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.

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