I discovered recently that one of the strategies used to tuck a large amount of information into human memory is to visualize an imaginary "memory house" where each room gives a place to store specific, important details. In preparation for discussions about the Gospel of John at our adult Bible study group, I set out to construct a memory house with a room for each of the twenty-one chapters in the book.
As I tried to imagine a structure depicting an overall impression of John's Gospel, I remembered the movie from my senior-year, high-school chemistry class showing orders of magnitude. The movie opened with a view of the universe in outer space, progressively shrank the view until it showed a suburban street scene, took the viewers underground into plant roots, and showed pictures of individual cells, then cell parts. I thought I was constructing an imaginary house to enhance memory, but I was reminded of our marvellous, intricate, complex universe!
Storytellers often begin with a bird's-eye view, then take their audience to smaller details. Upon reflection, I was amazed. John, with his writing in the Gospel, moved me through all the orders of magnitude from the cosmic to the molecular, and then back to the cosmic.
John began his story of Jesus from the broadest view:
John 1:1-4 – In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. (NIV 2011)
The molecular aspect of John's Gospel arises from individuals having life in Christ's name. Living in Christ's name gives us light for the very essence of our lives, inclusive of the molecules that make up our cells. So, in much of the book, John gives intimate eyewitness accounts of Jesus' effects on people. He tells us about Jesus on the ground through his eyes. John wrote about seven "signs" (or miracles) of Christ's ministry and reported that many people believed after witnessing these "signs".
Then, at the very end of his Gospel, John zooms back out to the cosmic viewpoint, when he states his purpose for writing:
John 20:30-31 – Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (NIV 2011)
John 21:25 – Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written. (NIV)
I pray that this gives you an overview of John's Gospel to hang the details on when you read it through.
Prayer: Father, Abba-Daddy in heaven, we give thanks for our Bibles and for John's testimony of the Messiah. Let John's message about Jesus soak in and touch every part of our lives, then flow out and touch the lives of others. In the name of Christ, we ask. Amen.
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Listen while you read: "How Firm A Foundation" (Lyrics)