Coming Up Sevens

Morning Message – John Cline

An Overview of the Gospel of John

Reader:  Abose Olabimtan

In most countries of the world, “lucky number 7” is easily the most popular and beloved number. When people are asked to guess or choose a number between 1-10, 7 is the one most likely to be picked. The saying, “Coming Up Sevens” means that things have turned out well. There are 7 continents, 7 heavenly bodies in our solar system (including the sun and the moon) that can be seen with the naked eye at night, and there were 7 Wonders of the Ancient World. How many “deadly sins” and how many virtues are there? 7 each. How many days of the week are there? 7. In music, how many white notes are there in a major scale? 7.

Though there are no lists of numbers and their meaning found in the Bible, the number seven is prominent, appearing over 700 times and connoting such concepts as exoneration from indebtedness and healing from illnesses, plus completion and perfection, as well as the fulfillment of promises and oaths. With exoneration from indebtedness:

Every seventh year, the Israelites were to cancel all the debts they had made with each other and free their slaves. (Deuteronomy 15:1, 2, 12…)

Building on that, after 7 sets of 7 years came the Year of Jubilee, the year of freedom, when all prisoners and captives were set free, all slaves were released, all financial debts were forgiven, and all property was returned to its original owners. There is no evidence that the Jews ever did this so that is why, when Jesus came, he listed all those blessings and said that he was bringing the Year of Jubilee to the people on that very day he said it. Regarding 7 and forgiveness:

When Peter asks Jesus how many times we are to forgive each other, Jesus replies, “seventy times seven”. (Mt 18:21,22)

Regarding 7 and healing from physical illness: The prophet Elisha referenced the number seven when he directed Naaman the leper to immerse himself in the Jordan River seven times in order to be healed. (2 Kings 5:9-14)

Jesus upped the ante when it came to healings and the number 7:

Jesus performed seven healing miracles on the seventh day of the week (and, please, count with me on your fingers):

1.A man with a deformed hand. (Matthew 12:9-13)

2.A man possessed by an unclean spirit (Mark 1:23-26)

3.Peter’s mother-in-law with fever (Mark 1:29-31)

4.A woman crippled by a spirit for 18 years (Luke 13:10-13)

5.A man suffering from dropsy, an abnormal swelling of the body (Luke 14:1-4)

6.A lame man by the pool of Bethesda (John 5:5-9)

7.A man born blind and healed at the Pool of Siloam (John 9:1-7)

Now, it is possible for one to look at all those examples and think, “aw, that’s just eisegesis, a reading by us of our own prejudices and beliefs into the Bible, rather than the Bible actually teaching that.” But actually, the Bible is clear about the significance of the # 7. Consider the themes of completion and perfection – God created the heavens and the Earth in six days, and, upon completion, rested on the seventh day. (Genesis 2:1,2) This perfect creation was finished in a 6-day time period, but God counted the seventh day as part of the act of creation, and then He made the number 7 especially significant by resting on it.

Based on this seven-day cycle of work and rest, God commands us to also labour for six days and then complete the week by resting on the seventh day, (Exodus 20:8-11)

Then, at the time of Noah and his ark – and ever since then – God promises not to destroy the Earth again with a flood and memorializes this covenant with the rainbow, which is comprised of seven colours. (Genesis 9:8-15). However, Noah’s covenant was not the only covenant featuring #7. Consider that Abraham enacted one of his covenant oaths with God through a gift of seven sacrificed lambs (Genesis 21:22-31)

After 400 years of Egyptian slavery, when the Israelites re-entered the Promised Land, their first big test was at the city of Jericho where God promised Joshua that He’d bring down the fortified walls of Jericho if Joshua and his army marched around the city once for seven days, and, on the seventh day, seven times, with seven priests blowing seven trumpets. (Joshua 6:1-20)

Things were “coming up sevens” for the Israelites, but the same is true for Christians, as well. In the Book of Revelation, Jesus spoke to seven churches (in ancient Asia Minor, which is today’s Turkey/Turkiye), and then the fulfillment of God’s divine plan would be ushered in with groups of seven seals, seven trumpets being sounded by seven angels, and seven bowls of wrath carried by seven angels.

Sevens everywhere. Going back to Jesus and this time looking at his instruction on prayer. Jesus spoke of seven topics when He was asked how we should pray (Matthew 6:9-13): 1. Holy/hallowed is your name, 2. Your Kingdom come, 3. Your will be done on Earth as it is in heaven,

  1. Give us this day our daily bread, 5. Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us, 6. Lead us not into temptation, 7. Deliver us from evil.

That was near the start of Jesus’ ministry, but the completion of his ministry and mission surely came. On the cross, Jesus’ mission was completed, and he made seven statements: 1. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34) 2. “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43) 3. “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, 4. “Behold your mother!” (John 19:26, 27) 5. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46) 6. “It is finished” (John 19:30) 7. “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23:46)

As you know, we have been preaching through the Gospel of John and today is the wrap-up, the overview, our conclusion to this preaching series and wouldn’t you know it? 7 is significant throughout John, also. The order of his Gospel is not haphazard or sloppy, but very structured.

In his putting together of his writing, John structured his Gospel Book into 7 sections. Section 1 is found in chapter 1, which is the introduction. Chapter 1 is split into 2 distinct halves, with the first half describing in theological terms who Jesus is. John references the opening words of the Bible in doing so: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. (Ge. 1:1-3)

Now, compare that passage in Genesis with the opening words in John’s Gospel. By the way, in his Gospel, John refers to Jesus as the “Logos”, the Greek term for the divine mind of God, a term translated in English as “The Word”. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:1-5)

John doesn’t slowly work in fantastic claims about Jesus but starts off right away with a bomb, that Jesus was the Word who was not only with God, but was God. Then, he explains, The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14) Jesus was God on earth. God, in Jesus, made His dwelling place among us. John, as one of Jesus’ 12 apostles, was an eyewitness of Jesus and his glory.

Going on to the second half of chapter 1, thus still in the first section of his Gospel book, John wrote down what individuals who met Jesus claimed about him. The first half of section 1 was theological. The second half was practical, based upon individuals meeting Jesus. Seven titles are attributed to Jesus by those who encountered him. 1. The Lamb of God, 2. The Son of God, 3. Rabbi (Teacher), 4. The Son of Man, 5. The Messiah, 6. The King of Israel, 7. Jesus of Nazareth.

Those 7 titles for Jesus, John showed to be accurate in section 2 of his Gospel book.

Section 2 is found in chapters 2-10 and contains miraculous signs which confirm those seven titles – and the controversies and pushback from the religious leaders about them. Each encounter with Jesus finds the people saying something about Jesus that confirms those 7 titles found in chapter 1. Consider the passage we read last Sunday in which Jesus healed and gave sight to a man who had been born blind. The Pharisees were enraged and threw the man out of the Temple.

Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” “Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.” Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him. (John 9:35-38)

Jesus always forced people to face the issue of who he was, and here he was asking the healed man to make a decision as to who he was. Then, pushing the envelope of who he was even further, John’s Gospel records that Jesus used seven metaphors to show himself as “one with the Father” in seven “I AM” statements: 1. “I am the bread of life.” (John 6:35) 2. “I am the light of the world.” (John 8:12) 3. “I am the gate to salvation.” (John 10:9) 4. “I am the good shepherd.” (John 10:11) 5. “I am the resurrection and the life.” (John 11:25, 26) 6. “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6) 7. “I am the vine.” (John 15:5)

When we get to section 3, we then see John changing pace from many events to just one, which led to a second event. Section 3 is found in chapters 11 and 12 and focuses on the resurrection of Lazarus and the resulting Palm Sunday entrance into Jerusalem. Jesus had left Jerusalem for it was an unsafe place for him. He knew that coming back to the vicinity and raising Lazarus from the dead would see him arrested, put on trial, and crucified. He raised Lazarus knowing it would cost him his own life. But Jesus knew that the timing was right for that to happen for it was God’s perfect timing. To his followers,

Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. (John 12:23-25)

He then called his followers to be willing to lose their own lives (relationally, spiritually, even physically), just as he lost his life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.” (John 12:26,27)

Following those words, John then went on to section 4 in his Gospel book. Section 4 is found in chapters 13-17 and contains Jesus’ final words to his disciples. Section 4 starts off with the Last Supper of Jesus and his disciples, a meal which began with Jesus doing what no other rabbi before him had ever done: take the form of a servant and wash his followers’ dirty feet. The 12 didn’t want him doing it, but he was making a point. When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. (John 13:12-17)

That kind of servanthood, though, requires greatness through humility.

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.” (John 15:9-14)

From the very earliest days, Christians have been known to be loving, caring servants and people in this world. The world admires that though many people may not like everything we say or do but we are to say and do what the Lord commands, in love. Jesus gave these words of warning and encouragement on that theme to his followers:

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me. (John 15:18-21)

Jesus then went on to explain the never-ending role of the Holy Spirit, a new and huge concept for Jesus’ followers to take in, understand, or accept. “When the Advocate (or, Counsellor) comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father — he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.” (John 15:26,27) We can testify for Jesus because the Holy Spirit is God within us. Even with those words of assurance, the disciples were not thrilled with Jesus going away and the Spirit coming in his stead. Jesus said, “But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” (John 16:7)

In his physical body, Jesus knew he was confined to one place at one time. By contrast, in his Spirit, Jesus can be everywhere at once, encouraging and strengthening believers wherever they may be (in, e.g., Canada, Kenya, China, wherever they may be). Having said all that, he knew that the hour in which he would complete his mission had come. After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.” (John 17:1-5)

Just as he prayed for himself, he also prayed for his first followers. “I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.” (John 17:14-19)

And, just as he prayed for those first followers, he also prayed for all who would become followers through those first followers’ witnessing about him. “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one — I in them and you in me — so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:22,23)

After that lengthy prayer, Section 5 of John’s Gospel arrives, about that “hour” of his mission being completed which he had referred to had now come. Section 5, in chapters 18 and 19, concerns Jesus’ arrest, trial, and crucifixion. The Jewish religious leaders sent their soldiers to arrest Jesus. Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, “Who is it you want?” “Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “I am he,” Jesus said…When Jesus said, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. (John 18:4-6)

God’s great self-identifying name of “I AM/YHWH” Jesus claimed for himself: “I AM he”. When he said that, a divine burst of power came and knocked the soldiers to the ground. After the soldiers recovered, they got back on their feet, arrested Jesus and took him through a torturous maze of kangaroo courts: trials before Annas the retired high priest, then his son-in-law Caiaphas, the high priest that particular year, as well as King Herod, and the Roman governor Pontius Pilate who asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” (John 18:36,37)

The truth about Jesus proclaimed. He was a King. It was fitting, then, at his crucifixion, Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: ‘Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.’ Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be King of the Jews.” Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.” (John 19:19-22)

Pilate knew that the religious leaders were not worth honouring. They had already gotten him into trouble with his wife, and with God (to be honest). His soul was not at rest. As for Jesus, though, there on the cross he knew that his mission on earth had been completed. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19:30)

So, exoneration from indebtedness, healing from illnesses, fulfillment of God’s promises and oaths – these found completion and perfection in Jesus’ death. But, in moving in John’s Gospel to section 6, there is still one more blessing to discover. Section 6, in chapter 20, is about Jesus’ resurrection. Mary Magdalene and several of the other female followers of Jesus had looked after his needs while he did his ministry. After his death, those women went to the tomb to prepare Jesus’ body for burial, only to find it empty. Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”). Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her. On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” (John 20:11-19)

Mary did as Jesus instructed her to do by telling the apostles he was alive. The apostles didn’t know what to think about that, to be honest, until later that same day Jesus appeared to them in his resurrected body for the first time. A second appearance to them would then come 7 (notice that #) days later. A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:26-29)

Jesus’ completed mission found its completeness and perfection in the cross and in his resurrection and in that last blessing and completeness, Jesus’ resurrection, death was defeated and eternal life secured. One more usage by John of the number 7. It is this: The resurrection was the seventh “miraculous sign” proving who Jesus was. 1. The turning of water into wine (chapter 2), 2. The healing of the official’s son (chapter 4), 3. The healing of a paralyzed man at the Pool of Bethesda (chapter 5), 4. The feeding of the 5,000 (chapter 6), 5. The healing of the man born blind (chapter 9), 6. The raising of Lazarus from the dead (chapter 11), 7. The resurrection of Jesus (chapter 20).

Finally, at the end of John’s book, we arrive at an epilogue, section 7.

The seventh section is chapter 21 in which Jesus, in his resurrected form, appeared to Peter and John. To Peter, Jesus said words indicating what Peter was to do as the leader of the early church. But when Peter inquired as to John, Jesus simply implied that he wanted John to serve him all his days, no matter what. The writing down of his Gospel is one of the ways John served Jesus. He was very structured in his writing of the Gospel. He concludes his book thus: This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true. Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written. (John 21:24,25)

The conclusion? Everything about Jesus’ life and ministry had been planned in advance in heaven and then carried out to perfection by Jesus in this world. The numerous uses of the number 7 in John’s Gospel indicate that this is so. Jesus’ divine mission was fulfilled and complete. Now, in his typically organized manner, John had this to say about the reason he wrote his book: Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30,31)

So, the question we are left with at the end of John’s Gospel book is a simply yet profound one. “Do you believe?” That is the question. John hopes, and we pray, that your answer will be “Yes, I believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God” (as well as those five other titles from section 1 of John’s Gospel). Let us pray…

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