“But these are written so that you may believe…”
While many Bibles will title John 20:30-31 as “The Purpose of John’s Gospel,” these verses are so much more. They are a summary of the purpose of scripture, the purpose of preaching, the purpose of Easter preaching. Not written for your information, not written for your understanding, not written to affirm or build up your theological house of cards. No — so that you may believe.
Johannine scholars LOVE to make this the conclusion to the Fourth Gospel. John 21, after all, is a rather lackluster appendix, they say, an epilogue at best, having little to contribute to John at worst. Yet the weightiness of John 20:30-31 does not have to be justified by the claim that it’s the grand finale to John — it is the fundamental premise of the Fourth Evangelist’s witness, the Fourth Gospel’s homiletic, and uniquely placed as the conclusion to the second and third resurrection appearances in John.
Why do we preach? So that those who hear might believe. But, this is not rationalization that faith happens through hearing. This is not confirmation of said and solid creeds. This is not assurance of correct confessions. When John says, “so that you may believe,” he means so that you might enter into or be assured of your relationship with Jesus.
Belief in John is never a noun, but always a verb, and believing in Jesus is to be in relationship with Jesus. Some of your translations will say “come to believe,” some will say “continue to believe.” There is equal manuscript evidence for a present or an aorist subjunctive here. Aorist — you aren’t in a relationship with Jesus but now you will be; subjunctive — you are in a relationship with Jesus and the purpose of what John writes is to support, nurture, and sustain that relationship. Regardless, the believing is not creedal but relational.
Resurrection preaching is this kind of preaching; preaching that doesn’t have as its goal the guarantee of life after death; preaching that doesn’t try to convince people to confess that which is, if we are honest, rather un-confessable; preaching that doesn’t insist on some “done deal” by God; but preaching that promises a relationship with God that not even death can bring to an end.
We might think this is basic. Yet, no one else does. For most, resurrection is a stamp of salvific security, not a vision of relationship and community here and now. If you make resurrection that which the people in the pew have to believe, be assured of, convince others of, the resurrection loses its relational power. At the end of the day, resurrection can’t only be about eternal life in the future. It can’t sound like some sort of lofty and abstract heavenly promise, a reservation for a room or mansion in after passing through the pearly gates. Resurrection has to be the promise of abundant life with God — forever AND now. That’s salvation for John — relationship with Jesus, with God, here and now.
Resurrection is relationship. A relationship that will never be broken, that will never be abandoned, that will never know separation, and will forever be. Think this is just a pie-in-the-sky promise? Let’s pause and think about how much a relationship that will never end might mean. We live for and exist in relationships that are not life-giving, that are on the brink of dissolving, that will end, most certainly, because of every fault or no fault of our own. Think about the relationships that have changed over time, that can’t go back to the way they were before, that need to change, but maybe can’t and, in the end, maybe that’s okay. So we exist in tension and frustration and grief because we are not sure how to handle an acceptable demise or how to negotiate what this means for our relationships in the future. Think about the relationships that ended too soon — by terrorist acts, the ruthlessness of illness, the not-so-random events of nature’s reaction to environmental complacency, the sudden separations not planned, never anticipated, and so devastating, for whatever reason and for whatever cause.
Our lives exist in, are known through, and defined by broken relationships. But it is not so with our relationship with God. This is the truth, the grace, the gospel of John 20:30-31. The point of God’s revealed self in the Word made flesh, the Word crucified, the Word resurrected, and the Word ascended, is the commitment, like no other, to show what true relationship means.
Resurrection is relationship.
P.S. We have started something new, Working Preachers! Check out a new feature, Reflect & Connect, discussion questions connected to the RCL texts for the Sundays in Easter to use in Bible study, preaching, or your own spiritual reflection.