Gospel of John: a partial account of signs and wonders

In the Gospel of John 21:30-31, Jesus said:

“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.”

Sidenote: a fragment of an Egyptian papyri containing a text of Gospel of John 21:20-23

These few verses are rarely discussed, as to its implications, in how we perceive Jesus’ earthly ministry. Upon taking a closer look at what the writer of John’s Gospel said himself, the Gospel represents only a partial account of the totality of Jesus’ earthly ministry because he explicitly said, “…which are not recorded in this book” meaning there are many more signs and wonders that we haven’t read about but that were performed and witnessed by the apostles.

If so, then is it possible that we also may have a partial written account of miraculous signs in the Acts of the Apostles, and of the New Testament epistles? 

Then does the bible as a whole represent a full or partial account of Jesus’ and the apostles’ history and ministry on earth? 

On the surface, this question itself is suspect and smells of heresy because the sufficiency of scripture is questioned.  Before I went to seminary, I might have thought so because I was taught to believe the bible was the entire revelation of God. The word of God was the be-all and end-all.  Do I believe that God is fully revealed in Jesus and that the gospel is fully sufficient for our salvation?  Yes, indeed! But this differs from what some call Bibliolatry.

Acts 5:12 says,

“Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles.”

Let’s allow ourselves to ponder… how many of these signs and wonders were actually recorded in the book of Acts?  Back then, it is a fact that few people knew how to write, and to even find a scribe or writer to record everything would have been next to impossible.  The actual total number of acts of God’s miracles and healings would fill up multiple volumes of books. The books of the Gospel of John and the Acts of the Apostles are only a fraction of what Jesus and his apostles actually did on earth. It only gives us a small impression of what their earthly ministry was like.

Moreover, to say that some things were not recorded means that the accuracy, validity and historicity of recorded signs were important to the writer of John’s Gospel. He also implicitly understood that the visible and powerful signs of God would have a major influence in the faith of future generations of believers.

He says that these were written with the intention that future Christ-followers would come to believe in Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God; and that by believing, we may have eternal life.  Today, this has come true.  Our belief in Jesus as the Son of God was the goal of the disciples in these written instances of God’s signs.

The Emperors’ treasures

National Palace Museum (Taipei, Taiwan)

In Chinese culture, the finest art was present and used in emperors’ palaces. Some art were used to depict gods and deities for thousands of years, from dynasty to dynasty.  I never knew how much I would enjoy Chinese art until I went to several museums in Taiwan like the National Palace Museum (NPM) in Taipei City (and a smaller local museum here in Changhua City).  I saw some of the national treasures in the NPM that were moved by Chang Kai-Shek when he relocated the democratic national government and officials to Taiwan. There is so much art and culture here in this small island nation that my short experience here has increased my appreciation for my Chinese heritage.

Most fascinating to me was an ivory puzzle ball.  Inside are over 20 individual layers that revolve. The amazing fact is that it was carved from a single piece of ivory with j-shaped knife.

I had the benefit of having a few English-speaking tour guides at the museums.  They have been gracious in sharing their background knowledge of many pieces of artwork, and why they are appreciated by connaisseurs and collectors of art.  The information they shared was what made my trip to the museum interesting.  This has whet my appetite to see more Chinese art. Some can date back to even before Old Testament times (5000 BCE).

Art and artisans since Moses

The contemporary church has failed to appreciate the value of art, artists, and artistry as an expression of our worship. The Protestant Church in the 16th century expelled much of art and believed that it was unnecessary and extraneous from the core of the gospel. This is why we have not seen much Christian art since the rise of Protestantism.

In the Old Testament (14-13th c. BCE), God had Moses commission the best of the artists, Oholiab, to design items of worship for the sanctuary. These items were not merely for practical uses, but were also meant to be beautiful and artistic–thus, demanding the best of the best artisans to design and craft the holy hardware.

“…and with him was Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, an artisan, a designer, and an embroiderer in blue, purple, and scarlet yarn and fine linen.” (Exodus 38:23, NET)

During the exile of Jerusalem, the Babylonian King, valued the artists so much so that they were taken captive along with the best military officers, soldiers and craftsmen.

“King Nebuchadnezzar took all of Jerusalem captive, including all the commanders and the best of the soldiers, craftsmen, and artisans—10,000 in all. Only the poorest people were left in the land.” (2 Kings 24:14, NLT)

Art was highly valued in worship and is common in all cultures. Why should Christianity not also value artistry in our worship of the Lord?

Asking for whatever you wish

John 15:7 says: “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

Someone less familiar with the bible who reads this might easily take this to mean that God will grant whatever wish he or she wishes.  I have heard of Christians who innocently asks the Lord for a miracle or healing and receive from the Lord the answer they prayed for. Is this coincidence or for real.  Probably a bit of both.

As a devil’s advocate, I wish to ask: Do we treat God the Father like an earthly father who gives good gifts, or as a genie in a bottle?  The bible directs us to approach God like we would approach a good earthly father.  For some of us Christians, we might hesitate to do so because it would be wrong to treat God our Father like a genie in a bottle who grants whatever wish we desire, but for many of us Christians, it is also practical and simple approach to understanding God. But for many Christians who do ask but do not receive, I have empathy for them.

As a father myself, my daughter will ask me for this and that, and anything she sees and likes. But as a father who loves my dear daughter, I know that some things would be unhealthy or bad for her.  I also don’t want to spoil her.

Our Father God also knows what is good and what is bad for his spiritual children. Wouldn’t God also keep things away from us in order to protect us just like a good earthly father would want to protect his children?  I certainly believe He would.  We have a Heavenly Father who knows exactly what would be good or bad or unhealthy for us.  We would not know it at the time but God knows the future and foresees what would be bad or un- or counter-productive for our lives.

Do you trust our Heavenly Father even if He were to withhold some seemingly good things back from you?

Starbucks’ unfair trade

The Starbucks’ franchise system is a success here in Taiwan (vacationing here) but what disappoints me about Starbucks Corp. is how much it is charging for its coffee in a developing country. The owner of the multinational corporation claims it is practicing fair-trade coffee, but as I sit here at Starbucks to read and blog, I am noticing some of their hypocrisy.  The purchasing power of Taiwanese people have decreased, but yet, it is charging customers here a premium for its coffee.

A cup of regular brew is 85/95 NT for a tall/grande, which is equivalent to US$ 2.80/3.12 (or Cdn$ 3.73/4.17).  A fair price ought only be 50/60 NT (according to its U.S. currency equivalent). What does this mean? If an American customer in Taiwan were to buy a tall cup of Pike Place, s/he would have to pay an extra US$ 1.15 (or 35 NT). Is this outrageous or what?!  Does this seem like a fair-trade practice to you?

Starbucks is taking advantage of its Taiwanese customers because it knows it can. People here worship almost anything made in America.  The owner/founder Howard Shultz claims he practices fair-trade but what is practiced and preached just seems a little incongruent to me.

It also makes me wonder where else around the world is Starbucks taking advantage of people.

Religion in Taiwan

While visiting my spouse’s hometown in Changhua, Taiwan, I visited Bagua Mountain (actually a hill) where there is a huge statue of Buddha.  I climbed up its inner staircases within its inner sanctum where there are displays on each floor explaining the history of Buddhism in Taiwan. I found this to be a good learning experience as I was not raised in a Buddhist-Confucian culture.

Christianity had missed an early opportunity to evangelize China.  Buddhism was only introduced to China in the 3rd century BC but did not flourish until later even into the 3rd to 6th century AD.  There were a some early 5th c. evangelists in East Asia but they did not make any in-roads to evangelize China.

Taiwan’s major religion today is Buddhism.  Having 35% of its population as adherents, there are countless temples in Taiwan–as many as there are churches in the U.S. bible-belt. I’m not sure of the percentage of Christianity in Taiwan but my guess-timate according to various sources is anywhere between 5-10% of the population. Evangelism through the Presbyterian Church came in earlier and established many institutions like hospitals and schools. The local hospital in this city is Changhua Presbyterian (Christian) Hospital.  The local people greatly appreciate this major institution because it has benefited so many people.

Taiwan (R.O.C.) is a free nation and has freedom of religion, speech, assembly, elections, etc., but it is forced to play the political game of who has sovereign authority over the country.  Pray for political stability of Taiwan. The threat and intimidation tactics from mainland China (P.R.C.) is similar to that of North Korea vs South Korea.

 

A glass wedding chapel in Taiwan

I am currently visiting Taiwan and will blog when I get the opportunity. I saw this church on the internet and thought this was interesting. It is a glass slipper church in Chaiyi, Taiwan.  There are no worship services, and was built with the intention to be used as a wedding chapel.  Seems like a bit of a luxury.  The BBC websites blogged about this here.  Might be an interesting place to visit if I get the chance.

God’s kingdom: Small churches or mega-churches?

In Jesus’ days, the religious leaders were consumed with anxiety that Jesus had been gaining too many followers (John 11:45-57).

 11:48 – “If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.”
12:19 – “’See, this is getting us nowhere.  Look how the the whole world has gone after him!‘”

Religion today is still concerned about how many people attend our worship services.  The number of parishioners translate into dollar amounts collected in the offering plate, which is translated into how many pastors it hires/calls and how big a building project can be.  This causes us think of adherents and followers as just a piece of the pie (“more for others means less for us”). This also causes us to think of the small church as lowly vs mega-churches as more successful.  Should we carry this view of God’s kingdom.  Is this a healthy or distorted way to view God’s kingdom?

Jesus was concerned about discipling people and truth and life, not the number of followers he has.  For pastors, elders and deacons, it takes faith to carry on as small churches in communities where there are mega-churches next door.