For a couple of weeks I have been meditating in and preaching from the story of Jesus’ first miracle, the turning of water into wine, from John’s Gospel, chapter 2. I have very much enjoyed this engagement with the passage in John, and hope you enjoy the message.
The disciples were behind locked doors, in self-isolation. Things were bad and could get immeasurably worse. They were afraid. Afraid of the Jews. Afraid of the Romans. Afraid they might be accused. Afraid that they might die. Jesus had been executed by the Romans for what we might call treason. They, as his followers, may be next.
Nonetheless, they were not isolated from Jesus. “Jesus came and stood among them . . . ”
He showed them his wounds, he the Crucified One. He the One who had been killed, now the Resurrected One, present with them in person, risen . . . alive. And into their fear and isolation he speaks a word of peace. In fact, he speaks it twice:
“Peace be with you . . . Peace be with you.”
He is only repeating here something he had said just a few days before:
Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me . . . Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid . . . I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world (John 14:1, 27; 16:33).
Even in isolation, even behind locked doors, they were not isolated from Jesus. Jesus came, Jesus stood with and among them, Jesus blessed them with his gifts of peace and of the Spirit.
This peace is one of the most precious gifts we receive in Christ. A true peace. A peace that keeps hearts and minds, a peace that seeps into the depths of our being. A peace by which we enter into rest, even in the midst of hardship and strife.
If you are in isolation, behind locked doors, you are not alone. Take these verses and practise a little lectio divina: read them slowly and prayerfully a few times, using your imagination to enter into the story yourself. What do you see and feel, hear and experience? Meditate and hear Jesus personally speaking to you , “Peace be with you.”
Receive his gift of peace. Share your heart with him. Sit in stillness with him, in adoration of him, and let his peace seep into very being.
Peace be with you, the gift of his peace, now, at this time.
Recently I read through the Gospel of John, reflecting on it one chapter at a time and making some notes. Of course I have read John previously, some parts of it many times. Nevertheless I found myself arrested when I arrived at John 9, the story of the man born blind.
This magnificent story refuses to draw a connection between sin and disability, as those in the ancient world were, and sometimes today are still, inclined to do. Rather Jesus does the work of God which in this case involves healing and restoration—and so indicates the kind of kingdom for which Christians hope. And John, as he does elsewhere in the Gospel, uses the story to point to Jesus’ identity, and to the necessity of appropriate human response to him and his message.
John makes this plain by his portrayal of the encounter between the religious authorities and the healed man. The Pharisees are disturbed by Jesus’ lack of orthodoxy and his popularity. He does not adhere to the standards that they believe are necessary if one claims to know and represent God. And they are infuriated by the plain though somewhat belligerent speech of this man who reasons that anyone who can miraculously heal a man born blind must have power that comes from God. They throw him out of the synagogue. Evidently Jesus heard about this and went looking for the man, and, when he found him, asked him if he believed in the Son of Man. The man did believe and confessed his faith, worshipping Jesus. On the one hand repudiation of Jesus because he does not adhere to their expectations; on the other, faith, confession, and worship.
But the wonderful drama of the story did not prepare me for what came next, where Jesus turns the tables on those who labelled the blind man a sinner:
And Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, so that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind.” Those of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these things and said to Him, “We are not blind too, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.” (NASB)
For judgement I came into this world.
I found the statement arresting because it is so alien to much contemporary Christian thought, discussion and proclamation which assures us that Jesus has nothing to do with judgement. And indeed John 3:17 seems to affirm this:
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.
God’s attitude toward the world is an attitude—and indeed an action—of utter self-giving love. God loves the world, and sent his Son to save rather than to judge, the world. Jesus accomplishes this salvation as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29). This gift of love, this life—of the ‘Word who was with God and was God’ (John 1:1) and who became flesh and dwelt among us full of glory, grace and truth (1:14); and this saving death, are the expression of the heart of God which pulses with love for every person no matter who or what they are.
Is it possible, then, to square John 3:17 with John 9:39? Part of the answer is found in the next verses in John 3:
John 3:18-21, 36
He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God. . .
He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.
Jesus speaks of judgement again in John 5:22-30. Here he declares that the Father has “given all judgment to the Son,” and that those who believe in him have eternal life and “shall not come into judgment,” but have passed from death to life. The judgement of which he speaks is the eschatological judgement awaiting those whose deeds are evil. These are those that God loves and sent Jesus to save. The world loved by God is in danger of perishing and so needs saving.
The climax of the first part of the gospel occurs in John 12:27-50, especially verses 44-50, and here again the theme of judgement is central to Jesus’ teaching.
I have come as Light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me will not remain in darkness. If anyone hears My sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. He who rejects Me and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day.
Again Jesus affirms the words of John 3:17 but also insists that there is yet a judgement awaiting those who do not receive him and his words.
My sense of all this is that Jesus has not come to judge the world but his coming results in judgement, and the criterion of the judgement—which will be fully realised at ‘the last day’—is whether or not one has believed in him and kept his words.
For judgement I came into this world.
These sobering words are the words of Jesus, words that remind us of what makes the Good News good, words that warn us against cheap grace in its many manifestations and costumes, words that call us to faith in and obedience to the One who has so loved us and given himself for us.
It is necessary to revisit these pages already treated to attend Barth’s astounding claim that Jesus Christ—the man—was in the beginning with God. How can the man Jesus Christ be in the beginning with God? Is it not more correct to speak of the Son, or of the eternal Logos?
Barth’s remarkable claim rests especially on his exegesis of John 1:1-2. In this seminal text, the Word is before and above all creaturely reality, standing outside the series of created things. It precedes all being and all time—like God himself (95). This Word which was in the beginning “with” God and which “was” God participates absolutely in the divine mode of being, and thus in all the perfections of the one divine being. Barth then asks, “But who or what is the Word whose predicates are declared in Jn. 11?”
As is well known, in the Johannine Prologue the concept recurs only once (v. 14), and in the rest of the Gospel it does not recur at all in this sense. In the presentation as a whole its character is obviously that of a stop-gap. It is a preliminary indication of the place where later something or someone quite different will be disclosed. … In Jn. 11 the reference is very clear: ὁ λόγος is unmistakably substituted for Jesus. His is the place which the predicates attributed to the Logos are meant at once to mark off, to clear and to reserve. … It is the x in an equation whose value we can know only when the equation has been solved. (96, 97).
Barth continues his argument by insisting that the meaning of verse 2, “the same was in the beginning with God,” also points forward to the one who fills the position of the Logos: Jesus Christ. “We have no need to project anything into eternity, for at this point eternity is time, i.e., the eternal name has become a temporal name, and the divine name a human. It is of this name that we speak” (98). Jesus Christ, then, is the eternal Son, and Barth finds confirmation of this in a range of New Testament texts (98-99).
If this is true, then … in this person we are called upon to recognise the beginning of the Word and decree and election of God, the conclusive and absolute authority in respect of the aim and origin of all things. And this authority we must acknowledge not merely as something which is like God, but as God Himself, since God Himself in all His ways and works willed wholly and utterly to bear this name, and actually does bear it … We are not thinking or speaking rightly of God Himself if we do not take as our starting-point the fact which should be both “first and last”: that from all eternity God elected to bear this name. Over against all that is really outside God, Jesus Christ is the eternal will of God, the eternal decree of God and the eternal beginning of God (99).
It is clear why Barth makes this move: if Jesus Christ is the eternal decree of God there can be no decretum absolutum. “In trying to understand Jesus Christ as the electing God we abandon this tradition, but we hold fast by Jn. 11-2” (104). In an extraordinary statement Barth makes clear what he is saying:
The subject of this decision is the triune God—the Son of God no less than the Father and the Holy Spirit. And the specific object of it is the Son of God in His determination as the Son of Man, the God-Man, Jesus Christ, who is as such the eternal basis of the whole divine election (110; note that the English translation omits a word found in the Die Kirchliche Dogmatik, where Barth refers to “the pre-existing God-Man…”)
Jesus Christ is not simply pre-existent in a general or abstract way, but absolutely, as the primal decision of God to be God only in this union with humanity in Jesus Christ. Obviously he is not pre-existent in terms of his flesh, but in anticipation, determined for incarnation.
Barth establishes his ground-breaking doctrine of election on his exegesis of this critical text, supported by other New Testament passages, and discussions of the church fathers. His meditation on and exegesis of John 1 is essential to understand his doctrine.