Saturday 26 October 2013

Wine (John 2:1-11)

1 On the third day a wedding took place in Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, 2 and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.

     The heading in my NIV bible reads, “Jesus Changes Water to Wine”. By the end of this account (verse 11), the event is described as a miraculous sign; a revelation of the glory of Jesus Christ.
     Yet it is important to notice how the account begins: Verse 1 introduces us to the setting of the event (a wedding), the date of the event (the third day following the last account, which would make this the Sabbath; cf 1:29, 35, 43) and a key character in this event, namely, Mary.
     These three elements of the setting, the date as well as Jesus’ interaction with Mary come together to help formulate our understanding on how Jesus’ glory is revealed through the course of this miracle.

     Pastors often make a passing reference to verse 2 when officiating weddings today: Jesus was invited to attend this wedding in Cana in Galilee. This, and the fact that Jesus’ disciples were also named on the guest list, suggests that the wedding was that of a relative or close family friend, and that Mary was helping out with the catering, given what she goes on to say in verse 3.

3 When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”
4 “Dear woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied, “My time has not yet come.”

     Jesus replies his mum in a surprisingly somewhat callous way. The ESV translates verse 4: “Woman, what does this have to do with me?” (Literally: “What have you to do with me?”)
     This is the very first mention of Mary in the gospel and John’s first record of Jesus’ words to Mary serve to distance him from his mother. He calls her “Woman,” or “Madam”. Or as we would say in Cantonese: Tai Tai. (Jesus uses the same expression in addressing Mary from the cross in John 19:26, “Woman, here is your son.”)
     Jesus is dealing with expectations. We saw this last week in his first question to the two potential disciples in John 1:38: “What do you want?” He does the same thing here with Mary, adding these words, “My time has not yet come.”
     As hard as it must have been for her to these words from her own son, Mary responds in a remarkable way. “Do whatever he tells you,” she says to the servants in verse 5. How does she respond? In faith and full obedience to his word.
     Like John the Baptist, Mary’s role in the gospels is to redirect our attention to Jesus. With that, she disappears from the scene.

6 Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.

8 Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.” They did so, 9 and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realise where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew.

     Something happens before the water is changed into wine. Jesus tells the servants in verse 7 to first fill up these six stone water jars. Only after the servants have finished doing that does Jesus say to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”
     Why? Jesus is giving us a picture of the transformation that is taking place - not simply with the water into wine, but from the act of ritual cleansing to an occasion of great celebration.
     The six stone water jars prepare us to understand the significance of the wine in the wedding. The water contained in these jars, verse 6 tells us, were to be used for ritual cleansing (katharismon = the cleansing of impurities). Stone jars were less porous than clay (which were susceptible to mould). Washing yourself with the water from these stone jars was meant to cleanse you spiritually; to make you acceptable ritually.
     The footnotes in my NIV bible says that each of these jars held up to 115 litres of water. Meaning: You could empty up to 460 extra large Coke bottles into these containers. The servants are instructed by Jesus to fill each of these water jars to the brim: symbolising the fulfilment of the Jewish laws of purification; symbolising perhaps even the need for impurities to be completely immersed and washed away by water as John was doing in the previous chapter when he baptised his followers in the River Jordan. That was the symbolism of the water.

     The wine, on the other hand, was for celebration. A transition was taking place from water to wine; from cleansing to celebration; from consciousness of sin to a cause for great celebration.
     It is important to see the connection between the two. In verse 9, the master of the banquet, “did not realise where (the wine) had come from.” But the servants who had drawn the water did. The water which filled the jars and the wine served at the wedding came from one source.

Then he called the bridegroom aside 10 and said, “Everyone brings out the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

     The master of the banquet is the emcee of the wedding. The best man, if you like. It is obvious from his comments that this is not his first gig. He has attended many banquets. He has sampled the finest wines. This vintage, however, so impressed the master of the banquet that he calls the groom aside and says, “You have saved the best till now.”
     Now knowing this: Why does Jesus tell the servants to bring the wine directly to the master of the banquet? Notice Jesus’ instructions back in verse 8: “Take it to the master of the banquet.” Why him and not, say, directly to all the guests, or to the bride and groom, or even to Mary who made a fuss of the lack of wine in the first place?
     Jesus is again dealing with the issue of expectations. The moment the master of the banquet tastes the fine wine that has been served up to him, his first reaction is not commend the catering staff but to praise the groom.
     You see, it was expected of the groom to supply the wine for celebration. It was his responsibility to host the feast.
     Except that we know where this fine wine had come from: Jesus. The miracle of the water turned to wine is Jesus’ way to revealing to us that he is the true bridegroom. This is strange, of course, for the obvious reason that Jesus was single for all his life on earth. He never married. He never had a wedding. Yet Jesus reveals that he is looking forward to a day when he will come as the true bridegroom.
     If you turn the page to John Chapter 3, we see there in verse 29, John the Baptist referring to the Christ coming as a bridegroom to receive his bride. This miracle is a preview of that. Jesus is looking forward to the day when this will happen even if it  isn’t today. “My time has not yet come,” he says to his mum in verse 4.

     Well, when will that day be? I wonder if some of you are wondering the same thing: When will it be my turn? When will I be able to have that relationship to celebrate and commit to?
     If that is you, you know that attending someone else’s wedding can therefore be a painful reminder of your own longing to love someone as a husband or wife. That is the same longing Jesus has for his bride; for his wedding day.

     Yet at the same time, this passage reveals what it would cost Jesus to make that day a reality. Verse 4 can also be translated, “My hour has not yet come.” Whenever you see that word “hour” you need to know that Jesus is talking about the hour of his death. He explains it like this in John Chapter 12:

23 Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 I tell you the truth, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”

27 Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 28 Father glorify your name!”
John 12:23-24, 27-28

     The hour is Jesus’ way of referring to his death; it’s a way of referring to the cross. So when he says to Mary, “My hour has not yet come,” he is saying, “It’s not today. It’s not now. But soon, it will happen and when it does, my Father will be glorified and I will be crucified.”
     The transformation of water into wine gives us a glimpse of how that one event of great sadness leads to great joy. The cross cleanses us from sin and gives us his righteousness. It is a picture of sacrifice. Jesus dies to take our place of judgement on the cross; that’s how he cleanses us. But at the same time, he supplies the wine for the feast. As gross as it might sound, his blood is the wine. He says that in John Chapter 6, verse 55, “My blood is real drink,” by which he is saying his death sustains us in our relationship with God; and that his sacrifice sustains us in the love of God. When Christians celebrate communion, they take the bread and the cup to remember the body and blood of Christ. In other words, it’s a meal. His death supplies us with the means to gather at God’s table as his guests at his banquet, the same way the bridegroom supplies the wine at his wedding.
     Jesus was looking forward to the cross. The miracle of the wine was a preview to that: of how his death on the cross would open the way for sinners to dine at God’s table.

11 This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed in Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their trust in him.

     The account ends with Jesus’ glory revealed. We get a glimpse of his true nature as Son of God. But what exactly are we meant to see?
     It’s more than the miracle of water turning into wine. It is actually the glory of Jesus who provides the wine as the bridegroom. The miracle is a “sign” - as in, a signpost with a big arrow - pointing to Jesus’ identity as the bridegroom.
     Ephesians 5 is a passage commonly read at weddings because it talks about the relationship between a husband and wife, but in reality, when you look at it, Ephesians 5:25 says quite plainly that it’s talking about Christ and the church. “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word.” (Ephesians 5:25-26)

     It means that longing we all have to be committed in love and devotion to single individual can really only ever be fulfilled by Jesus. If you are single, you need to realise that: Having a husband or a wife can never replace that. If you are married then Ephesians teaches that your marriage is there to be a parable of your love for Jesus. You grow your love for one another by growing in the knowledge and love of Christ as your Saviour.

     But finally, it means that Jesus looks at us in love. He has cleansed us with water and he has paid for us with his blood. The same way that a bridegroom looks upon his radiant bride on their wedding day, that’s how Jesus sees his church. That’s how Jesus sees his bride - as holy, as spotless without blemish, as beautiful beyond measure.

Sunday 20 October 2013

Disciples (John 1:35-51) - MP3 recording

Preached at the Chinese Church on Sunday, 20 October 2013.

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Disciples (John 1:35-51)

It’s been about a year now since Korean popstar PSY released his hit single, “Gangnam Style”. Not only did the song reach the top of the iTunes charts, the Guinness Book of Records awarded “Gangnam Style” the most “liked” Youtube video of all time. To date, “Gangnam Style” has been viewed 1.7 billion times.

Since then, millions of fans round the world have mimicked its signature dance moves, including British Prime Minister, David Cameron, US President Barack Obama as well as United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who described it as a “force for world peace” (Wikipedia).

“To dance Gangnam Style,” says PSY in a television interview, “you have to do two things. You have to ‘dress classy and dance cheesy’.” Dress classy and dance cheesy. That’s the secret. Classiness and cheesiness.

It is a combination that is meant to make you laugh and cringe. It is a combination that we see in today’s passage, actually, in a person named Nathanael. We meet a guy who meets Jesus for the first time and responds to him in a classy yet cheesy way.

1. Classy

So the first response we see from Nathanael is classiness. His friend Philip says to him in verse 45, “We have found the Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote - Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

Nathanael responds in verse 46: “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.

Now to understand why Nathanael says that, look back to the context in verse 43. Jesus has just gone up to Galilee. This was a region north of Israel and Nazareth was a town in this region of Galilee. Compared to a big city like Jerusalem down south where you had the temple and priests and the scholars and the big shots, Nazareth was a small insignificant town full of blue collar workers.

The truth was, Nathanael was not impressed with Jesus’ postcode. “Nazareth? You are telling me the Messiah lives in Nazareth?”

But there’s actually more to it than that. You see, the ironic thing is: Nathanael was also from Galilee. We find out in Chapter 21 that Nathanael was a native of the city of Cana “in Galilee” (John 21:2) just down the road from Nazareth. What is happening is: Nathanael is acting classy in talking trash about Nazareth when the truth is he grew up a neighbourhood just like Nazareth.

What’s going on? The English expression for this is “thumbing your nose” at someone. It’s looking down on someone because of their education, their ethnicity, their income. It’s racism. It’s prejudice.

But in truth, it’s the way much of the world works today. We turn our noses at someone to put them down but at the same time to let them know that we’re better than them. Nathanael was from a small town just like Jesus and yet he needs to feel superior. Why? Because you don’t need a Cambridge degree to be proud. You don’t need a five-figure salary to be proud. All you need is someone a little less worse off that you can pick on. I’m told that even garbage collectors discriminate against one another - the guy who drives the truck thinks he is better than the one who has to collect the bins. It’s a pecking order: I might not be at the top but at least I’m not stuck at the bottom.

So, Nathanael dismisses Jesus. He turns his nose at him. But look at how Jesus responds because Jesus doesn’t say to Nathanael, “You’re proud.” He says, “Finally, I’ve found a guy to speaks his mind.”

When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.”
John 1:47

Isn’t that surprising. Jesus says, “Here is a guy I can work with.” You would expect Jesus to get mad but no, Jesus commends Nathanael as a true Israelite. What’s going on?

Jesus confronts us with our expectations

Our passage today is about expectations. Who do we think Jesus is? What have we heard about him? Today’s passage is all about a group of people coming to Jesus, but each one bringing with them their own baggage. That is, each one of them has preconceived ideas about who they are going to meet.

And at each turn, before Jesus does anything else, he says to these individuals, “What exactly are you looking for?” He does that with the two disciples of John in verse 35. They hear John saying, “He’s the Lamb of God. He’s the Son of God.” And immediately, they leave John the Baptist hoping to follow Jesus as their new Rabbi only to have Jesus turn around in verse 38 and saying to them, “What do you want?”

Get this: These are the first words to come out of Jesus’ mouth that are recorded for us here in John’s gospel. His first recorded words are not: I am the resurrection and the life. It’s not: Come to me all you to weary and labour. No, first thing Jesus says to these disciples - and to us - in John’s gospel is, “What do you want?” In Cantonese, it’s Lei Oi Mat Yeh Ah?

That is, Jesus is not looking for adoring fans. He isn’t looking to be popular. That’s why he meets a guy like Nathanael and says, “Finally. Someone who speaks his mind.”

Now in a few moments, we are going to see that Jesus isn’t simply giving Nathanael a compliment when he calls him a true Israelite. Jesus is exposing Nathanael’s motives and agenda. But before we get to that, I just want you to notice that Jesus is looking for a response. A lot of people come to Jesus looking for a response - they have questions they want to ask, they have their agendas. But friends, if you are coming before God, and he really is God, then it’s probably fair to assume that it is going to be on his terms, not ours.

Jesus says to the two guys in verse 38, “What do you want?” And their response is to say, “Rabbi, where are you staying.” They are not asking Jesus for his address. What they mean is, “Can we hang out with you.” Because we see in verse 39, that’s exactly what they did. Jesus says to them, “Come and you will see.” and they saw where Jesus was staying and spent the day with him.

In other words, what they were looking for was a relationship. And that was exactly what Jesus was happy to give them. That’s the significance of that phrase, “Come and see.” It’s an invitation to know Jesus. And you’ll notice it’s the same invitation Philip gave to Nathanael in verse 46. Nathanael dismisses Jesus by saying, “Nothing good can come out of Nazareth?” But Philip doesn’t start a theological debate with him. He simply says to him, “Come and see.” It’s an invitation to bring your questions, your doubts and your skepticism - to ask your questions - but most of all it’s an invitation to meet Jesus Christ.

Why does Jesus say of Nathanael, “Here’s a true Israelite”? Because even despite his hang-ups about Jesus and skepticism about Jesus, Nathanael still bothered to meet with Jesus. He came to see Jesus for himself and that, according to Jesus, was something that was commendable. That was classy.

That’s our first point. Being classy - not in a stuck-up, thumb your noses up at someone just because you disagree with them way - but classy in an honest way. You have your doubts but at least you’re bothering to check things out for yourself. That’s classy.

But our second point is: Don’t be cheesy!

2. Cheesy

Almost immediately, this same guy who was acting all classy a moment guy, gets all cheesy in front of Jesus.

“How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.

Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig-tree before Philip called you.”

Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.”
John 1:48-49

You would expect Jesus to go, “Yes, you’ve finally got it!” at this point when Nathanael says, “You’re the Son of God! You’re the King of Israel!” Instead, Jesus replies in verse 50, “You believe I told you I saw you under the fig-tree. You shall see greater things than that.”
“Hold on, Nathanael,” Jesus seems to be saying. “I haven’t shown you what it means for you to call me Son of God or King of Israel… yet!” Notice, Jesus isn’t denying what Nathanael is saying about him. But Jesus does seem to be implying that Nathanael is getting ahead of himself. “You shall see greater things than that.”

Here is the amazing thing: Jesus isn’t content with his followers saying the right thing or even doing the right thing. He wants us to have the right basis for saying what’s right and doing what’s right. And he seems to be saying to Nathanael, “Hold your horses!” Jesus is not looking for what many of us would call blind faith because blind faith is no different from empty faith. Blind faith is faith that is based on me and my pre-conceptions. What Jesus is looking for is a right response to a revelation of himself that is true and compelling. That’s biblical faith in Jesus. It means trusting in someone because we know him to be trustworthy. It means putting our faith in someone because time and time again he has proven to be faithful. We do that with our best of friends; Jesus is saying, “I want you to have that same kind of trusting, loving, faithful relationship with me.” Faith in Jesus is meant to be within a context of a relationship. It is meant to even be reasonable.

What it should not be is cheesy. Jesus is not looking for fans who are wowed by him and he says quite frankly to Nathanael in verse 50, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig-tree.” Did you notice that? Jesus does not want us to believe him just because of his miracles, as amazing as they are - and, let me clarify this: as real as they are. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying Jesus didn’t do that miracle. He did! But that’s what makes this response from Jesus even more surprising. Just because he did that miracle, Jesus doesn’t want us to make that blind-faith-leap. That kind of presumption is cheesy. It’s not what Jesus is looking for.

The question is: What does Jesus want us to base our trust on if it isn’t his miracles? Answer: His glory on the cross. That’s verse 51.

He then added, “I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
John 1:51

Now some of you are going, “What on earth does that mean?” And “How is that a picture of the cross?”

Jesus is describing a heavenly escalator. He says to Nathanael: You are going to see an escalator stretching all the way to God in heaven and angels are going to be going up and down this escalator.

Two things I should point out about this vision of the escalator. The first thing is: It’s not just a vision for Nathanael. The word “you” in verse 51 is in the plural, meaning Jesus is at this point talking to all his followers. Jesus is making this promise to Nathanael and John and Andrew and Peter and I dare say, to us. That in order to believe in him, all of us, not just that one guy Nathanael in Galilee, but all of us who claim to follow Jesus and trust in him, will see or have seen what this vision means. In other words, it’s relevant. “You shall see,” Jesus says to you right now.

The second thing is this: Jesus is using bible language that would be familiar to you if you know your bible and read the story of Jacob in the book of Genesis. It’s an important story because it tells of how God would give his promises to all his people through one man - and that man’s name is Jacob.

Genesis Chapter 28 tells us that God gave a vision to Jacob one day - you guessed it - of a ladder with one end resting on earth and the other stretching into heaven, and it says in Genesis 28:12, “the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.” It’s the same vision Jesus says we’ll see. The really interesting thing is, Jacob’s name means Deceiver, and because God gives all his promises of blessing and salvation to Jacob, God eventually changes his name to Israel.

If you get that name reference - especially of Jacob’s name, meaning Deceiver or Liar - then look back at what Jesus says to Nathanael in verse 47, “Here is a true son of Israel, in whom there is no Jacob.” And Jesus says to us in verse 51, “You shall see the angels of God ascending and descending on,” notice this, “the Son of Man.”

In place of that ladder connecting earth and heaven, Jesus puts himself in its place as the Son of Man. On the cross, Jesus opened that connection by taking our sin and our punishment of sin and dying for our sins. Another way of putting it is: He took our place as Jacob so that we could be Israel. He became sin, the bible tells us (2 Cor 5:21) so that we could be righteous. It is a glimpse into understanding what Jesus did on the cross.

And for Jesus to look at Nathanael and say, “Here is a true Israelite,” what Jesus is really saying is, “Here is someone I have come to die for.” “Here is someone who will inherit my righteousness and I will take his sin.” If you understand that, then you understand what it means for Jesus to be the Son of God or the King of Israel. He is the Son who gives us the rights as sons before his Heavenly Father. He is the King who pays the full ransom for his kingdom with his own blood on the cross.

Don’t be cheesy in your faith, not simply because it’s silly to use big words to talk about God when we don’t have clue what we’re talking about. But more importantly, because Jesus died to give us that basis of faith. Jesus died so that we might live by faith.

Jesus says to us, “You will see.” It’s a promise. He says to us, “Come and see.” That’s an invitation - to be in a relationship with Jesus and to grow in our knowledge and understanding of him in the context of that relationship. On the cross, Jesus shows us why this relationship is possible: He has opened the way for sinful men and women to approach a holy God through his death on the cross.

Sunday 13 October 2013

Witness (John 1:19-34) - MP3 recording

Preached at the Chinese Church on Sunday, 13 October 2013.

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Witness (John 1:19-34)


I have seen and testify that this is the Son of God.
John 1:34

What we have in these verses is the testimony of John the Baptist. By which, I don’t mean that John gets up in front of the microphone to tell us a heart-warming story about God doing an amazing miracle in his life. Rather, John is giving us an eyewitness account of what he has seen and heard. A testimony is what you give in a law court as proof of an event that has taken place.

John says in verse 34, “I have seen and testify that this is the Son of God.” We learn two things as we read this passage from John Chapter 1, verse 19 onwards: (1) John tells us it’s not about him; (2) John tells us it’s all about Jesus.

1. Nobody

19 Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. 20 He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Christ.”
John 1:19-20

The scene opens with a religious delegation comprising priests and Levites, sent from Jerusalem to report on the ministry of a radical new pastor called John the Baptist. They are sent there to find out one thing: Who is he? Who does he think he is?

John answers them by telling them who he is not. Verse 20: “I am not the Christ.” Verse 21: “Are you Elijah?” “Are you the Prophet?” John answers each time in the negative, “I am not.” “Nope.”

On the one hand, here are the top religious leaders of the land - the priests and Levites - coming all the way to Bethany (the middle of nowhere) to check John out, asking him if he is the Christ, Elijah or the Prophet, which is a big deal. They think he is The ONE!

“John, the guys in Jerusalem have been very impressed with this new ministry of yours.”

And yet, verse 22, reveals that these guys have a hidden agenda.

22 Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”
John 1:22

That last question is quite telling. What do you say about yourself? In other words, they think it’s all a fad. What’s your angle? Your brand? If you see that, you will see how wise John’s reply is. Because they’re asking him, What do you say about yourself? John replies, in effect, by telling them what God’s Word says about him.

23 John replies in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling the desert, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’”
John 1:23

John says, “I’m a voice. That’s all I am. A voice.” Or another way of putting is: I’m nobody.

John is not calling attention to himself. He is directing our attention to God. “Make straight the way for the Lord.” I’m a nobody telling everybody about Somebody.

Now what is so interesting is how the bible does give attention to this guy called John the Baptist, even though he keeps calling himself a nobody. All four gospels open with the ministry of John the Baptist before introducing us to the ministry of Jesus Christ, as if to say, there is something about John that helps us understand Jesus. There is something about what we see in John the helps us to recognise who Jesus is and what Jesus came to do.

I think the way John does this is by drawing our attention to God’s Word. That’s why he quotes Isaiah the prophet. You see, John is saying his ministry is not new. The whole Old Testament is there to help prepare us to understand who Jesus is. All that the prophets have written in the Old Testament - whether it’s from Moses or David or Isaiah - are there to help prepare us for Jesus. What we need to do is to listen and pay attention to what God is saying to us in his Word about his Son.

So that’s the first thing John does: He draws attention away from himself to focus on God’s word. But the second thing John does is to focus our attention on Jesus and he does this through baptism.

24 The Pharisees who had been sent, 25 questioned him, “Why then do you baptise if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah nor the Prophet?”

26 “I baptise with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. 27 He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals (or ‘shoelaces’) I am not worthy to untie.”
John 1:24-27

In verse 24, the Pharisees try to humour John. “OK, so we get that you’re not the Christ, nor Elijah nor the Prophet. But in order for you to baptise, you might be somebody special, right?” It’s the same question with a different spin. Instead of focus on who John is, they try to get at what John is doing, namely, baptising people in the Jordan.

Just to clarify: To baptise is just another way of saying ‘to dunk’, as in, to dunk a chocolate chip cookie in a glass of chocolate milk. So, when John says in verse 26, “I baptise with water,” what he is doing is dunking people in the river Jordan.

Furthermore, baptism was not new in John’s day. Priests would baptise non-believers who wanted to worship God. What was unique about John’s baptism, however, was that it was a baptism of repentance. John was telling Jews, “You need to be baptised.” John was saying to believers, “You need to repent.”

Why? Because in verse 26, John looks directly at the Jews around him and directly at the religious leaders standing in front of him and says to them, “Actually, you do not know God.”

“Among you stands one you do not know.”

How surprising is that! How offensive is that! To say to a group of Levites, priest and Pharisees from Jerusalem, “Even if the Christ were standing right in front of you, you wouldn’t recognise him.” Look back to Chapter 1, verse 11, “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” And if you read the gospels, that was exactly what happened to Jesus.

Why is that? Why is it that the very people who are looking for Jesus, who are expecting Jesus to come and rescue them and change the world, are the very people who end up walking past him in the street?

Now in a few moments, John himself admits in verse 31, “I myself did not know him.” So at one level, the answer is: It wasn’t obvious. God was keeping it a secret. Jesus didn’t go around with a T-Shirt saying, “I’m God.”

But on another level, John reveals a big problem that keeps us from seeing Jesus and that’s pride. Look again at verse 27, and this time, notice how John describes his relationship to Jesus.

“He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”

Next to Jesus, John is saying, “I’m a nobody. I don’t even deserve to tie his shoelaces.” Now most people who say, “I’m nobody special, I’m useless, I’m good for nothing,” have a problem with low self-esteem. Sometimes we even use language like that to project a sense of false humility, “Oh I couldn’t help out with bible study, I’m not worthy of such a high honour.”

If you know anything about John the Baptist, the last thing you would call him is timid. Here is a guy who gets in your face. He preaches hell-fire and brimstone. “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath!” John says to the Pharisees and Sadducees in Matthew 2:7. He lives in the desert and eats bugs for breakfast!

No, what John means when he calls himself “unworthy” and a nobody is: You can’t be talking about yourself if you’re want to tell people about Jesus. We’re back to the meaning of testimony in the bible. A lot of people think that when they are asked to give their testimony in church, it means they get to tell us what they feel about God. No, a testimony is an account of who God is and what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. A testimony is an opportunity to tell the people around you about the God of the bible and the measure of a good testimony is faithfulness: Is what you are saying true?

The scary thing is: People may want your testimony to be about you and not about God. Hence the priests and Levites sent from Jerusalem to interview John the Baptist. They are not at all interested in what he has to say about Jesus. They just want to know: What’s his secret for success? Is he one of us? The reason why John looks straight at them and says, “You don’t know Jesus,” is because they have made their ministry all about themselves, and that’s really scary. It is possible to take up a position in a church in order to gain popularity. It is tempting to want to go into ministry with the desire to plant a big church, to write books, to become influential - and all the while to make your ministry about yourself and not about God, and to have people applaud you along the way!

When that happens, it’s a symptom of pride and delusion. It might even mean that such a person doesn’t know Jesus and isn’t a Christian at all.

That’s our first point: John’s testimony is not about himself. Which brings us to our second point: John’s testimony is all about Jesus.

2. Somebody

29 The next day John saw Jesus coming towards him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptising with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.

32 Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain. 33 I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptise with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptise with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and testify that this is the Son of God.
John 1:29-34

So the next day, John sees Jesus coming towards him and says, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” This is guy I’ve been talking about. He is the Son of God, the Messiah. Compared to him I’m a nobody; he’s the real somebody. I’ve come to dunk you in water; he has come to dunk you with the Holy Spirit - to completely immerse us with the Holy Spirit.

Here is the question. You hear John saying these words to you, “Here’s Jesus.” You turn to see the person he is talking about. What do you expect to see? How does the passage describe Jesus right after John introduces him with such colourful language?

My point is this: It doesn’t say anything. All we have is John’s testimony. He tells us to look. “Look!” he says in verse 29. He says it again in verse 35, “Look the Lamb of God.” But when we try to look for a description of Jesus - maybe what he looks like, or how tall he is or what he is wearing - the bible is silent.

Instead, what the bible does is describe Jesus with words from the Old Testament. Lamb of God: that comes from the Exodus rescue from Egypt. The lamb was sacrificed to pay for the life of the first born child. Later on in Israel’s history, a lamb would be sacrificed each year in the temple to pay for the sins of the people.

Or the Spirit of God that comes down to rests on Jesus. That, too, is a picture from the Old Testament, from Isaiah Chapter 11, verse 2, “The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him - the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the  knowledge and fear of the LORD.”

Yes, John is telling us what he saw at the baptism of Jesus with the Spirit descending like a dove. And all the other gospels record for us the event as an important marker of Jesus’ approval as God’s chosen Son and the promised suffering Servant, “This is my Son, with whom I am well pleased,” God says of him at his baptism. But more important than that is how the bible wants us - how John wants us to see - that Jesus fulfills all these promises that God gave for thousands of years in his word. More important than what merely happened, the bible wants us to know why it happened.

Because in God’s wisdom, it is not merely seeing that leads to believing, but hearing that leads to faith and trust in Jesus Christ. Or as Romans 10:17 says, “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.”

John is giving his testimony about Jesus Christ. He tells us what he sees. But notice, he tells us what God says. Look at verse 33.

And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptise with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptise with the Holy Spirit.’

How did John know that Jesus was the Son of God, the Lamb of God and God’s Chosen One. It wasn’t because of what he saw. It was because of what God told him in order that John would understand what he saw.

Now someone might say, “Well, that’s nice for John. But I wish I could have seen the Spirit come down on Jesus. Then, maybe then, I’ll believe that he really is the Son of God.” If that is you, turn to John Chapter 20, and verse 31.

30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
John 20:31

Here it is worth pointing out that John, the author of this gospel, is a different John from John the Baptist. Why that is important is because John the Baptist died soon after his witness to Christ. This account called the gospel according John was written by one of Jesus’ followers, it says in verse 31, “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ.”

Friends, you are in a position to understand so much more compared to John the Baptist because you get to see the cross. You have the whole story of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. John the Baptist never got to see that, but this gospel was written so that you can not only see but understand why Jesus came to die for our sins, and how by believing in Jesus, “you may have life in his name.” In a sense, you get to see things, John never got to see in his lifetime.

Conclusion: Hearing the voice in the wilderness

To recap, we have seen two things in today’s passage: (1) John pointing away from himself; and (2) John pointing us towards Jesus. By way of application, I would like to apply these two points towards the Christians and non-Christians here today.

The first point is for the Christians here today, who claim to know Jesus, to have been saved by him in order to live for him. Well, the question is: When someone looks at your life, do they just see you - your accomplishments, your gifts, your personality - and if so, how are you directing that attention to God? Are you consciously pointing away from yourself like John, “It’s not me, It’s not about me,” and directing your focus on Jesus, “It’s all about him.” That’s the first point of application: If you’re a Christian, think of the biggest investment in your life - your career, your marriage, your business - how does that look to the world and do people see as something you’re building for your own gain or for God’s?

The second point is a challenge for non-Christians here today. It’s this: Can you imagine living your life for someone other than yourself? What would that be: A cause? Someone you love? God? Can you imagine a purpose that is bigger than just your own comfort and happiness?

In John the Baptist we meet a man who claims he is a nobody speaking to everybody about Somebody who really matters - Jesus. He gives us his eyewitness account of Jesus as the Lamb of God, God’s chosen Son, the Christ whom God has chosen to receive all glory and power and dominion. And the gospel ends by telling us that the proof is there - it’s all right there, if we care to read it - to show that Jesus is, indeed, the promised Messiah, and that by believing in him, we receive life in his name.

Monday 7 October 2013

Authority (Mark 2:1-12)

1 A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. 2 They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them.
Mark 2:1-2

     The last time Jesus was in Capernaum, he attracted a lot of attention from the locals mainly due to his miracles of healing.
     “That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases.” (Mark 1:32-33)
     However, it is worth noticing that Jesus went to Capernaum in the first instance to teach. His first stop was the local synagogue (Mark 1:21) where Jesus initially amazes the people with what he said - not with what he did. “He taught them as as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.”
     So much so that Jesus chooses to leave Capernaum when his newfound popularity as a miracle healer gets out of hand. “Let us go somewhere else,” he tells Simon and his friends, “To the nearby villages - so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” (Mark 1:38) Jesus came as a preacher of the gospel (Mark 1:14).

     Here in Mark Chapter 2, Jesus returns to Capernaum only to be greeted by the same crowd who hear that Jesus has “come home” (Mark 2:1). In other words, they have been eagerly awaiting his return.
     The scene opens with a packed house: standing room only. Think of a London Tube train on New Year’s Eve.
     What did Jesus do? “He preached the word to them.”

3 Some men came, bringing to him a paralysed man, carried by four of them. 4 Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on.
Mark 2:3-4

     The four friends climb to the top of the roof. We’re not sure whose house this is, I suspect it’s Peter’s mother-in-law’s - the same place Jesus stayed the last time he was in Capernaum. I’m told that roofs in ancient Israel were flat so these four friends (maybe more than four?) carry their paralysed buddy up to the top of the house and start digging a hole right above where Jesus was sitting (standing?). Then, very carefully, they lowered their paralysed friend on the mat he was lying on in front of the whole crowd of onlookers - right in front of Jesus.
     These friends did all this to get their paralysed friend to Jesus. Jesus sees that. Notice how verse 5 tells us that Jesus saw “their” faith. (Compare Matthew 9:2, Luke 5:20. Similarly Paul in Acts 14:9 which we looked at recently.) What was it that Jesus saw, I wonder? Their concern and love for friend? Their complete trust in Jesus’ ability to reverse his physical ailment? Their dogged determination to reach Jesus despite the odds? Whatever it was, Jesus saw it. In fact, it was the trigger that led to Jesus not simply healing the man’s paralysis but forgiving his debt of sin.

5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralysed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” 6 Now some of the teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, 7 “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
Mark 2:5-7

     This is Jesus’ first encounter with the teachers of the law, at least in Mark’s gospel. Back in Chapter 1, the crowds remark how uniquely special and authoritative Jesus’ teaching is, “not as the teachers of the law.” (Mark 1:22) Perhaps word got round to these experts. When they heard Jesus was back in town, they made it a point to check Jesus out for themselves. Needless to say, the teachers of the law were not impressed with what they heard. “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming!”
     Jesus forgives the paralysed man’s sin. Instead of healing his physical condition, Jesus addresses his spiritual problem. “Son,” Jesus says to him. “Your sins are forgiven.”
     The scribes are outraged by Jesus’ remark but hold their tongue. Yet, somehow, Jesus is able to read their minds and so he turns to address the content of their hearts.

8 Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to this paralysed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk?’ 10 But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” 12 He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all.
Mark 2:8-12

     Which is easier - to heal a sickness or to forgive sin? In asking the question, Jesus draws a connection between the symptom and the disease. Jesus has the ability to solve both. The question is: Which is the more serious problem? Which is easier: to say to the paralysed man, “Walk,” or to say to him, “Your sins are forgiven”?
     On the one hand, the answer is obvious: Anyone can say, “Your sins are forgiven.” It is easy to say something like that if you don’t think sin is all that serious. Or if you think it’s an empty promise.
     Hence the reaction of teachers of the law. “Who does this guy think he is? Only God can forgive sin.” They think it’s empty talk. They dismiss Jesus as a fraud. Only God has the right to forgive sin because all sin is first and foremost an offence against God. Either they think Jesus is being flippant about sin. Or quite possibly, they think Jesus is a heretic who has just blasphemed a holy and righteous God.
     But at the very least, they are thinking of the question: Who is this man? And that is question Jesus wants all of us to consider. Who is he?
     And Jesus answers that question in verse 10, “But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” and to illustrate that answer, he says to the paralysed man, “Get up, take up your mat and go home.” Jesus heals the man.
     Jesus uses the lesser to illustrate the greater. He does the miracle of healing - the lesser - to prove that he has indeed forgiven this man’s sin - the greater.
     Authority. That is the main lesson of this passage. Not the healing nor the miracle. But the authority of the Son of Man to forgive sins on earth.
     The teachers of the law were at least right in thinking this to themselves: Only God has the authority to forgive sin. Jesus claims this authority upon himself, demonstrates this authority through the healing of the paralysed man, but hints at the manner in which he has received this authority to forgive sins on earth. He calls himself the Son of Man.
     At his trial before the religious leaders in Mark Chapter 14, Jesus reveals just what he means when he calls himself the Son of Man.
61 Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” 62 “I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
     The Son of Man, according to Daniel Chapter 7, is the figure to approaches God in heaven to receive all authority to rule and judge the earth. The religious leaders immediately recognise the allusion, accuse Jesus of blasphemy and condemn him to death on the cross.

     Jesus has come with all of God’s authority as the Son of Man to forgive sins on earth.
     The passage ends with the response of the crowds: They praise God and say, “We’ve never seen anything like this!” And yet theirs is a response to the lesser miracle, not the greater. They see the paralysed man walk and so they rejoice.
     The scribes notice the significance of the greater act of Jesus in forgiving sin but their response is to sneer at him. Indeed, it may be their very religious education that has made them hostile towards Jesus, hardening their hearts towards Jesus. Who does he think he is?
     What ought to be our response? It is the response that catches Jesus’ attention - that of the friends, who, perhaps, only understand in part of who Jesus is, who only see him from afar, but see enough to respond in faith, trust and complete obedience. Nothing gets in their way in reaching Jesus - not the crowd, not even the roof.
     Jesus sees their faith, looks at the paralysed man, and says, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

Word (John 1:1-18) - MP3 recording

Preached at the Chinese Church on Sunday, 6 October 2013.

Download MP3 View transcript

Saturday 5 October 2013

Word (John 1:1-18)


What would you do if you met God today? How would you react? What would you say to him if you could meet with God - not through priests or visions or religious experiences - but personally; if you could talk to him and hear him speaking directly to you?

A few months ago, the city of Cambridge was awe-struck with the arrival of Hollywood superstars, George Clooney and Matt Damon. The two were reportedly hanging about the gym at Kelsey Kerridge playing basketball. Matt Damon was first to make an appearance one Saturday morning, working out at the local gym. Shocked onlookers described him as “going at it hard and getting quite sweaty.” The very next day, Damon returned to shoot hoops with none other than George Clooney. The two rounded off their weekend with dinner at Loch Fyne (enjoying the salmon starter and halibut main). When news got out, one Twitter user posted these words, “I think my mum has decided to not do anything today except go round Cambridge looking for George Clooney.”

It is one thing to see Matt Damon on screen. It is something quite special, even in a city like Cambridge, to see Matt Damon next to you pumping iron; or George Clooney in the same restaurant doing something fairly normal like eating a plate of salmon for dinner.

In the coming months we are looking at a book called John’s gospel in a series I’ve entitled, “One to one.” That is because John presents Jesus as someone who engages with individuals on a one-to-one basis. So, we see Jesus talking to his mum, for example. Jesus talks to a university professor. He meets a woman in a bar (well, a well, but it’s kind of like a bar). And each time, he talks to each person in a special unique way that reveals more about that person he is talking to and reveals more about who Jesus is.

Today we begin with the first chapter of John looking at an introduction. And what John is doing is talking to us. Before he introduces Jesus and all the people he meets along the way, John the narrator, turns to us and says, “Let’s get a few things straight.”

1. This is the creator God

The first thing John tells us is: Know who you are dealing with. You are meeting with the creator God.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.
John 1:1-2

The phrase “In the beginning,” is an iconic phrase in the bible. In the same way that every authentic Star Wars movie begins with those iconic words, “Long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…” Some of you who are familiar with your bibles will recognise these words from the opening lines of Genesis, “In the beginning, God created the world.”

That is, John is introducing us to God. The same God from Genesis who created the world in six days. Verse 5: “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” The same God who spoke creation into existence. “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” (Genesis 1:5) In the pages of this book, John says to us, you are going to meet the God who created the universe and the God who gave you your life. Verse 4: “In him was life, and that life was the light of men.” That is the amazing promise of this book. As we open these pages and hear these words read out loud, we meet with God. Christians actually believe that. We believe that God speaks to us today in the words of the bible.

Or to put it more accurately, verse 1 tells us: God speaks to us his living Word - with a capital “W” - because John tells us that this Word was God; that this Word was with God.

Only later in verse 17 does John tells us quite plainly that he is talking about Jesus Christ. Verse 17: “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” But why does John begin in verse 1 by calling Jesus the Word? John wants us to know who we are dealing with. Jesus is the Word of God through whom the universe came into existence. Jesus is the Light of God who gives all men life.

But most of all, Jesus is the One through whom God reveals himself; the One through whom God speaks to us. You see, that is why Jesus is introduced to us as the Word. John Calvin, a 16th Century theologian calls him the Speech of God. That is to say, God is speaking to us today about one thing - and one thing only - Jesus. You could even say: the bible is God preaching to us about his Son, Jesus.

There came a man who was sent from God; his name is John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.
John 1:6-9

In the Old Testament, God would reveal himself through prophets, men like John the Baptist (“sent from God,” verse 6). And the Old Testament is a fairly thick book, written over thousands of years recording how God spoke at many different times in many different ways through many different people. But what John is claiming here is that all of them were talking about one thing. All these prophets were speaking about one person - the true light, as verse 9 puts it, which was coming into the world.

It is saying that the whole Old Testament is God’s way of preparing us to recognise Jesus. Verse 17 says, “For the law was given through Moses,” and here, the law is not talking about a series of rules, but a way of referring to the whole Old Testament revelation of God. That law. Genesis: the creation of the world, Exodus: the rescue from slavery, Deuteronomy: the Ten Commandments. But in contrast to the whole Old Testament law or Torah, verse 17 goes on to say, “grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

Every Old Testament prophet is saying to us, “Let me introduce you to Jesus.” Over the coming two months, that is what we will be doing: meeting Jesus in the pages of John’s gospel in a rather special way. We will be meeting with him one to one. You have got the other gospels, of course - Matthew, Mark and Luke - but John’s gospel is special in that he records personal interviews with Jesus; private conversations with Jesus. In doing so, John wants us to hear Jesus speaking to us - personally, directly, one-to-one.

God is speaking to us today. He speaks to us of his Son. But the truth is: Many are not willing to listen to what God is saying about Jesus. That is our second point.

2. The world does not recognise Jesus

He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognise him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.
John 1:11-12

Jesus comes to us knowing that we will reject him. He came to that which was his own - speaking of: his own people; speaking of those who knew their bibles - the religious leaders who spent all their lives waiting for God to send them a Saviour - and yet his own did not receive him. Jesus comes to us knowing that he will be rejected.

Why does he do that? Back in verse 5, John hinted at the answer. “The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” Elsewhere in John’s Gospel, Jesus says in John Chapter 3, verse 19, “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.”

The reason why we reject Jesus is not: We don’t know enough about him. Now, that may very well be the case if you’ve never heard of him before; if this is your first time reading the bible. But ultimately, the reason why we reject Jesus is not because of what we don’t know but because of what we do know. We prefer being in the dark because it means we have an excuse - not to have to deal with what we know; not to have to make a decision about Jesus.

The bible tells us our problem is not knowledge. It is something called sin. Sin means: I want to be God over my own life. Don’t make the common mistake of thinking that sin is eating lots of chocolate or sin is not living up to someone else’ expectations on what it means to be a good person. No, sin means simply this: Rejecting what I know about God. Sin says, “Don’t tell me anymore about Jesus because I don’t need God to be God over my life. I am God of my own life.”

What does verse 5 say again? The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

But our final point is: Jesus enters our world to bring us to himself. He knows our darkness. He expects our rejection. But still, he steps into the darkness to bring us into the light.

3. Jesus brings us into a relationship with his Father

Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God - children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
John 1:12-13

Now when it says there that those who believe in Jesus receive the right to become children of God, the last thing the bible means is some kind of wishy-washy, touchy-feely, sentimentalism, because notice how verse 13 goes out of its way to emphasise: This is radical supernatural change. “Not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will.” You don’t become a Christian, for instance, by being born into a Christian family or by going to church once a week.

We have just said that there is a darkness in all of us that rejects the light. In order for God to extinguish that darkness, therefore, something radical needs to happen. God needs to send his Son into our darkness. God needs to send his Son to take our darkness and to open our eyes to his see his glory.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
John 1:14

What does John mean when he says, “We have seen his glory?” A lot of people assume he is talking about the incarnation - of how Jesus was God become man in the incarnation - or how he took on flesh as verse 14 begins. Which is why John Chapter 1 is read every Christmas at King’s College to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. “In the beginning was the Word,” and here, “The Word became flesh.”

But that is not what John means when he says ,“We have seen his glory.” After all, John wasn’t there at Jesus’ birth. Of the four gospels, John doesn’t say a word about the birth of Jesus Christ.

What he is talking about is Jesus’s death, not his birth. In Chapter 12, Jesus says, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless, a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” (John 12:23-24) When he says, "We have seen his glory," John is describing the cross. The hour when the Son of Man is glorified.

And verse 16, “From the fullness of his grace, we have received one blessing after another.” On the cross, Jesus reveals God’s grace to sinful men and women who have rejected him as God by taking our sin upon himself and by taking God’s judgement of sin upon himself. On the cross, Jesus exchanges our sin for his grace.

You see, the whole point of reading this is so that we can say with John, “We have seen his glory.” It means we understanding why Jesus had to die for our sins. It means trusting in Jesus’ death to take away my sin. And saying with John, “I now understand what God’s glory, God’s grace and God’s goodness looks like.” It looks like his Son dying on the cross for my sins.

After all, verse 18 reminds us, “No one has ever seen God.”

No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only (notice the connection with verse 14, the glory of the One of Only), who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.
John 1:18

How can you really know someone? For those of you looking for a life partner: How can you tell that if guy will make a good husband? How can you tell if that girl will be a good wife? How can you know someone for real?

It is in relationship. Look at how he talks to his mum, for example. Look at how she behaves around her family, for example. One great thing about the Chinese Church is how almost every single person here has a family member who comes here as well; their parents might be in the next hall. Their little brother goes to Sunday School. You see who they really are - not just from their Facebook profile - but in relationship with the ones who matter the most to them. That’s the real them - as a son, a father, a brother; as a daughter, a mother or a sister - as a friend and someone you can trust.

That is the way Jesus reveals God. He is the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side. The old King James has at the Father’s “bosom”.

And one thing to look out for as we go through John’s gospel in the coming weeks is: How Jesus talks about God as his Father; how he submits himself to the will of the Father; how he was sent to do the work of his Father. Again, the place we see this is most clearly is the cross. Jesus submits to the will of the Father even unto death. And God the Father raises Jesus, his One and Only Son, from the dead unto life.

The reason that is important is because then we see how our relationship is with God as our heavenly Father. We are at the Father’s side - nothing can separate us, not even death. He looks at us the same way he looks at his One and Only Son - with pride in his heart and love in his eyes - because we are covered in the death and righteousness of Christ.

Conclusion: The Word become flesh

Three things we have seen in this introduction - that’s all it is - an introduction to Jesus.

Know who you are dealing with. Jesus is the Word of God. He made us. He sustains us. He is the source of life.

Know our hearts. Those tendencies we have to dismiss him and reject him. It is because all of us prefer to be in the dark about God. Be aware of that and don’t let that be an excuse for not considering the truth about who Jesus really is; what Jesus really came to do.

Finally, see his glory. The cross displays to us reality of who Jesus is: God’s grace to us as sinners. He took our darkness that we might see the light of his glory, his grace and his goodness and our God and Saviour.