Pastor John Piper is currently [October 2009] preaching through the Gospel of John. Here is a portion of an introductory message that explains the purpose of the book:
The Gospel of John is a portrait of Jesus Christ and his saving work. It focuses on the last three years of Jesus’ life—and especially on his death and resurrection. It’s purpose is clear in John 20:30–31: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” The book is written to help people believe on Christ and have eternal life.
Written for Non-Christians—and Christians
But don’t get it in your head that the book is therefore only for unbelievers. Believers on Jesus must go on believing in Jesus in order to be saved in the end. Jesus said in John 15:6, “If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.” And in John 8:31, he said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples.”
So when John says, “These are written so 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 meant that he was writing to awaken faith in unbelievers and sustain faith in believers—and in that way lead both to eternal life. And there may be no better book in the Bible to help you keep on trusting and treasuring Christ above all.
An Eyewitness Account
This portrait of Jesus is written by an eyewitness who was part of these infinitely important events. Five times in this Gospel we find the unusual words “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (13:23; 19:26; 20:2, 7, 21:20). For example, at the very end it says in John 21:20, “Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them.” Then four verses later (21:24), it says, “This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things and who has written these things.” So the one called “the disciple whom Jesus loved”—who was there leaning on his shoulder at the Last Supper (13:23)—wrote this book as his divinely inspired witness to the events of Jesus’ life and what they meant for us.
One of the reasons that I say it is divinely inspired is that this is what Jesus promised to do. He said in John 14:26, “The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” And in John 16:13, he said, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak.”
In other words, Jesus chose his apostles as his representatives, saved them, taught them, sent them, and then gave them, through the Holy Spirit, divine guidance in the writing of Scripture for the foundation of the church (Ephesians 2:20). We believe that John’s Gospel is therefore the inspired word of God.
John’s First Three Verses
Those words—“word of God”—bring us to the first words of John’s Gospel. John 1:1–3, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” These are the verses we focus on today.
“The Word”: Jesus
First, we focus on the term Word. “In the beginning was the Word.” The most important thing to know about this Word is found in verse 14: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” The Word refers to Jesus Christ.
John knows what he’s about to write in these 21 chapters. He is going to tell us the story of what Jesus Christ did and what he taught. This is a book about the life and work of the man Jesus Christ—the man that John knew and saw and heard and touched with his hands (1 John 1:1). He had flesh and blood. He was not a ghost or an apparition appearing and vanishing. He ate and drank and got tired, and John knew him very closely. Jesus’ mother lived with John in the last part of her life (John 19:26).
Therefore, what John is doing in John 1:1–3 is telling us the most ultimate things about Jesus that he can. It took John more than three years to figure out the fullness of who Jesus was. But he does not want his readers to take more than three verses to find out what took him so long to know. He wants us to have in our minds, fixed and clear, from the beginning of his Gospel, the eternal majesty and deity and Creator rights of Jesus Christ.
Jesus in His Infinite Majesty
That’s the point of verses 1–3. He means for us to read this Gospel worshipfully, humbly, submissively, awestruck that the man at the wedding and at the well and on the mountain is Creator of the universe. Do you see this and feel this? This is not my design. This is not the structure of my sermon. This is the structure of the book. This is the way John wrote—the way God meant for him to put it together. You or I might have written it in a way that subtly lets Jesus’ identity grow on the readers so that they wonder, Who is this man?
But John says no. “In the very first words out of the end of my pen, I will stun you and blow you away with the identity of this man who became flesh and dwelt among us. So there is no mistaking.” John means for us to read every word of this Gospel with the clear, solid, amazed knowledge that Jesus Christ was with God and was God and that the one who laid down his life for us (John 15:13) created the universe. John wants you to know and believe in a magnificent Savior. Whatever else you may enjoy about Jesus, John wants you to know and treasure Jesus in his infinite majesty.