When I began the study of John this year with Bible Study Fellowship, I had no idea where it would take me or how I would grow. In fact, I believed the opposite-that nothing in John could be new. I never should’ve been so arrogant. The study of John this year really guided me where I never expected, and grew me spiritually in ways I did not believe at the beginning. God taught me more than five lessons while studying John, but I will focus on the five that repeated themselves throughout the year.
God’s will prevails
The Sanhedrien wanted to kill Jesus as soon as they thought he was teaching blasphemy. However, they were prevented from capturing Jesus until it was his time. That time happened to be the Passover, when they didn’t want to kill him, preferring to wait until it was done. Yet, God orchestrated Jesus’ death so prophesy could be fulfilled, and Jesus was killed within God’s own perfect timing and by his will. This is amazing when we really reflect on it and realize that not only Jesus’ death, but our deaths are in God’s hands. If it is not our time to die, we will continue to live, no matter what persecution we experience or what we go through. Then, when we do die, it will be within God’s perfect will and at his timing.
This is difficult for us to accept. I know personally that I wonder at God’s timing and his will for me. Why would he continue to keep me in a place I do not like? Why would he take away someone who is young and not someone who is old? We do not have the answers to those questions sometimes. Yet, we have to accept that whatever it was, it was within God’s will and with his timing. As Peter Jackson’s Gandalf said, “A wizard is never late. He arrives exactly when he means to.” God works in a similar fashion because he is never late for what we need, not what we want.
God desires to have a relationship with us.
More than any other gospel, John portrays Jesus as a friend. John’s focus is not on friendship, but on how Jesus is God, but his friendship with Jesus comes through. John was called the disciple Jesus loved for a reason after all. Yet, it is not for these reasons alone I feel that God calls us to have a personal friendship with him. There are other instances in John where he shows how much he cares for his friends. He assures them that they will be safe when the Pharisees come and repairs Peter’s rash action of slicing off a person’s ear. He also gives them advice about the coming days and cooks breakfast for them when they need it. Jesus demonstrates how much God desires to be a friend to us, not just our Lord and Master. In fact, after his death and all sins were paid, he calls the disciples his brothers. Before, they were disciples, unable to get to God. With Jesus’ sacrifice, they were able to become members of his family.
I’ve known mentally that I am a member of God’s family and that he is my friend. Yet, I never grasped it in my heart until this year’s study of John. Particularly, after I watched the movie, The Shack, I came to realize how personal is a relationship with God. In the movie, Mack’s family has a personal name for God, Papa. How true this name is! God wants us to feel comfortable around him, able to talk freely with him about anything. He is also a true Father, one that will never disappoint us or not love us the way he should. This revelation stirred my heart and brought me closer to God.
God never left and he never will
When Jesus leaves, he does not leave his disciples to build his church alone. He sends his Holy Spirit to them to give them the power and strength to carry out God’s will. With the Holy Spirit residing within them, the disciples are transformed from ordinary fishermen to preachers of God’s word and truth. Even when he resurrected and had to leave once again, he breathed on them, giving them enough “Holy Spirit juice” to last until the Holy Spirit could dwell in them. The Holy Spirit is fully God, along with Jesus and God the Father. So that means Jesus is present with them spiritually, even when he is not physically.
I thought that Jesus had left us to do what we could when he ascended to the Father. In fact, I believed this so much that I cried at the end of Prince Caspian when Susan and Peter must leave Aslan. I thought-that’s how I feel about Jesus, he left us to fend on our own. For some reason, I ignored the power of the Holy Spirit, not realizing that he had given us life with his Spirit. A friend’s question and a fasting journey later, I realized the Holy Spirit is living, active and he is our equivalent of Jesus. Unlike Jesus, he is not constrained by human hands, and he can be anywhere (see my reasons the Holy Spirit is better than Jesus here).
God forgives us for every wrong we have or can do.
Jesus is compassionate to those individuals who I would never be compassionate towards: Judas and Pontius Pilate. He is even compassionate towards the guards who gambled away his clothing, telling his Father to forgive them. Yet, none of these acts of mercy gripped me as hard as the mercy Jesus had towards Peter. Peter betrayed him-denying him three times, a fault sometimes considered the worst sin-but Jesus forgave him. Not only did Jesus speak to Peter privately and forgive him, but he also showed his mercy by questioning him publically about whether Peter truly loved Jesus. These instances are painful for Peter but necessary to show his redemption and how he could be freed from his betrayal.
I have long harbored guilt about a sin in my past. Yet, I realized that Jesus forgave the greatest sin from Peter-betrayal. If he could do that for Peter, then he could forgive me. He could forgive me for knowingly sinning against him, just like Peter. I am free of that sin because of Jesus’ death and he has enough compassion to let me love him without guilt or shame. I am so grateful, and the study of this passage in John reminded me of God’s abundant grace.
God calls us each individually to follow him
At the end of John, Jesus predicts that John will not die but will live longer than all the disciples. Peter is puzzled by this, since he just received an eerie prediction of his own death, and asks Jesus what he means. Jesus essentially tells him, “Don’t worry about anyone else. Follow me.” Peter did so, both physically following Jesus on the beach and spiritually following Jesus until he was martyred.
God wants us to be unified as a body, but also recognizes us as individuals as well. I know I personally play a comparison game, thinking about how so and so Christian is better off than I am financially or spiritually. I wonder, what did I do to deserve lesser blessings? How arrogant is this statement! God calls us each as he wills and we are asked simply to follow him. Our journeys are not the same just as fingerprints are not the same. I am asked to do things that others are not and those are blessings just as much as the other Christian’s blessings. Instead of jealousy and comparison, I am called to love, unity and being concerned with my own relationship with God.
More than five things did I learn from the study of John, and that is saying something when I have read through John many, many times. Yet, God used the members of Bible Study Fellowship to bring me closer to him. Would you like to join the study of Romans next year? You can find a group near you here.
Bible by Adam Dimmick