought to stone You?" You remember His reply, and then poor Thomas' - "Well, let us go that we may die with Him. It is certain death if He goes back to Judea; perhaps there is nothing better for us than to go and die with Him." Perhaps Thomas thought it better to die with the Lord Jesus than to live without Him. He saw that to go back to Judea was certain death, as it proved to be in the end. You see it is there, in the realm of religious tradition, of religious intellectualism, that you find the lack of sympathy.
It arises early in the gospel. You have, in Nicodemus, the intellectual class represented, and it is made clear within that realm that religion - as such - may be rather a hindrance than a help. It is true what the Lord said to the prophet: "Son of man .. thou art not sent to a people of a strange speech and of a hard language, but to the house of Israel; not to many peoples of a strange speech ... if I sent thee to them, they would harken unto thee. But the house of Israel will not hearken unto thee." And our hardest work, and yet the thing which is being put upon us by the Lord, is the recovery and establishment in finality and fullness of the Testimony of Jesus among those who have all the traditions. The whole gospel of John gives us a comprehensive presentation of the Testimony of Jesus. I want you to remember that Judea represented the religious intellectual realm, out of sympathy with Who Jesus was, and therefore out of sympathy with those who are out for the Testimony of Jesus, that is, to establish the fullness of meaning of Christ having come to reveal the Father.
John's Favorite Word for Miracle
There is another thing in John's gospel to be noted in this connection. It is, that of the various words translated into the one English word "miracle" or connected therewith, John has one favorite. The six words are: Terata=portent, or omen; Dunameis=powers; Thaumata=wonders; Paradoza= contrary to expectation; Erga=deeds; Semeia=signs. This last word is John's particular word. In Judea - the world of religious and intellectual antagonism - Christ is not out to capture by wonders, or impress by powers, or hold by the unexpected, etc. No, it is something with a deeper implication, a profounder significance. He is teaching something by what He does. There is a great truth hidden in His act, and only a heart of faith and sympathy will come to see that truth.
The first miracle in Cana of Galilee: "This beginning of his signs did Jesus." You want to get the significance of the turning of water into wine at the marriage. And the miracle of the loaves and fishes, a sign. (You have the significance given almost immediately after: "I am the bread of life.") The Lord is seeking to get to His own people the knowledge of Who He is, and what He is, and He is bringing into fellowship with Him, into union with Him, a company who know Him in that sense. The effort of John is in that direction, to get a company who know Him, to be the continuous instrument and vessel of a manifestation of Who the Lord Jesus is. John is not dealing specifically with sinners, he is dealing in principle with the religious. You have not got "repentance" in John; the word does not occur. You have not got that realm at all. This is all in keeping with the thought that this gospel is to bring the Church into a place of union with the Lord in order to be for Him the instrument of His manifestation.
(continued with # 3 - "John's Theme - The Testimony of Jesus")