I once arrived in a distant city very late for a convention. After the usual hassle of departing the airport, I finally arrived at my assigned hotel near midnight. I had been up since before dawn and was dead tired. I gave the hotel clerk my name and waited as she clicked away on her computer. My heart sank, though, when she said, “I’m sorry, sir. I have no record of your reservation.” This was not the reception I was hoping for or expecting!
The Bible teaches that God had a plan for redemption when the first human couple sinned and was expelled from the garden. God planned for this by preparing the nation of Israel to be the people who would receive His redeemer, His Son Jesus. Yet in one of the terrible ironies of human history, this chosen people did not recognize their own promised Messiah. His reception was instead a rejection.
The apostle John begins his Gospel by putting the person and missions of Jesus into the perspective of a panoramic review of human history. This week’s lessons looks at the first 18 verses of this great book. There John introduces his themes about Jesus from the broadest possible historical viewpoint.
B.John’s Titles for Jesus
The Gospel of John is a treasure trove for Christians who want to understand Jesus Christ more fully. One of the ways John’s Gospel can be appreciated is to look at the many titles or descriptions that Johns uses in explaining Jesus. A brief survey of some of these could start with the designations of Jesus as the Word. This emphasizes the communication element in the nature of the Christ (John 1:1, 14; compare Revelation 19:13).Second, John often describes Jesus as the Son, emphasizing His relationship with God. This takes several forms. He may be the only begotten Son (John 3:16; compare 1 John 4:9), the Son of God (John 1:34, 49; compare 1 John 4:15), or the Son of man (John 1:51; 12:23; compare Revelation1:13). Third, Johns depicts Jesus as the Jewish Messiah. This may be simply as the Christ (John1:41) or as the King of Israel (John 1:49; 12:13).Fourth, we find Jesus as the Lamb of God (John1:29, 36; compare Revelations 5:6), highlighting Jesus’ role as the sacrifice for human sins. Fifth, the most dramatic title of Jesus is Lord and….God (John 20:28; compare Revelation 19:16), emphasizing His deity and sovereignty.
This is not an exhaustive list. You may want to study John’s titles further by reading through the Gospel of Johns, looking only for the various ways the author portrays Jesus.
We have four Gospels in the New Testament that tell the story of Jesus. The first three Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) are very similar in their general structure. The fourth Gospel, John, is quite different from the other three. John wrote 30 or so years after those other three, and he was well acquainted with their material. For this reason he seems to avoid repeating most of their content. Instead, he chooses to give new information from his wealth of eyewitness recollections see John 21:24, 25). About 90 percent of John’s material is not found in the other three Gospels. A significant difference among the four Gospels is the way the writers choose to begin their accounts. Mark begins with the ministry of John: he Baptist, without any reference to the birth or childhood of Jesus. Luke begins with the birth of John the Baptist and includes the nativity story of Jesus. Matthew begins with Jesus’ genealogy, thus pushing the story of Jesus hack into the Old Testament.
John, for his part, pushes the story back to the very beginning of the Old Testament. Thus John’s Gospel is an inclusive account of the entire sweep of human history, beginning before creation itself. Most of this is accomplished John 1:1-18, often referred to as the prologue of John. Today’s lesson explores the issues of the incarnation. We will try to understand how God could assume a human form.
1. The Word Beginning the World
A. The Word from Eternity Past (vv. 1, 2)1, 2. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. John’s opening statements are a retelling of the Genesis account of creation with an important addition: John includes the pre-existent Christ. There are hints of the threefold nature of God in genesis 1:26: “Let us make man in our image.”Est the relationship between God the Father and God the Son is not explored there.
In order to tell his story of Jesus more fully, this is where John most start. Genesis 1:1 begins, ‘In the beginning God.” To this John adds three clarifications: (1) the Word was at the beginning (2) this Word was in fellowship with God, and (3) the Word, in some way, was God. These three in combination give us enormous truths about Jesus. We may begin by asking what exactly it means for John to describe the pre-existing Christ as the Word. The Greek term behind this is logos. This was a well-known term in Greek philosophy, where it means something like “the ordering principle of the universe.” The Greeks saw logos as that which caused the universe to hold together and make sense. It is from logos that we get our term logic. quest im) 0 I. 1).1:, 152.]
While these ideas may touch some of John’s Greek readers, this is probably not what he has in mind by using logos. For John logos is the creative Word of God. In Genesis God speaks the universe into existence (compare Psalm 33:6).God’s Word is powerful and creative.
Also, there is no beginning for the Word. The pre-existent Christ is the beginning (see Revelation 22:13). Just as Genesis begins creation with God already in place, so John starts his telling of the beginning with the Word already present. John can say further that the Word was God while making a careful distinction between the Word and God. From a logical point of view, this seems curious: How can the Word be distinct from God, yet be God at the same time? Perhaps the best we can do is to say that there are three enters of consciousness in the Godhead (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) and that these three share a single essence.
In any case, John expects us to believe that the Word was God. For John no other way of describing this will do. We must accept the truth of this relationship, even if it seems to strain our under-standing. Remember: John walked side by side with Jesus. John knows what he is talking about!
IN THE BEGINNING
A friend once asked me, “Did you know that baseball is mentioned in the Bible?” I was rather dubious, so I asked him where. He replied, “The Bible says, ‘In the big inning.– Poor humor aside, the first phrase in bolls the Gospel of John and Genesis is significant: In the beginning. The beginning—what an appropriate place to start! It’s far better than the fairy tale introduction, “Once upon a time.” A story that begins “once upon a time” actually means that it has no historical framework. There is no attempt to place it in context with other events.
The ancient world normally dated things by the year of the ruler (compare 1 Kings 6:1; Isaiah6:1: Luke 3:1: etc.). Yet how would one refer to events before there were any rulers or when there was as yet no means of measuring time? In talking about the absolute beginning of things, the Bible writers do it very simply—in the beginning. This is ass acknowledgment that not only was God active in creation, He also pre-existed before there was the concept of time, as did Christ. The Arian controversy in the fourth century so wanted to snake Christ less than God and so argued “there was when He was not.” The other side responded with a double negative: “there was not when He was not.” John puts it very simply—”In the beginning . . . the Word was with God.” This is truth. —J. B. N.
B. The Word at Creation (v. 3)
3. All things were made by hint; and without him was not anything made that was made. John explicitly defines the Word’s (Christ’s)role in creation. The Word is uncreated and is fully involved in creation. There is no created thing that exists apart from the Word’s creative power. 1See question #2, page 152.) Paul wrote that creation is bolls a testimony to God (Romans1:20) and waits for God’s redemption (Romans8:22). (See question #3, page 152.)
II The Word Bringing Light(john 1:4-13)
A. Shilling Light (vv. 4, 5)
4, 5. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
The Word does not become inactive when creation is completed. So John moves to the function of the Word as communication and enlightenment for humanity.
God’s initial act of creation was to make light(Genesis 1:3). In so doing God separated light irons darkness. Here light is the life-giving presence of God. Light is goodness, righteousness, and truth(see John 3:21). Darkness symbolizes evil, unrighteousness. and ungodliness (John 3:19).
The word comprehended is a good translation, but other possible translations are “conquered” or “overcame.” Jesus’ mission among men and women was to rescue them from spiritual darkness (John 12:411).
LIGHT IN DARKNESS
Thomas Kinkade has become known as The Painter of Light. His paintings have become so popular that his name has become virtually a household wont. Other than prints of the pictures themselves, his paintings adorn Christmas cards, greeting cards, book covers, and various other items. His web site claims that he is “America’s most collected living artist.”
Part of his attraction is his unabashedly Christian and family orientation. He credits Christ for the inspiration of many of his subjects as well as his talent to depict them. Nostalgic views of faith, hope, and familial warmth shine forth from his canvases. He pays tribute to his wife, Nanette, by hiding the letter N in many of his scenes. The names of his four daughters also show up in his work. He has donated his efforts to numerous charitable and religious organizations and has helped raise millions of dollars for their projects. Central in all his paintings is some feature of light—be it old-fashioned streetlights, lighted windows, sunlight, or reflected light. One finds few darkened windows, brooding clouds, stormy landscapes, or tempestuous waves of emotion. Instead, the central features are calm, serene, restful, and heart-warming. While Norman Rock-well painted humorous and inspiring personality sketches, Kinkade specializes in idyllic scenes of town and country living all delivered through on imaginative use of light. His works of art display the point that the apostle John makes: light will overcome the darkness.
B. Witness to the Light (vv. 6-8)
6. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.
This is John is John the Baptist, not John the apostle who writ. this Gospel. We are told that John the Baptist was commissioned by God; he was not self-appointed. This posts him in the tradition of the great prophets of Israel (see Matthew 11:7-15; Luke 7:28).
7, 8. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.
Elsewhere Jesus describes John the Baptist as “a burning and a shining light” (John 5:35). But he was not the Light, the ultimate manifestation of God that was Jesus. John had a specific function: to bear witness. This means that he was to testify about Jesus, to be a reliable witness of His identity. When John the Baptist pointed out Jesus, some of John’s own disciples followed Him (John 1:35-37).
C.Light in the World (vv. 9-11)
9. That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.
John combines two of his most important concepts in this verse: truths and light. This helps us understand what the light imagery is all about.
God is a God of light and truth, and He brings these into the created world to help men and women be “enlightened.” This means He has not abandoned as to darkness. Instead He continues
m create light to banish our dark world of sin. God’s enlightened truth is our way out, our guide how we should live (see John 8:12).
10. 11. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not.
In terse words these verses depict the greatest irony of history: when visited by its creator, they did not recognize Him. It rejected Him. The phrase his own refers to the nation of Israel, the people chosen by God to be the receiving nation for His Messiah.
Undoubtedly, Jesus did not meet many peoples expectation of Messiah. He was not born in a king’s palace, but in a stable. His parents were not rich and powerful, but young and poor. His early education was not at the great centers of learning such as Alexandria, Athens, or Jerusalem, but at the local synagogue. The real reason for the rejection, however, was not Jesus’ humble human origins but spiritual blindness (Romans 11:25).
D. Faithful Response to the Light (vv. 12, 13)
12.But as many as received him, to them he gave the power to become the sons of God, only them that believe on his name.
Jesus’ rejection was not universal, however. Even though the vast majority of Jews did not receive their Messiah, there were believers. The opposite of “received him not” in verse 11 is to believe on his name. In the ancient world the name of a person is symbolic of the full identity of that person. To trust a person fully, one might even adopt that person’s name. This is seen when the early believers in Antioch take up the name Christians (Acts 11:26), meaning “one loyal to Christ.” Other early believers were known as31azarenes (Acts 24:5), meaning “loyal to the one from Nazareth.”
The result of receiving and believing in Jesus is to be adopted by God. We become His children. We are reunited and reconciled with our maker. We become joint heirs with Jesus (Ro-mans 8:17).
13.Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
John introduces the concept of new birth at this point. Spiritually we become God’s children by rebirth. This is not any type of physical
birth related to the conception of a child through normal means. This birth comes from God.
The idea of new birth comes up later in Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus. There Jesus says that without this new birth one “cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).
III. The Word Becoming Flesh(John 1:14-18)
A. Incarnation of the Word (v. 14)
14.And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.
This verse is John’s way of expressing what we call “the incarnation.” It is the divine putting on flesh, God taking human form. This is a very difficult concept to understand, but it is vital for the Christian faith. It is only by becoming human that the Son of God could die for the sins of others (Hebrews 2:14).
John and companions were witnesses to the glory of God in this regard. Jesus, the Son, reveals the Father in a way that allows Jesus to say that seeing Him means seeing the Father (John 14:9).This is a vision of grace and truth, which is explained in the next verses.
B. Revelation of Grace and Truth (vv. 15-17)
15.John bare witness of him, and cried, saying, This was he of whom I spoke, He that cometh after me is preferred before me; for he was before me.
John the Baptist’s testimony is recorded here. What is important for this passage is John the Baptist’s knowledge of Jesus’ true identity. Jesus was before John the Baptist, meaning that He existed before His incarnation. Therefore, John the Baptist knew well that Jesus deserved precedence over him in all things.
16.And of his fullness have all we received, and grace for grace.
John now expands upon one of the central concepts of the New Testament: grace (introduced in 1:14). Grace for grace could be translated “grace upon grace,” with the image of gifts being piled upon one another endlessly. The grace that came through Jesus was not something we earned. It was given freely by the Father.
17.For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth canto by Jesus Christ.
The Iow in mind here is the Jewish law, the various commandments given by Moses. Laws can result in doing the right thing with no relationship with the lawgiver. Thus, while the law is not bad, it does not do what Jesus does. Jesus allows us to become true children of God through faith, far beyond any attempts to earn God’s favour by keeping His rules. Jesus is the true light of the world. (See question #5. page 152.1
C. Declaration of the Father (v. 18)
18. No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he bath declared him.
This final verse of John’s prologue sums up above any possibility of human perception and experience. There are a few Old Testament descriptions of people seeing a kind of manifestation of God (Genesis 32:30; Exodus 24:11). But no man hath seen God at any time because “Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live” (Exodus 33:20).
Even so, God has revealed himself in a way that we can understand and believe. He has done this by Jesus, God in flesh, God’s only Son. Jesus reveals God in a way that no other human ever could. Through Jesus we have access to God.
A. Grace in John
What is the amazing thing we call grace? While that word is common in Paul’s writings, it is used only a few times in the Gospel of John(1:14-17). This word gets tossed around in many ways in the church. Sonic people seem to equate grace with the Holy Spirit, as supernatural power(“I was overcome by grace”). Others see it as the same as God’s presence (“God’s grace is in this place”). Still others associate it with a mealtime prayer (“Bow your heads while I say grace”).An old acronym for grace is helpful: God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. But this only gives a partial sense of this rich concept. Them are two essential components to a biblical concept of grace. First, it always denotes an element of “gift.” It is never something we earn or deserve. Second, grace involves both attitude and action. God’s grace means that God determined to do something beneficial; then He did it.
John tells us that everything about God’s .1f-revelation in Jesus is gracious. We didn’t deserve Him. He is beautiful in ways we cannot even appreciate. The incarnation is a decisive act of enormous significance. How much did it really cost God to sacrifice His Son? We cannot possibly know. But we can understand that this is not the way things normally work. Fathers don’t usually sacrifice their sons for others. If anything, a father will sacrifice for his son. Yet God sent His Son to become a man and die on a cross to pay the price for sin. That is grace!
God of Heaven and earth, we thank You for seeing us lost in sin and sending Your only Son, Jesus Christ, to be our Savior. May we be blessed by Your grace and guided by Your truth in all things. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.
C. Thought to Remember
The gracious truth of God is the promise of eternal life as revealed through Jesus Christ.