28 June 2017

John 3:31-36

“The Father loves the Son and has placed all things in his hands.” (v. 35)

Psalm: Psalm 26


In today's passage, the writer picks up on the contrast between Jesus and John the Baptist to explore some of the key themes of the whole Gospel: that Jesus is from above and speaks for God in a new way, fuller than any prophet (including John the Baptist) who has gone before, that God has placed everything in his hands, that he and his testimony of the things of God are rejected, but those who do so are lost.

Some features of John's Gospel can be disturbing. The language of "above" and "below", for example, could suggest a sort of dualism which is contrary to Christian tradition that the physical creation (the world) is good and as much part of God's providence as heaven. The famous verses John 3:16-17 make it plain that John was no dualist. He strongly asserts that it is God's purpose to save the world through Christ, not to condemn it or confirm its inferiority.

Likewise, the Gospel of John's presentation sometimes sounds as if Jesus wasn't quite fully in the world, and went round, a few inches off the ground, handing down majestic discourses and engaging in conversation of a rather mystical style. John certainly gives us Jesus in a broad, theological context set by the prologue to the Gospel (John 1:1-18), that Jesus is THE revelation of God (John 1:18), the active agency of God ("the Word") is alive in him, and, at the end of the Gospel, Thomas (of all people) concludes matters with his ringing declaration that Jesus is "my Lord and my God" (John 20:28). The Gospel is true to the astonishing Christian claim that Jesus is a proper human being in whom the fullness of God dwells.

Psalm 26 is another individual psalm, albeit much more confident than many of them. Its confidence borders on arrogance as the writer calls for God's vindication of his evident integrity and faith. He is not only innocent, but has a good singing voice (verse 7)! His anxiety is that, for all his deservedness, things may not work out for him. Perhaps we hear the voice of a Job here: why do bad things happen to good people?

The hymn O bitter shame and sorrow offers a corrective to over-confidence: a strong recognition of need, with its progressive lessening of me as Christ grows in my life.

To Ponder

  • How do you respond when you encounter a line of Scripture you've never noticed before, especially if it disturbs your understanding of Jesus and your faith in him?
  • How do you keep a proper perspective when your faith is at its weakest, and when it feels strong?

Bible notes author

The Revd Alan Bolton

The Revd Alan Bolton is a Methodist minister serving in the Connexional Team with responsibility for the Church's complaints and discipline process. He is also a musician and was a member of the group producing new music resources for Methodist worship.