This is the fifth of a series of posts on the Christmas story in the gospels. The first one concerned Matthew’s account, the second concerned Mark’s account, and the third and fourth concerned Luke’s account.

Then there is John. Unlike Matthew and Luke, there is no Nativity story in John.  These both have Nativity stories, even if quite different ones. In John there is a narrative about the coming of Christ: that narrative concerns Jesus’s baptism by John the Baptist. In this respect John’s account is like Mark’s, which also begins with the story of John the Baptist.  But John’s account is quite different from Mark’s. He tells the story from a different perspective, and he adds a commentary that is unlike anything in the other gospels.

We first hear of Jesus in John 1:15: “John [meaning John the Baptist] bore witness to him, and cried “He who comes after me ranks before me, for he was before me.” That must have been puzzling to those who heard John the Baptist say this. What could this statement possibly mean?

John’s telling of the John the Baptist story really begins four verses later at 1:19, with John being questioned by “priests and Levites.” The story opens in the middle: John has been baptizing people, but we don’t hear about that. Instead we hear of his being under siege from the Jewish authorities for these baptisms. (In Matthew, John lectures the Pharisees and Sadducees, calling them “a brood of vipers” (3:7)

John admits “I am not the Christ” and he says he is not Elijah either. So what are you up to, the priests and Levites ask.  John tells them of one who is yet to come.

“Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (1:29), John exclaims the next day when Jesus appears. And John continues “He on whom you see the spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.”

In all four gospels John the Baptist tells the crowd that he baptizes with water, but Jesus, the one who is coming soon (or here now) will baptize with the Holy Spirit. But the announcement that Jesus is the Lamb of God, and that He “takes away the sin of the world” is only in John.

The Gospel of John connects the story of the baptism of Christ directly to the calling of Jesus’s disciples. In Matthew and Mark, the calling of the disciples comes soon after Jesus’s baptism, but only after he has left John behind and gone out into the wilderness. (In Luke, there is no wilderness experience, and the calling of the disciples also comes after Jesus has started his ministry.) In John, John the Baptist himself has disciples. On seeing Jesus again the day after the baptism, John says to two disciples, “Behold the Lamb of God.” Then Andrew (one of the two) goes to his brother, Simon Peter,” and says “We have found the Messiah” (1:41). Then Andrew and Simon Peter, and soon others, become Jesus’s disciples. In these and other ways, John, the gospel writer, testifies that John the Baptist made even stronger assertions about Jesus as the Christ.

What we most notice in John, when we read this gospel, is the first 18 verses, which are unlike anything else in the gospels. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; and all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:1-5). There’s more, of course, another thirteen verses, including this Advent: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory of the only Son from the Father” (1:14).

This is John the gospel writer speaking directly to us, telling us what to make of the coming of the Christ and how to understand it – even though he is telling us that this coming is more than we can ever understand. John wants us to know of this mystery and wonder before he begins telling us the story itself. This is in no other gospel.

Friends have long had a special affinity for the Gospel of John, and for many reasons. We do not generally take easily to theology, but we love John’s talking of the light: ”The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

John, like Matthew, gives an account that stresses continuity with what has come before, but his continuity does not rest at all upon previous scripture. Instead he tells us something new, something true for all time and even beyond time: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

Now there is something to wonder at on this Christmas Day.

[Image: Juan de Flandes, Baptism of Christ, ca 1508]

Also posted on River View Friend

Views: 600

Comment by Clem Gerdelmann on 12th mo. 26, 2013 at 5:12am

I see Matthew, the teacher/historian and Luke, doctor/social worker as having need to start with familial beginning; whereas Mark, the rebel and John, the mystic have not that need, but another to explore.

Jesus, the loner-at-prayer, understands those needs, but is most assuredly with the one(s) alone and at prayer this Christmas season. Thanks for sharing of these, Doug.

Comment by James C Schultz on 12th mo. 26, 2013 at 10:42am

I was thinking as you are that there is no Christmas story in John but the spirit opened up to me that there was once you recognize John comes from a completely different place.  Unlike the other writers who show Jesus' earthly lineage in one fashion or another, John is showing Jesus' godly lineage in verses 1 through 14.  Instead of starting with Adam or King David he starts with his Godly begining:

Joh 1:1

  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Joh 1:2

  The same was in the beginning with God.

and what he did before he became like us

Joh 1:3

  All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.

and his godly characteristics

Joh 1:4

  In him was life; and the life was the light of men.

and the mystery that He was befpre becoming like us in that we knew little of God's love before Jesus revealed it to us

Joh 1:5

  And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

How he tried to let us know he was coming

Joh 1:6

  There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.

Joh 1:7

  The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe.

Joh 1:8

  He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.

Joh 1:9

  That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.

but these attempts were ignored

Joh 1:10

  He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.

and rejected by the world, the owners of the inns

Joh 1:11

  He came unto his own, and his own received him not.

 but he brought joy to those who did receive him such as the shephers, and the wise men who still follow Him.

Joh 1:12

  But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:

but not through the normal natural process

Joh 1:13

  Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

But walked among us as one of us doing things unfathomable and revealing God's divine nature - Agape

Joh 1:14

  And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth

I might have stretched some of the above in an attempt to make it fit but it's basicly off the top of my heart and recollection and probably a good jumping off place to do a more in depth discussion for others who are feel led to do so.  Thank you for all the time you put into your articles. 

Comment by Forrest Curo on 12th mo. 26, 2013 at 11:37am

John's Christmas story is more hidden than that: John 8:39...

They answered him, "Abraham is our father."

Jesus said to them, "If you were Abraham's children, you would do what Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth which I heard from God; this is not what Abraham did. You do what your father did."

They said to him, "We were not born of fornication; we have one father, our God."

I wouldn't imagine that this passage is an accurate transcript; the 'Jesus' in 'John's gospel doesn't speak anything like Jesus as he speaks in the synoptics. We're getting a 'meaning-of-it-all' summary, one that gets more tightly to the gist in some respects, but here (and other places) gives a later perspective that distorts much of the historical context. But the one common ground agreement about Jesus' birth is that God has set things up so as to make it subject to hostile speculation (which continues even into into Justin Martyr's 'Dialogue With Trypho' in the 2nd Century.)

The story as Christians get it drips with hints of a royal destiny; you'd have a hard time finding a traditional Christmas carol that doesn't set that out clearly -- but this is not the 'Jesus the Teacher' beloved of modern liberals so they play those elements down. Nobody likes to think much about the scandalous elements that are also in there: even "the son of Mary" that serves as 'Mark's allusion to Christmas. But these, too, are part of the life God intended Jesus to live... They are not accidental.


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