John’s Story About Jesus
Since we are talking about understanding Christmas, how can a gospel that says nothing about the birth of the Christ-child help us to that goal? If you have read through the sections on Luke and Matthew, you will see that each writer was trying to speak to a particular audience. To do that, each author often chose different aspects of the same event to include in their story about Jesus. And those who were given the task of putting together a “new testament” decided on four different approaches—the four gospels.
As we noticed earlier, Mark, the first gospel writer, was looking at a far different audience than did Matthew. Now John, the beloved disciple, was the last to write a gospel that was included in the New Testament. Although John didn’t say anything about Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, he does tell us why he wrote his gospel. That’s a big help to understanding why he chose certain events and excluded some used by the other gospel writers.
Near the end of his gospel, John tells us what his purpose was in writing: John 20: 30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 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.
In those two verses, John reveals several things: He is declaring that this man Jesus is the person the Old Testament prophets were pointing to as the Messiah. He had an objective in writing: To persuade individuals to become Jesus’ followers. More than an appeal to just Jews, or Gentiles or other categories of groups, John wrote to attract a universal audience with no barriers to anyone. Finally, through what he wrote he wanted to attract people into life, and that life could only be found in Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.
Thus, a key word in John’s gospel is life. As you read through his gospel, you will find he used life in over 50 verses in one-way or another. We have a good example of that in John 10. Jesus says,
9 ”I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” You will see more of that as we move ahead.
Why No Bethlehem Story?
We saw that both Matthew and Luke brought their readers into Bethlehem through their narratives about Jesus. Mark doesn’t mention Bethlehem at all and John only refers to it in chapter 7 when there was a dispute about where “the prophet” was to come from—certainly not Galilee. They were familiar with Micah 5:2. But because Jesus had spent most of his childhood and adult life around Galilee, they wanted to arrest him as being a fake (John 7:42, 43).
John didn’t bother to bring in the events of Bethlehem. In it’s place, he picked the second part of Micah: 5: 2 “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me, one who will be ruler of Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” Instead of a birth narrative about Bethlehem, John went to the history from ancient times, the one whose origins were from of old—the eternal Son of God.
To build his gospel on the widest possible foundation, John went beyond creation to the very beginning of time. Time, of course, can only be real when there is substance and motion. So, in effect, John is saying, “Before there was ‘there’, Jesus was.” Hear what he wrote about Jesus in John 1:
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning.3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
So that every one in the world might know–whether Jew or Gentile, male or female, slave or free–John declares: Before anything existed, the Word (Jesus) was there; the Word (Jesus) created everything that has substance or life. Those are profound, powerful and astounding words to introduce the main subject of his gospel. This Word (Jesus) is the one I’m going to tell you about—what he did and said, and why he chose to come into this world.
With that kind of introduction, you can see there is no person on this planet, past, present or future, that can escape his consideration and attention. John goes even further: No one can evade or overcome the light (the Word) that is coming into the world; you can’t avoid it or escape it. John describes it this way: John 1: 6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. 9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.
You may ask, why is John’s statement regarding John the Baptist and “the light” significant? Because each gospel writer has announced that Jesus’ public ministry began with John baptizing Jesus. From that point, the public disclosure of Jesus as the Messiah was launched. So what was described prior to Jesus’ baptism is a prelude to the life and teaching and death and resurrection of Jesus.
We saw while Mark had no birth narrative, Matthew and Luke did. John does not have a “Bethlehem birth narrative.” He skipped over Bethlehem and went back to the ages of eternity past. He moved directly from God the Son of the Old Testament to the Son of God of the New Testament. He wanted no mistaking of the fact that the Jesus of the incarnation was the second person of the Trinity of the Old Testament. And the question arises today: Can we go into Christmas and forget the divine purpose for which that event took place? John leaves no ambiguity.
So when John starts telling the story of Jesus and Nicodemus in the third chapter, he leaves no doubt in anyone’s mind about the authority and the ability of the Son. Nicodemus and every person since can count on Jesus’ promise because he is the same person we saw in John 1:1, the Creator of heaven and earth! So Jesus could tell Nicodemus, 16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
At the time of Jesus’ baptism, remember it was John the Baptist who stated that Jesus was God’s Lamb who would make redemption possible. Jesus was “before” him because he was from eternity. John 1:
29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”
We will have more to say about this when we come to our last section about the purpose of Jesus’ coming to earth. It is important to note, though, that John wanted to make clear right from the opening words of his gospel that Jesus was God the Son who came to earth from out of eternity. Before going to that subject, however, we will talk about some of the people who were witnesses to the amazing events in and around Bethlehem.