Today we are continuing with our walk through the Gospel of John. John is walking us towards a specific objective:
Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31)
While that is concise and seemingly simple, belief is endlessly complex. Today we are walking into a moment where John is leaning on previous beliefs / understandings as he is walking with people to belief in Jesus. Can we build some foundation to the power of prior beliefs?
Think about someone that you care about, believe in, trust, and love. This person sends you a text message: “Do you have a minute right now?”
At the same time, think of another person, someone that you don’t actually care about, believe in, trust, or love, for whatever complex reasons. And now this person sends you a remarkably similar text message: “Do you have a minute right now?”
Do you feel the difference?
With those feelings in mind, talk about this:
In a relationship, how does prior experience impact future connection?
We are going to ask a variation of that question in just a moment: in relationship with God, how does prior experience impact future connection?
Think about obstacles to relationship with God. There’s the logical obstacle--questions like, “How do you know the Bible is true?” There’s the emotional obstacle--pain can often keep us from belief. Or there’s the behavioral obstacle--seeing that God is calling us to a holy life makes many people reject Jesus; they want to live by their own standards. There’s also the cultural obstacle, though some of these barriers are false--being a Christian in America doesn’t mean you’re necessarily white, Republican, and conservative. Every culture is called to account by Jesus. And finally, there’s the spiritual obstacle--only God the Holy Spirit can change a heart. Christians are called to make disciples, but we are not capable of changing people. A spiritual war is taking place.
There are probably hundreds of variations of these and hundreds of reasons outside of these.
Paul, in Romans 10, starts off with a declaration of his desire that the Israelites would be saved
Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. (Romans 10:1)
But then he opens the complexity of belief. In the complexity, he puts saved parameters in concise terms:
If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. (Romans 10:9-10)
Simple? It’s not so simple.
Paul, at the end of this portion of his writing in Romans 10, quotes from Psalms, Deuteronomy and Isaiah. From Isaiah 65 he speaks about God’s relationship with Israel:
“I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me; I was found by those who did not seek me. To a nation that did not call on my name, I said, ‘Here am I, here am I.’ All day long I have held out my hands to an obstinate people, who walk in ways not good, pursuing their own imaginations—” (Isaiah 65:1-2)
Wow, there’s a lot to that. It’s easy to think in our western Christianity mindset that finding God is something that we do; it’s something that we muster up the strength or willpower or information to get done. But these verses show clearly how God reveals himself to people who don’t ask for Him or aren’t seeking Him. Last week we talked about the man healed at the pool of Bethesda, a story that shows God performs miracles in the lives of people who literally have no clue who he is.
Belief is not so simple. Let’s talk through the question I said we were walking towards:
In relationship with God, how does prior experience impact future connection?
John is building on some treasured narratives to the people he is addressing, and he writes with a hyperlink intentionality as he goes. And the hyperlinks are flashing in where we are going today.
So I am going to take a moment and put two narratives out there that were treasured by the readers of John. Again, in our mindset, we can take these stories and view these miracles God performed as “the treasure,” but John would argue that in the midst of the miracles the treasure is actually God.
The first story is of the manna (Exodus 16:1-36). The people loved to talk about God’s provision of manna.
There was the captivity in Egypt. There were the plagues. There was the Passover and the plague of the first born. There was the Pharaoh releasing us. There was the changing of Pharaoh’s mind and our being pursued to the Red Sea. There was our crossing on the dry ground. There was our wandering in the wilderness.
And God, in spite of the Israelites’ grumbling, provided.
There is another story that is hyperlinked in John’s writing today. We have alluded to it a few times already in this series as the John’s theme of water comes up over and over again.
Water symbolizes life.
Last week we saw Jesus heal a man who was wanting to get into a pool that was known to heal people when the water was stirred. The man, after 38 years of being crippled, was left with no one to help him into the water. Jesus comes and John is screaming it--Jesus is the water! Jesus is life!
One of the stories that the Isrealites would have loved, as they loved the manna stories, was of Moses striking the rock and water coming out. In Exodus, you turn the page from the manna story and the people were without water. (Exodus 17:1-7)
These moments of God providing manna and water were treasured narratives.
Understanding or knowing someone is best accomplished through narrative and experience, not through a list or spreadsheet.
It is simple to say, “God is,” but who is God? How does He relate with us? How are we to relate with Him?
How do these treasured narratives inform our theology--our understanding of how God relates with us and how we are to relate with Him?
How do these treasured moments shape relationship with God?
How do they impact theology?
John chapter 6 has two treasured moments, two hyperlinked moments.
Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing the sick. Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. The Jewish Passover Festival was near.
When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.
Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, 9 “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”
Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish. When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.
After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself. (John 6:1-15)
Wow. Just as God fed the people in the wilderness, here Jesus is feeding the people in the wilderness.
When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, where they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum. By now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined them. A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were frightened. But he said to them, “It is I; don’t be afraid.” Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.
The next day the crowd that had stayed on the opposite shore of the lake realized that only one boat had been there, and that Jesus had not entered it with his disciples, but that they had gone away alone. Then some boats from Tiberias landed near the place where the people had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. Once the crowd realized that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus. (John 6:16-24)
Wow. Jesus is greater than the water. Water is life. Jesus overrules the water.
Okay, remember our earlier conversations, and remember that John is writing with hyperlink intentionality. Jesus is the manna. Jesus supersedes the water.
How do these treasured moments shape relationship with God?
How do they impact theology?
Today is Palm Sunday. We see in Matthew 21 Jesus entering into the city:
A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the highest heaven!” When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?” The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” (Matthew 21:8-11)
This was a moment of celebration, of worship, of declaration. It was also a moment of not really getting it.
There are moments when we know that we don’t get something. There are also moments that we are fully confident that we do get it, but we really don’t. The second one can be dangerous.
Next week as we celebrate Easter, we will come to Jesus’ declaration that he is the Bread of Life. This is what Easter is all about.
But today as we end, let's have a moment of reflection and conversation.
Think again about how prior relationship experience affects future connection with God. Think about the obstacles you face or that others have faced in that process.
Think again about all of these stories of amazing things God did through scripture, and how some people saw these things but didn’t get it or understand it.
While Jews clamor for miraculous demonstrations and Greeks go in for philosophical wisdom, we go right on proclaiming Christ, the Crucified. Jews treat this like an anti-miracle—and Greeks pass it off as absurd. But to us who are personally called by God himself—both Jews and Greeks—Christ is God’s ultimate miracle and wisdom all wrapped up in one. (1 Corinthians 1:22-24 MSG)
I love the definition of obstacle if you just google it: a thing that blocks one's way or prevents or hinders progress.
This implies that there is a way, and that we are invited to progress and move forward as humans. And I can take that and do it in a super unhealthy way, but I hear the invitations of God to taste and see that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8) and Jesus saying I have come that they may have an abundant life (John 10:10).
The thing about obstacles is they’re just in the way. They’re not part of our God-given life--though I believe God uses them and allows them for us--and they’re even things that grow our faith. But they’re literally meant to be overcome. And not always through willpower or understanding, though those can be parts of it. But there’s a process to it, and as we see through the book of John, many people get to a place where they’re facing an obstacle (needing healing, needing food, needing the Messiah, etc.) and they choose to turn to Jesus for help.
What obstacles are you facing on the path of deepening belief in Jesus?
Take It Deeper Questions:
Read John 6:1-24
What do you feel and how do you tend to respond when you are misunderstood?
How do fascinations or infatuations tend to evolve over time?
If John was focused on the miraculous provision of manna (Exodus 16) and the provision of water (Exodus 17) as he told these stories, how is your understanding of Jesus deepened and/or focused?
How are you challenged, focused, confused or frustrated by this text?
Bible Reading Plan: