October 15, 2023

Take Jesus for His word

Understanding the authorial intent and the concept of redaction in the Gospels, and how that correlates with our blindspots in our faith.

Please do be in prayer for our world. I believe prayer matters. Do you believe that? Prayer matters? Pray. The world needs prayer. So, when I was growing up many, many years ago, I used to have these little books that I would get that sometimes would come with these decoder glasses. So, you couldn't see what was going on in the book without the decoder glasses. They were like the unlock key to the book. I love studying words. It's called etymology. I love studying how words come to be and how they get to meaning.

For most of us, when we think of an unlock key, many of us probably think of it in terms of software around a computer. You have your unlock key that you have to type in so that that program works when you download it. But that term “unlock key” comes from many, many, many years ago when people had keys that had to open up doors. Now we’ve got phones that open up doors. Some of y'all have got high tech stuff where you just walk up, or you have little cards like we do around here ,sometimes, you just scan it, and the door opens up. But back in the day — and some of you will remember this — you'd have a key ring. Remember those days? Some of our maintenance people still have those key rings. But you’d have the key ring, you would go to a door, and you would try to start to unlock the door. You’re going, “Okay, which key is it?”

I mean, smart people marked them. I don't know how you were, but I had key rings before where I'm like, “That’s not the right one. That's not the right one. Oh, okay. Great. I need to find the unlock key.”

That’s where that phrase comes from, to find the unlock key. I say that because I remember back when I had become a Christian and I really started reading the Bible a lot — not long after I became a Christian, I was reading the Bible for three or four hours a day, just really reading it. It’s sad to say, back then, that I had no idea what I was reading, but I was reading it and doing the best I could. But I remember I would study the gospels, and I could see — I was smart enough to realize that Matthew, Mark, and Luke seemed like they were from the same country, and then John was somewhere overseas. It was like he's just different than the other ones. I was always trying to figure out how they worked and what was going on. Then, the more I would read, I realized Matthew, Luke, and Mark would tell the same story, but sometimes their wording was different, or they would add some things that the other one didn't add or highlight something. It always confused me.

Then I got into school, and I learned that Matthew, Mark, and Luke were called the synoptic gospel. It’s a compound word which means “to see with one eye.” They sort of write the same way, and then there's John. But there was something that happened when I started studying academically. I got an unlock key, two of them, that totally shaped my understanding of reading the gospels. It sort of opened up my eyes. It really helped me to see things. The first one — these are some scholarly words, and I'll explain what they mean. They're not really that difficult, but they're important to know when it comes to gospel reading.

The first one is “authorial intent.” I guess I should have known this, but I didn't. I mean, I just read the Bible. I was like, “It’s the Word of God. I just want to read it.

I want to know about Jesus. I want to apply it to my life. But when I started studying, I realized that each one of these writers wrote with a purpose, and they wrote to a specific group of people at a specific time. Oftentimes, they'll tell you in the gospels why they're writing. Luke, at the very beginning of his gospel, says he's writing to a person named Theophilus, which is a compound word for “lover of God.” People debate who Theophilus was. Was that just a broad term, or was that a specific person? Many scholars believe that Theophilus was a Roman official, and that Luke wrote Luke and Acts to this Roman official to not only tell him about Jesus, but to also exonerate Paul who was being held in prison at that time, to say, “Paul's not the bad guy here.”

So, this compendium volume of Luke and Acts sort of explained who Jesus was, the Jesus movement, and who Paul was. But he tells you, in Luke 1:1-4, “I want to tell you why I've written,” and you can go back and read this. I mean, he says it right there. Many people have read Luke, and they just forgot those first four verses for whatever reason. He says, “A lot of people took time to write down stories about Jesus. They remembered stories. What I did is I went and got the collection of as much stuff as I could get so that I could put them into an orderly account so that you would know the things that have transpired among us.”

So, Luke tells you, “I've written for a reason, and there's a reason why I've written.”

Well, John does the same thing. We’ll see this in a minute. So, authorial intent tells you why they're writing. The next word I learned, though, that was that unlock key for me that really changed everything after I understood, “Hey, they're writing for a purpose, they're doing a specific thing,” was the term “redaction.” Redaction means that what they've done is they have selected in the way that they have edited the stories so that they're telling you what it is that they want to tell you. This is super important. Now, this is really important to hear this. If you don't hear a lot of what I say, hear this here. This does not take away from the Bible being the Word of God in any way, shape, or form. The Bible was written by people, yet it is the very Word of God. We go, “How does that work, Chip?”

Peter's the only one who sort of gives us some indication. He says that people were moved along by the Spirit as they wrote. We don't know if they knew that they were doing this or not, but we believe, as Christians, that Scripture was written, penned by people, yet it was still the very words that God wants us to have. And people go, “Well, how can it be the Word of God yet be written by people?”

The same way that we believe that Jesus is fully God and fully man. You go, “Well, how does that work?”

Well, that's what Scripture teaches us. That's what we believe, as Christians. We believe that God is sovereign, yet we believe that the choices that we make are meaningful and have purpose. You go, “How does that work?”

The answer is — and people don't like it when I say this — we don't know exactly how that works. We just know that this is what we believe in the Christian tradition. You’re either in or not in on those things. Nobody's going to try to tell you what you have to do, but we believe this. I believe that the gospels, although they're completely inspired by God, are also redacted. So, the redaction sort of flows into that authorial intent, and they just make this loop as they go. I'll show you how this works in one particular gospel, and hopefully you'll think about this as you read the other gospels. But in John — we’re going to focus in on a couple of stories in John this weekend. John tells us in his gospel — I mean, it’s as clear as can be. He says, “Here’s my authorial intent: Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples.”

People who've studied John know that John has seven signs. That's what he's got. He's arranged it, and that’s how he's redacted his gospel. He's redacted it in many other ways, but he has seven signs. He says, “There were a lot of signs that Jesus did in the presence of disciples which are not written in this book. I chose not to put some things in.”

That’s called redaction. It's editing. Listen. He says, “But these, the ones that I put in here, the things that I've included, are written for a purpose. In other words, I've written this gospel to you, whoever reads this, and I want you to know that I've written and put it together in such a way that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.”

He's written so that whoever reads it wouldn't get caught up in the signs, although there are signs, wouldn't get caught up in the stories, although there are stories. “I've written it so that you might come to believe that Jesus is not only the Christ, but He’s also the son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.”

So, you’ve got to ask the question, and we’ve got to figure this out. If we're going to read this, we got to understand that what John wants us to know is belief. What is belief? Because he wants us to believe. But he's redacted it because he tells us something at the very front of the book that's huge.

He tells us, “He came to his own,”

That’s the Lord calling, saying, “Listen to this message. This is going to be a great message. Okay?

He says, “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.”

How’d they miss him? He goes on to say, in the next verse, “But as many as received Him, as many as believed in Him, He gave the right to become children of God.”

So, John has taken his gospel, and he has written it in a way where he doesn't want you to be the people who have missed it. He wants you to be the people who get it. So, all the way through, he has stories, like in John 2, where He’s in the temple and people go, “Whoa, man, this guy's got some…” — and it says that Jesus didn't entrust Himself to them. So, whatever their excitement was about Jesus wasn't really belief. In John 6, people have seen Jesus feed thousands of people, and they're like, “Man, this guy's got to be something great, man. I mean, He can multiply stuff. He can feed people. He's got to be a miracle worker. He's got to be incredible.”

I mean, they're believing, except when He tells them that they have to eat His flesh and drink His blood, or they can't really be a part of Him. They go, “Oh, we don't know about that,” and they all go away. In John 8, we get the most forceful one of all. In John 8:30, it says, “Many of the Jews believed in Him.”

You’d think that's good that they believed in him. In John 8:31, the next verse, it says, “So Jesus said to those who had believed in him, ‘If you [continue] abide in my word, you will be my disciples indeed, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’”

And they said, “Whoa, whoa, whoa. Hold on. Time out. We've never been enslaved to anybody, man. We're children of Moses. What are you talking about? Then, in John 8:44, to the ones who believed in John 8:30, to the ones who He said, “If you'll continue in my words, you’ll be my disciples indeed,”

He says to that group, in John 8:44, “You are of your father the devil,”

You go, “Wow. Man, John must be telling us something. There must be something here that he's wanting us to understand about what it means to really believe in Jesus, what it means to follow Him, and what it means to abide in His Word. There must be something going on.”

So, what I want to do is I want to enter in because I don't want any of us to have a blind spot. I don't want us to miss what John is saying. So, we're going to enter into the end of John 4, read a couple of stories, and look at how he has redacted the material because what it does is it reads us. It begs you and I to look at the text and go, “Oh, wow. Okay. Yeah. This really makes some sense. I really should think about this. This is powerful stuff.”

Why did he write? He wrote that we would believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that, believing in Him, we would have eternal life. So, in John 4 — I can't tell you the whole story, but in John 4, Jesus goes through Samaria. As He’s going through Samaria, He comes to a town called Sychar. He meets a woman at the well who has a very checkered past. As He has a conversation with her, He reads her mail in such a way that she realizes, “There is no way this is just a man in front of me,” and her life is changed so much that the woman who came to the well in the middle of the day so that she didn't have to deal with everybody else — because you came early in the morning or later in the evening, and you never came in the middle of the day because it was hot. She came so she would get away from all the people talking that she'd been married five times, was currently living with someone, and all of these things. She meets Jesus at the well, and she’s so transformed by Jesus that she runs back into the town and says, “You’ve got to come meet the person that told me everything I've ever done.”

So, sort of like when somebody comes to you and says, “Man, you won't believe this. There's this movie that I saw. I mean, man, it's incredible,” and you believe them, but then you go see the movie and you go, “Well, it really wasn't that great.”

Now the belief that you had that the movie was great is no longer belief. Or somebody says, “Here’s a great book you ought to read,” you believe them, and you start reading it but you're like, “This is terrible. I'm going to throw this thing away,” or whatever. So, let's pick up here in this story where everybody's sort of coming to Jesus here in Samaria. Let’s read because there are two incredible stories here, and they're profound. Let's read them.

It says, “Man Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman's testimony, ‘He told me all that I ever did.’”

Let's break this down so that we can see maybe how it works grammatically here. Many Samaritans from that town, they believed. They believe. Did they? Did they believe? What’s going on here? That's what John wants you to do. He wants you to pay attention. They believed in him because of the woman's testimony. There’s nothing wrong with the woman's testimony. She should testify. We should share Jesus. All of that stuff's great, but they believed in Him because the woman's testimony because she said, “He told me all that I ever did.”

They're like, “We’ve got to go meet this guy. This guy can tell you about your life and He doesn't know you. There must be something special about this man. We’ve got to go see Him.”

Is that belief? Is that not belief? What's going on? John wants us to struggle with this because he's written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and, believing in Him, you will have life.

We’re told, “So when the Samaritans came to him, they said, “Well, will you stay?”

I mean, I can't get into the radicalness of Jesus hanging out with Samaritans in the first century, but it's radical. Okay? We could preach a whole sermon on this, but suffice it to say it's pretty radical. They said, “Will you stay?”

It says, “…and he stayed there two days.”

He hung out there for two days.

“And many more believed because of his word.”

Why does he say that? Why is that there? Well, maybe it's there because of the next statement. Maybe John's getting us to pay attention to something.

“They said to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.’”

John's writing this for us to struggle with. Is it possible to get excited about Jesus? Is it possible that Jesus could be somebody that we go, “Oh, He's a miracle worker. He's in all kinds of stuff. I get goosebumps. I get all kinds of excitement. I mean, He fulfills my dreams and whatever else,” but is it possible that what it means to believe in Jesus is that we actually follow His Word? This is interesting. John says, “I want you to believe, and I want to make sure that you have eternal life, so pay attention because they believe because of His Word.”

Jesus said, “If you abide in my Word.”

Let's continue on. So, they believe that He’s the Savior of the world, which is exactly what John said he wants us to believe.

“After the two days he departed for Galilee.”

Galilee is His hometown. It's His region. He was born in Bethlehem and raised in Nazareth. This is His place. But remember, He came to His own, and His own received Him not. Look what John does. When you're reading, you should really pay attention. If there's anything I hope you get out of messages from me, it’s that you go, “Man, I really need to pay attention when I read. I really need to look at every word instead of just blowing through and just getting it done.”

We’ve all done that before. It's late at night, and we're like, “Oh, I didn't read my Bible today. I’d better open it up and read something. Okay. Check it off. I did it.”

You should just go to bed. Pick it up tomorrow when you want to read it for real because God's not going, “Oh, yeah. Okay, great.”

I mean, He’s not doing that. So, let's lean in here. After Jesus departed for Galilee, look at what he says here. Parenthetical.

“(For Jesus himself had testified that a prophet has no honor in his hometown.)”

What does that mean? What does it mean that he has no honor in his hometown? What does that look like or whatever? If you're reading this, you really should expect the next couple of words to read like this: “He testified that a prophet has no honor in his hometown.”

You would expect, reading it, that it would say, “So, when He came to Galilee, the Galileans shunned and rejected Him.”

That's not what the text says.

The text says, “So when he came to Galilee, they Galileans welcomed him,”

They liked Jesus. They liked the fact that He did miracles. He was their guy. They saw Him grow up. They were real familiar with Him. But did they believe? Because John wants us to struggle here. They welcomed Him.

“Jesus, we're so glad you're back, man. It's so good to see You.”

In fact, it says, “So when he came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him, having seen all that he had done in Jerusalem…”

“Yeah, man. Did you see Jesus, man? He was flipping some tables in the temple. Man, He was telling those religious people that they charged too much money for stuff. Maybe He’s going to be the guy who gets our hopes and our dreams finally done. We like Jesus. He does for us what we want Him to do. We welcome Him.”

But no honor. What does that mean? Why has John written it this way? Well, he tells you, “I've written it so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.”

“For they too had gone to the feast. So he came again to Cana in Galilee,”

If you remember in John 2, this is where Jesus turned the water into wine.

He says, “…where he had made the water wine. And at Capernaum…”

So, He's in Cana, and there's somebody in Capernaum. It's about 15 to 20 miles from Capernaum uphill to Cana, or down to the sea. There at the sea of Galilee. Word has spread throughout Galilee that Jesus has come back.

“Oh, man. He’s the guy who heals people. He's the guy who feeds people. Welcome Him. He's our guy. We like Him.”

“…there was an official…”

“Vasilikós” is the Greek word. This is somebody who works for a king. He works for Herod. So, he’s a guy who gets stuff done. When he tells you to do something, you do it. This is an official. He’s a ruler. His son was ill.

John says, “When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went…”

He’s excited because Jesus is known. He heals, He restores, He opens blind eyes.

“Go hang out with Jesus, man. This is a good guy. We welcome Him.”

“…he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death.”

Then John tells us this: “So Jesus said to him, ‘Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.’”

“Believe” believe or believe just because of signs and wonders? This is where if you don't know the original language, it's one of the few times I would tell you that you miss a little bit. The word “you” is plural. It's not singular. He doesn't say it just to the official. He says, “All of you in Galilee, unless I do something for you, you won't believe.”

Believe that Jesus is really the Christ, the Son of the living God, or believe in the moment, like, “This is awesome?”

He says, “‘Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.’”

The official probably doesn't know how to answer that. He doesn't know what to say.

“The official said to him, ‘Sir, come down before my child dies.’”

This is a guy that when he tells you to do something, people do it. They follow what he tells them to do. He says, “Can you come down? It's 15-20 miles. Can you come down?”

He’s probably thinking that Jesus is going to come because this is an official.

“Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your son will live.’”

He doesn't answer this man's request. Oftentimes, Jesus doesn't answer our requests the way that we want them. He says, “Go; your son will live.”

What's He going to do? There's not been a sign. There’s not been a miracle. Is he going to believe? What does John say?

“The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way.”

He did what Jesus said. He followed what Jesus told him to do because he believed. This is super important. We’re told, “As he was going down [from Capernaum], his servants met him…”

This is probably the following day, and they've walked up to meet Him because the son’s better. They want to tell Him, “Hey, man. Things are actually better.”

“…his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering.”

So, He asked them, “What was the hour? When did that happen? When did he start getting better?”

“…and they said to him, ‘Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.’”

About one o'clock our time.

“The father knew that that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, ‘Your son will live.’ And he himself believed, and all his household.”

What's John trying to get us to see? What's he trying to get us to think about? What’s a blind spot that we might have that John is saying, “Hey, I want to make sure that you read this, and I've put this together so that you'll believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.”

Well, first of all, he wants us to know that we can be told about Jesus by someone else. Most of us, that's how we learned about Jesus. Somebody tells us about Jesus. But that testimony is not enough just to go, “Oh wow. That’s a great story. Oh, that's awesome.”

No, no. We’ve got to believe He’s the Savior of the world for ourselves. I say here all the time that Jesus doesn't have grandchildren. He only has sons and daughters. You can't pass on your faith by just saying, “Oh, man. They’re our children, so we're all a Christian family.”

No. At some point, we have to believe. That’s why he says, “Hey, it's no longer because of what these Samaritans said they believe, but it’s because we've heard for ourselves. We know now that You are the Savior of the world.”

There has to be a moment where we pause and think about what it means that Jesus is actually the Christ. What does it mean that He actually is the Lord? It's not just enough to believe something about Jesus, but belief leads us to follow Him. It leads us to obey Him. Not that we're saved because of how well we do all that stuff. We’re not saved based on any of that. We're saved by God's grace and through faith alone. But people who believe in God, they want to follow Jesus. One of the great things John wants us to see is we don't want to do it his way, but we want to do it our way. That's not a great place to be because then we serve Jesus for what we can get, not for who He is. John wants to make sure that none of us, somehow, get blind spotted.

Second: The ordinarily familiar — pay attention here. This is great — can blind us to the untamable otherness of Jesus. We can get so familiar with Jesus — we can be raised in church, we can sing the songs, we can do all of the things, but when it comes to actually doing the things that God calls us to do, or says that we should do, maybe we don't really care about that. We like the excitement about Jesus. We like the familiarness of Jesus. We don't like the fact that He is this untamable God that we can't control who is telling us that this is the way that you should live. You can see it here. He says He had no honor there. But they welcomed Him. It seemed like they had honor. No. They didn't recognize Him for who he actually was. In other words, I’ll put it this way: We can want Jesus to succeed, but not follow His ways. I want you to hear me because this is important. This is so important. In the world that we live in a day, with all the stuff going on, it’s important that people in the American Church hear the Gospel and hear what Jesus is saying to you and me.

Let give you an example of this: We can curse our enemies, whatever the other side is, instead of loving them, and call it Jesus.

“Oh, yeah. We want Jesus to succeed, these people are wrong, and we want God to do something, to judge, to bring justice, and whatever it may be.”

But we are called to love enemies. We go, “I don't want to do that.”

Okay. That’s a great sign to take a moment here and say, “Is Jesus so familiar to me, but I've never really put my life in His hands as not just my Savior, but as my Lord, that He truly is the one that I wake up every single morning and want to do what He says because I love Him?”

Or maybe we fight for what we believe are biblical issues, but we have no devotional life. Oh, we'll get out and tell everybody what's wrong.

“You're wrong here. You're wrong there. This is wrong, and this is what the Bible says.”

But if you were to go to your house and see how much time in prayer or how much time in God's Word we were spending, maybe it's not there. So, maybe we can be so familiar with Jesus that we want Jesus to succeed, but we just don't want to follow His ways. This is so vital because, I'm telling you, in the American church today, there is such false teaching that you just say some little prayer, do whatever you want to do, live however you want to live, act however you want to act, do everything you want to do, and that's fine. It's not fine. It doesn't mean that we're saved by what we do because we're not, but if we really believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, we're going to say, “God, what is it that You want me to do? I want to follow you because you told me if I will abide in Your Word, You will set me free.”

Or maybe we fight for one group while cursing the other. Listen to me. This is what a commentator said about Galilee. He said, “If Galilee would've really honored Jesus, people with resentments would've forgiven each other. People would've stopped hating Roman soldiers and started inviting them for meals in their houses. The whole community would've started practicing love, contentment, reconciliation, peace and justice.”

See, there's something about following Jesus that's more than just saying a prayer. It becomes a lifestyle. It doesn't mean that we get everything perfect, but it means we want to do what God wants us to do. It means we want to follow His Word.

The last thing — and this is the important one — is there comes a time where we've got to take Jesus for His Word because this is what John really is telling us it is to believe. He says, “Many more believe because of his word.”

“The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way.”

Listen to me, please. There must come a time where following Jesus is not about what He can do for us, how excited we may be, how excited we get about Him, or how incredible He may be, but where we follow Him at His Word because we know He is the Savior of the world. John has written so that we would know that. He’s also redacted His gospel in such a powerful way that at the very beginning, the first verse, “In arché,” lógos, in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He’s God. He comes in the flesh in John 1:14. He tabernacled. He dwelt among us, this God. He bookends the gospel with Thomas realizing, “You are God. You're worth following. You're worth laying my life down.”

In the middle of all of this, He’s interspersed these statements: “I am. Before Abraham was, I am.”

Who’s the “I am?” He goes back to Moses at the burning bush where Moses meets God and God says, “Take off your sandals. You're standing on holy ground.”

Moses says, “What’s Your name?”

He says, “My name is I am that I am.”

In John 13, Jesus says, “For so I am.”

Why, in John 13, does he say, “I am?” Because John 13 is where Jesus, just like Yahweh who told Moses, ‘Take off your sandals because you're standing on holy ground, Jesus is the I am because their sandals have been removed too, and He washes their feet. He washes their feet. John wants you to realize when he writes this, “This is not some man this is not just some dude, but this is the Savior of the world, this is God in the flesh, and I want you to believe in Him. I want you to follow Him because, in following Him, there is freedom that you would never, ever get in this world.”

So, John has written so that when we read this, we have to ask the question, “Who is this person?”

This person is the one who said, in John 14:6, “‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

I ask you, as your pastor, to let the Word of God speak to you. Let it read you. let it speak to you anew and afresh. Maybe, just maybe, somebody in here may go, “I've never stepped up and said that I want to follow Jesus.”

Maybe this is your time. Maybe, for some of us, it really is a clarion call in the midst of all the craziness of life to take a moment, look in the mirror, and go, “What does it mean for me to believe in Jesus?”

Because John clearly tells us.

In this series

Keep learning

Learn about our Discover Classes and Grace University. Browse through topical short video series, view interviews with Christian thought leaders, or take an in-depth systematic theology video class with Pastor Chip.