John’s gospel is strikingly different from Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The other three gospels basically share one time-line for telling the story of Jesus’ earthly life, and they share many of the same stories, albeit using slightly different words. But John’s gospel leaves out a lot of the information that is in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, instead giving us a rather different time-line and many stories that are not found in the other gospels.
This past Sunday, we heard the story of Jesus clearing the animal-sellers and money-changers out of the Temple, according to John. John places this story at the BEGINNING of Jesus’ ministry, while Matthew, Mark, and Luke place this story at the END of Jesus’ earthly career, when he enters Jerusalem in the week of his crucifixion.
If you read and compare the four gospels together, you will notice that Jesus speaks very differently in the gospel of John than he does in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. This year, we get most of our gospel readings from Mark (the shortest gospel), and some from John’s gospel. You can hardly help but notice the contrast between the way Jesus speaks in John’s gospel and his style according to Mark’s gospel.
Mark: “Be silent and come out of him” (1:25) [to an unclean spirit].
He would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him” (1:34).
“See that you say nothing to anyone” [after healing a man of a skin disease].
And there are many more examples in Mark’s gospel, where Jesus seems intent on keeping his identity as the Son of God a secret— what scholars have called “the Messianic secret.”
John: “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man” (1:51) [upon meeting Nathanael].
“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (2:19) [after clearing the Temple].
And when the “woman at the well” said to Jesus, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I am [he], the one who is speaking to you” (2:25-26).
And there are many more examples in John, of Jesus speaking quite openly about being the Son of God.
So, by comparing the gospels, you can see that, according to John, Jesus was outspoken about his identity, while according to Mark he made an effort to keep his true identity under wraps.
Nevertheless, in all of the gospels, we, the readers, are “in on the secret” of Who Jesus really is.
The gospel of John states its purpose very clearly: Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah [the Christ], the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
Back to John, chapter 3: Have you ever looked closely at this chapter in a Bible that advertises, “Words of Christ in red” ? Looking in such a Bible, you would notice that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John each feature a lot of red ink, indicating the words of Christ. Also in red ink would be quotes from Jesus in The Acts of the Apostles and in 1 Corinthians 11. And then there are the words spoken by the heavenly Christ in the Book of Revelation.
So, try reading John chapter 3 in a Bible like that. John 3:10-21 is usually printed all in red.
It may interest you to know that ancient Hebrew and Greek Scripture texts did not have quotation marks at all— so every translator and editor and publisher of the Bible text must try to figure out, Where do the words of Christ end and where do the words of John the Evangelist take over ? While many scholars believe that John 3:10-21 consists entirely of words of Christ himself, other serious Christian scholars believe that verses 16-21 (even our beloved John 3:16) are thoughts of John the Evangelist, reflecting on Jesus’ words.
In any case, I want us to live our lives by these words from John’s gospel: Those who do what is true come to the Light,
so that it may be clearly seen
that their deeds have been done in God.