Last Sunday, I popped my little guy up on the path at church and before I knew it, he was walking off on His own, greeting the welcomers who stood at the door and accepting cuddles being handed out by the lovely ladies. As his sister and I rushed up behind him, I thought about how confident and comfortable he had grown to be. At only 20 months, he was so familiar with church and our church family, that he didn’t think he needed to wait for his mother to feel secure. While I was actually really thankful that he felt like this, it did make me think about practises that become so repetitive to us they begin to feel like second nature or in fact tradition. When does a tradition become so ingrained in our life that we struggle to change or replace them?
This was the case for the Jews. Throughout the gospel of John, John weaves in the theme of Jesus as fulfilment and replacement of Jewish tradition. He opens with one of my personal favourite verses (I love the poetic nature of it and also the reference to words or more particular- ‘The WORD’)
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men.”- John 1:1-3
Here, John sets up Jesus as existing before creation and before time: “in the beginning”. John also describes Jesus as “the Word” or Logos. Theologian John Pryor, explains that here John is setting Jesus up as “eternally in the presence of God” and as “the person of the Logos in relation to Israel, as one rejected by his people, but also as one who both fulfils and is superior to all that has come before in the faith of Israel.”
For the nation Israel, a people who were so deeply schooled in tradition and ceremony, John declaring that Jesus was the replacement and fulfilment of what they had been doing for hundreds of years would have been life-altering (and was!) In particular, John wrote of Jesus as the replacement of the temple.
Jesus as God Dwelling With Man
In John 1:14, John writes explicitly of God’s glory and presence now being with God’s people in Jesus:
“and the Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us.”
In this short phrase, John is stating that no longer did God dwell or ‘tabernacle’ amongst His people in the temple; God dwelt with His people in the flesh. For a nation who had spent hundreds of years worshipping God in either the Tabernacle or the Temple, John declares a new age- one where God dwelt with His people in Jesus.
In the story of the Jesus and the Woman of Samaria, Jesus too explicitly states this. For those who may not be as familiar with this story, Jesus takes a trip to Galilee and passes through Samaria. On His way, He grows weary and takes a seat beside a well:
A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’;18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet.20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”
In the passage above, the common Jewish belief that worshipping God must be done in the temple in Jerusalem is debunked. The woman explains that she worships God on the mountain, not in Jerusalem and questions Jesus about this as she perceives He is a prophet (4:18). Jesus says, “the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. … the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth” (4:21, 23). Jesus declares a new age- one where geographic location did not limit people from worshipping God. He then goes on to reveal to the woman that He is the Messiah. So what is the response of the woman and the disciples when they return? They worship. They worship Jesus, God in flesh, dwelling amongst them, at that little well outside Samaria.
God Dwelling in Us Through the Spirit
In John 16:7-11, Jesus speaks of the promised Holy Spirit:
7 Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment:9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness,because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.
In these verses, Jesus goes on to say that there will be a new age- one where God will dwell in His people through His Spirit. And what will the Spirit do? He will convict the world of sin and righteousness and judgement. He will also equip and empower His people:
When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
– John 16:13-15
He will guide us in truth and He will glorify God. This is the age we find ourselves in now. We don’t have God in flesh, we have the Holy Spirit dwelling in us. We don’t need to worship God in a temple built by hands, we can worship Him at this very moment, at this very location, wherever we find ourselves. As we marvel over Jesus- God in flesh- and the carefully woven shape of His Word, we can marvel and be grateful that we live in an age where God is so accessible. God has gifted us with His Spirit, dwelling in us. We can worship God at any moment. Let us not take it for granted.
John Pryor in A.J. Kostenberger (2009). A Theology of John’s Gospel and Letters: Biblical Theology of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, p.404