Today we are continuing our conversation through the Book of John.
We have to keep John’s objective in our sights:
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.
Belief and transformation takes so much more than hearing it, being able to repeat it and declaring that you have it.
John’s objective is through processing.
John’s objective is through struggling and questioning.
John’s objective is chosen in faith.
John’s objective is self-actuated, not forced.
We are walking in processing. We will ask questions, not just give answers. We will leave things incomplete. We will walk together as community into this, hearing each other's perspective, hearing each other’s clarity, hearing each other's questions.
Asking each other questions is a beautiful process. Think about it. When you ask a question you are opening the door to deeper understanding, to giving space to process. When you ask a question you are believing that the answerer has value to give. It’s respectful, and ultimately asking questions is a posture of having hope.
Let’s be that as a community. During Sunday morning, let's see the value others have to bring to the conversation: the differing perspective that can help build our understanding, the gracious and honest answers that we can give as a gift to one another. To allow questions and answers is to really believe that God is who He claims to be. It’s a posture of hope.
What is it like to have a relationship with someone who just wants to give all their answers?
John in chapter one is laying down the groundwork as he starts the walk towards his objective.
Jesus is God and is distinct in God.
Jesus is the Messiah.
There is life in relationship with Jesus.
Jesus is God with us.
Jesus is the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world.
And then today as Jesus is calling His first disciples, the chapter ends with what the initial readers would have seen as a clear reference to the covenant relationship with God.
What would life be like if you never forgot anything? Think about both the good and the bad.
There are countless themes in Scripture. One is forgetfulness. We see people forgetting the bad or forgetting pain. The Israelites had left Egypt in Exodus where they had been slaves, and oppressed. And just a moment after their delivery from slavery, this happens in Exodus 16.
The whole Israelite community set out from Elim and came to the Desert of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had come out of Egypt. In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”
We also see the other side of forgetfulness after Jesus feeds over 5000 people miraculously in Matthew 14. When Jesus and His disciples are again in a moment where there are thousands of hungry people and almost no resources, they forget what he had just performed.
Jesus called his disciples to Him and said, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way.” His disciples answered, “Where could we get enough bread in this remote place to feed such a crowd?” “How many loaves do you have?” Jesus asked. “Seven,” they replied, “and a few small fish.”
Forgetfulness is also connected to what God does with our failing or sin. He remembers our sins no more. He forgets.
I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions, for My own sake, and remembers your sins no more.
“This is the covenant I will make with them after that time,” says the Lord. “I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.” Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.”
Other than just forgetting, for what other reasons do people need to be reminded of things?
John chapter one ends with the calling of Nathaniel.
[Jesus] then added, “Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man.”
John would have been referencing his own understanding. Heaven open and angels and God ascending and descending were a clear pointing towards a dream that Jacob had in Genesis 28. This vision in Genesis is not just about some heavenly escalator. It points to a restating of the covenant God made with Abraham.
He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. There above it stood the Lord, and He said: “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
Why would God need to restate the covenant?
Why would God need to remind the Israelites?
Yes, it is about forgetfulness, but it can go so much deeper than just “I forgot.”
There may be insecurity or trust issues. Something might be difficult to learn or understand. There could be difficulty in communicating these promises to the next generation. Or the impact changes over time and is revealed through experience. Maybe God is offering the opportunity to choose again, or is reminding them that it is still real and still happening.
This will go back to John’s objective.
What do you need to be continually reminded of in relationships?
The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, He said to him, “Follow Me.” Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. “Come and see,” said Philip. When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, He said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” “How do You know me?” Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the king of Israel.” Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” He then added, “Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man.”
If John were writing this on a website, verse 51 would be linked back to the story of Jacob in Genesis 25-28.
What is remarkable about the timing of God’s restating the covenant with Jacob in this story?
“How do You know me?” Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the king of Israel.” Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” He then added, “Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man.”
Nathaniel is blown away by Jesus’ recognition of his sitting under the “fig tree,” or having a quiet time.
Jesus recognizes Nathaniel at his “best,” but the narrative of Jacob shows that God also recognizes people at their “worst.” When you are at your worst, when you feel the worst, when everything is broken--the covenant still remains.
What insight can we draw from God’s commitment to relationship even while we are at our worst?
I really identify a lot with Peter. Peter has a lot of interactions with Jesus and a lot of roller coaster experiences--some pretty high highs and some pretty low lows. He might have had the perspective that Jesus saw him at his best and his worst. We’d have a lot to connect on if he were around today. We’d probably be friends because we would “get each other.”
Jesus, before anything crazy good or bad happens, speaks to Peter’s created value. Peter was called Simon, but Jesus calls him Peter, in reference to the future of God building HIs church, even though Peter hadn’t done anything worthy of the name yet.
Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter).
In my mind, this means that things are set, that when hardship would come his way, he wouldn’t fail. Yet all of his experiences in the first part of the New Testament are full of failures.
Jesus wanted to wash his feet; he said no way. He walked on water but then was afraid and didn’t trust. He was overzealous and cut off the ear of a servant of those who arrested Jesus. He told Jesus he would die with Him but then denied even knowing Jesus because he was afraid. All of these things were still in the future when Jesus said to Simon, “You will be called Peter and I’ll build the church on you.” I’m going to use you even though you’re going to screw up.
As we think about this covenant concept, we need to remember this covenant God has invited us to. We need reminders. And we need to be able to see what’s true even in spite of our worst.
Israel had many moments of needing reminders. Calls back to God. Repentance. And every time God’s position was clear--that He was going to fulfill his commitment to covenant with his people. If you read the book of Ezekiel, you’ll see that Israel strayed far from God. Even to the point of bringing idols into God’s temple and worshipping them instead of God. Uh-oh. Literally, the God of the universe was right in front of them and instead they brought other things into His house and worshipped them instead.
Yet God didn’t go back on his covenant.
This text from Ezekiel paints this clearly. Israel had committed idolatry time and time again and even brought idols into their worship of God. Literally, the God of the universe was right in front of them and they were worshipping other things. Uh-oh.
Yet I will remember the covenant I made with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you.
In the moment that we’ve realized the error of our ways, it’s good that we pursue connection with God. But we can feel like He’s about to smite us or that He’s just putting up with us because He’s God. Maybe He loves us because it’s who He is and He’s supposed to, but He doesn’t actually like us. It’s in these moments that I need help. I need reminders of what is actually true. I need God’s push and guidance and encouragement in moments of fear, worry, anxiety, unbelief. I can hear the words of the father of the possessed son in Mark 9. I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!
There are so many people throughout Scripture who seemed to have “gotten it.” Paul. The criminal on the cross next to Jesus. Mary who sat at Jesus’ feet while Martha hurriedly prepared. The woman with the issue of blood who thought, “If I could just touch Jesus’ cloak I’ll be healed.” So many more.
They saw Jesus for who He was, right in front of them, and believed that what He said was true.
We’re faced with the same prospect. And we might respond any number of ways.
We might think we can be “good enough” to have a relationship with God.
Or we might think it’s impossible to be “good enough” to have a relationship with God. Both views miss the point.
Whether we’re at what we think is our best or our worst, God’s position toward us and the covenant He’s extending toward us don’t change. This isn’t to say that we should aim for our worst. But God’s commitment to relationship with me and you is set in stone even when we are at our worst.
Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Even through Peter’s immense list of failures, God remained faithful to covenant with Him. Jesus didn’t give up on him, and we see him live out relationship with God. Weak, fearful, pretends-he-doesn’t-know-Jesus Peter, becomes powerful, confident, father-of-the-church Peter, to the point that Peter later dies nearly the same death as Jesus.
This man who denied Jesus ended up dying for him. It’s the same person, and I think that the Peter we see at the end of his life understood the covenant God had made with him and had had enough reminders to “get it.”
You are already the person God is interested in. You’re His person. He establishes covenant with you. You are part of the equation and can choose to say no to covenant. Or you can choose to say yes. I encourage you, as I need encouragement as well, to say yes to God’s covenant and everything it entails.
I need this reminder 1000 times over. What reminder do you need?
What do you need to be reminded of in order to “remember” that God is committed to a relationship with you even when you are at your worst?
Read John 1:35-51
As a child, what would it take for you to believe something your brother or sister told you?
What is a disciple of Jesus? Historically and currently?
What insights do you get into following Jesus as you see Jesus calling His first disciples?
What are some different reasons or motives for following Jesus?
John’s last words of chapter one refer to Jacob’s dream in Genesis 28:1-15. Why was reminding the disciples of the ancient covenant important? How is hearing the covenant important for you?
Bible Reading Plan