My congregation, like many others, uses a schedule of Sunday scripture readings called the Revised Common Lectionary. This lectionary is a three-year cycle of readings which covers most (but not all) of scripture. Each of the three years features one of the four gospels as its primary gospel, with John’s Gospel appearing at different times all three years. This year the primary gospel that we are hearing Sunday mornings is the Gospel According to Mark. I shared an overview of Mark’s Gospel here: What Is So Special About Mark’s Gospel?
But this year we also hear a lot from John’s Gospel, so I thought I would share a follow-up post here on what is so special about John’s Gospel. And there is a lot that is special about this gospel! It is written in a way that makes it very easy to read, but the more time that one spends with it, the deeper and more profound it becomes. I cannot do this wonderful gospel justice in a short post like this, but here is an overview of John’s Gospel and a few reasons why I think it is so important.
What’s Different about John’s Gospel?
A lot, including, but not limited to: the Prologue, the story of the wedding at Cana, the extended conversations with Nicodemus and the woman at the well, the raising of Lazarus, the “High Priestly Prayer,” the washing of the disciples’ feet, and the post-resurrection conversations with Thomas and Peter.
Deserving special mention are the “I Am” sayings of Jesus, which are unique to John’s Gospel. Among the names used for God in the Old Testament, “YHWH” is the most frequent. It literally means, “I am who I am.” When Jesus describes himself using “I Am” sayings, he is also describing God the Father, with whom he is one. Here are seven key “I Am” sayings recorded in John’s Gospel:
- I am the Bread of Life – John 6:35
- I am Light of the World – John 8:12
- I am the Gate – John 10:7
- I am the Good Shepherd – John 10:11
- I am the Resurrection and the Life – John 11:25
- I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life – John 14:6
- I am the Vine – John 15:5
Who Wrote John’s Gospel?
The author, though anonymous just like all of the gospels’ authors, has from the earliest days of the church been considered to be the apostle John. He describes himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” throughout the gospel, indicating that his relationship to Jesus is more important than his name. Although the author does not tell us who wrote the gospel, he does tell us why:
These are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.John 20:31
What Are Some Key Moments in John’s Gospel?
A. The Prologue – John 1:1-18
Right away in John’s Gospel, we learn that Jesus is the Word who was in the beginning with God, the Word who was (and is) God, the Word who became flesh and lived among us.
B. The Wedding at Cana: The First Sign – John 2:1-12
“Signs” in John’s Gospel are miracles that reveal Jesus’ glory. They are recorded by John so that we might “come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God,” and that through believing we “may have life in his name.”
C. The Raising of Lazarus: The Last and Greatest Sign – John 11
This is the sign that demonstrates Jesus’ power over death, but also causes the Pharisees and chief priests to plan to put Jesus to death.
D. The Washing of the Disciples’ Feet and the New Commandment – John 13:1-35
The story read each year on Maundy Thursday, in which Jesus washes his disciples’ feet and then commands them to love one another just as he has loved them.
E. The Resurrection Stories Involving Mary Magdalene, Thomas, and Peter – John 20-21
Mary Magdalene, who recognizes the risen Jesus when he greets her by name, is one of the most beloved of all the resurrection stories. Thomas, who doubts that Jesus has been raised from the dead until he sees for himself, is one of the most relatable. And Peter, who denied knowing Jesus three times before the cock crowed, and is then asked by the risen Jesus three times if he loves him, is one of the most profound. All three stories are unique to John’s Gospel and offer a lifetime’s worth of contemplation.
What Is a Good Summary of John’s Gospel?
There are so many to choose from! While John 3:16 is an obvious one, and a wonderful summary of the good news of Jesus, and John 20:31 is a perfect statement of why John’s gospel was written, I think that I will go with John 1:14 as perhaps the best summary of John’s Gospel:
The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.John 1:14
Through the eyes of this inspired author, we, too, have seen the glory of the father’s only son, full of grace and truth for us all.
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