The Seven Signs in John’s Gospel
July 27th, 1980 @ 10:50 AM
THE SEVEN SIGNS IN THE GOSPEL OF JOHN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
7-27-80 10:50 a.m.
It is a wonderful privilege for us in the First Baptist Church in Dallas to welcome the uncounted thousands of you that are sharing this hour on radio and on television. This is the pastor of the church bringing the message entitled The Seven Signs in the Gospel of John. The last two verses of the passage that we all read together in the twentieth chapter of the Gospel of John, the last two verses read like this:
And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book:
But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through His name.
The apostle avows there that out of all of the semeia, signs, John never uses the word "miracle" in his Gospel, never, not one time. In the King James Version, it is translated "miracle," but the word "miracle" is never used by John. Always it is the word semeion, semeia, plural, "sign," semeia. Now, he says that Jesus did so many miracles; he calls them "signs," so many that, if the world itself were to open its arms, it could not contain the books that should be written [John 21:25]. So John says that he has picked out these signs, semeia; there are seven of them that he has picked out. "I have picked out," he avows, "seven of those signs, and I have written them in this book in order that you might believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Savior, and that believing ye might have life in His name" [John 20:30-31]. So everything that John has found in the life of our Lord that he chooses for this book is for the purpose that we might be converted, that we might be saved, that we might go to heaven when we die, that we might have everlasting life.
It is obvious why John would do that: a sign is something that God gives us in order that we might have assurance; that we might believe. When God called Moses to go down into the land of Egypt to deliver His people, Moses said, "But how will they believe that You sent me?" And God gave him three signs: his rod would turn to a serpent [Exodus 4:1-5]; his hand would be leprous and then cleansed [Exodus 4:6-7]; and the water poured out onto the land would turn to blood [Exodus 4:9]: that the people of Israel might believe that God sent Moses [Exodus 4:1]. You remember Gideon: "How am I to believe that You are going to help me against these Midianites?" And God gave him a sign: the fleece would be wet and the earth dry, and then again the fleece would be dry and the earth wet [Judges 6:36-40]. When Isaiah said to Hezekiah – he had just delivered a message to him, he was to die – "Get your house in order" [2 Kings 20:1], then God sent him back and said to Hezekiah, "The Lord has seen your tears and heard your prayers, and He has added fifteen years to your life" [2 Kings 20:4-6]. And Hezekiah said, "How could I know that?" And Isaiah said, "God will give you a sign that you could believe. That dial, the sundial of Ahaz in the courtyard, do you want the shadow to go forward or backward?" And Hezekiah said, "Let it go back." And it went back ten degrees; a sign in order that the king of Judah might believe [2 Kings 20:8-11; Isaiah 38:7-8]. Now that’s what John has done: he has written his Gospel and has picked out seven semeia, seven signs, in order that we might believe in assurance that "Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, the Savior of the world; and that believing we might have life through His name" [John 20:31].
The first sign, translated in the King James Version "miracle," but the first semeion is in the second chapter. It is the miracle, as you would call it, as we would call it, but John saw in it a sign affirming the deity of our Lord. The first one is in John 2. There was a marriage in Cana of Galilee [John 2:12]; and so many were there they ran out of wine. And Jesus said, "Draw out of the cistern, out of the well, and fill these six waterpots of stone." Each one held thirty gallons [John 2:3, 6-7]. "Fill them up," these stone jars, flat water containers in which they washed their feet ceremonially as they entered the house. Then He said, "Now draw out, and bear unto the governor of the feast." And between the time that the water was drawn out by the servant and placed into the hands of the ruler of the feast, it turned to wine [John 2:8-10]. "This beginning of miracles," you have it translated, "This beginning of semeia, this beginning of signs did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory" [John 2:11]; and what was the purpose? "And His disciples believed on Him" [John 2:11]; that we might believe that He is the Christ, the Son of God; and believing have life in His name [John 20:31]. Now that’s the first semeion.
Now the tragedy of this and the sadness of all sadnesses is that our minds have been taken completely away from the semeion, the sign, and we are bogged down by the brewer, and the distiller, and the winery, and the drunkard, and the wino, and the alcoholic minister into the pointing out that Jesus turned water into wine [John 2:1-10]; and the message of the sign is altogether forgotten, bogged down in the oversowing of Satan [Matthew 13:25, 39]. All we need to do is to be honest in our appraisal of the Scriptures. Isn’t it a tragedy of all tragedies that there’s more dishonesty and more disruption and misinterpretation of the Word of God than any one thing in the earth? And it is tragic in its repercussions and consequences. The word oinos in the Bible, oinos, translated "wine," oinos is "wine" spelled out in English, oinos, wine. The word refers always to the crushed fruit of the vine; that’s all it means, "the crushed fruit of the vine." For example, four times in the Bible, four times is the Lord’s Supper institution described, and in no time, not in one of the four, is the word oinos, "wine," ever used. It’s always "the fruit of the vine," or "the cup," always that. And oinos refers to crushed grapes, the fruit of the vine [Matthew 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:17-20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-29]. Now, it could be that it fermented. They never had any way in that day and time to keep it from fermenting. Canning was not invented until Napoleon Bonaparte, who said that an army marches on its stomach, Napoleon Bonaparte’s army invented canning in order to supply his army with food, but until that time, canning was unknown. Consequently, the fruit of the vine fermented if it was left alone. But for us to suppose that Jesus here made fermented wine that makes men drunk is an eisegesis, a reading into the passage that is altogether impossible and despicable. The Lord said when He instituted the Lord’s Supper, "I will drink no more of this fruit of the vine, until I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom" [Matthew 26:29; Mark 14:25; Luke 22:18]. That means that we shall sit down in the kingdom of God with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the marriage supper of the Lamb, and we will eat and drink with our Lord [Revelation 19:6-9]. To get drunk? It is unthinkable that Jesus would make something that would destroy a man’s mind, make him lose his job, break up his home, and debauch his children! Such a thing is impossible! And the only reason it’s ever said is because of the drunken minister, the alcoholic priest, and the winery, the brewery, the distillery, the winos that fill and sodden our earth.
So, having said that meek and humble little aside here, let’s look at the sign. John says, "This beginning of semeia, this beginning of signs, did Jesus" [John 2:11]. Well what is the sign? He saw in the marvelous phenomenon a sign that pointed to the saviorhood of Christ. It is very obvious. Last night in my walk, I passed in front of that beautiful mansion on Swiss Avenue, taken over by the doctors’ wives. They own it. And they had a big wedding somewhere last night, and everybody that attended that wedding descended on that beautiful mansion, and they had a reception. It must have been a gala affair; they were there from the ends of the earth, all dressed up and ready for whatever goes on inside of that mansion at a time like that. All right, that’s exactly what happened here: they had a big, big reception in Cana of Galilee, and they had there six big stone basins, each one holding thirty gallons [John 2:6]. Now it says there were six of them, so three times six is eighteen; there were one hundred eighty gallons of water that those things would hold. And they were there for the washing of feet. They were ceremonially receiving all of those guests after the manner of the Jews, after the ceremonial purifications of the Jews. So the Lord said to those servants, "Now you draw out of that well, and you fill those six bathtubs full of water" [John 2:7]. Now, when people read that, they think, "Well, Jesus made one hundred eighty gallons of wine, and they took out of that bunch of foot-washing bathtubs, and took to the ruler of the feast." Wouldn’t that have thrilled those ceremonially clean Jews, drinking wine out of those bathtub, foot tubs, in which they’d just washed their feet? How impossible do people think. The Bible is clearly, clearly stating what is happening: the Lord said, "Take this water, and fill up those foot-washing basins. Go out now," after they were full, "draw out now and bear to the governor of the feast" [John 2:8]. And the water that was drawn out of the well, between the drawing of it out in the hands of the servants and the presenting to the governor of the feast, it turned to oinos, it turned to the fruit of the vine [John 2:8-10]. And John saw in that a semeion, a sign. What was the sign? It is very obvious: our Lord came to fulfill, to fill up the old law, the old ceremonial law, the old covenant law, all of the precepts, all of them, He filled them up to the brim. Six is a number of incompleteness; seven is the completed number. Six is the incomplete number. And He filled those six incomplete foot-washing tubs, filled them to the full [John 2:6-7]. "Now," He says, "draw out and bear to the governor of the feast" [John 2:8]. Our Lord fulfilled the old law. He was accursed for us so that we are no longer under the curse of the law [Galatians 3:13], and we have a new faith, and a new glory, and a new hope, and a new blessing in Jesus Christ. It’s a new religion [Acts 17:16-20]. That’s the sign, and a glorious one. And John says that, "When we saw it, the disciples, we believed on Him, and received Him as the Messiah of God" [John 2:11]. That is the first sign.
The second sign is in the fourth chapter of the Gospel of John beginning at verse 46; John 4:46. There came to the Lord Jesus a nobleman whose son was sick at Capernaum. And he begged the Lord to come and to heal his boy; he was at the point of death. And Jesus said to him, "You are just interested in a sign and a wonder, a miracle." And the nobleman said, "O Sir, no, no, no. Come down, ere my child die." And Jesus said to him, "You go back home; your son is alive and well. And the man believed," there’s your word, "believed the word that Jesus spoke to him, and he went back." And when he went home, his servants came and said, "Your boy is well." And the nobleman said, "When did he get well? And it was at the same moment that Jesus spoke the word to him. And he believed," there it is again, "and his whole house" [John 4:46-53]. Now look at the description: "This is again the second semeion that Jesus did, when He was come out of Judea into Galilee" [John 4:54]. Now what is that sign? What is that sign? That sign is a marvelous sign that we need today. World without end, and if I had time, I’d preach on it for an hour. World without end are there men and women who say, "I’m not going to give my heart to the Lord until I have a great," and then they say all kinds of things, "a great experience, or a great light from heaven, or a vision of an angel," or the Lord only knows what. I’ve been listening to it for fifty-three years, ever since I’ve been a pastor; waiting for some great mighty intervention from heaven to pick them up and to pluck them into the kingdom of God. What a tragedy that a man gives his life to unbelief and to the world, waiting for some kind of a great experience or a great vision of a light from heaven! How wonderful it is when a man will just believe the promise of God and go his way trusting in the word of the Lord. That’s the way a man ought to be saved. We’re never saved by wonders and miracles and so-called experiences; we’re saved by the word and promise of God [John 3:16, 10:27-30].
John begins his Gospel like that: "He came unto His own, and His own received Him not. But to as many as received Him, to them gave He the right to become the children of God, even to those that trust, that believe in His name" [John 1:11-12]. That’s the way a man ought to be saved. "Jesus promised that if I trust Him, He would save me; if I would commit my life to Him, He will keep me. And Lord, Lord, I do trust and humbly I accept"; and he is saved. That’s the sign that John saw in this marvelous miracle of the healing of the nobleman’s boy. He believed, and when he did so, his whole house believed with him [John 4:46-53].
The third sign, the third sign is, in the next chapter, chapter 5, beginning at verse 1. There was a feast of the Jews; Jesus is there [John 5:1]. And in the pool of Bethesda, there is a great multitude, blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water. It was an intermittent spring. And Jesus saw a man there, had an infirmity, bowed over for thirty and eight years. And Jesus said, "Would you like to be well, whole?" [John 5:2-6]. The impotent man said, "O Sir, I do not have anybody to help me." And Jesus said, "Rise, take up thy bed, and walk"; our compassionate, sympathetic Lord [John 5:7-8]. "And immediately the man was made whole, and he took up his bed, and walked" [John 5:9]. Now this is the sign: "And the same day was the Sabbath" [John 5:9]. And thereafter follows the confrontation between Jesus and the scribes and the Pharisees concerning Sabbath laws and Halakha and Haggadah and all the multitude of things about Sabbath keeping [John 5:17-18]. What is the sign there? That Jesus has delivered us from all of those multitudinous things that bow down a man’s soul in religion [Matthew 23:13-31]. Isn’t that a tragedy, that most of the world defines religion in terms of, "You gotta watch this, and you gotta do that, and you gotta walk according to this, and precept, and you gotta keep that ceremony, and you gotta be true to this ritual," on and on world without end, until life becomes a burden, and religion is not a joy, it’s a yoke, it’s a heaviness to bear! What a tragedy! Jesus said the whole Law and all the Prophets can be summed up in two parts: one part, "Love God with all your heart, and mind, and soul" [Matthew 22:37-38]; second part, "Love your neighbor as yourself" [Matthew 22:39]. "Love is the fulfilling of the law; therefore love worketh no ill to his neighbor" [Romans 13:10].
And what a wonderful thing to be free in the Lord Jesus! What we’re doing, we’re doing just for the love of God, and that’s all. It doesn’t say anywhere in the Bible that we’re to gather together at eleven o’clock on Sunday morning to worship Jesus. There’s nothing like that; there’s no rule like that. Well, why do you do it? Just out of the love of our souls. I love to come here. I was glad when they said unto me, "Let’s go to church. Let’s go to church. Let’s listen to the Word of the Lord. Let’s praise God in song. Let’s bow before Him in prayer." Just because I have it in my soul, I got it in my heart, I want to do it. That is the faith of the Lord Jesus, and that’s the sign that John saw in that marvelous miracle [John 5:1-9].
Now, sign number four is in the next chapter, chapter 6: Jesus feeds the five thousand [John 6:1-14]. The Lord’s on the other side, on the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee. There’s a great company there, five thousand men beside women and children [John 6:10]. And the Lord says, "If we send them away, they will faint in the desert" [Matthew 15:32]. And Andrew, Peter’s brother, said, "Master, how in the world could we feed so great a throng? All we have are five little barley loaves," it says here. That’s the food of the poor, barley. "Barley loaves," actually the word refers to a little biscuit. A mother somehow had packed for her boy a little lunch, and it had five little biscuits in it and two little fishes. And Andrew says, "But Lord, what are they among so many?" [John 6:9]. And the Lord says – and whatever God does, He does it in beautiful order. You see that in the universe; the design, the intelligence that lies back of all God’s creation, and He does it in everything in this life. The church is always to be done decently and in order – so He had them sit down in sections, in divisions [John 6:10]. Mark vividly describes them: he says, It looked like garden plots, garden plots; they sat down by groups [Mark 6:39-40]. And when all five thousand men, beside women and children, were seated, then the Lord called His twelve apostles, and He broke the bread, and the apostles gave it to the people. And then He broke the fish, and they gave it to the people. And they were all filled" [Mark 6:41-42; John 6:10-12]. What Jesus can do!
Now the sign: the sign is plainly stated in verse 48, , and 51, "I am that bread of life"; verse 35, "I am the bread of life"; verse 51, "I am the living bread." "Your fathers ate manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die" [John 6:-50]. That’s the sign that John saw in it: Jesus is the bread of life, and our souls feast on Him. Just as our physical frames need nourishing and we sit at the table and eat, our spiritual souls need nourishing, and we sit at the feet of our blessed Savior at a banquet table of the Lord. Isn’t that a wonderful symbolism and metaphor and simile? When the Bible speaks of our gathering together, it always is under the imagery of sitting down at a banquet table of the Lord. And that’s why I study and pray so hard, "Dear God, when God’s sheep come together in the house and they sit there before me, Lord, help me to feed their souls. Help me to be a good poimen, a good shepherd." That’s the word for "pastor," "Help me to be a good poimen, a good shepherd. And when the sheep come and they look up at me, they look up at me, Lord; help me to feed the sheep on the bread of life, on the living Word of God."
"I am that bread that cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat, and not die" [John 6:50]. That’s a beautiful sign: Jesus the bread of life on which our souls feast and we grow in the Lord.
Sign number five is in that same sixth chapter beginning at verse 15 through 21 [John 6:15-21]. They sought to make Jesus a king by force [John 6:15]. "Why, this Man can feed an army on five little biscuits [John 6:9-13]. This Man can raise the dead [Matthew 9:24-25; Luke 7:12-15]. If one of our soldiers is slain, He can raise him up." They sought to make Him a king. Jesus sent the disciples away in a boat because they were agitating the acclamation. And He Himself withdrew to pray. That night, in the middle of the night, when the disciples were out there in the midst of the water, the sea began to boil, and the wind began to rise in a hurricane; and they were frightened. Then as though that were not enough, in the middle of the night, they see Jesus walking on the sea, and drawing nigh; and they were afraid [John 6:15-19]. "And He saith unto them, It is I; do not be afraid, be not afraid. And they gladly, triumphantly, willingly received Him into the little boat, and immediately they were at the land wither they went" [John 6:20-21]. Now that’s the fifth sign. What sign is in that? The sign of that is this: whatever the providences of life, don’t be afraid. Jesus is with us. He is with us in the day as He is in the night, and He is with us in the night as He is in the day. He is with us in the dark as He is in the light. He is with us in old age as He is in youth. He is with us when we’re sick as He is when we’re well. He is with us in the hour of our death as He is in the hour of our greatest triumph. "Do not be afraid; it is I. Do not be afraid" [John 6:20].
When the storms of life are raging, stand by me
When the world is tossing me, like a ship upon the sea,
Thou who rulest wind and water, stand by me
In trials, in tribulations, stand by me
When the hosts of hell assail, and my strength begins to fail
Thou who never lost a battle, stand by me
When I’m growing old and feeble, stand by me
When my life becomes a burden, and I’m nearing chilly Jordan
O Thou Lily of the Valley, stand by me
["Stand By Me," by Charles A. Tindley]
Don’t be afraid: Jesus is with us. "I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee" [Hebrews 13:5]. That’s the sign [John] saw in the miracle.
Sign number six. Chapter 9, Jesus heals the man blind from his birth [John 9:1-11]. "And His disciples say unto Him," chapter 9, "Who sinned, this man, or his parents, that he was blind, born that way?" [John 9:1-2]. Isn’t that something? All of us are just like that. Whenever a misfortune or a tragedy or a sorrow overtakes us, all of us think, "I must have done some grievous sin in order that I fall into such tragedy." Not so. Jesus said, "This man did not sin, nor did his parents, that he was born blind: but in order that the works of God might be manifest in him" [John 9:3]. And then the sign, verse 5: "I am the light of the world." It is a marvelous and a miraculous thing how the whole world changes when we look at it in the light of the knowledge of Jesus our Lord. "I am the light of the world" [John 9:5]. Things take on an altogether different perspective when we look at it in the perspicuity of the wisdom and the wonder of our great God: "I am the light of the world" [John 9:5].
The seventh and the last sign is chapter 11: the raising of Lazarus from the dead. John chapter 11, verses 25 and 26, "Jesus said unto Martha, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never, ever die" [John 11:25-26]. My Greek professor, one of the most learned men that I suppose ever lived in this twentieth century, when we were reading this Gospel of John in Greek, when we came to that verse, "I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in Me, though he die, yet shall he live: And he that liveth and believeth in Me shall never die"; when we read that, he paused and said, "Young men, that is the most profound statement ever made in human speech." What is the sign?
You know, I was thinking: it must have been sixty years ago that I read this book, Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, London and Paris; one of the greatest novels of all literature. It must have been sixty years ago that I read this interesting and intriguing story of the French Revolution. Vividly, it seemed to me, I remembered, though it’d been sixty years since I read it as a boy, vividly did I remember I thought that it was that verse, John 11:25 and 26, it was that verse that brought this wonderful story to a glorious, triumphant climax. That was my remembrance. So this last week, I got the book out of our library, and I looked at it. And I read the conclusion, just to see if my memory was correct. The wonderful story – and it’s one of the most marvelous you could ever read – the wonderful story finds its consummation in the guillotine, the beheading of Sydney Carton, an English jurist, lawyer, who’s giving his life for his friend. How all that was fitted in is the story of the book. So as he is taken there in the cart and the thirty-one of them are dumped out there to be beheaded by the guillotine, why, there’s a little seamstress, a little French girl, she also is to be beheaded because she was servant to the royalty. And the little seamstress is so afraid, and she draws close to Sydney Carton, the English jurist. And he strengthens her and encourages her, and she finds a friend in, what she calls, "this stranger." So she says to him, "Before I am brought to the platform and the ax falls, could I ask a question?" And she asks him about that other land and that other place and that other world. And he replies, "Over there, my child, there is no time and no trouble." So they solemnly bless each other, and she goes next before him; is gone, number twenty-two. Then he quotes, standing there facing the guillotine, he quotes John 11:25: "I am the resurrection, and the life, saith the Lord: he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die" [John 11:25-26]. The murmuring of many voices, the upturning of many faces, the pressing on of many footsteps, number twenty-three. They said of him about the city that night that it was the peacefulest man’s face ever beheld. Many added that he looked sublime and prophetic. One of the remarkable sufferers, a woman, asked if she might write down her thoughts. If he had been given any utterance to his, they were prophetic; they would have been like this: I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising above the abyss. I see the lives for which I laid down my life. "It is a far, far better thing that I do, that I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest to which I go than I have ever known" [from A Tale of Two Cities; Charles Dickens].
That’s what it is! That’s what it is when a man gives his heart in faith to the Lord Jesus. Its better over there than it is here. God is with me. The Lord is standing by me. And I am to be unafraid.
O Lord, I don’t know why, but in these last several months I’ve been praying, Lord, when the time of my departure is at hand, may it be my finest hour. May all that I have preached in the thirty-six years I’ve stood here, or however many years God would let me live, Lord, when that time comes, may my people say, "He died as he lived: believing and trusting and leaning upon our dear Lord." Triumphant in death, as we have been blessed in life. What a glorious invitation, when God says, "Come unto Me, and I will give you rest" [Matthew 11:28].
May we stand together?
Our Lord in heaven, oh, that we had the voice of an archangel, that we had the sublimity of thought of an Isaiah, that we had the deep theological reasoning of Paul, that we could speak in those words and in those thoughts that reflect the wonder and majesty and glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus. Ah, that it could be that we who are made out dust and ashes could rise into the glory of our Lord, to be like Him, speak His name, love His cause, serve His kingdom’s purpose. Ah, Lord that we who are worms of this dust of the earth could be thus loved and be loved by our great God and Father in heaven. And our Lord, humbly we pray, that timidly as we might be some, un-understanding as we might be others, that yet God would give us that measure of faith to commit to Thee heart and life, now, the remainder of our pilgrimage journey, in the hour of our death, and to see Thee face to face in triumph, in glory some day.
While our people pray, while we stand silently before God, a family, a couple, or just one somebody you, "This day, this day, I give my heart to the Lord Jesus. I accept Him for all that He promised to be, and I’m answering God’s call with my life." In the balcony round, there’s a stairway at the front, at the back. In the press of people on this lower floor, into the aisle and down to the front, "Pastor, today, I’ve made that decision for God." May the Lord speed you as you come. Deacons, ministers, the Holy Spirit, our blessed Lord Jesus, and the angels in heaven rejoice to welcome you. Do it now.
And our Lord, thank Thee for the sweet harvest God shall give us. In Thy precious and saving name, amen. While we wait, while we pray, just for you, a family, a couple, you; make it now, do it now, come now, while we sing, while we sing.