That You Might Believe:
An Introduction to the Gospel of John
A Sermon by the
Rev. S. Randall Toms, Ph.D.
April 13, 2021
And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name. (John 20:30-31)
Of all the gospels, perhaps the Gospel of John is the most frequently quoted. I suppose the most memorized verse in all of Scripture is John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life,” a verse which has been called “the gospel in a nutshell.” We are lost in sin, in danger of perishing eternally, but God loved us so much that he sent his only begotten Son into the world, to die on the cross in our place, for that was the only way that we could have been granted the gift of everlasting life. This verse, and the rest of the gospel of John proclaim repeatedly that this gift of eternal life comes to us simply by believing in Jesus Christ. Sadly, most people in the world do not believe in Jesus, nor do they know what it even means to believe in him. As I was watching the funeral service of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, and looked at that beautiful chapel, I thought of all the grand cathedrals scattered across Britain, almost totally empty each Sunday. Almost no one in Britain truly believes in the Lord Jesus Christ, even in a place that once would have been called “Christian England.”
But it has always been difficult to believe in Jesus, and it was for that reason that the gospel of John was written. In some gospels, we wonder what might have been the overall purpose of the writing of that gospel, but in the gospel of John there is no doubt. John tells us very plainly in our text, “And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ the son of God; and that believing, ye might have life through his name” (John 20:30-1). So, as we go through this gospel, we must keep this passage of Scripture in mind. Everything that is written here was given to us that we might have faith in Jesus Christ. All the teachings that came from the lips of our Lord in this gospel were recorded so that we might believe in him. Even the miracles that he performed were done so that we might have faith.
The miracles in the gospel of John are called “signs.” In our text you will notice that John says, “And many other signs truly did Jesus…” A sign is an action that points beyond itself to a great truth. When Jesus healed someone, the miracle was a sign that teaches us something about himself. Some people were excited by these miracles that Jesus was doing. A man named Nicodemus was extremely impressed by these miracles, and he realized that these were “signs,” but Nicodemus did not really know what the signs revealed. Nicodemus said, “Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him” (John 3:2). For Nicodemus, these miracles simply meant that Jesus was a great teacher sent from God. Moses was a teacher sent from God, and he did great signs—great miracles. Elijah and Elisha were great teachers and prophets sent from God, and the proof that they were sent from God was that they could do these amazing miracles. So, for Nicodemus, these signs performed by Jesus confirmed that he was a teacher sent from God. And some people still see Jesus as nothing more than a great teacher. They see Jesus as just someone in a long line of philosophers or teachers. They see Jesus as another Buddha, a Socrates, a Plato, or a Confucius. If people say that they believe in Jesus, some mean that they believe that he was merely a man who left us some good religious, philosophical, or ethical principles to live by.
But John’s Gospel is written to tell us that he was more than just a great teacher. Our text tells us first that this gospel has been written that we might believe that Jesus is the Christ; that is, the Messiah for whom the Jews had long been waiting. As you know, Jesus came into the world, proclaimed that he was the Messiah, but most Jews rejected his claims. How could this carpenter’s son have been the Messiah? How could a man who died on the cross as a criminal and blasphemer have been the Christ? As St. Paul writes, “But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness” (I Cor. 1:23). One of the primary reasons the Jews rejected Jesus was because he had been crucified. But John will point out that this very crucifixion was one of the proofs that Jesus was the Messiah foretold by the prophets. John seems to be focused on this one great truth: Jesus is the Messiah for whom the Jews have been waiting.
It is interesting that in Matthew’s gospel, we must wait until Matthew 16:16 for Peter’s great confession: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” But in John’s gospel, the fact that he is the Messiah is emphasized from the beginning. Andrew meets with Jesus, and he immediately knows that Jesus is the Messiah: “One of the two which heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first findeth his own brother Simon, and saith unto him, We have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ” (John 1:40-1). Philip knows immediately that Jesus is the Messiah: “The day following Jesus would go forth into Galilee, and findeth Philip, and saith unto him, Follow me. Now Philip was of Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (John 1:43-45). Jesus reveals to the woman at the well that he is the Messiah: “The woman saith unto him, I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things. Jesus saith unto her, I that speak unto thee am he. And upon this came his disciples, and marvelled that he talked with the woman: yet no man said, What seekest thou? or, Why talkest thou with her? The woman then left her waterpot, and went her way into the city, and saith to the men, Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?” Jesus tells the woman at the well that he is the Messiah, and she goes and tells the people of Samaria that Jesus must be the Messiah. Then, after they have talked with Jesus, the men of Samaria tell the woman, “Now we believe, not because of thy saying: for we have heard him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world” (John 4:42). It is obvious that John, from the outset, is making plain to his readers that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah.
Some scholars have speculated that John wrote his gospel at a time when Christians and Jews were still going to the synagogue together, and it may have been that these debates were happening within the synagogues about whether Jesus was the Messiah, and John was writing his gospel to show them that Jesus was indeed the one who had been foretold by the prophets. That may explain why there is so much talk in John’s gospel about being put out of the synagogue. Those Jews who accepted the truth that Jesus was the Messiah were forbidden to attend the synagogues. We read in John 9:22: “…for the Jews had agreed already, that if any man did confess that he was Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue.” Notice that it was this truth that Jesus was the Messiah which caused the Jews to cast people out of the synagogue, in effect, excommunicating them. In John 12:42, we read, “Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue.” Then, Jesus told his disciples just before his death, “They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service” (John 16:2). It may be that John has Jews primarily in mind when he writes his gospel, demonstrating from the Old Testament scriptures and by his miracles, that Jesus was the Messiah.
But John’s gospel was designed to do more than demonstrate that Jesus was the Messiah. John’s purpose is to reveal that Jesus is the Son of God. In our text, John says, “But these are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.” John the Baptist says early on in this gospel, “And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God” (John 1:34). Nathanael says, “Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel” (John 1:49). Jesus declares himself to be the Son of God. After he had healed the man blind from birth, we read of Jesus’s encounter with this man whom he had healed: “Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when he had found him, he said unto him, Dost thou believe on the Son of God? He answered and said, Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on him? And Jesus said unto him, Thou hast both seen him, and it is he that talketh with thee. And he said, Lord, I believe. And he worshipped him” (John 9:35-38). Jesus does not say that the man should not worship him. He receives his worship, for he is the divine Son of God.
Jesus is the son of God, but he is the son of God in a unique way. We are all children of God in the sense that God created us. Christians are children of God in a way the rest of the people in the world are not. John writes, “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name” (John 1:12). We become the children of God by believing in Jesus Christ. But Jesus is the eternally begotten Son of God. “For God so loved the world that he gave his ONLY begotten Son.” We become sons of God by faith in Christ, but Jesus is the unique son of God, for he was eternally begotten of the Father. Like his Father, the Son of God had no beginning. Jesus existed in the eternal ages before he came into the world, so that on the night he was betrayed, he prayed, “And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was” (John 17:5). Jesus shared the eternal glory of God without beginning or end. Since he had existed from all eternity past, Jesus could speak of himself as having come into the world. No other person could say he came into the world. We had no existence before our conception and birth. But Jesus could say, “For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me” (John 6:38).
Since Jesus is the Son of God, he is the perfect revelation of who God is. If you want to know who God is, if you want to know what God is like, you look at the Son of God, for he is the perfect image of his Father. Jesus could say, “I and my Father are one” (John 10:30). The writer to the Hebrews says, “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person…” (Hebrews 1:1-3). Notice how the writer to the Hebrews says the Jesus is the Son of God and also that he is the “express image” or, as one translation has it, “the exact imprint” of the very nature of God Himself. Therefore, to reject Jesus is to reject God. There is no such thing as believing in God, but not believing in Jesus. Jesus told Philip, “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (John 14:9). No one can say that God is his Father if they have not believed in Jesus his Son. Jesus said clearly, “He that believeth on me, believeth not on me, but on him that sent me. And he that seeth me seeth him that sent me. I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness. And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day” (John 12:44-48). How much plainer can it be? If you reject Jesus, you are rejecting both God and the word of God. So, John writes his gospel not only that we might believe that Jesus is the Son of God, but that we might believe in God Himself, for Jesus, his Son, is God’s perfect revelation of himself.
But John not only writes so that we might believe that that Jesus is the Messiah, not only that we might believe that Jesus is the Son of God, but also that we might believe that Jesus is God. When John begins his gospel, he starts with this beautiful, deeply theological statement that Jesus is the Word: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). Then, we find that this Word is a person: “The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:2-3). This Word is not some kind of abstract concept of “reason,” but a person. This Word, this person that was in the beginning with God, this person that was God, becomes flesh: “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Here we have the miracle of the incarnation. The word becomes flesh. God becomes man. Jesus is more than just the perfect revelation of God because he was so much like God. He is the perfect revelation of God because he is God. One of the reasons the Jews hated him so much was that he claimed to be God. Jesus once told them, “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58). Jesus claims to be the great I AM, the I AM that appeared to Moses at the burning bush. When Moses asked God his name, he simply said, “I am.” I am the eternal one—the one who was, and is, and is to come. He is the one who has existed from all eternity past, the I am, and Jesus claims that title for himself. After Jesus said these words, the Jews took up stones to kill him, because in their view, he had committed blasphemy. Truly, if he is not the eternal God, he has indeed committed blasphemy, for only God has the right to refer to himself as “I am.” All that Jesus taught and all that Jesus did, proved that he is the eternal God.
Finally, after the resurrection, one of his disciples, oddly enough, the one we call “doubting Thomas,” sees this truth more clearly than anyone had up until that moment. When Jesus tells Thomas, “Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing,” Thomas replies, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). John 1:1 (“the Word was God”) and John 20:28 (“my Lord and my God”) are like bookends of this great gospel. It begins with the declaration that He is God, and it ends in the same way.
This gospel of John was written so we might believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God–God himself–God in the flesh. Let me ask you if you have believed in Jesus. I am not asking you if you believe in Jesus the great teacher. I am asking you if you believe that he is the Messiah, the Son of God, the eternal God—God in the flesh. If you do not, then you will perish eternally. This eternal God came in the flesh so that he could die on a cruel Roman cross for your sins—to offer himself in your place as your sacrifice. Repent of your sins and believe in him. If you do not, then Jesus says that you will die in your sins. He said, “Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world. I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins” (John 8:23-24). If you do not believe in Jesus, you will stand before God guilty, unforgiven, only to perish eternally. But if you believe in him, you will have life. John says that he wrote his gospel so you might believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the son of God, so that through believing you might have life in his name. Jesus came to give you life—real life. If you do not believe in Jesus, you are not really living—you are only existing. To be really alive you must have spiritual life. If you do not know Christ, the Scriptures say that you are spiritually dead. But when Christ comes into your life, you will live. You will have union and fellowship with God. You will be made a child of God. You will be given that abundant, eternal life, that Jesus promises to all who come to him. God will be your Father. He will be with you throughout your life to comfort and guide you as a loving Father. You will know the Father’s eternal love as Jesus knew it. Then, after this life, you will enjoy fellowship with the Father and the Son eternally. John’s gospel was written, and this sermon has been preached, so that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name. Amen.