Selçuk is a city in Turkey. Its original Greek name was Agios Theologos, in honour of the Apostle John. John is believed to have lived in a town 2 kilometres (1 mile) to the south called Ephesus. It was in Ephesus that he wrote his Gospel.
The church in Ephesus is one of the seven churches mentioned by John in the book of Revelation. God says of the Christians in Ephesus, “You have examined the claims of those who say they are apostles but are not. You have discovered they are liars.”
While John was living in Ephesus, the church was struggling with issues of false teaching. When John wrote his Gospel, one of his major aims was to counter false teaching about the identity of Jesus.
Acts 19 informs us of a group in Ephesus who were followers of John the Baptist. They did not believe in Jesus until Paul taught them. At John’s time it seems there were still some people who venerated John the Baptist so highly they were in danger of becoming a sect. They emphasised morality like John the Baptist had and urged repentance, but they missed the emphasis on the Holy Spirit brought by Jesus.
What we find in John’s Gospel is that every time he mentions John the Baptist, he does it in a way that puts John down. So for example, he says that John was not the light of the world. John only pointed toward the light. John never performed a miracle. On a more positive note, John the Baptist said two important things about Jesus. First, Jesus is the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Second, Jesus is the one who baptises in the Holy Spirit.
Only Jesus is able to remove your sin. John the Baptist had said this, but his followers in Ephesus did not seem to remember it. They were so intent upon the one pointing they did not see who he was pointing at.
There is a similar problem when Hindu or Moslem believers do not realise that their writings point to Jesus.
The Quran, the holy book of Moslems, points to Jesus and says he is unique among the prophets. It says he went to heaven and still lives there with Allah. And that he will return on the Day of Resurrection.
Hinduism teaches the need for a perfect sacrifice (purusha) to atone for sin. Jesus is the only perfect sacrifice, and so Hinduism also highlights the need for Jesus.
God is telling everyone that they need Jesus. Jesus is the only way.
There are many stories of devout Moslems being led to Jesus by the Quran. Ali Pektash, a Turkish man whose life was in shambles, decided to go on a pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, in order to find some clarity in his life. To his utter surprise, Jesus Christ appeared to him twice in a dream right in the heart of the Islamic world.
Sadhu Chellappa is a Christian from Tamil Nadu in south India. He was raised as a Hindu. One day, while reciting the Shlokas, he began to think about the legend of “Prajapati” (the lord of the people) that is mentioned in the Vedas. This historic figure was supposed to take the sins of the world and die for it. He also had to remain sinless and wear a wild thorny creeper on his head. He was to die for the sins of the world and resurrect. Sadhu Chellapa was really interested in this deity Prajapati, who is mentioned in Rig Veda as a “silent sufferer”. So he started searching for him. He asked many questions to other priests and Brahmans in the temples. He was determined to search out Prajapati. It is a long story and he has written a book about it, but eventually Sadhu found Jesus.
Instead of focusing on the finger that is pointing, we need to look where it is pointing. This is what John is doing for us in his Gospel. He is pointing us toward Jesus. All of us believers, pastors and every disciple, should also be pointing people toward Jesus.
The first problem that the Gospel of John tries to solve is a view of John the Baptist that is far too high. The second problem is a view of Jesus that is too low.
Partly this was a natural reflection of the common view of the time. Greek philosophy taught that life was divided into two spheres – spiritual and physical, sacred and secular. One of these two spheres was thought to be more important than the other. They did not agree which one though.
Plato said spiritual was more real. Aristotle said physical was more real.
This created a real problem for teaching that Jesus was both. They thought it was impossible for the two to be put together like this – earthly and heavenly, divine and human.
Rather than change their philosophy, they tried to change God’s word. The result was an effort to decide which side of reality Jesus was really on.
Attempt one was to argue that Jesus was divine, and only appeared to be human. This heresy is called ‘docetism’, and claims that Jesus was actually a phantom and his body was an illusion. He was never really human.
Attempt two was to argue that Jesus was more human. He was a normal person except that he was able to perfectly relate to God in the same way all of us could if we had no sin. He was God’s adopted son, and never his real son. This heresy is called adoptionism, and you may still hear sermons that agree with this view in some places.
Attempt three was to argue that Jesus was a bit of each and not say he was more one than the other. This view is common today and is taught by Jehova’s Witnesses.
Jehova’s Witnesses claim Jesus is a demi-God. He was created by God and is semi-human. For this reason they have their own translation of today’s Scripture reading so that verse one says “the Word was ‘a’ God”. The original Greek never says ‘a God’.
Four, John’s answer to these heresies is to explain that Jesus is fully God and fully man. For the people of Ephesus to have life, they had to believe in the same Jesus as the apostles. The same applies of course to all of us here today.
To show us the true humanity of Jesus, John shows him crying over the death of a friend. He tells us how Jesus got hungry and thirsty and tired and surprised. John tells us that in Jesus we can see what a human should really be like. We can see in Jesus how we could all be since all of us are just as human as he was.
John emphasises how much Jesus prayed. That’s how much we should pray. Jesus needed to pray, so do we. Jesus really died, so will we. John also tells us with eyewitness testimony that Jesus was resurrected. So can you and all humans who follow Jesus.
John also is at great pains to emphasise that Jesus is divine. He is fully divine. This emphasis is at the heart of John’s Gospel. He lays out three arguments for the divinity of Jesus. Each argument has seven points.
Argument one is witnesses. There are personal testimonies to Jesus from seven people who say he is divine. These seven are John the Baptist, Nathanael, Peter, Martha, Thomas, John, and Jesus himself. Jewish law only required three witness, but seven is the perfect number in Hebrew thinking.
Argument two is signs. John tells us of seven miracles, signs that point to Jesus. For these signs he chooses particular miracles that no one else could perform. There were many other people at that time who cast out demons, for example. Even Pharisees did that. John doesn’t tell us about Jesus casting out demons.
John tells us of the feeding of the 5,000 and turning water into wine. He tells of Jesus walking on water and performing three most remarkable healings. And finally, of him raising Lazarus from the dead. As Nicodemus said, only God’s power could do these things.
Lastly, John repeats the words ‘I Am’ seven times. When Jesus feeds the 5,000 he says ‘I am the bread of heaven.’ When he gives sight to the blind man he says ‘I am the light of the world.’ When he raises Lazarus he says ‘I am the resurrection and the life.’ He also says ‘I am the door’, ‘I am the good shepherd’, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’ and ‘I am the true vine’.
Jesus is not just fully human. Jesus is fully God. You can trust him with your life.