“But some of them went their ways to the Pharisees, and told them what things Jesus had done. Then gathered the chief priests and the Pharisees a council, and said, What do we? for this man doeth many miracles. If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation. And one of them, named Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year, said unto them, Ye know nothing at all, Nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not. And this spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation; And not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad. Then from that day forth they took counsel together for to put him to death. Jesus therefore walked no more openly among the Jews; but went thence unto a country near to the wilderness, into a city called Ephraim, and there continued with his disciples.
And the Jews’ passover was nigh at hand: and many went out of the country up to Jerusalem before the passover, to purify themselves. Then sought they for Jesus, and spake among themselves, as they stood in the temple, What think ye, that he will not come to the feast? Now both the chief priests and the Pharisees had given a commandment, that, if any man knew where he were, he should shew it, that they might take him.
Then Jesus six days before the passover came to Bethany, where Lazarus was which had been dead, whom he raised from the dead. There they made him a supper; and Martha served: but Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with him.”
When I suspended our study of the Fourth Gospel at the beginning of Advent we had reached the major turning point in the Gospel of John: the raising of Lazarus from the dead. As I said then this event brings to a close the first part of the Gospel known as “The Book of Signs.” The text of the first section of the Fourth Gospel that is ordered around seven signs, some of them miracles — seven because these signs sum up Jesus’ identity as well as his mission in the world. Both are important: identity & mission. He is the Messiah of God and he has been rejected by the Rulers of Israel. “He came unto his own and his own received him not.” If you watch as much police procedure TV shows as I do you are used to each new episode beginning with something titled like “Previously on Nobel,” which is a recap of where the narrative has taken us. And yes, that what I need to do now so that we are all together on this most important narrative ever in the world. So in order to pick up our study, although I’m sure that most of you know this by heart now, lets look once more at the seven signs.
The first sign was Jesus’ miracle of turning water into wine at the wedding feast. That sign shows that Jesus is the Mystical Bridegroom who has come to take his Mystical Bride back to his Kingdom. (Keep the notion of a Kingdom in mind.) That sign also shows that the Law of Moses once in the hands of the Mystical Bridegroom is not destroyed, but it is transubstantiated into something so beautiful and holy that it is in itself irresistible. Like water transformed into wine.
The second sign was the cleansing of the Temple in Jerusalem, which sign showed that the Temple and all the sacrifices that were made in the Temple were not destroyed but they too were transubstantiated in the flesh of Jesus the Messiah. The only Temple that matters from now on is the Temple of Jesus’ body and the only sacrifice that matters from now on is the sacrifice of Jesus’ flesh. But unlike anything they had ever seen before the sacrifice of his flesh will not put an end to Jesus.
The third sign was the healing of the nobleman’s son at a distance. There was never a time in Israel when a person was healed or experienced a miracle in this manner. The closest to such a thing would have been Elisha’s instructions to Naaman to baptize himself in the Jordan so that God would heal his leprosy and he did as he was told and God did heal him. But Jesus’ action was instantaneous and at a great distance all of which was carefully verified by the nobleman and reported back to Jesus’ Apostles, which the Beloved Disciple carefully reported in his Gospel; which miracle/sign signifies that Jesus’ power to heal and create is omnipresent and thus divine. Jesus is Lord over time and space.
The fourth sign was the healing of the man by the Pool of Bethesda right next to the Temple, a man who was known to have been cripple for thirty-eight years. And if you recall this healing occurred on the Sabbath and after Jesus had healed him he ordered him to stand up, pick up his bed, and leave the Temple. What is signified in the fourth sign is that Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath. Jesus is greater than the Sabbath, Jesus is greater than the Temple, he is greater any power of evil or disease; furthermore he has the power to raised the dead and to judge the world with power and authority his Father has given to him.
“For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son: That all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him. Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.” John 5:22-24
Therefore the Temple officials prepare to stone him because he said he deserved to be honored with the same honor that belongs to God the Father thus claiming himself to be God. The Temple officials were correct in their judgement that Jesus was asserting for himself the divine nature. Only they did not believe Jesus’ declaration and they would not come to him in order to be saved and all the more they sought to kill him.
The fifth sign was the feeding of the multitude in the countryside of Galilee and that sign signifies that Jesus is greater than Moses and he is the obvious Lord over nature. (His lordship over nature is also signified by his walking on water.) And the deeper meaning of this miracle is elaborated in the teaching that follows in John chapter six. After Jesus miraculously fed the multitude he realized they would attempt to force him to become their King, the King of Israel, and he left them went to a mountain alone. The fifth sign recapitulates Moses feeding the children of Israel in the wilderness with manna from Heaven. Except that Jesus did not petition God the Father for provisions for Israel, rather he multiplied the loaves and fishes right from his own hand. Jesus is greater than the Old Testament, greater than Moses — Jesus is himself the Bread of Heaven.
The sixth sign was the healing of the man born blind. As the reader enters chapter nine he realized the narrative has simply continued. Jesus walked out the Temple through the midst of the rulers who were about to stone him, at which point he and his disciples passed by a man who was blind from birth. Note the casual manner in which he and his disciples left the Temple. They were not ducking for cover which would have made sense given the fact that an attempt had been made on his life. His disciples, apparently feeling safe in his company, ask whether it was his parents’ sin or his own sin that caused his blindness. Jesus told them this whole matter was for the glory of God. He then spat on the ground, made clay of the spittle, anointed the man’s eyes with the mud, and told him to go and wash in a pool. He did what Jesus told him to do and he was instantly healed. His neighbors identified him as the man they knew, the man born blind, though some of his neighbor said he looked very much like the blind beggar but they were not sure. “I am he,” the man declared to his neighbors and other people who saw the miracle, including Jesus’ disciples. Jesus did not restore the man’s sight since he was born blind. Whatever had failed in the man’s biological development, Jesus made right, healing him completely. Jesus is the Light of the World and he is the creator of the human eye that sees the Light.
The seventh and final sign was Lazarus raised from the dead and called out of a stinking tomb in front of friends and foes alike. Jesus had already declared to the Temple Rulers, his disciples, and generally the people of Israel that he had the power and authority to raise the dead:
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live. For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself; And hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man. Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice…” John 5: 25-28
The raising of Lazarus from the dead brings “The Book of Signs” to a close. The Rulers of Israel, even in the face of his miracles, in the face of such wonderful miracles, gather to plot his death. Jesus, perfectly aware of the plot — this not being his chosen time nor his chosen place — retreats Ephraim a few miles away from Bethany right after the raising of Lazarus. The next thing we know it is close to the Passover — that would be the hour of his own choosing. That Passover Jesus was the talk of Jerusalem and the text informs us that the Rulers had published throughout Israel that if anyone knew the whereabouts of Jesus they were to inform the Rulers so that he may be arrested. Then the narrative brings us even closer to the Passover. Note: Six days before the Passover, Jesus returned to Bethany and the household of Lazarus, Martha, and Mary. Martha served, as we would have expected. Lazarus has the seat of honor with Jesus and Mary brought in a pound of spikenard and anointed Jesus’ feet and the sweet, musky odor filled the household. Having been anointed for the sacrifice, Jesus the consecrated Bridegroom delivers a series of sermons — his Farewell Discourse — in which he will prepared his disciples for his death and resurrections as well as the coming of the Holy Spirit and the manifestation of his chosen Bride — Holy Mother Church. Next week we will take a look at the supper with Lazarus and his sisters. And immediately following our supper with Lazarus and our Lord we will join them in his triumphant entry into Jerusalem.