In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.
The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, the gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.
John 1:1-18 ESV
After spending three weeks in the Old Testament studying the hints and promises of Christ’s coming, we now focus our attention upon the incarnation of Jesus. Although the life of Jesus is told four times in the Gospels, each brings a unique and complementary perspective on the long-awaited Savior. John’s Gospel is particularly interested in the glorious truth of Christ’s eternal divinity becoming human. Our text, John’s prologue, turns our attention toward this wondrous mystery.
THE STORY CONTINUED…
In our previous study, we briefly explained the timeline of events between Isaiah’s lifetime and the coming of Jesus; however, it can’t hurt to rehearse them again.
After being used to foretell Israel’s destruction by the Assyrian Empire, Isaiah most likely lived long enough to see the LORD’s promise fulfilled. Known for their terror tactics, the Assyrians left the northern kingdom in ruins with much of the population either slaughtered or forced into slavery. While Judah manages to postpone such a defeat for a few more generations, the Babylonian Empire eventually leaves Jerusalem as little more than rubble.
But just as the Babylonians replaced the Assyrians, so the Persians conquered the Babylonians. Providentially Cyrus the Great issued an edict authorizing many exiled Jews to return to Jerusalem for the purpose of rebuilding the city and the temple.
Soon Persia fell to the military brilliance of the young Alexander the Great. After conquering the known world, Alexander died suddenly without leaving a successor to his throne; his empire, therefore, was divided into four kingdoms led by four of his generals (the Kingdoms of Ptolemy, Cassander, Lysimachus, and Seleucus).
For nearly three hundred years, Jerusalem is captured and recaptured by Seleucids (basically Persia) and the Ptolemies (Egypt). This tug-o-war ended when Rome began its lengthy time as king of the hill. Despite appointing Herod the Great as king of the Jews (although raised under Judaism, his Jewish lineage is pretty questionable), the Hebrews repeatedly revolted against the vastly superior might of Rome.
Yet empires don’t stand for hundreds of years by being nice, and Rome was no exception. To the Romans we owe much of our Western heritage, yet their brutality should not be quickly ignored. Many historians argue that Rome’s endurance was largely the result of two implementations: roads and crucifixions. The cross was as much a warning as it was an instrument of torture, an easily arranged punishment for any dissent against Roman security.
But the massive construction of highways also proved threatening to the Jews. As travel became easier so did the spreading of ideas. Religious pluralism was the sign of the times, one which the Israelites repeatedly rejected to their sorrow.
This was the setting of the birth of Christ. As the Son of God came into the world, Augustus sat upon a global throne proclaiming himself the son of god. Physical and spiritual oppressors circled about them. They were shrouded in darkness. Where was the light God promised, the Savior-King, David’s son? No prophet had uttered even a word in four hundred years. Perhaps God had forgotten them altogether. Maybe the light would never come.
IN THE BEGINNING WAS THE WORD (WHO IS JESUS?)
John’s Gospel is unique to say the least. Matthew, Mark, and Luke bear so many similarities that they are often called the Synoptic Gospels. John is the odd duck of the bunch, and the evidence for this can been seen from its opening words. The Synoptics begin by grounding Jesus in reality. Matthew opens with Jesus’ Davidic lineage. Mark dives straight into the ministries of Jesus and John the Baptist. Luke cites his journalistic intensions for composing a biography of Christ.
John, however, doesn’t so much ground Jesus in reality as ground reality in Jesus. Verse 1 makes this clear by pointedly tying the story of Jesus to the first verse of Genesis. The words in the beginning should ring through our ears with awe at the God who formed all of existence out of nothing. He who made the heavens and the earth must rightfully be worshipped as the Creator of all things.
But that’s the end of that story, right?
Didn’t we, after all, already tell that story?
What more is there to say about creation?
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. We could spend an entire sermon (and may one day) attempting to mine the depths of this verse, but let us attempt to be brief at the present.
As John’s Gospel continues, it becomes quite clear that Jesus is the Word being described in this verse. This designation is important in several ways. First, the Greek word for Word is logos, which was an essential concept for many Hellenistic philosophies. Gregory Hays attempts to explain logos as such:
The term (from which English “logic” and the suffix “-logy” derive) has a semantic range so broad as to be almost untranslatable. At a basic level it designates rational, connected thought—whether envisioned as a characteristic (rationality, the ability to reason) or as the product of that characteristic (an intelligible utterance or a connected discourse). Logos operates both in individuals and in the universe as a whole. In individuals it is the faculty of reason. On a cosmic level it is the rational principle that governs the organization of the universe. (Meditations, xx)
Such a belief would be impossible for John to be ignorant of, so there seems to be a sense in which he is pointing to Jesus as the true logos, not a passionless principle but a person.
Second, Jesus as the Word provides greater revelation (although, crucially, not a different one) of how God created all things. In Genesis 1:3, God formed light by speaking it into existence. The pattern continues through day six. Creation is created by the words of God or, as John now reveals, by the Word of God. God the Father ordained an item of creation, which then came into being through Jesus.
What then does this tell us about who Jesus is?
Jesus is both the same as and distinct from the God the Father. That is the paradox of the second and third phrases of verse 1. Jesus was both with God and was God. Before the universe was formed, Jesus existed alongside God as a distinct person, yet He was eternally God as well. Jesus is not the same person as the God the Father, yet He is also not a second God. Only one God exists (Deuteronomy 6:4), and Jesus and Father (and the Holy Spirit) are that singular God. Welcome to the mystery of the Trinity, ladies and gentlemen.
In no uncertain terms, John is magnifying the divinity of Christ. Jesus is God. Period. Any attempt to grasp the significance of Jesus’ life must begin with this fundamental truth. Jesus is the Word through Whom the world was made. He is the Creator, with all its rights and privileges. Jesus is the God we described in Genesis 1.
THE TRUE LIGHT (WHAT DID JESUS COME TO DO?)
Yet John is not content to simply tell us who Jesus is; he also reveals why Jesus came to earth: to pierce the darkness as the true light. Like the Egyptians and the Israelites, humanity has long been under the darkness of God’s judgment because of sin. This darkness can easily be felt, a darkness so thick that it seems to overcome light. We see such darkness in people being left to their own devices. We see it in systematic pillaging and raping of villages and villagers. We see it in the abduction of toddlers for organ harvesting or sex slavery. We see it in the crushed skulls and dismembered bodies of late-term abortions. It’s visible in parents who abandon their families or abuse their children. It floods the Internet with the defilement and slander of God’s images. It cries out of every heart for more, more gossip, more things, more money, more sex, more food, more drink. The world is dark. If you don’t think so, it’s probably because you haven’t glimpsed the light in order to know the difference.
Sin is self-destruction, and God often judges sin by simply not interfering. After all, the fruit of sin is death, and we each deserve it. We constantly reject God in order to follow our own desires. We exalt ourselves as supreme, relegating God to being our sidekick at best and our enemy at worst. We attempt to force the Creator to submit to our will instead of submitting to His. This prideful arrogance is the human condition; no one is the exception. We deserve to be abandoned by God. We deserve death. We deserve the darkness of His judgment.
Yet God did not abandon us. Jesus, the eternal Word and the true light, came to pierce the darkness of sin. He came to give life in the midst of death’s reign. Like God saved the Israelites from the Egyptians, Jesus came to rescue His people. He came to break the rod of their oppressors, to bring joy and peace, to dispel the darkness with His light. Jesus came to save those who committed treason against His throne.
THE WORD BECAME FLESH (HOW DID JESUS DO IT?)
Jesus is God Himself, who came to save those who repeatedly rejected and rebelled against Him. That is gloriously good news, but we must still ask the question of how. How did Jesus save His people from their sins?
He did it by becoming flesh and dwelling among us. The eternal Holy One became human. Divinity became (literally) personified. God became man. Consider the anew the wonder of the incarnation. At His conception, Jesus did not cease to be God. The fullness of His deity was maintained, which is good for us since the unraveling of the cosmos is not exactly ideal. And yet Jesus was also entirely human, flesh, blood, neurotransmitters, and all.
This incarnation was absolutely necessary for solving the problem of sin. Since our sins were against the eternal God, they necessitate an eternal judgment. Physical death does not wipe our slate clean, only an eternal, spiritual death can achieve that. Our doom, therefore, is everlasting, an infinite debt to which we must continue making payments. The glory of the God-man enters this bad news. As man, Jesus was able to do what we could not: live in perfect obedience to God. As God, when Jesus was crucified in our place, His infinite worth paid entirely our infinite debt. This substitutionary atonement pulls us from the darkness of God’s judgment into the marvelous light of His grace. Indeed, from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.
Verse 12 gives us the unbelievable application of that grace: those who believe in Christ’s name have the right to be become children of God. Because of Jesus, the only Son of God dying in our place, we are now adopted as God’s sons and daughters. We who attempted to usurp His throne are now welcomed into His family, the family of the Creator! The overwhelming terror of being the sovereign God’s enemy is now transformed into the incomprehensible joy of being His beloved child.
Notice also the emphasis of verse 13. God alone accomplish our transformation, our new birth. No flesh, no blood, and no will of man can save sinners from the righteous wrath of God. Only the broken flesh, spilled blood, and gracious will of Jesus Christ is sufficient. No amount of effort, good works, or good intentions can save us. We contribute nothing; Jesus did everything. This is good news. This is the good news.
But if Jesus did everything for us, why is the gospel so hard to believe?
Why does the world continue to reject the Word through Whom it was made?
One reason is that people love darkness instead of the light. Jesus told Nicodemus this very fact in John 3:19-21:
And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.
The sad reality is that we are not forced to sin. We sin because we love sin. We love darkness, not the light. The human heart will often gladly live in hell so long as it bows to no one. We each chose hell, and we continue to do so whenever we sin. We willful reject God’s light in favor of the darkness of our own desires. Many, therefore, reject the light of the gospel of Christ because they will not be parted from their sin.
Another reason is that we want the glory of saving ourselves. Michael Lawrence identifies three ideas that actually form a false gospel: “an optimistic view of human beings, a domesticated view of God, and a view of religion as a means of moral self-reform” (Conversion, 19). Or to say it another way: “I can be good. God will be impressed. Religion will help” (20). Deep down, we desire self-help of religion because we want to save ourselves. Any honest person knows that they are sinful and broken, but even still, we often fail to see the utter hopelessness of our situation. With a little more discipline and control, we can change ourselves. We can grit our teeth and make ourselves good. Of course, we then get the glory of being the self-saved man. It’s the classic story of rags-to-riches only on an eternal scale.
But the gospel rejects that notion fundamentally. We are entirely incapable of saving ourselves, which is why Ephesians describes us as being dead in sin. The challenge of the gospel is to reject self, to lose your life in order to find it, to believe in Jesus’ name and become a child of God by walking away from the darkness of sin and into His light. May we walk in the light of His glorious grace, for it pierces the darkness and the darkness will not overcome it.