52 Reflections on the Gospel of John: #5. Misunderstanding Jesus (Part 1)

by Travis Bookout

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Have you ever had a conversation that just seemed to go nowhere? You are talking about one thing, even an important thing, but the other person seems to miss the importance, or worse, they steer the conversation in a way that shows they’re clueless as to what you are really trying to communicate.  Serious conversations can easily turn into a “Who’s on First, What’s on Second” routine, if you don’t take the time to really listen to the other person.

This happens in friendly conversation, but also political and religious disputes. Regarding abortion, the prolife proponent may emphatically argue that murder is wrong. But the prochoice party isn’t persuaded, because, 1. They already agree murder is wrong and 2. They don’t think abortion is murder. But then the prochoice person argues that the mother has freedom over her body. However, the prolife person isn’t persuaded because 1. They already agree a mother has freedom over her body and 2. The baby’s body is not the mother’s body.  They both stare incredulously at the blindness of the other person, raising their voices louder and louder, but they are simply talking past each other.

This hindrance to communication is not new. In fact, it’s one of the main features of dialogue in the Gospel of John. If two people from earth can talk past each other, how much more will it happen if one of them is from heaven? That’s what John is going to show. Almost every single time Jesus opens his mouth the audience misses the point, sometimes by an embarrassingly wide margin. He speaks of heavenly things, but people only hear earthly. Note the following exchanges:

The Misunderstandings:

After cleansing the temple, Jesus proclaims, “‘Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, ‘It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?’ But He was speaking about the temple of His body” (John 2:19-21). Jesus makes a dramatic point about His connection to the temple. The temple is the dwelling of God on earth, the meeting place between God and man, and Jesus links it to His body through His death and resurrection. Yet, all the audience gets is, “He thinks that he can build a new temple that quickly?!”

During Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, He explains, “‘Truly, truly, I say to you unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ Nicodemus said to Him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?’” (John 3:3-4). This miscommunication is particularly interesting. The word “again” in verse 3, can literally be translated “from above.” In fact, that exact same word is used in John 3:31, “He who comes from above is above all…” Since spiritual birth comes from God (John 1:13), Jesus is saying you need to be born of God, born “from above.” But that word can also mean “again.” Thus the confusion. Nicodemus is so earthly minded that the idea of being “born of God” never enters his mind. He thinks you somehow have to be born from the womb again. He is thinking “born of flesh” but Jesus is thinking of a spiritual rebirth (John 3:6).

Introducing Himself to the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus says that if she knew who He was, she “‘would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.’ She said to Him, ‘Sir, You have nothing to draw with and the well is deep; where then do You get that living water?’…Jesus answered and said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.’ The woman said to Him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty nor come all the way here to draw’” (John 4:10-15).  See the miscommunication? Jesus is not just talking about H2O. He is talking about something life-giving and spiritual (John 7:37-39), but her concerns center on her physical thirst and walking all the way to the well.

These miscommunications happen about bread (John 6:26-66), slavery (John 8:32-24), shepherding (John 10:6-7), death (John 11:11-13), Judas (John 13:27-29), returning to the Father (John 14:3-6), Jesus’ death and resurrection (John 16:16-18), His kingdom (John 18:36-37), and about how long the Beloved Disciple would live (John 21:22-23), etc.  They are a common occurrence.

A Proposed Explanation:

But, why do they happen? Perhaps it is because “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it” (John 1:5). The word “comprehend” can also be translated as “overcome” or “grasp.” They did not grasp the plain on which Jesus stood and spoke. “There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him” (John 1:9-11). This introduction to Jesus foreshadows many of these conversations. These conversations evidence the fact that Jesus is Light and the world is darkness. It is really difficult for darkness to receive or even understand true light.

There is so much more that needs to be said about this, which is why this is only part 1 on Misunderstanding Jesus. But the primary explanation, which will be explored next week, is that Jesus came from heaven as Light and spoke in true, heavenly figures. His audience came from earth and darkness, understanding only physical ideas. The way to make the switch from seeing earthly things to heavenly things is to “be born of God” (John 1:12-13; 3:3).

So here is what we need to ask ourselves: Are we really listening? When you’re accustomed to a dark room, it hurts when someone turns on the lights. The darkness is comfortable and the light is painful. That’s one reason why Jesus was rejected. The world was comfortable in its darkness, but Jesus exposed it. So let’s rub our eyes and adjust to the change. Let’s get comfortable with the Light and listen to Jesus. Despite our natural inclinations towards darkness and worldliness, let’s bathe ourselves in Light and seek a heavenly perspective, being born from above.

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