Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Sent to Be a Witness (John 1:6-8, 15)

In February of 1997, I embarked on my first international mission trip. I had taken the place of a dear friend on that team, who had to back out because of health reasons. As a young Bible college student, I could not afford to pay for a trip such as this, but my friend said, “I’m going to pay your way on one condition. There’s this pastor named Jonathan. He always wears a brown UPS shirt that someone gave him. I promised him that when I returned I would witness to his father. Since I can’t go back, you have to promise me that you will find Jonathan and witness to his father for me.” For several days I enquired amongst the Kenyans that we met to see if anyone knew Jonathan, and no one did. My taxi driver told me, “I don’t know this man, but I will find him for you.” After a week of witnessing in the villages, my scheduled day of much needed rest began with an early knock on my door. I opened it to find a tall, slender Kenyan in a brown UPS shirt, who said in surprisingly clear English, “Hello sir. My name is Jonathan. I heard you were looking for me.” Over his shoulder I could see my driver waving at me with a huge smile on his face. I explained to him how my friend had been unable to come, and had sent me in his place, and that we needed to go out and visit his father. Jonathan’s eyes lit up and we set out to the remote village where I found the aged man. After a long ritual of African greetings, I sat down with the man and said, “Sir, I have been sent here with a message for you,” and for the next several hours, I shared the good news of Jesus with him. It was my very reason for being on the continent of Africa. I had been sent as a witness. And that experience in Kenya opened my eyes to a reality of my life as a follower of Jesus. Not only in Kenya, but everywhere I happen to be in the world, at all times, I have been sent to be Christ’s witness. And the same is true for every Christian.

The final words of Jesus to His followers before He ascended into heaven after His resurrection are known as the Great Commission. Luke records it this way in Acts 1:8: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” This statement is both a command and a promise. It was given to the entire church of Jesus Christ, meaning that every believer in Christ is both an evangelist and a missionary, sent under the authority of Christ to testify of Him beginning where we are, and extending to the ends of the earth. It is a daunting task. When we consider that evangelical Christians comprise only 25% of the population of America, and a third of the global population, this means that there are at least 4.5 billion people in the world who do not have a personal relationship with Jesus, 230 million of whom live within our own country. God could have chosen to use any means imaginable to reach them with the good news of Jesus, but He chose one way: to use the likes of us to spread the message.

In our text today, we meet a man who was sent by God to be a witness. His name was John. The other Gospels refer to him as John the Baptist in order to distinguish him from John the Apostle. However within this book, the Apostle John never refers to himself by name, so there is no need to distinguish himself from this John. While the other gospels describe John’s family and birth, his appearance, and his ministry of baptism, the Fourth Gospel mainly concentrates on John’s role as a witness to Christ. As we see him testifying to Jesus, he becomes a mentor to us in our task of being Christ’s witness.

I. Christ’s witnesses understand their commission (v6)

After the days of Zechariah, Haggai, and Malachi, prophecy as we know it in the Old Testament came to an abrupt end. The Jewish Talmud states that they were the last of the prophets, and one Jewish writing from c.200 B.C. refers back to “the time prophets ceased to appear among the people.”[1] Thus for some 500 years, there had been no prophet sent from God to announce His Word to Israel. But all of that changed as “there came a man sent from God, whose name was John” (v6). He did not come on his own accord. He came with a heavenly commission; he was “sent from God.” The Greek word for “sent” here emphasizes the authority of the sender, who in this case is God. John came with the authority of God to deliver a message from God. He was not to exercise license or creativity with the message, but to deliver it precisely as he had received it from God. Being sent from God, he was accountable to God for delivering the message with which he had been entrusted.

We might compare this idea of being commissioned to the role of an ambassador. An ambassador is sent to a foreign land under the authority of his home country’s leader (the King, the President, etc.), and is there on official business to represent the interests of those who sent him. John’s role as a witness was much like this. He was God’s ambassador to the world. And so are we. Like John, we have been sent from God into the world. Jesus said, in Matthew 28:18-19, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations.” The command to “go” in the Great Commission is rooted in the authority of Christ. He says in John 20:21, “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” We are sent under His divine authority as a commissioned people, accountable to Him for the faithful exercise of our task. If we are intimidated by the task of witnessing for Christ, we must remember that we are not witnesses on our own authority. We are sent from God, and we have His authority to make Christ known. If we are afraid of what the world might think of us or do to us, we must remember that we are accountable to God, and rather be more fearful of failing to fulfill our commission.

John was a man, an ordinary man, the same as you and me. But what set him apart from the rest of the mass of humanity was that he was divinely commissioned; he was “sent from God.” And you are as well. One commentator has noted, “No one can be sent from God who has not first been with God.”[2] When the Lord Jesus called his apostles to Himself, it was so that “they would be with Him, and that He could send them out to preach” (Mark 3:14). But He could not send them out, or rather He would not, until first they had been with Him. And the Lord Jesus said in His Commission to the Church, “Lo I am with you always!” (Matthew 28:20). We abide in His presence through prayer and the study of His Word, and our work as His witnesses begins to overflow from our time spent with Him. E. M. Bounds said that those who “gain mighty results for God” are those “who have prevailed in their pleadings with God before venturing to plead with men.”[3] So it is that we must spend time with Him, in prayer and in the Word, in order that we may be effective for Him as He sends us out. This is our commission.

II. Christ’s witnesses understand their identity (v7-8)

In the opening verses of this Gospel, the Apostle speaks of the Word, the Logos, who was with God in the beginning and who was God. He created all that exists, and in Him was life, and the life was “the Light of men” (v5). He shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not comprehend (or “overcome”) it (v6). In verse 9, the Apostle will say that “there was the True Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man.” So, in the verse before this passage about John, and in the verse after, the Apostle speaks of the magnificent Light. But here he is clear to point out concerning John, “He was not the Light.” It is clear as we get to know this man named John that he understood this about himself as well.

John understood that his mission was not to convince the world of the greatness of John. He spoke of another Person, saying in 1:27, “the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” He speaks of Him here in verse 15, saying “He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.” The Person of whom John is speaking is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. Jesus came after John. John was born six months before Jesus, and he began his ministry before Jesus did, though we don’t know how long before. To many people, age and experience means preeminence. But John knows that this is not always so. Even though Jesus had been born six months after John, John says, “He existed before me.” Here he is referring to the fact that Jesus, being God, had existed from eternity past. And even though Jesus came onto the scene of public ministry later than John, John says of Him, “He has a higher rank than I.” Later in chapter 3, when John’s disciples report that Jesus is gaining more popularity among the people than John, John said, “You yourselves are my witnesses that I have said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ …. He must increase, but I must decrease” (3:28, 30). You see, John understood that he was not the Light. He knew that at the end of the day, it really wasn’t about him. Have we come to understand this about our own identity? It isn’t about us! We are not the Light!

Back in November, Brian Davis and I attended a pastors’ conference together and one of the first guys to preach got up and spent over twenty minutes of his allotted time talking about himself, his ministry, and his successes, before finally turning to a text of Scripture, which he proceeded to mutilate as he attempted to preach it. We have not been sent by God to make a name for ourselves. The debacle of the Tower of Babel ought to instruct us that attempting to make a name for ourselves will only end in disaster (Genesis 11:4)! Your mission in life, should you choose to accept it, is to decrease in order that Christ might increase.

He was not the Light, but he “came as a witness, to testify about the Light.”  A witness is someone who gives a true testimony. Witnesses are not to engage in interpretation or share their opinions or perspectives. They are to state the facts, truthfully and faithfully. That is what John came to do. He didn’t come to be the Light, but to testify about the Light. Jesus said concerning John the Baptist that “he was the lamp that was burning and was shining” (John 5:35). He was not the Light, but he was the lamp. The oil lamps of ancient times were lit by a fire from another source, and they could burn and shine for a long time as long as there was oil within them. So, John was a lamp that carried and bore the Light. And in that sense, we are also lamps. We do not shine forth with a light of our making, but we carry the Light of Christ into the dark world that they may see Him. The purpose is not to show the world how impressive the lamp is, but how bright the Light is.

Jesus says twice in this Gospel, “I am the Light of the World” (8:12; 9:5). But He says in Matthew 5:14, “You are the light of the world.” You and I are only the light of the world in the sense that we reflect His light. We are like the moon, which produces no light of its own. It shines as it reflects the light of the sun. Our mission is not to show the world how great we are, but how great He is. We testify not of ourselves, but of Christ, who is the true Light “which, coming into the world, enlightens every man” (v9). So, at the end of the day, we need not fear if the world rejects us because our witness is not about us. It is about Jesus. We testify to Him, not to ourselves. And this brings me to the final point …

III. Christ’s witnesses understand their purpose (v7b)

There is an old saying that goes, “If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time.” If you have no goal, no purpose in your work and in your life, then you mustn’t be surprised that you aren’t seeing any results. That is not to say that you will always see results when you have a goal; you may never reach your goal or attain your purpose. But you will never have results without a goal or purpose. So, John’s ministry was one that had a clear aim, a well-defined goal, and an explicitly stated purpose. He came to testify to Jesus with an explicit purpose. He testified “so that all might believe through him.”

Because he understood his identity, that he was not the Light, he did not testify so that all would believe in him, but that all would believe in Christ through his testimony. Because he understood his commission, that he was sent from God with divine authority, he boldly proclaimed the good news of Jesus to everyone he could: to common fishermen (John 1:40); to the religious leaders of Israel (Matthew 3:7); and even to the ruler of the region, Herod Antipas. And when he testified to these people, it was not merely with the intent of providing them with information. He testified toward the goal of their conversion, that they might believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ. John didn’t just give a nice speech and then say, “I hope that makes you feel better today!” He would present the facts of Jesus, who had come into the world as the Messiah to inaugurate the Kingdom of God, and then say, “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). John’s testimony included an urgent appeal for sinners to turn to God in repentance and to recognize Jesus as the Savior who had come as the sacrifice for sin, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

We need to learn this from John. Our task as Christ’s witnesses is incomplete until we have made it clear to our hearers that a decision must be made. The good news of the Lord Jesus is not just something for a person to mull over and chew on. It demands a response: accept Him and be saved, or reject Him and perish, but indifference is not an option.

What is your aim in life? Do you want to be successful, and prosperous, and well0-thought of by others, and retire young and rich to enjoy unlimited leisure? That sounds nice, but that is not the aim of Christ’s witness. For Christ’s witness the aim and objective in life is nothing other than the salvation of the world! All other aims are subservient to that one. If you aim for success, let it be so that your success becomes a platform for the Gospel! If you aim for prosperity, let it be so that you can finance the spread of the Gospel through the whole world! If you aim for an early retirement, let it be so that the golden years of your life can be spent proclaiming the good news of Jesus to every person you can! Live in such a way, that should anyone even need to ask you what your goal in life is, you can say like John the Baptist, “to be a witness, to testify for Christ, so that all might believe.”

Now, we need to have a healthy dose of realism here. After all, the text does not say that all would believe, but that all might believe. Multitudes believed in Christ through the testimony of John, including probably the author of the present Gospel, the Apostle John. Many, however, did not. Herod didn’t. The Pharisees and Sadducees by and large didn’t. But the fault did not lie with John. His testimony was sufficient for all to believe. And so it will be with us. As we proclaim the good news of Jesus, some will likely believe, while others will likely not. But if we have been clear and thorough with the message, our testimony will be sufficient for all who hear it to believe, even if they do not.

After hours of witnessing to Jonathan’s father in that Kenyan village, I asked him, “Sir, do you understand what I have said to you about Jesus?” He said, “Yes, I do.” I said, “Do you believe that these things are true?” He said, “I certainly do!” I said, “Then sir, is there any reason why you would not want to give your life to Jesus today?” He said, “Yes, I am just not ready.” I went back over all the significant points of the Gospel with him and said, “Do you believe this?” He said yes. I said, “Sir, what will happen to you when you die?” He said, “I will go to hell.” I asked, “Do you want to go to hell?” He said, “No.” I said, “What do you need to do to go to heaven?” He said, “I need to believe in Jesus.” I said, “Are you ready to believe in Him?” He said, “No,” and rose to bid me farewell. I came back to my friend who had sent me to Kenya and shared this with him, and he said to me, “Russ, you did all you could do. You did what I sent you to do. Now, we have to keep praying for him.” That was fifteen years ago, and I do not know if the man ever came to faith in Jesus.

Contrast that with another encounter. It was a hot summer day in 1995, and I was riding along to make visits with Pastor Paul Riggs one day, and as we passed by the home of John Ogburn, he said, “Russ, I’m concerned for John’s soul. Let’s stop in and witness to him.” We went in and had a pleasant visit, and the older pastor said, “John, I came to talk to you about the Lord today.” And he proceeded to tell John how Jesus loved him and died for him, and John said, “I believe that!” And then and there, John prayed that the Lord would save him. For the last 16 years, John never missed a Sunday of being in church! A week ago today, he died at age 88, and last Wednesday I attended his funeral. The pastor said that he often spoke of that day when he met Jesus

The great English missionary C. T. Studd once wrote to his brothers from the field and said, “Oh! If you have never tasted the joy of leading one soul to Jesus, go and ask our Father to enable you to do so, and then you will know what true joy is.”[4] There is joy to be found in being Christ’s witnesses. It is who we are, and it is what we have been commissioned to do. As we seek to be effective and faithful witnesses, we won’t find a better example in all of Scripture than John the Baptist. He understood his commission; he understood his identity; and he understood his purpose, therefore he was an effective witness for Christ. With the same understandings, we will be also.

[1] Ben Witherington III, “John the Baptist,” in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (ed. Green, McKnight, and Marshall; Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1992), 386. The Jewish writing mentioned is the apocryphal book of 1 Maccabees, and the statement is found at 9:27.
[2] John Phillips, Exploring the Gospels: John (Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux, 1989), 21.
[3] E. M. Bounds, Power through Prayer. http://www.revival-library.org/catalogues/miscellanies/prayer/ boundspower.html
[4] Norman Grubb, C. T. Studd: Cricketer and Pioneer (Fort Washington, Penn.: Christian Literature Crusade, 1972), 57.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Enlightenment (John 1:9-13, 16-18)

Following the fall of the Roman Empire, the Western World entered an era known commonly as the Middle Ages. Because of a number of factors, including prolonged periods of warfare, financial crises, corruption in the Roman Catholic Church, and little advance of educational and intellectual developments, this period is often called by some “the Dark Ages.” During the 1400s, there were sparks of renewed interest in science, philosophy, art, and literature. This period, known as the Renaissance, led to the beginnings of an intellectual awakening that would transform Europe and the World. As these radical changes in the spiritual and intellectual climate began to sweep across Europe, a new era dawned. It was called “The Enlightenment.” By the late 1600s, “virtually every European country, and every sphere of life and thought, was affected by it.”[1] During this time period, humanity was supposedly being lifted out of “the darkness of irrationality and superstition that … characterized the Middle Ages.”[2] One of the premier philosophers of the era, Immanuel Kant, said that the enlightenment was “the emergence of man from his self-imposed infancy.”[3] The Enlightenment emphasized human reason, therefore the authority of the Bible, and the Christian faith that is built upon the Bible, was deemphasized, if not altogether rejected. The religion of the Enlightenment was atheism, or agnosticism, or agnosticism’s more sophisticated cousin, Deism. Yet, ironically, nearly every major Enlightenment thinker was operating from a worldview that had been strongly influenced by the Bible and Christianity. Enlightenment ideals held sway over the Western World for the better part of 500 years, but it survived on the borrowed capital of Christianity. It was as if the world had awoken to a new way of thinking, but it still had a hangover from being under the influence of Christianity for centuries. By the middle of the twentieth century, the hangover had worn off, the borrowed capital was depleted, and a new day of so-called “Postmodernism” had dawned. The rejection of absolutes, the spurning of authority, and radical moral tolerance came as a shock to the culture as it began to unfold. In reality, however, it was merely the chickens hatched from the Enlightenment’s eggs finally coming home to roost. Thus, from our vantage point, we may look back on these cultural revolutions and see that perhaps their claims were a bit too ambitious. This is not to say that there were not magnificent triumphs in the Renaissance and Enlightenment, for there were. It is to say, however, that the darkness that envelops humanity was not so thoroughly brightened as we may have thought.

The darkness of human existence has a singular cause: sin. Because of sin’s hold on humanity, that which was spoken by God concerning the days of Noah could be said of every era of history. In Genesis 6:5, we read that “the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” A few verses later (6:11-12), the effects of man’s sinful condition are spelled out: “Now the earth was corrupt in the sight of God, and the earth was filled with violence. God looked on the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth.” Into this vast darkness of spiritual, intellectual, and moral corruption, many lights have shown. Reform, renewal, and renaissance has been ignited by many matches throughout time, but they have all been relatively short lived in the grand scheme of things. The darkness would subside for a season, but it was never completely vanquished. In time, the light would be extinguished, and the darkness would set in again. But into humanity’s darkness, over and above all other sources of light, a greater Light has shown. The Apostle John says that there was “the true Light, which coming into the world, enlightens every man” (1:9). The word translated “true” can speak of a genuine or authentic Light, as opposed to false or synthetic forms of light. It can also refer to an ultimate Light, which is greater than all others. Like so many words in John’s Gospel, it is difficult to determine which meaning he has in mind here, and he may well mean both.

What is this true Light that comes into the world? Well, the Light is not a “what”; this Light is a “Who.” He is the One who is described in verses 1-5 as the Word, who was with God in the beginning, and who was God; the Creator of all things; the One in whom there was life, and that life was the Light of men; a Light that shines into the darkness. Though the darkness did not comprehend the Light, neither did the darkness overcome the Light. This Light has come into the world as the Word made flesh (1:14), full of glory, grace, and truth. He is Jesus Christ. He is the true Light that enlightens every man (1:9). Writing some 1500 years before that period of time that we call “the Enlightenment,” the Apostle John declares that there is an ultimate Enlightenment to be experienced in the person of Jesus Christ. Apart from Him, all is varying shades of darkness. And in the verses of our text today, John informs us of how Christ, the true Light, has come into the world to enlighten every man.

I. In Christ, we are enlightened with true love (vv11-13).   

If you listen to the so-called “New Atheists,” like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, you will hear about how religion in general, and in some cases Christianity in particular, has ruined the world. Christopher Hitchens was one of the leading spokesmen of the “New Atheism” movement until his death a month ago today. Hitchens once stated that he believed that “the influence of churches, and the effect of religious belief, is positively harmful.”[4] According to the majority of those in the “New Atheism” camp, the world would be better if there had never been such a thing as the Christian Church. Yet, these atheists do not spend much time discussing the contributions that the Christian Church has made to the common good of the world over the last 2,000 years. Around the world, it has been the Church of Jesus Christ that has led the way in the establishment of schools, hospitals, and other community agencies and institutions that exist to make the world a better place. And the motive of it all was to demonstrate in a tangible way to the world that God loves human beings. One of the areas in which Christians have worked most tirelessly is in the care of orphans. In the late 1800s, Charles Loring Brace wrote about the practice of infanticide, the trafficking of orphans into slavery and prostitution, the use of orphans in ritual sacrifices, and other unthinkable horrors that had existed almost universally in the world prior to the establishment of the Christian Church. But he also notes how the followers of Jesus began almost immediately to make a difference in how the world viewed and treated orphans.[5] I was recently talking to a man who had been involved in missionary work in India, and he was telling me about practices that still were rampant there: the killing of babies because a family could not afford to raise them or because they had a daughter instead of a son, and atrocities such as this. But he was telling me that Christians were establishing “drop-off sites” in the major cities of India where families could simply hand their children over to be cared for by Christian people. Now, why have Christians been so active in the work of orphan care in the world throughout history? Because we believe that our Gospel is about a Father’s love for spiritual orphans. Adoption is essential to our theology.

The Apostle John writes here that Christ came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. Obviously, he is referring to the Jewish people here. Now, it would be a mistake to say that Jesus was rejected altogether by the Jews. Most of His earliest followers were Jews. In fact, the book of Acts describes the stir that was created in the church when Jewish Christians were unsure about what to do with Gentiles who wanted to follow this Jewish Messiah. But, John’s point here is that, by and large, the nation of Israel rejected Jesus. Of course, if we read the Old Testament prophets carefully, we will observe that they were not thoroughgoing orthodox believers in the God of the Hebrew Scriptures before Christ came. Time and time again, the prophets rebuke the nation for the rejection of the Lord. A stream of biblical teaching flows through the Old Testament and into the New concerning the idea of a believing remnant. Both before and after the coming of Christ, the number of Jewish people who were truly committed to the covenant-making God of Scripture was a small percentage of the whole nation. Therefore, it was not astounding really that His own received Him not; the astounding thing is what God did for those who did receive Jesus Christ.

Verse 12 begins with one of my favorite words in the Bible: “But.” Jesus was rejected by the vast majority of the Jewish nation, BUT, “as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become the children of God.” There is a sentimental way of looking at the human race and thinking that everyone is a child of God. That is true in a very limited sense—in the sense that God created the human race. But if humanity began as God’s children, like the prodigal son, we have run away from our Father in rebellion and joined ourselves to another father. Jesus referred to those who opposed Him in John 8:44 as children of the devil. Paul referred to lost humanity in Ephesians 2:2 as “sons of disobedience.” In this sense, as it pertains to our relationship with the Heavenly Father, we are born as spiritual orphans. But in Jesus Christ, God has made away for us to be adopted as His children.

You have to understand how revolutionary it was for Jesus to come into the world speaking about God as His Father, and about the potential for people like you and me to address God as Our Father. This kind of language was extraordinarily rare, even in the writings of the Jews. But Jesus had come to bring enlightenment to humanity regarding true love. Here was a God who loves the human race so much that He has made a way for sinful rebels to be united to Himself in a relationship that surpasses that of any parent and child. He becomes a Father to those who receive the Lord Jesus, to those who believe in His name. Jesus is the only begotten Son of God, but God has an innumerable multitude of adopted sons and daughters. We have not merely been adopted into His family through some judicial paperwork process; He has chosen to grant to those who believe a totally new birth. John says that those who receive Jesus and experience this adoption have been born, “not of blood.” Jewish traditionalists believed that they could experience the favor of God because they were the biological descendants of Abraham. But John says here that God’s children are not born of blood; and they are not born “of the will of the flesh.” It was not some sensual desire that brought this new birth to pass. And it was not the “will of man,” as if you chose yourself, or someone else chose for you to experience this birth. You experienced this new birth because it was the will of God. He chose you for Himself and adopted you to be His child through your reception of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of your life. This is what Jesus was referring to when He told Nicodemus, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again’” (John 3:6-7).

As I look around the room today, I confess, I have never known most of your earthly fathers. You might have had a good one, and praise God if you did. But you might have had a terrible earthly father. In fact, you may suffer from things from day to day that could be directly attributed to the absence of a father in your life, or to the presence of a horrible father. But I want to tell you, on the authority of God’s Word, that there is a greater Father that you can know. Where your earthly father was weak, this Father is strong! If your earthly father was great, this one is greater still. In fact, the greatest thing a father can do for his child is to teach them that there is a greater Father whom they need to know. God desires to be your Father, and He has promised to be your Father and to make you His child if you receive Jesus, believing in His name. This is true love. John will go on to write in his first epistle, “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called the children of God; and such we are” (1 John 3:1). Jesus is the true Light that has come into the world to enlighten us. And He has enlightened us by true love.

II. In Christ we are enlightened by true grace (vv16-17)

When I was a kid, I can remember getting a new toy for Christmas, and opening the box to find those dreaded words that every child of my generation feared reading: “Batteries Not Included.” Back in those days, that was a tragedy, because the stores were all closed on Christmas Day. I would have to wait a whole day or two before I could get the batteries for my new toy so I could play with it. Here I’d been given this great gift, but I didn’t have what I needed to power it up and enjoy it! The best gifts were those that my parents had already opened and put the batteries in before I opened it up, so it was good to go!

John says in verse 16 that we have received, from the overflowing fullness of Jesus, grace upon grace. There’s a lot of ink spilled among the commentators as to what this expression means. The most popular view is that it means something like, “never-ending grace,” and theologically that is true. We receive one gift of God’s grace on top of another in Jesus. That is absolutely true. But I don’t think it is what this phrase means. To understand this phrase, we have to see the words that follow it. The very next word is “For.” That is a conjunction that connects these two verses, and it functions to supply a reason. We have received grace upon grace “for” or “because,” the gift of grace that humanity had received before Jesus was a great gift, but it was like a toy without the batteries. That gift was given through Moses, and it was God’s law. God’s law was a glorious and gracious gift! God’s law declared the true picture of holiness and righteousness. The law said, “This is what God requires of us.” God did not have to declare this to humanity. He could have said, “Do you want to know what kind of God I am and how you can go about pleasing Me? Figure it out for yourself, because I’m not telling you.” But He didn’t say that. In His grace, He gave the Law to the people through Moses. But although the Law declared what righteousness looked like, it did not have the power to make a person righteous. The Law was given to a people who had already violated it at virtually every point. The Law, thus, functions like a mirror. When you wake up in the morning, you go and look in the mirror and you say, “Oh my goodness! Look at my hair! Did someone attack my head with an egg-beater while I was asleep, or what?” The mirror tells you that you need some help. But you don’t fix your hair by rubbing your head on the mirror. The mirror tells you that you need something else to fix the problem, so you reach for the comb and the brush, and the gel and the hairspray, and so on. Thank God for the mirror, because you need it. But you need something more than the mirror.

So, we have this gift of grace in the Law that came through Moses. But in Jesus Christ, we have received grace upon grace. We have the Law, but now, through Jesus Christ, God has revealed grace and truth. The Law tells us what righteousness looks like, and it tells us that we don’t have it. It serves to condemn us because it tells us in every line that we are sinners. But it can’t fix us. What can fix us? The grace and truth of Jesus Christ! In Him, we discover true grace: grace that can remove our sin and impart to us the righteousness that we desperately need and which we desperately lack!

The Law tells us that sin requires death and the shedding of sacrificial blood. The Good News of Jesus tells us that Jesus died and shed His own blood as our sacrifice. The Law tells us that we must be absolutely, completely, perfectly, sinless and righteous to be accepted by God. The Good News of Jesus tells us that the righteousness of His sinless life can be credited to us by faith. The Law tells us that sinners must be cut off to perish apart from the presence of a holy God. The Good News of Jesus tells us that sinners can be forgiven in Him, and accepted before God because of His righteousness, and granted eternal life with Him in heaven! The Law says, “Try as you may, you can never earn this.” The Good News of Jesus says, “You don’t have to. God has given you a gift you do not deserve.” All you have to do is receive Him and believe in His name. Moreover, when we receive Christ, we also receive the Holy Spirit, who indwells us to empower us to live out the righteousness that God has given us through faith in Jesus. This is grace, and it is grace upon grace. It is true grace, and we have been enlightened by it.

III. In Christ, we are enlightened by true truth.

The quest of the Enlightenment Era was to discover the truth of that could be known with absolute certainty. Those things that could be investigated with human reason were considered to be real truth. Those things that pertained to religious belief were consigned to the realm of faith, and were considered beyond the categories of truth and falsehood. But are all matters of faith really beyond knowing with absolute certainty? Must we reject all ideas of religion in one fell swoop, or are there some religious claims that can be tested and validated? Of course, Postmodernism came along and said, essentially, “Who cares? There aren’t any truths that can be known with absolute certainty anyway, so it doesn’t really matter.” If the Enlightenment was characterized by unfounded optimism, Postmodernism is perhaps characterized by unfounded pessimism. God’s Word stands against them both and declares that there is a true truth that can be known, and foundational to it all is the truth about who God is.

In verse 10, John says concerning Jesus Christ, the true Light, “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him.” The two major belief systems of the Enlightenment Era are hereby challenged. One is naturalism, which says that there was no creation, just a random process of evolution by which the eternally existent particles of mass in the universe have rearranged themselves from one form into another. John says, rather, “No, the world was made through Him,” through Christ, the true Light. The other prominent belief of the Enlightenment Era was Deism, which said essentially, “There might be a God out there, but if there is, He is not concerned or at work with the goings on of the world.” Again John objects. “No,” he says, “He was in the world.” The problem was not that God was absent or that He was not at work. The problem is that the world “did not know Him.”

Twenty years ago this year, I came to faith in Christ after being a committed atheist for several years of my life. Christians would attempt to witness to me, and my response was always the same. “If God is there, why doesn’t He make Himself more evident? I can’t see Him, I can’t see any reason to believe in Him. If He wants me to believe in Him, He needs to do a better job making Himself known to me.” Little did I know that I was actually using a very sophisticated philosophical argument known as Deus Abscondus, “the hiddenness of God.” I chuckle when I read that argument in philosophical writings, because I think, “This guy is a well educated scholar, and he believes what I believed when I was an ignorant teenager!” Apart from the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit in my heart, I cannot really explain how all that came crashing down on Friday, July 31, 1992, as I read these words in 1 Samuel 3:7: “Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, nor had the word of the Lord yet been revealed to him.” I suddenly and inexplicably realized that it wasn’t that God wasn’t there, it was that I did not know Him. That very day, I gave my life to Jesus Christ.

Look around at the world today. Last year, I had the opportunity to see two amazing products of God’s creative handiwork: the soaring peaks of the Himalayas and the unfathomable expanse of the Grand Canyon. I gazed in awe at those things, and wondered how anyone could doubt that “He made the world.” But as we look at the world, we also see all kinds of atrocities. Human trafficking, rampant violence and terrorism, the holocaust of abortion, and on and on we could go. What’s the problem? Is it that God is not here? No. The problem is that the world doesn’t know Him. And how can anyone know Him anyway? After all, John says here in verse 18 that no one has seen God at any time. In the Old Testament, when people encountered God in a personal way, they did not see the fullness of His person. Moses saw God in a way that no one else ever did, yet He only saw the backside of His glory. No one ever saw Him at any time. But then came Jesus, the true Light, into the world, and He came to enlighten us with true truth about who God is.

Look at verse 18: “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.” There is so much to comprehend in this singular verse that we can barely scratch the surface of it! The only person prior to the coming of Christ into the world who had ever seen God was God Himself. And John is explaining to us in the best human words available that within the singular God of the universe, there is the person of the Father, and the person of the only begotten Son, who is Himself God. For eternity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit have existed in perfect divine fellowship as the three Persons of the Triune Godhead. And when the Son came into the world, He explained God to humanity. I love the Greek word that is translated explained here. It is the word from which we get one of my favorite English words: exegesis. Every week, I spend many hours in my study in the task of exegesis. When we exegete something, we bring forth the truth of it to put it on display. That is what we do when we study the Bible properly; we bring forth the fullness of its truth. And John says that the Lord Jesus has exegeted God for us. He has demonstrated to us the true truth about the God who is there, the God who created the world, and the God whom we could never know apart from Jesus. No, no one ever saw God. No one, that is, until Jesus came. After three years of being with Jesus every day, at the Last Supper, Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” In other words, he was saying, “Jesus, you have been with us for three years, and now you are telling us that you are going to die. Before you die, please do this one thing for us, it is all we ask. Show us God!” And Jesus said to Him, “Have I been so long with you and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me?” Jesus was saying to Philip, “Do you want to see God? Take a good long look at Me.”

Jesus is the true Light. He has come into the world to enlighten every man. He has enlightened us by true love and shown us that there is a God who adopts all who believe in Jesus to become His sons and daughters as He becomes a Father to us. He has enlightened us by true grace, showing us that there is a way for sinners to be reconciled to a holy God through His life, death and resurrection. And He has enlightened us by true truth. How can you know God? How can you find Him or see Him? I tell you that unless you find Him, see Him, and know Him through the Lord Jesus Christ, you will not find, see, or know Him in any other way! Christ is the true Light and He has enlightened every man. Why then are so many still in darkness? Well, many have not heard, and those of us who have must take the message to them. But others have heard; the Light has shone upon them. But they have not received the Light. Jesus says in John 3:19, “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light.” Does that describe you? Have you shunned the Light of Christ because you love darkness so much? God’s Word beckons you today to open your eyes to the Light of Christ! Come out of the darkness and into His Light! Those who have received the Light of Christ have experienced the love of the Father, the grace of the Son, and the truth of God. In this true Enlightenment, you become, as the Apostle Peter says, “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).

[1] M. J. Inwood, “Enlightenment” in The Oxford Companion to Philosophy (ed. Ted Honderich; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), 236.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Quoted in Ibid.
[4] Quoted in Albert Mohler, “Learning From Christopher Hitchens: Lessons Evangelicals Must Not Miss.” http://www.albertmohler.com/2012/01/11/learning-from-christopher-hitchens-lessons-evangelicals-must-not-miss/. Accessed January 12, 2012.
[5] Charles Loring Brace, The Dangerous Classes of New York and Twenty Years’ Work Among Them (New York: Wynkoop & Hallenbeck, 1872), Kindle edition. 

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

The Amazing Word of God (John 1:1-5, 14)

Audio (Sound quality is poor because we had to make the .mp3 from the tape)

New Years Day is celebrated as a day of new beginnings. The old year is gone. A new one has come, and with it come new opportunities. Resolutions are made, goals are set, plans begin to take shape. It is fitting on this day of new beginnings to set our eyes on a new study of Scripture. We begin today a study of the Gospel According to John. And the beginning of our study takes us to the beginning of the book; and the beginning of the book takes us to the beginning of it all. With the words, “In the beginning,” the Apostle John seeks to spark a recollection in the minds of his readers. These words were deliberately chosen by the Apostle to echo the very first words one reads in the Bible: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). Both Genesis 1:1 and John 1:1 inform us that before the universe came into being, God existed from eternity past.

John was an old man when he set about writing this Gospel some fifty to sixty years after the death of Jesus. He had walked with Christ, witnessing His deeds and hearing His words every day for three years. In the half-century since His death, John had continued to serve his Lord faithfully, for thirty years or so in Jerusalem, and by this point for twenty to thirty years in Ephesus. The Gospel had spread throughout the known world through the missionary journeys of Paul and his companions, as well as the rest of the apostles. Paul and Peter had been dead for twenty to thirty years, and the other apostles had also met death, most if not all in martyrdom. Now, as the first century comes to an end, only John remains. Every other book of the New Testament, with the exception of this Gospel, the Revelation, and John’s letters, have been written and circulated to the churches across the Roman Empire. Persecution of the church was intensifying, sparked in some places by the Jews who did not acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah, and in other places by the Romans who sought to forcibly eliminate all threats to the unity and power of the Empire. And now, in his advancing years, John sets out to write one more account of the person, the life, the ministry, the death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. His purpose for writing is made clear in the end of his Gospel. In 20:30-31, John tells us that he did not write down everything that Jesus said and did, but that he carefully selected the information that he recorded, “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.”

In and around Ephesus, there were many Jews and many Gentiles who had converted to Judaism, some of whom did not know who Jesus was, and some of whom did not believe that He was the Messiah, the Savior and Lord. Their thinking had been influenced by the Hebrew Scriptures that we refer to as the Old Testament, as well as by Greek philosophers and other sources. In his opening words, John speaks to them all as he says, “In the beginning was the Word.” The Greek word he uses here is Logos. There was probably no singular word that John could have employed here that would have carried so much relevance to so wide and diverse an audience.

Some 700 years or so before John began to write this Gospel, a philosopher in Ephesus named Heraclitus taught that all of life is in a constant state of change. The only reason that all of life and all the world was not in utter chaos at all times was an overarching power that controlled the universe. This power, considered to be the ultimate Reason beneath all that existed, was known as the Logos. The Jews of John’s day may have known something of Heraclitus and the other Greek philosophers whom he influenced, but the wellspring of their thinking was found elsewhere, in the Hebrew Scriptures. God was the only being who had existed for all eternity, and all that He had done in creation, in revelation, and in salvation had been accomplished by His powerful Word, the Logos. When Jews referred to the Logos, they meant something different from the Greeks, but there were overlaps and similarities. And when John said, “In the beginning was the Word”, the Logos, nearly every person alive at the end of the first century A.D. could say, “Amen.” As Kostenberger says, “It is a mark of John’s considerable theological genius that he is able to find a term … that is at the same time thoroughly biblical—that is, rooted in Old Testament teaching—and highly relevant for his present audience.”[1]  But it is not John’s intent merely to point out the commonality between Christianity, Judaism, and Greek philosophy. Though Jews and Greeks alike considered the Logos to be “the ruling fact of the universe,”[2] for John, the Logos “was not a principle, but a living Being and the source of life.”[3] The Word is not spoken of here as an “it,” but as a “He.” The Logos is a Person, and the Apostle John wants the world to know Him and to experience Him in a profoundly personal way. In the span of a few brief verses, we come to understand that the Logos is God’s Amazing Word.

I. God’s Amazing Word is Eternal (v1a)

A story is told about two ancient Greeks, Dimitri and Tasso, trying to solve the mysteries of the universe. Dimitri asks, “If Atlas holds up the world, what holds up Altas?” Tasso says, “Atlas stands on the back of a turtle.” Dimitri replies, “But what does the turtle stand on?” And Tasso says, “Another turtle.” Not satisfied, Dimitri asks again, “And what does that turtle stand on?” To which Tasso unflinchingly responds, “My dear Dimitri, it’s turtles all the way down!”[4] As silly as that sounds to us, it is not too far off from what atheistic naturalism would have us to believe. Acknowledging that everything that exists must have some cause, it is believed by many that there has always been one thing causing another for eternity. We are told that the universe came into being by way of a Big Bang, in which all the matter that presently exists came into being from an explosion of some singular particle or mass in the cosmos. But, you see, the theory cannot explain where that singularity came from. It does not answer the question of origins, it merely moves it backward in time. What we are left with is something called infinite regress, not altogether different from Dimitri’s ridiculous theory of turtles all the way down. That is the only explanation that atheists and naturalists can offer because they are unwilling to acknowledge the existence of an uncaused cause, or uncreated Creator. But John reminds us that there is another theory of origins, one that is found in the very first words of the Bible. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). Before there was time, before ever there was any matter in the universe, or any universe to contain the matter, there was God. He has existed for eternity. And with Him in the beginning was His Word, His Logos. “In the beginning was the Word (the Logos), and the Word (the Logos) was with God.” There never was a time when God was not, nor was there a time in which His Word was not. The Word was in the beginning with God (1:2).

There is a distinction here between God and the Logos, His Word. They exist together, eternally, in a perfectly harmonious relationship. The phrase here portrays “the picture of two personal beings facing one another and engaging in intelligent discourse.”[5] Hendriksen renders the phrase, “the Word was face to face with God,” meaning “that the Word existed in the closest possible fellowship” with God.[6]  As Clowney says, the Word was “God’s eternal Fellow.”[7] But the question might be raised, “If God and His Logos, His Word, are two separate and completely distinct beings, how then could both be eternally existent without one being inferior to the other?” In other words, if only God is eternally existent, how then can this Word, this Logos, also be said to be eternally coexistent with Him? And that brings us to the second truth concerning God’s Amazing Word.

II. God’s Amazing Word is God Himself (v1b)

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God.” This much we understand thus far. But now John says further, “And the Word was God.” The reason that the Word could coexist eternally with God is that the Word was God. They are distinct from one another, in that their relationship can be described as being with one another; but they are also inseparable from one another. They are one and the same Being. This presents us with a profound mystery, and as Calvin said, “profound mysteries demand sober thinking.”[8] Profound though the mystery may be, it is not beyond searching out, for the Holy Spirit had been preparing the footings for this understanding of God since the first recorded revelation was ever inscribed.

Among the Jews, there was one chief and fundamental conviction concerning the nature of God. They were staunch monotheists, believing foundationally in the existence of only God. In the great passage of Scripture found in Deuteronomy 6, known as the Shema and memorized by nearly every Jewish person since the days of Moses, the Lord had said, “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.” Throughout their history, the harshest judgments and divine chastenings they had endured came whenever they began to consort with idols. The lesson was learned well through their Scriptures and through their own personal experiences that God was one. In fact one of the driving forces behind the earliest Greek developments in philosophy was that the prevailing notions of many gods who competed and cooperated with one another to control the universe was folly. Heraclitus, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and the likes of them, had set out to answer questions that pagan polytheism could not answer, and surprisingly many of them came closer to monotheism than they did to atheism in their quest. By John’s time, though the Roman Empire was filled with lingering notions of many deities in the Greek, Roman, and other ancient pantheons, these ideas were considered by many to be nothing more than superstition and folklore. There was a growing receptivity in the world to the idea that if there was a god at all, there must only be one supreme Deity.

But even in that great passage, the Shema, there were hints of something yet unfathomable. “Hear O Israel, the Lord (YHWH) is our God (Elohim).” That name Elohim was a plural word, yet even this God, whose name was plural, was clearly stated to be “One.” Even in the creation account in Genesis 1, the Hebrews had read, “In the beginning God (Elohim, plural) created (a singular verb) the heavens and the earth.” And as He began His creative work, His Spirit was hovering over the surface of the waters (Genesis 1:2). This God had spoken of Himself, and possibly even to Himself, saying, “Let Us make man in Our image” (Genesis 1:26). Psalm 45 referred to God seated upon His eternal throne, saying of Him that “God, Your God, has anointed You.” David said in Psalm 110, the most frequently quoted Old Testament passage in the New Testament, “The Lord said to my Lord, sit at My right hand until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.” Jesus took up this very passage in a debate with the Pharisees, in which He asked them whose son the Christ would be. When they said “The son of David,” Jesus said, “Then how does David in the Spirit call Him ‘Lord,’ … If David then calls Him ‘Lord,’ how is He his son?” And the Bible says that “No one was able to answer Him a word, nor did anyone dare from that day on to ask Him another question” (Matthew 22:41-46).

You see, throughout the Old Testament, there were these divinely inspired statements, clearly declaring that God is One Being, yet also hinting at the fact that there was some plurality in God. He is One, and at the same time He is more than One. When Christ came into the world, these truths began to take fuller shape in the minds of His followers, and all the more as He began to teach about the Holy Spirit. John is acknowledging that here as He says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” In the early days of the Christian church, it was this very verse that the Fathers turned to most often for defense as they began to attempt to articulate the doctrine of the Trinity – the One God who exists in three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I suppose there are a million or more errors one can commit in trying to explain the Trinity, and only one way to be sure to stay right on the matter. We insist that God is One, and that He eternally exists in the three Persons of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This Word, who existed in the beginning with God, distinct from God, was also God. And God is One.

III. God’s Amazing Word Created All that Exists (v3-5)

How did the universe, and all that is in it, come into being? Genesis tells us, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” and John tells us, “In the beginning was the Word,” and “All things came into being through Him.” You will recall from Genesis that when God created the heavens and the earth, He spoke the created things into being. For example, while the earth was formless and void and covered in darkness, God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. Over and over again, the creation account tells us that “God said,” and what He said came into being. The Psalmist reflected on this poetically in Psalm 33:6, saying, “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of His mouth all their host.” Thus, John is saying nothing new here when He says that the eternal Word of God, the divine Logos, is the creator of all that is. He says it positively, then restates it negatively: “Apart from Him, nothing came into being that has come into being.” So, if you are taking notes, here’s a list of everything besides God and His Word that was not created by God and His Word: NOTHING! There is no list. There are no exceptions. The Word, the Logos, is eternal and He is God, and He created everything that has ever come into existence.

As we read the account of creation in Genesis, we find that the multitude of things that God created can be classified into two categories: things that are light and things that are life. Now, what were the raw materials that God used to create these things? Quite simply, there were no raw materials. God created ex nihilo, from nothing. Hebrews 11:3 says that “the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible.” So how did the Logos create light and life from nothing? It is because light and life are inherent in who He is. “In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men.” Because He is life, He is able to impart life to that which has none. Because He is light, He is able to impart light into the darkness that exists apart from Him. This is true in creation, it is true in revelation, and it is true in redemption. Apart from God’s revelation of Himself and His truth, all is death and darkness. But by His eternal Word, He has revealed life and light to all mankind. And apart from Him, there is no spiritual, eternal life; only spiritual death and spiritual darkness. But God has acted by His Word to bring both spiritual and eternal light and life to humanity. He has shone into the darkness. He shone into the darkness of creation and there was light and life. He has spoken His divine Word into the void and brought the light and life of the knowledge of Himself. He has acted in history to bring the spiritually dead into life and those who grope in spiritual darkness into His marvelous light.

John says, “The light shines in the darkness,” but he says that “the darkness did not comprehend it.” You will observe in some translations of the English Bible a variation in the wording here, perhaps in the text or in a footnote, which indicates that this may read, “the darkness did not overpower it.” Both senses of the word are correct. Where the light of God and His Logos has shone, it has not been comprehended by men because we are darkened by our sin. Mankind sees the created order all around, but does not comprehend that God and His Word are the source of this light. Mankind has an insatiable longing for spiritual and eternal realities, but cannot identify on our own power the source nor the object of that longing. We possess both a realization of right and wrong, and the profound awareness that we are most often guilty of the wrong and incapable of the right. But we do not know what to do about it. There is light, but left our own devices, we cannot comprehend it. Even still, however, the light of God and His word are not overpowered by our darkness. Just as the blackness of the darkest room is shattered by the striking of a single match, so the darkness of this world filled with sin cannot extinguish the light of God, try as it may. A person in that room can see the light, though he or she may not know what is the source of that light. So it is that rejecting the belief that God created the universe and all that is in it does not make those things go away, and it does not disprove the truthfulness of it. Rejecting the truth of God’s revelation does not render it invalid. And refusing God’s offer of redemption does not open for humanity another way to Him. Though we may not comprehend the light that shines in the darkness, neither can we overpower that light that shines in the darkness. True light and true life are found only in God and in His eternally divine Word. God has made this light and life known throughout all of time in various ways and in varying degrees. The writer of Hebrews said that God “spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways” (Hebrews 1:1). But in these last days, He has spoken a final Word. And this brings us to the wondrous truth of God’s Amazing Word in verse 14.

IV. God’s Amazing Word Became Flesh (v14)

In the summer of 2005, Dr. George Braswell took several of us seminary students to visit and dialogue with a Reformed Jewish Rabbi at a synagogue in Raleigh. It was one of the most enlightening experiences of my academic career. We talked at length about many theological issues and many passages of Scripture. At one point, the Rabbi said, “Do you know that passage in Proverbs 8 where Wisdom is personified in human terms?” And of course, we were well familiar with that passage. There, Wisdom is said to call out to humanity, beckoning to be received and understood. Wisdom is said to have existed with God before anything else was ever created, and when it was all created, Wisdom was at work beside Him as a master workman. The Rabbi said, “What would you say if I told you that we believe that this Wisdom is nothing other than the Torah, the living Word of God?” I spoke up among my peers and said to the Rabbi, “What would you say if I told you that I agree with you, but that I also believe that this Wisdom, the Torah, the living Word of God, became flesh in the person of Jesus Christ?” The Rabbi, sadly, seemed to ignore my comment, and made no response. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness did not comprehend it.

This is exactly what John is saying here in verse 14. In the beginning was the Word, the Logos. And the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The Word created everything exists with no exceptions. This Word has within Himself both life and the light of men. And this Word, the eternal and divine Logos, “became flesh and dwelt among us.” John is referring to nothing other than the incarnation—God becoming flesh—that occurred when Jesus the Christ came into the world. A week ago we celebrated the miracle of His birth. But though Jesus was born into the world on a certain day to a virgin mother, He did not begin to exist on that day. The baby whose birth we celebrate at Christmas is the eternal and divine Logos, the living and amazing Word of God, who became flesh and dwelt among us. It is He who created the world and all that it contains. It is He who is life and light. It is He who shines in the darkness. Though the darkness did not comprehend Him, neither could the darkness overpower Him. Though the darkness of man in this sin-darkened world crucified Him, He overpowered the darkest of the dark and triumphed over the tomb in glorious resurrection.

He became flesh and dwelt among us. The word that John uses means literally that “He pitched His tent” among us. We might say that He tabernacled among us. The idea of it carries us back to the days of old in which the glory of God resided among His people in a tabernacle in the wilderness. During the days of the Exodus, a stranger might ask a Hebrew, “Where can I find God?” and the Hebrew would say, “He lives there, in that tent in the midst of us.” John is saying to the world, “If you want to know where to find God, you will find Him there, in that tent of flesh—in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ—who came to us and dwelt among us.” Moses cried out to God, saying “Show me your glory!” John says that when the Word became flesh, we beheld His glory, glory that no one other than the Father ever had. This was the Son who was of the same eternal and divine nature as the Father. He was fully man, born in the flesh. But He was fully God, glorious and filled with grace and truth.

Every human being, whether they admit it or not, desperately needs and longs to find life, and light, and glory, and grace, and truth. And all of those longing are satisfied in Jesus, and only in Him. He is the Amazing Word of God. He existed in the beginning with God and He is God. He created everything that is. He is life and light to all men. He is filled with glory, grace and truth. And He became one of us—He became flesh. In Him God dwells among His people. He is Immanuel, God with us. And all that the Apostle John has written about Him here and in the chapters and verses to follow has been written that you might believe that He is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing, you may have life abundant and eternal in His name.

Today we stand on the threshold of a new year, a time of new beginnings. In Jesus, God has given the world a new beginning. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God … and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. In Him, you have the opportunity for more than just a new year. He offers you a new life. The Apostle Paul said, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). My prayer is that you would begin this year believing that Jesus is God, He is the Christ, He is Lord, and He is the Savior of humanity, delivering us from the darkness of our sin by His sinless life, His sacrificial death, and His glorious resurrection; and that believing, you may have life in His name. And if you have that life in Him, I pray that the year ahead will find you growing, in the words of Peter, “in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18), walking with Him through each day that comes, serving Him faithfully and making Him known fervently. May this be the resolution of all His people for 2012.

[1] Andreas Kostenberger, John (Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 5.
[2] William Temple, quoted in Morris, 123.
[3] Morris, 123.
[4] Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein, Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2007), 1.
[5] W. Robert Cook, The Theology of John (Chicago: Moody, 1979), 49.
[6] Hendriksen, 70.
[7] Edmund Clowney, cited in Carson, 117.
[8] John Calvin, John (Crossway Classic Commentaries; Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 1994), 15. 

The Glad Tidings of a Christmas Gospel (Luke 2:1-20)

Audio (Sound quality is poor because the .mp3 was made from a tape recording)

The text of this sermon can now be found as Chapter Four in my new book, We Hear the Christmas Angels, available online here.