Why would John include this in his gospel?
Joh 20:30, 31 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. (KJV)
When John started to write his gospel, he had a specific audience and purpose in mind. These two influenced how he wrote his gospel, and what he decided to include. No writer is able to give a clear moment-by-moment eyewitness account of life. This would be impossible to achieve for two reasons. First, it would take up too much space. Secondly, it would be beyond boring. Really, it would.
Therefore, not one of the writers of the gospels ever tell us that Jesus bathed, brushed his teeth, combed his hair or ate dinner. That does not mean he did not do these things, it only means that usually they were not important to the purpose of writing or to the intended audience. On several occasions we do read that Jesus ate, but we only read about those when they contained a teaching (the Last Supper); showed an important part of Jesus’ character (his fish BBQ on the beach to reconnect with the disciples and put them at ease before his ascension); or were evidence of his divinity (the multiplication of food miracles).
John intended his gospel to become an evangelical book. He wanted people who read this to become believers. He also wanted those who were already believers, to have life. This is the purpose of his writing.
But whom was he addressing?
Firstly, he was speaking to his own people, the Jewish community. In this group, there were in fact more than one cluster. There were the people who rejected Jesus as the Messiah. There was the group who did believe and were now persecuted merciless by both the Romans rulers, and the Jewish religious leaders. There was also a third group known as the Jewish secret believers. These believers did not come forward to proclaim themselves as Christians, but continued to live within the Jewish tradition and religion.
They feared the persecution that was rife in the street of Jerusalem at the time. But they also feared life outside the Temple. The Temple played a significant part in Jewish culture. This is where Jewish parents brought their children on the eighth day after birth to be named, and registered as true Jews. True Jews were the only ones allowed inside the Temple. Being a true blooded Jew had all kinds of privileges, which were only available at the Temple.
- Education from childhood to adult
- A Network of business partners that can be trusted not to stab you in the back
- A network of people that can offer you and your children apprenticeship and employment
- Unconditional acceptance and inclusion in any Jewish community in the world, which makes travel and relocating to a new city easy
- Religious cleansing, renewals and celebrations through festivals and feasts
- Access to the ministry of the Priests, which included healing the sick, judging between two parties, sealing of contracts and agreements, officiating engagements and marriages, casting out demons, burials, guidance on marriage, child rearing, business, farming, weather, money, travel, and so much more than what I can mention here today.
In short, to walk away from your Jewish traditions and believes would affect every aspect of your daily life. Who would be willing to marry a person outside the Temple? Where will your children study? Where will they find work? Who would want to do business with a person who had no access to a priest that can seal a contract, or intervene when something goes wrong? Who wants to be the neighbour of a family that do not live under the authority of the priest who is also the judge of the town? What if their tree is hanging into your property or their cow eats your crops? How will a farmer know when to sow and harvest? Who can he call in to look at his sick livestock? Or, for that matter, his sick wife or child?
To walk away from the Jewish faith was not just about losing your faith in a religion, it was saying goodbye to job security, income, health care, representation in a dispute, guidance and advice. It would be the end of your life, as you know it. But more importantly, your children would not have access to these either. Neither will their children. And since you are living in an occupied territory, you really need all the help you can get. The Romans hated the Jews and their religious leaders, but they had agreed to leave each other in peace. Christians had no peace at all from either the Romans or the Jews.
The second group John was writing to was unbelievers that were not Jews. Jerusalem was a cosmopolitan city, with people from all over the world there to live, work or do business. Some only came for a vacation, I’m sure. John also included these as recipients in his gospel.
Things to ponder or discuss:
- Are you a secret believer? Many people hide their Christianity because they fear that people won’t like them. Or that their Christianity might hinder their changes of promotion. Or that family and friends might become uncomfortable in their presence.
- How should you deal with a person that is having trouble stepping out publicly about their Christianity? How can you help them overcome obstacles in their way? How can you show them that Christianity is also a community of supporters?
- How can you share John’s message with one unbeliever today?