I often find people quite dismissive of the Christian claims about Jesus, most especially when they speak about the concept of “evidence”. ‘It hasn’t happened since’, ‘I haven’t seen it’, ‘It’s so unlikely…’
The problem is, that’s exactly the point. The Christian claim is not that Jesus’ life was a recurring event – some perpetual reincarnation that gives every generation the opportunity to see water turned into wine. The bold claim of the Christian faith is that something unusual happened, at a specific point in history, in the life of a man called Jesus.
But because it was at a specific point in history, we won’t get the kind of repeatable scientific evidence found in the university laboratories scattered across the city I live in. Rather, we’re dependent upon the kind of eyewitness evidence to which we turn so frequently in life – the kind of evidence that we will happily accept in general conversation and any court of law.
And it’s this exact theme which John considers at the beginning of his account, in John 1:19-51. Having already announced this key witness in his prologue, John the writer displays his namesake (John the Baptist) doing what he said he would: witnessing. The heavy emphasis of these verses is John’s intentional pointing away from himself and towards Jesus1.
Excitingly, however, the baton doesn’t stop with John. His role starts to fizzle out in v36, when he makes a rapid and unassuming exit from the stage. But two disciples see Jesus, speak to Him, spend the night chatting with Him, and then take up the responsibility to witness as Peter is brought in. Philip and Nathanael again have the opportunity to see Jesus – even to quiz him – and quickly take up the same position, so that by the end of the passage they’re enthusiastically making massive claims about Jesus2.
And, in the best traditions of teaser trailers, Jesus Himself intriguingly asks:
“Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these …. Truly, truly I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (vv50-51)
What an introduction! What a start to John’s account!
Don’t we desperately want to find out what it was that Nathanael saw?
Don’t we want to discover more about the ‘greater things’ which they witnessed?
That’s exactly John’s purpose
And that seems to be exactly John’s intention – indeed, his purpose in writing the book. As it becomes increasingly apparent, John has recorded his account because he wants others to have access to what he saw. As he states at the end of his book:
“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.” (20:30-31)
Jesus isn’t physically present in the world anymore. Neither even is John the Baptist. But contained within the pages of John’s gospel is the eyewitness testimony of those who saw, who spent time with Him, who even quizzed Him. And so, while we can’t “Come and see” anymore, John’s great invitation to us is to come and hear what they saw. I for one am looking forward to doing that this year3.
- e.g. vv26-27, “John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” ↩
- e.g. v49, “Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” ↩
- Lots of Christian Unions are offering others the chance to do the same with Uncover: John. If you’re a student, find out more from your Christian Union. And if you’re around in London, you’re welcome to join our Bible studies at St Helen’s – click here to find out more. ↩