The Santa Clause starring actor and comedian Tim Allen is a popular Christmas movie franchise, including The Santa Clause, The Santa Clause 2, and The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause.
After Santa dies accidentally in Scott Calvin’s front yard on Christmas Eve, Calvin (played by Allen) and his son Charlie travel magically to the North Pole, where Calvin learns he must become Santa by the next Christmas. Calvin thinks he is dreaming until he starts gaining weight and reindeer begin following him. Also, Calvin shaves his face, looks in the mirror, and immediately grows a white beard. These oddities convince him that he is Santa, and he prepares for Christmas Eve.
After delivering gifts to children around the world for the first time, the new Santa returns to the North Pole to reflect on his strange experience. From the balcony of his bedroom, Calvin sees a polar bear directing traffic in the town square. He turns to Judy, an adorable elf, and says, “I see it, but I don’t believe it.” Judy replies convincingly, “But Santa, seeing isn’t believing; believing is seeing.”
Three cheers for elf Judy! Believing is seeing. To say it another way: As Christians, we walk by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). The apostle John, who penned The Gospel According to John, and elf Judy might not agree on the North Pole, but they certainly agree on the idea that belief always precedes sight. We see what we believe if what we believe is true.
John, the beloved disciple (13:23, 19:26, 20:2, 21:7), writes with belief in mind, which he expresses in his Gospel purpose statement, appearing at the end of the book: “But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (20:31). Engaging belief in the Lord Jesus Christ is John’s focused goal. He gives his readers many reasons to believe that Jesus of Nazareth is indeed the Christ, the Son of God. Thus, in John’s mind, there is only one proper response to Jesus’s life and ministry: Believe. And when we believe in Jesus, He will open our eyes to see the beauty and wonder of His grace.
The Beloved Disciple
Who is John, the beloved disciple of Jesus? After the apostle Paul, John is the most prolific writer in the New Testament, having penned The Gospel According to John, three epistles, and The Revelation of Jesus Christ. He was part of Jesus’s inner circle, which also included Peter and James, John’s brother. Jesus’s nickname for James and John was “Sons of Thunder.” The sons of Zebedee must have been a handful for their mother, Salome, who did what she could to position her boys within Jesus’s kingdom enterprise (Matthew 20:20-28).
After Jesus’s resurrection and ascension, both James and John played a significant role in the start of the early church (Galatians 2:9; Acts 3:1, 4:13, 8:14). Tradition says that John also served the church at Ephesus before the Romans exiled him to the island of Patmos, where he received and recorded The Revelation of Jesus Christ.
The Word Became Flesh
Not considered among the Synoptics (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) and written later (85-90 A.D.), John’s Gospel contains much unique material about Jesus’s life and ministry while omitting other aspects of it that Matthew, Mark, and Luke include. For example, John has no account of the birth, baptism, or temptation of Jesus. Descriptions of the last supper, Jesus’s agonizing prayer in Gethsemane, and the ascension are also missing.
Unlike the Synoptics, John introduces Jesus Christ to the world by linking Him to the Logos, translated “Word” (1:1-14). Logos was a Greek concept that connected with the most sophisticated philosophical thinkers in the first century. John opens with a flashback to Genesis and the creation story by saying, “In the beginning was the Word” (1:1).
For centuries, Greek philosophers had been dreaming, thinking, and talking about the Logos and its role in the creation of the universe. However, their understanding of the Logos never advanced beyond an abstract philosophical concept. They mused about the Logos as a force in the universe, in a Star Wars kind of way. John blew their minds wide open with ten tons of theological dynamite when he said the Logos was a real person, a God-man, who came to live among them.
The Word is eternal, part of the Holy Trinity, and full deity (1:1-2). Furthermore, the Word is the creator of all things, the source of life, and truth (1:3-5). Finally, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (1:14), humanity and humility on full display in the God-man. The significance of John’s opening statement about Jesus cannot be overestimated. William Barclay writes, “The first chapter of the Fourth Gospel is one of the greatest adventures of religious thought ever achieved by the mind of man.”[i
Of course, John’s gospel contains the most quoted verse in all the Bible, John 3:16, which reads, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” This verse came from a conversation Jesus had with a Pharisee named Nicodemus, to whom Jesus also said, “You must be born again” (John 3:3). John 3:16 is the gospel in a nutshell.
With poetic flare, pastor and author Max Lucado describes John 3:16 as “a twenty-six-word parable of hope, beginning with God, ending with life, and urging us to do the same. Brief enough to write on a napkin or memorize in a moment, yet solid enough to weather two thousand years of storms and questions. If you know nothing of the Bible, start here. If you know everything in the Bible, return here. We all need the reminder. The heart of the human problem is the heart of the human. And God’s treatment is prescribed in John 3:16.”[ii]
In his book God Loves You, David Jeremiah writes, “John 3:16 has long been regarded as our greatest, most direct, and most concise statement of the Gospel. With almost miraculous precision, it places the good news of the love of God in the smallest of packages. When you say ‘John 3:16,’ even many unbelievers either know what it means or know the verse itself. It is the most famous book-chapter-verse reference in the entire Bible. You’ll see it on a banner at a sporting event, emblazoned on a T-shirt, or scrawled in graffiti on an underpass. It’s a shorthand way of saying, ‘God loves us all.’”[iii]
Seven “I Am” Statements
John also records seven self-identifying statements Jesus made, beginning with the words “I am.” Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life” (6:35), “I am the light of the world” (8:12), “I am the door of the sheep” (10:9), “I am the Good Shepherd (10:11), “I am the resurrection and the life (11:25), “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (14:6), and “I am the true vine” (15:6).
Jesus is the same “I am” who appeared to Moses at the burning bush. When Moses inquired of God’s name, the Lord replied, “I am who I am” (Exodus 3:14). I know it sounds like a strange name. But do not confuse God’s name with a line from a Dr. Seuss book. I am Sam. Sam I am. I love to eat green eggs and ham. The meaning of this divine name is not childish. In fact, the name in Hebrew is Jehovah or Yahweh, the sacred name that Jews would not pronounce aloud because they revered it so much. Jesus spoke the Greek version, ego eimi. In both languages, the name means, “I am the absolute and all-sufficient one who works on your behalf.”
John presents Jesus to us as the great I Am. What a powerful name it is! Jesus is not the great I was or the great I will be; He is the great I am. When Roman soldiers raided the Garden of Gethsemane hours before His crucifixion, Jesus asked them, “‘Whom do you seek?’ They answered him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ Jesus said to them, ‘I am he.’ … When Jesus said to them, ‘I am he,’ they drew back and fell to the ground” (18:4-7). The mere mention of His powerful name blew stout Roman soldiers to the ground.
Thus, the seven self-identifying statements spoken by Jesus reveal He is eternally self-existent, powerful beyond measure, secure in His identity, and uniquely qualified to satisfy our deepest needs. They also powerfully present Jesus as the deity.
Understanding each “I am” statement within its larger context is a worthwhile study, and so much more could be said. Suffice it to say, knowing who Jesus is and what He can do for you is vitally important. Knowing why Jesus is unique in our diverse, syncretistic culture is equally meaningful. Why Jesus and not Muhammad, or Buddha, or one of the many gods of Hinduism? John demonstrates why the great I Am is the one and only begotten of God. He makes the strong, irrefutable case for why we should believe on the Lord Jesus Christ exclusively and live through Him.
Eight Sign Miracles
John also weaves stories into his Gospel of eight sign miracles performed by Jesus. Do you believe in miracles? Do you need a miracle? During His three-year earthly ministry, Jesus touched and physically transformed so many people that the libraries of the world would not have enough room for the books that could be written about Him. The four gospels record thirty-seven of Jesus’s miracles. John highlights eight of them as signs that point to Jesus as the Messiah.
According to John, Jesus turned water into wine (2:1-11), healed a nobleman’s son (4:46-54), and healed a man who had been sick for thirty-eight years and was unable to walk (5:1-17). Jesus also fed five thousand men and their families with a few loaves of bread and small fish (6:1-15). Jesus walked on water. (6:16-21), restored sight to the blind (9:1-41), raised the dead (11:1-46), and made schools of fish swim into the disciple’s nets after they had fished all night and caught nothing (21:1-25). Jesus was truly a miracle-worker, as one would expect of the Messiah.
Jesus’s miracles connect us to the power of God and fill our hearts with wonder and worship. They revitalize our confidence in the word of God and replenish our faith. Mostly, they validate that Jesus was indeed the Christ.
After Herod threw John the Baptist into prison (Matthew 11:2; Luke 3:20), Messiah’s forerunner began doubting his ministry. He inquired of Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” This is remarkable, given that John affirmed Jesus as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (1:29). In response, Jesus says to John’s messengers, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them” (Matthew 11:4-5). Reassured by news of Jesus’s miracles, John’s doubts blew away like chaff in the wind moments before Herod beheaded him.
The Upper Room
There is more to John’s beautiful Gospel. Known as the Upper Room discourse, John 13-17 is one of the most intimate conversations Jesus had with His disciples and is mostly unique to John’s Gospel. Travel back in time nearly two thousand years ago. It is holy week in Jerusalem. Imagine yourself at a private dinner with Jesus in an undisclosed place located somewhere in the City of David. If, like Jesus, you had less than twenty-four hours to live, what would you say to your family and friends?
In the Upper Room, Jesus washed His disciples’ feet, showing them how to improve their service (13:1-20). He addressed betrayal (13:21-30), gave them a new commandment about love (13:31-35), promised to send the Holy Spirit (14:15-31), and revealed the secrets of a fruitful life (15:1-17). Jesus offered peace amid tribulation, discussed the hope of heaven, predicted His Second Coming, and comforted His confused disciples by saying, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me” (14:1-14). As heaven’s High Priest, He also prayed for His disciples (17:1-26).
Following the Upper Room discourse, John describes Jesus’s dramatic arrest and trial before Annas, Caiaphas, and Pilate. He records three of the seven last crises Jesus uttered from the cross, including, “Woman behold your son” (19:26-27), “I thirst” (19:28), and “It is finished” (19:30). Jesus’s resurrection from the dead is the most convincing of the sign miracles that point to Him as the incarnate Son of God (20:1-18). John closes his Gospel with a detailed account of Jesus’s post-resurrection appearances, including His loving restoration of Peter, who had denied Jesus (20:19-21:25).
As presented by John, the life and times of Jesus Christ compel us to make the most important decision of our lives. Do you believe? Remember, believing is seeing. Believe in the Word. Believe in His works. Believe in His wisdom. Believe in His witness. And when you believe, you won’t see polar bears directing traffic at the North Pole, but you will see Jesus.