One thing is like another

This is a sermon that Mark Janke preached on Sunday, April 12th 2008 at Grace Church Louisville. He was my pastor up there and I still consider him a mentor and hero of mine. It was a very encouraging experience reading this sermon of his and I suggest it to you in hopes that we would all rely on the Holy Spirit to “get it”.

 

One Thing is Like Another

John 11:1-45

 

 

Intro.  There is a subtheme that keeps popping up all over john.  I’ve been waiting for a good opportunity to address it, and john 11, verses 11-14 provides that opportunity.  Jesus was speaking figuratively, “Lazarus is asleep,” and the disciples didn’t get it.  Next week we’ll look at this passage.  But today, we’ll tackle this subtheme. 

            Misunderstanding Jesus, not getting the figures of speech he uses, figures of speech in which one thing is like another – this kind of thing happens again and again as you read john.  Why was Jesus speaking that way?  What does john, the author of the gospel of john want us, the readers to see?  Remember, john tells us in the last verse of his book that there were many other things Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, even the world itself would not contain the books which were written.  So john selects what to write down.  The truth guides his selection.  God’s spirit guides his selection.  And the meaning john wishes to communicate guides his selection.  So what is john trying to teach us by selecting to tell us, repeatedly, this people-not-getting-it business? 

            I’ll give you examples of what I’m talking about.  I tell you what I make of it.  And then we’ll try to apply what we learn. 

            John chapter 1, verse 10, says that Jesus, “was in the world, and the world was made through him, and the world did not know him.”  He has to open our eyes, he has to give us the ability to get it.  A huge message proclaimed throughout john is, we need the lord.  As John the Baptist says in chapter 3, verse 27, “a man can receive nothing, unless it has been given him from heaven.”  We won’t get it, receive it, accept, believe unless god gives it to us.  So, let’s ask god to do so.

 

 

 

            John chapter 2, verses 19 through 21, standing by the temple in Jerusalem, “Jesus answered and said to them, ‘destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’  the Jews therefore said, ‘it took forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three years?’  but he was speaking of the temple of his body.” 

             in ways which I won’t take time to go into now – if you’re interested, ask me later – Jesus’ body is like the temple.  So Jesus was using a figure of speech in which one thing is like another, and they didn’t get it.

            john 3, verse 3 Jesus says unless a person is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of god.  Verse 4, the man he is speaking to says, “how can a man be born when he is old?  He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?”

            Jesus is using a figure of speech in which the beginning of a right relationship with god, spiritual birth is like physical birth.  The guy he is talking to doesn’t get it.

            john chapter 4, Jesus is speaking to this average, ordinary everyday woman at this well, verse 10, “Jesus answered and said to her, ‘if you knew the gift of god, and who it is who says to you, “give me a drink,” you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.’  she said to him, ‘sir, you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep; where then do you get that living water?’” 

            by living water, Jesus means the holy spirit.  One thing is like another, the life-giving, refreshing, reviving work of the spirit is like living water.  But the woman doesn’t get it.  She talks about water, h2o.

            chapter 6, verses 51 and 52, Jesus says, “’I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he shall live forever; and the bread also which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.’  the Jews therefore began to argue with one another, saying, ‘how can this man give us his flesh to eat?’”

            Jesus sacrificed his body on the cross.  If I count on that sacrifice as the only thing that can make me right with god, so I say, “Jesus come into my life.  Make me right with god on the basis of you taking the punishment I deserve on the cross and giving me your perfect righteousness,”  if I do that, receiving what Jesus offers, his body becomes eternal life-giving bread to me.  So Jesus is using a figure of speech in which one thing, bread, is like another, his body.  But they don’t get it.  I could go on, there are several more examples of this sort of thing. 

            then there is this word in chapter 11, verse 14, “then Jesus therefore said to them plainly…”  plainly.  The word is used 9 times in john’s gospel.  Sometimes it means publicly, openly, so Jesus was speaking openly, not in secret, not hiding away.  Sometimes it means without using a figure of speech, so not cloaking a meaning in a figure of speech.  And, often, Jesus was not speaking plainly.

            what are we to make of this?  If we are learning and becoming very familiar with the bible as a whole, some lights ought to go on when we see this, one thing is like another in john, because, the whole bible operates like this. 

            the figure of speech in which one thing is like another is called a metaphor.  And when you extend a metaphor so that it isn’t just a word or phrase but a whole story, that story is called a parable.  In a parable, one thing is like another and you’re told about one thing in order to teach you about another. 

            Jesus’ parable of the sower and the seed was not told to teach about farming.  Rather, because sowing seeds in the ground is like teaching truth to the heart, Jesus tells the parable to teach us things about how his instruction is received. 

            okay, why is Jesus doing this?  Why is this talking in parables happening in john?  When we get to john chapter 16, we’ll touch on this again and I’ll have something else to say about why.  For now three possibilities for why Jesus speaks in parables. 

            one, Jesus was a phenomenal student of god’s word, the bible, which for Jesus was the old testament, the new testament hadn’t been written yet.  Jesus’ thinking is steeped in old testament.  In the old testament, one thing is like another.  Jesus speaks in parables because the old testament as a whole, functions like a big parable containing all sorts of little parables. 

            Hosea chapter 12, verse 10, god says, “I have also spoken to the prophets, and I  gave numerous visions, and through the prophets I gave parables.”  The old testament is the writing of the prophets, breathed out by god and god says, “through the prophets, I gave parables.” 

            Hosea 12:10 states it and if I just observe as I read, throughout the old testament, one thing is like another.  The story of genesis 2 and 3 is like the story of Israel is like the story of the church.  The garden of Eden is like the tabernacle is like the temple is like heaven.  The future is like the past.  One thing is like another.

            if I read the old testament as only history, a book which gives me a window on to the past, so as I read, I look through that window and try to interpret what happened back in those days, if that is how I’m reading the old testament, I’m not going to get it.  I’m not going to see how it is talking, all the time, about Jesus, about his kingdom, the future. 

            when I read about Moses or David or Solomon or Israel in the old testament, I don’t only think about people who lived back in those days.  I think, “what am I learning about the messiah here because one thing is like another.”  I read about Israel in the promised land and ask, “what am I learning about god’s people in heaven?”  And I think that is how the new testament writers are reading the old testament.  And I think that is how Jesus read it and his teaching followed that same format.  He taught in parables.

            a second reason for this teaching in likenesses, how can you tell someone about things that are indescribably wonderful beyond our comprehension except by saying, “it is like this thing that we are familiar with?”  The bible is talking about things wonderful beyond our comprehension.   So it says, “it is like this.”

             a third reason, art, beauty.  Genesis 2, verse 9, “out of the ground the lord god caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food…”  not only good for food, not only useful, but also pleasing to the sight.  Creation is not merely useful, practical, it is beautiful.  God is an artist.  His word, is not merely useful, it is well written. 

            an artist doesn’t write a little paragraph into his painting telling you what everything is and why he painted it this way.  Part of appreciating is observing and studying in order to figure out what the artist was trying to express.  Much of the bible is not immediately obvious.  It has to be studied, observed, attented too.  But, if we remember as we read, one thing is like another,  “what other thing is the writer trying to tell me about by telling me about this part of the history of Israel?”  If we’re asking questions like that, I think we’ll make better progress in understanding.

            so that is one application, remember, as you read scripture, one thing is like another.  Application point number 2, throughout john, people don’t get it.  The disciples in our sermon text, Jesus says, “our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep…”  “the disciples then said to him, ‘lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.’”  come on guys.

            so you’ve got all of these people, who are like us, we don’t really know as much as we think we know.  We don’t get things.  We don’t understand why god let such and such happen.  There is so much we don’t know.  But, did you notice how often in our sermon text people are trying to correct or challenge Jesus? 

            verse 7, Jesus says to his disciples, let’s go to Judea.  They don’t say, “you know what you’re doing, lead on.’  they question, “rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?”  “do you really know what you’re doing?’

            Martha and Mary both say, “lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  “where were you?  Do you really know what you’re doing?  Why weren’t you here?”  Verse 37, the crowds watching Jesus weep, some say, “could not this man, who opened the eyes of the blind man, have kept this man also from dying?”  ‘come on Jesus, why didn’t you do it this way?  Do you really know what you’re doing?”

            they come to the tomb.  Jesus says, “remove the stone.”  Do they say, “okay.”  No, questioning, correcting, Martha says, “lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days.”  Jesus, don’t you know about decaying bodies? 

            but here is the thing that I think is so wonderful, how does Jesus respond to this questioning, challenging?  He doesn’t.  I read through the text, there is no rebuke, no chastisement, no anger.  Jesus is so patient.

            we constantly question his wisdom, his care.  We complain, we worry, we fret – my good shepherd doesn’t know what he is doing in the way he is leading me and caring for me.  How comforting to read john 11 and see how patient Jesus is.  He keeps right on loving Martha and Mary and the disciples.  Jesus is patient with us.

            a third application, verse 15, Jesus says, “and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe…”  Jesus wants his followers to believe.  That is good news.  He is not indifferent, just watching, “if you get it great, if you don’t, that’s your problem.”  No, he is not indifferent.  He wants his followers to get it and believe it.  And that gives us hope.  We’re slow to believe, slow to get it, but Jesus is patient and he wants us to believe – we’re not in this on our own, Jesus is at work.  Let’s pray.