John’s Gospel: Reflections on chapter 1

The theme of this series on John is to meet Jesus as a person. What is his personality? What are his passions?

You see, Christians are called to become like Jesus, the very image of God. And if that’s so, no study could be more central to our Christian walk than a study of Jesus as a person.

By “as a person” I don’t necessarily mean “as a human.” I’m not too interested in dissecting the divine side of Jesus from the human side. That’s for the philosophers and ivory-tower theologians. The metaphysics are interesting, but sometimes we get a bit too caught up in the intellectual challenges presented by Jesus’ dual nature.

Ask most people what Jesus was like as a person, you’ll get a list of vague accolades. He’s holy, glorious, God in the flesh, loving, humble, etc. And it’s all true, but it’s also all so general that it’s more about the lyrics to worship music than someone we’ve actually met. It’s not at all wrong, but it’s not personal. It’s cliché. Cliché can be true enough, I suppose, but if we don’t get past cliché, well, we’ve not put our brains in gear — and much worse — we aren’t truly emotionally committed.

You see, to commit to a someone — an actual person — you need to get past romanticism and get to know who they really are, not just how you imagine them to be (marriage is like that, you know). And most of what we “know” about Jesus is trite, shallow, and romanticized. It’s true, but it’s not as though we really know him as a person.

I know that sounds harsh, but it’s certainly true of me. I figure it’s likely true of most of us. I grew up in church, going to every single Bible class offered whenever the doors were open. I went to Lipscomb for college and took a Bible class every weekday I was there. And yet I graduated having never met Jesus.

I was pretty familiar with his commands and demands and expectations. I knew him as Lord, but not as an example to follow. In fact, even a few years ago, I would have considered it impossible to follow Jesus — too high and holy and perfect.

So look over chapter 1 and consider what it tells about Jesus the person. The first part of the chapter doesn’t address Jesus’ humanity in any detail. Rather, John begins by speaking of the Cosmic Jesus, the Jesus who began as part of the Godhead, the Jesus through whom God created the world.

John’s point is, at least in part, that as he later reveals the humanity of Jesus, that this is a being of incomparable power and glory who has condescended to become God in the flesh. But the human Jesus is just as real and just as reflective of the character of God as the Cosmic Jesus.

Nonetheless, we do pick up some subtleties. For example, consider –

(John 1:10-13 ESV) 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.  11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.  12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,  13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

What does this passage tell us about the personality of Jesus? What kind of person acts this way?

Jesus made us. The Jews were his people, having walked with God for 1,500 years (the traditional date for the Exodus is 1500 BC). He came to people, who’d built a grand temple and conducted daily worship to God. And they “did not receive him.” Indeed, they crucified him! And yet Jesus’ response was not to annihilate the planet and start over. Rather, he offered salvation to those few who responded to him with faith.

What does that say about his character?

Next, consider the exchanges of Jesus with his future disciples. What kind of man would have reacted to them as he did?

(John 1:38-39 ESV)  38 Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?”  39 He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour.

That’s such an odd conversation. A strange interview. It seems that Jesus wanted to test them, not with questions, but demands for action. Would they follow him? What does that say about Jesus?

(John 1:42 ESV)  42 He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter).

And such self-confidence! Surely Cephas wondered what gave this perfect stranger the right to change his name — a right properly reserved to his father. What does this say about Jesus? What does it say about Peter?

(John 1:47-48 ESV)  47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!”  48 Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”

Of course, this was a miracle designed to produce faith in Nathanael (and performed before his first “sign” in Cana). But consider what this says about Jesus’ personality.

Personally, I think it reveals a great sense of humor. I think Jesus said it so quickly, so abruptly, to startle the cynical Nathanael — to see the expression on his face! I think Jesus had a good laugh at Nathanael’s shock. I see Jesus as a gentle tease, a man who knew how to bond with other men through humor, even a little kidding.

(John 1:51 ESV)  51 And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

Jesus said this because it’s true, I’m sure, but why say this at this time? It’s a difficult saying, even for a Jew who’d grown up studying the Law and the Prophets.

It’s obviously designed to encourage the disciples, to let them know that the road ahead would present wonders beyond their imaginings — but why such a hard saying?

Surely, Jesus, like many other Jewish rabbis, liked to challenge the thinking of his disciples. As a teacher, he wanted them to talk among themselves and ponder his sayings. The interaction and discovery would teach far more lessons than a simple statement easily understood — if the disciples would rise to the challenge.

It was a challenge to begin thinking about Jesus as not merely an earthly King but a King who somehow joins heaven and earth. It’s a profoundly deep thought that I’m sure was discussed at great length as they walked to Cana.

Jesus trusted his disciples to ponder difficult sayings and reach sound conclusions. He was showing great confidence in them at a very early stage. After all, there would come a time when they’d face harder challenges without Jesus there to give them the answers. It was already time for them to learn to understand the mind of God.

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About Jay Guin

I am an elder, a Sunday school teacher, a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a lawyer. I live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, home of the Alabama Crimson Tide. I’m a member of the University Church of Christ. I grew up in Russellville, Alabama and graduated from David Lipscomb College (now Lipscomb University). I received my law degree from the University of Alabama. I met my wife Denise at Lipscomb, and we have four sons, two of whom are married, and I have a grandson and granddaughter.
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