The gospel text for this Sunday [John 16:23-33] contains the last few words of what has been called the ‘farewell discourse’ of Jesus. The very next words of Jesus are his so-called ‘high priestly prayer’, and that is directed toward his heavenly Father (but we get to ‘listen in’). These words in the previous chapters are directed to Jesus’ disciples, his followers.
Jesus gives his followers some pretty amazing words. He had just told them that, although he would be leaving, they would see him and, more importantly, that he would see them. And he also told them that the Holy Spirit will speak the words that Jesus wants to be spoken. For Jesus to continue these connections with his followers is to show his great love for them.
Since this is the last look at his ‘farewell’, it is not at all inappropriate to look at the bigger picture of this gospel account and how it fits with the others. The Gospel according to John is very different from the others. When you go to any library, the number of books devoted to this gospel account is always more than the others. There is no institution of the Lord’s Supper in the Gospel according to John, but there are things which make us think about it (see John 6). There is no institution of Holy Baptism in this gospel account, but, again, there are things which make us think about it (see John 3 & 4). Much more could be said because it is so different.
If you want to talk chronologically, some people think that this account was the last one of the four to be written. Traditionally, John was the last of the original twelve disciples to be alive on earth. Others think that this gospel account was the first to be written. Perhaps both are true, and it just took a very long time to write!
The chronology would be important if this were a history lesson. The gospel is so much more than simply information. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus in the place of sinful humanity is unbelievably important, so much so that even Jesus is ultimately the messenger and not simply the message. As the important stories of the Old Testament are sometimes given again in a slightly different way, the facts about Jesus are repeated, with slightly different emphases on the special type of authority that he has.
The four accounts have noticeably different emphases. Each account can be connected to one of the four living creatures (man, lion, ox, eagle) of God’s throne, the throne being a symbol of authority. In the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus is a man, and, as a man, he spends a lot of time teaching with authority. In the Gospel according to Mark, Jesus is like a lion, and as a lion, he has a lot of ‘difficulties’ with those who have authority around him—and sometimes that includes even his disciples! This is a significantly different authority from the Gospel according to Luke. There the living creature is an ox. And an ox is a powerful creature, like the lion, but an ox will easily work with others. Very frequently in scripture, an ox is described in a group, as oxen. In this account, Jesus easily—and with a significant amount of authority—deals with the large variety of people who come up to him. And, as was mentioned above, the Gospel according to John is significantly different, and the living creature connected to that account is the eagle. And the eagle flies overhead and provides a significantly different perspective. And it is easy to see the authority in such a perspective.
Connections like these have been made for centuries. And when you start to view the gospel accounts as having slightly different, one-idea themes—instead of simply containing a huge amount of historical information—it is not too difficult to make other connections of these ‘themed’ gospel accounts to other signs of authority in scripture. For example, when there are four prohibitions that are put forward as important for the Gentiles in the early church to follow (see Acts 15), those prohibitions could be connected to Jesus’ actions while on earth. For the Jews, laws provided some structure in their lives, and having different aspects of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus emphasized in four different ways provided a firm gospel foundation upon which anyone, Jew or Gentile, could build. (For more detail, you might want to compare the four prohibitions in Acts 15 to the commands in Leviticus 17 &18, which is in the center of the central book of the Pentateuch; that these are commands include the 'sojourner' or non-Jew are pretty rare.)
What makes this connection even more interesting is that these four prohibitions are basically in two different orders (see 15:20; 29). The second time they are given, in their written form, the second and fourth prohibitions switch places. This switch is also what happens in some ancient manuscripts of the New Testament with the order of the four gospel accounts. Sometimes the four accounts are in a ‘Jewish’ order in which their authority is emphasized: first, the disciples; and then, the secretaries, with the longer account being first. So, sometimes, the order is ‘Matthew, John, Luke, Mark’.
Now with such an order, it makes sense that this last account has a longer ending (see Mark 16:9-20; who would want such a huge, literary masterpiece to end with absolutely no appearance of the resurrected Jesus?). But this order also fits with the outline of the Farewell Discourse. Some people think that the discourse has been pieced together from other discourses (again, a chronological or historical answer).
The farewell discourse is certainly not your typical discourse. While talking, Jesus says, ‘Rise, let us go from here (14:31b).’ And then he starts talking about vines and branches. Some people think that this was the topic because he happened to be walking by Herod’s temple at this time (and there was huge golden vine there).
There could be another reason for such a structure. There are two action verbs that Jesus connects to the work of the Holy Spirit before this ‘break’ in the discourse—teach and remind (or ‘bring to remembrance’; 14:26). Those two verbs make me think of the Gospel according to Matthew and the Gospel according to John. And then, with the mention of vines, this could be thought of in terms of wild and rapid growth, and this is basically what vines do if not pruned. A growth like this happens in the book of Acts. And, then, there are two more verbs connected to the work of the Holy Spirit—witness and convict (15:26 & 16:8). Those two verbs make me think of the Gospel according to Luke and the Gospel according to Mark. Those were written by the secretaries and not the disciples. In this way, I am reminded of the four accounts in their special, ‘Jewish’ order.
In the end, it is all from the same source. This structure of this discourse may be pointing to something bigger and more important, the structure of a fourfold gospel that fits together well and does its job extremely well (note the singular of the word ‘gospel’).
The Gospel according to John is certainly different from the others. And this is just an example of how broad a perspective this can be. God knew what he was doing. And he still knows what he is doing. And he still knows what YOU are doing!
Would you mind if Jesus would be watching you? Would you mind if Jesus would start talking to you through his texts, through his Spirit? I certainly hope not. Within the scriptures we see the great extent of his love, and the person with that love has very good eyesight.
The Gospel text for this Sunday [John 16:12-22] stands at a particularly significant spot within the four gospel accounts. In the three-year series, the fifth and sixth Sundays of Easter are taken from the part of the Gospel according to John called ‘The Farewell Discourse’. It works out well that since the discourse is basically three chapters long, each year looks at one particular chapter. This third year, we are looking at the last chapter, and Jesus is finishing things up with his disciples. This is his very last time to talk with all of them. And it seems he is getting ready to leave them.
But is this true? What starts within the middle of the text is a discussion among the disciples, and this is a discussion that continues to this day. There has been a long-standing debate regarding the meaning of the following words of Jesus: ‘A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me (verse 16).’ What DOES this mean [A good Lutheran question!]?
In other words, how long is a ‘little while’? The phrase can have an incredibly wide variety of length. If you are interested, in the original text, those words are basically one word, literally a ‘micron’. And, in our modern context, with microscopes and the definition of a micron as something incredibly small, we might think that Jesus means an incredibly short amount of time. But that is not the context of the text. Jesus said earlier that the Holy Spirit will be with them ‘forever’ (14:16). When compared to that amount of time, a little while could seem like a LONG while.
The two types of answers typically given are, first of all, that the second ‘little while’ focuses on the literal sight of the disciples after the resurrection of Jesus; they will see him. The second choice involves the entire Christian Church, that his followers will see Jesus after Pentecost—through the writings of the Church, the New Testament—or even after his Second Coming, on the Last Day. In the words of the Concordia Self-Study Bible (and this is a note that was added by the Lutheran editors),
‘Few doubt that the first phrase refers to the interval before the crucifixion. But interpretations differ as to whether the second refers to the interval preceding the resurrection or the coming of the coming of the Spirit or the second coming of Christ. It seems that the language here best fits the resurrection; cf. v. 22 (p. 1638).’
The verse referred to at the end of that quote points to these words of Jesus: ‘I will see you again….’ Jesus not only says to his disciples that they will see him, but that HE will see THEM. When will this happen?
To ask ‘when’ is an historical question. It may be better to ask ‘how’ this happens. How do Jesus’ followers see him? The more important question is this one: how does Jesus see his followers?
Obviously, you could answer that question in this way: ‘With their eyes, of course!’ But there could be something more to this. Sometimes, within this gospel account, there is more to the text ‘than meets the eye’ [Sorry, I couldn’t resist.].
I am inclined to say that Jesus has all Christians in mind with this text. He has a much broader perspective, one that fits with this gospel account. In the words of the Concordia Self-Study Commentary (not to be confused with source of the above quote), the emphasis is on both: ‘Jesus sees in one perspective His resurrection and His return in glory at the end of days; the little while (16) of which He speaks is both the three days of His entombment and the time until His second coming (p. 100).’
Consider, first of all, that John, the Evangelist, probably lived longer than any of the other original twelve disciples (see John 20:23). Many people wanted to hear many details about Jesus; and they certainly would have liked to see him! And John also knew that Jesus wanted for those followers to know many things about himself. Both Jesus and all his followers wanted to be closely connected. But how does this happen?
Consider, also, that the four gospel accounts work together in a wonderful way; they work together in an effort to get an important message from throne of God. Now since it is not possible for people to come before the throne of God because of sin, the next option was for people to have received the message from the messenger who was sent out from before that throne. As that very special messenger came, he had the authority of the One who sent him. And that authority shows itself in four distinct ways (as the throne itself shows the authority of the king), and these different pictures of authority are in the four gospel accounts.
I would also like to point out that all of these four gospel accounts, in different ways, use a literary device that helps to bring to Jesus into the present. Instead of saying, ‘He did this,’ sometimes the text says, ‘He does this.’ Instead of saying, ‘He said this,’ sometimes the text says, ‘He says this.’ This is a way that Jesus comes into the present. This is a way that Jesus can see and be seen, even today. The words that are in the present tense are slightly different within each gospel account, and those words fit quite well with the type of authority that is pictured in that gospel account.
These texts are meant for all people, in whatever situation they are in. All people can see Jesus in these texts, and Jesus can see all people in these texts.
These four gospel accounts were not meant to be a history lesson; they work together to form a well-planned, well-constructed rescue attempt. The important thing to remember is that, as Jesus sees people and people see Jesus in the text, and he is giving what he promises in a very loving way, through words, simple words, important words, saving words.
We are connected to Jesus in a very loving way, and he uses the Holy Spirit to reach out to us. [More on this next week.]
Obviously, the gospel text is important on any Sunday. The congregation usually stands when that text is read. And it is usually quite easy to see that the focus of the text is, in some way, Jesus. But sometimes the messenger can receive more attention than the message. In an effort to focus more on the message, the focus this time will be on the First Reading, from the Book of Acts [20:17-35].
It is a rather obscure speech of Paul. But it is an important one. He is speaking to the Ephesian elders. One writer calls this ‘perhaps the most controversial and important of all the speeches in the Lukan account of him (Alan J. Bale, Genre and Narrative Coherence in the Acts of the Apostles, p. 192).’ In essence, it is most controversial because it is the most different when compared to Paul’s epistles. Also in essence, it is most important because it contains the word ‘gospel’ in its noun form. And this only happens two times within ALL of Luke-Acts (Acts 15:7 and 20:24). Instead of comparing this speech of Paul to his epistles, I would like to suggest comparing this speech to the speech of someone in the Old Testament.
Paul was a prophet, teaching the Word of the Lord. Samuel, in the Old Testament, was a prophet as well—and an important one. Both prophets were present at a time of transition. Paul was one of the apostles and was transitioning the followers of Jesus to be served by pastors. Samuel was transitioning the people to have a king. And both men were also thought to be writers (it is tradition that Samuel wrote the book of Judges).
There is one more comparison to be made. Paul is nearing the end of his road. He said that he is headed to Jerusalem and that ‘imprisonment and afflictions’ await him. Samuel is nearing the end of his road as well. In 1 Samuel 12, there is what has been called Samuel’s ‘farewell speech’. And what is interesting is that there is some significant, similar language.
What is that significant, similar language? With the perspective of scripture that values being in the presence of God, the ultimate King, who sometimes is also a judge, a significant word is to testify or witness. This means to state the evidence of a case before a king. These two things—of being in the presence of someone important and to testify/witness—are seen several times in this first paragraph of 1 Samuel 12 and are given in bold (within this ESV translation):
And Samuel said to all Israel, ‘Behold, I have obeyed your voice in all that you have said to me and have made a king over you. And now, behold, the king walks before you, and I am old and gray; and behold, my sons are with you. I have walked before you from my youth until this day. Here I am; testify against me before the LORD and before his anointed. Whose ox have I taken? Or whose donkey have I taken? Or whom have I defrauded? Whom have I oppressed? Or from whose hand have I taken a bribe to blind my eyes with it? Testify against me and I will restore it to you.’ They said, ‘You have not defrauded us or oppressed us or taken anything from any man’s hand.’ And he said to them, ‘The LORD is witness against you, and his anointed is witness this day, that you have not found anything in my hand.’ And they said, ‘He is witness.’
Usually we hear that the king is the important one and people walk before him, but, in this case, the king is walking before ‘you’, meaning the people of Israel. Is that accurate?
Yes, it is! Although it is unusual, Israel has some authority in this situation. Israel has authority because the Lord wants to give it in this special circumstance. He does not want to rule with an obvious show of power; he also does not want the king of Israel to rule in similar ways to other countries. Our God does not have to do things that the world expects, like the world does. He wants to rule in a hidden way, through some chosen special instruments or means.
It is the same way with pastors (elders). They are given authority because the Lord wants to give it in a hidden and gentle way. This is a special circumstance. God does not come down and rule his Church with an obvious show of power. He CAME down and ruled with love—a love which is based on what Jesus did on the cross; It was there that he was the king over sin, death, and the devil. What a king!
If you look at the speech to the Ephesian elders, Paul is talking about himself a lot. But the ultimate focus is not himself. He wants to transition his special (hidden) authority to the elders. You can see this in his use of the word ‘testify’.
In the above paragraph, that word is first used when Samuel says, ‘testify against me before the LORD and before his anointed.’ This first time, the word ‘testify’ literally means ‘answer’. And in this special situation, the phrase ‘before the Lord’ does not involve seeing his face like before. In other words, the way the LORD shows himself is in a hidden way AGAIN! The focus is rather on the frequent word, to ‘testify’. The LOVING LORD wants the right words to be spoken. He wants LOVING words to be spoken. Words convey the LORD’s love in a loving way.
That is the same case in Paul’s speech to the Ephesian elders. He uses the word to ‘witness’ or ‘testify’ four times. The first three times have a prefix attached and make the witnessing emphatically important. The fourth time he uses the word (verse 26), he is simply stating that he is innocent, and compared to the LORD’s message, that is not the important thing.
In the middle time of the three, the Holy Spirit is testifying about what awaits Paul; again, not that important (verse 23). At the first and the third times, Paul is testifying about two things that are critically important: 1) repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ (verse 21), and 2) the gospel of the grace of God (verse 24). Both these things are extremely foundational AND contain some relatively new words within the New Testament. But we can look at that some other time.
The gospel text for this Sunday [John 21:1-14] is from the very last chapter of the four gospel accounts—if they are in their usual order. This fact alone helps us have a broader perspective.
The previous chapter, John 20, ended with this already broad perspective:
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his 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 (verses 30 & 31).
Many have thought that the account should end there. But there is more. It should be noted that all the ancient manuscripts also include the next chapter. This chapter contains the ‘third time that Jesus was revealed (John 21:14; note that the text does not say that Jesus revealed himself; there is Someone working behind the scenes.)’.
The basic text for this Sunday ends at verse 14. So there is the option of including verses 15 through 19. And the chapter goes on until verse 25. Because the reason for this chapter is given within these last verses, the entire section is given here (with the ESV translation). There is a gradual heightening of the excitement level, especially since Peter three times had recently denied he knew Jesus. And the quotation ends with a possible world full of books!
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ He said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ He said to him a second time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ He said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’ He said to him a third time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ Peter was grieved because he said to him a third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.’ (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’
Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who had been reclining at table close to him and had said, ‘Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?’ When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, what about this man?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!’ So the saying spread among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?’
This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who had written these things, and we know that his testimony is true.
Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.
After the 1700’s, because of the many advancements in civilization, some people were very optimistic that they could write down record about the past and therefore reconstruct it ‘as it actually happened’ (see the works of L. von Ranke). Looking at the last sentence of the quote above, there seems to be an optimism there as well. But it seems to be an optimism focused on the amazing actions of Jesus.
It also seems that the writer of this gospel account lived a while after Jesus ascended into heaven—that was certainly the tradition. (It is interesting that the word ‘saying’ that spread about the writer being around until Jesus’ return is the same Greek word for ‘word’ in the very first verses of this account; there is an important 'Word' at the very beginning of this account and a not-so-important 'word' at the very end.) And it also seems that more than one person has asked the writer not only if he would live until Jesus came back, but it seems he was also being asked for even more details about Jesus.
When a person wants what ACTUALLY happened, that person is asking for a lot. It seems that the writer of this chapter is giving them something extra, something that may not necessarily have been given so that the reader or the listener believes in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and has life in that name.
Do you want something that interests you, or do you want something that saves you? Do you want something that activates your brain, or do you want something that saves your entire body? This chapter is a good reminder that it is easy for us to get distracted from the most amazing action of Jesus. That special Word was made flesh, and that flesh went to the cross and the (eventually empty) tomb for sinful mankind.