The apostle John was aware of Christ’s greatness, light, and love. David Silvernail preaches on John 1 and the deity of Christ in chapel at RTS Washington.
So things are a little bit different today. A number of you are students in my Com I class and you have evaluation forms. They’re in the back corner by where Jeremy is; you can get one of those and fill that out for extra credit. The second thing that’s a little different is we’ll be moving into the Gospel of John in class in a couple weeks and we’ll be starting with John 2. So I thought I would use this opportunity to attempt to demonstrate how to open a book series when you’re just starting a new book where you are going to lay out some of the things going on.
So a little bit different today. We’ll be starting with the Gospel of John. If you would turn in your Bibles to John 1, and I’m going to go through the first five verses. So please read along. Listen carefully as this is God’s Word.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
Heavenly Father, we thank you for your Word. We thank you that it is indeed light and life to us. We pray that it would be that way for us this morning. In Jesus’s name, Amen.
We Need to Understand the World and How Jesus Transforms It
Well, we’re about halfway through the football season. That’s good news for some of you, hard for others of you, depending on who you root for. I want you to imagine with me for a moment a football team that plays every game on its home field. Since home teams win between 60 to 80 percent of their home games, this team would have a tremendous advantage. It would be winning seasons year after year after year.
And from approximately A.D. 300 to the year A.D. 1300, the church operated like the home team. They acted like they had the home field advantage. The church owned the team, chose the sides, made the rules, taught the refs, and always had the crowd behind it. Or at least it thought it did. While it’s not entirely true (as soon as you broaden your perspective to include Asia and Africa, it’s obviously not true), but even in Europe, there were pagans and heresies behind every tree which the church dealt with in incredibly compassionate ways, alternating with harsh persecutions that boggle the mind. But they thought they were the home team.
For the most part, so did everyone else. But that started to fall apart with the Reformation, crumbled with the Enlightenment, was banned from the field in modernity, and is a distant memory now lost in Postmodernism. And today, at the end of 2014, everything has changed. Today we play on the opposing team’s field. Now those who would just as soon have nothing to do with the church are the ones making the rules for our society. They’re the ones who own the teams, make the rules, provide the refs, and the crowd is behind them. They find the church authoritarian; Christians, antagonistic; Christianity, unbelievable; and Jesus Christ, somewhat meaningless.
We must know why Christianity is believable and then act like we really believe it.Not sure? Well, consider there is a higher percentage of active professing Christians in Angola, West Africa, than there is in America. There is a higher percentage of Christians in Korea than Canada. There is a higher percentage of Christians in Fiji than in any country of Europe. The largest mission field in the Western Hemisphere is the United States, and the darkest mission field in the world I think is easily Western Europe. Even more so, I believe, than the Muslim world.
And so if the church is going to carry out its mission of telling people about the gospel of Christ, we have to know who we’re up against and how the rules of the game are changing. We must know why the church is a community and then be a community. We must know why Christians are loving and then be loving people. And we must know why Christianity is believable and then act like we really believe it. And we must know why Jesus Christ is not only the most meaningful person who ever lived, we must know why he brings the most meaning to each of our lives, and we have to know why it is Jesus Christ who lives, reigns and is coming again. We must be able to tell them in a way they can understand. And that is the purpose of the Gospel of John.
The key verse and the theme for the whole book are found in John 20:30–31. It says there, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so 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 Wrote His Gospel to Share His Personal Understanding of Jesus
To understand this book, you need to get a sense of the big picture. You need to understand that John is writing a story to all the world, to all the church, and to you, and it’s a story that only John can write. So let’s look at the background of the apostle John, who is the author. It’s now A.D. 90, give or take a few years. He is the last of the disciples left alive. The community of the seven churches that he pastors, situated along a postal road, stands in awe of him. John the Elder, and “elder” is as much a description as a title. He’s at least over 80 years old. And in a world where 40 is getting along and 60 is ancient, 80 is miraculous and John surpassed 80.
He’s a simple man from a simple place, but what happened to him was not at all simple. Or was it? He was a follower, a disciple, someone Jesus loved, someone Jesus trusted. With his own hands, John has touched him, and those now tired old eyes had looked into the mystery of his fine intellectual face. And John has been asking himself now for years and years and years, “What did it mean? What does he mean?”
[00:07:12] And at this time in history, things are starting to get confusing. People are questioning what Jesus said, what Jesus did, who Jesus was. And there’s only one apostle left, John. All the other apostles are gone, all the key members of the first church in Jerusalem are gone. Peter and Paul have been martyred for some 25 years. All the rest of the New Testament had been written, but nothing from John. And so to stand in the presence of the last living disciple is to realize he needed to commit to writing as much as he knew before his lips were silenced forever. And he wrote because they wouldn’t leave him alone until he did. And he wrote because he wouldn’t leave him alone until he did. And he wrote because he missed the sound of Jesus’s voice so much that sometimes he thought his heart would break. Perhaps he wrote in the hope that through the words of just one of his sentences, he might once again hear the familiar sound of his voice.
Matthew, Mark, and Luke had already been well circulated. Everyone knew by heart the stories they contained, and John set out to fill in the gaps. He thoughtfully skipped the well-known so he could substitute stories that no one else had ever heard, that hadn’t been written down, stories that he’d been preaching for more than 60 years now. These stories came together by themes as good sermons do: light and darkness, wisdom and foolishness. the misunderstood Messiah. And writing them down, working through them again in his imagination was almost like being back on the road with Jesus. Details come to mind that he thought were long lost, tired feet from long journeys, fear of the Pharisees, the feeling of having his breath taken away by the gleaming words of the Nazarene.
The essence of John’s portrait is found in its simplicity. Like water, bread, seed: Jesus is revealed through the immediate and the tangible.He remembered how again and again the people had misunderstood Jesus’s words and works, and how, after he would make his most deeply spiritual pronouncements, the crowd would often completely miss the meaning. He would talk about living water, and they would see a well, he would speak of the bread from heaven, and they would want a meal. The essence of John’s portrait is found in its simplicity. Like water, bread, seed: Jesus is revealed through the immediate and the tangible.
Occasionally, John would have to push himself back from the table to wipe away the tears brought on by the memories that forced him once again into the presence of the Galilean that he loved and he longed for and missed with all his heart. So here they are. These are the words, the thoughts, the feelings of the last living disciple, the last person left alive who walked with Jesus. We need to hear them well.
As we enter this book, you need to come sit at the feet of John the Elder and listen to what he has to say about this Lord of his, this friend that he leaned against at their last meal together and on whom he has been leaning ever since. The one John would have all of us lean on, the one he writes to tell us is Christ the Lord.
The Gospel of John Is Focused on Relationships
This is probably the most relational book in the Bible. John writes not of doctrine, but how Jesus relates to people. He remembered the wedding where Jesus solved the wine problem and got the host off the hook. He thought of the blind beggar that no one noticed except Jesus. He pondered Jesus’s tender teaching to the Samaritan woman and his tough encounter with a Pharisee at night. With graphic detail, John takes us on a storybook journey through Jesus’s encounters with people, and Jesus met all kinds of people. He dined with the rich, associated with the outcasts, had pity on the sinners, helped the needy. At every level, at every station. Jesus spoke the right words at the right time. He addressed people in such a manner that the simple minded could understand him, and the learned had to stop and ponder what he said. Teaching with authority, that was new, and people came by the thousands to hear it. They were captivated by his words.
[Jesus] is a gentle shepherd who finds the lost sheep and brings them back into the fold.According to John’s gospel, Jesus didn’t have to tell people they needed to repent. Instead, he engaged them in dialogue that exposes their sins and shortcomings and mistaken thoughts. And when Jesus removes their masks, he speaks restoration instead of rebuke. He is a gentle shepherd who finds the lost sheep and brings them back into the fold. He loves them, and they repent on their own.
They could easily be the people in your life. They could have been your neighbors or relatives. That cranky old guy that lives around the corner, he’s in John’s gospel. That guy at church who still can’t see God? Jesus ran into a few of those. The grief stricken widow, the pregnant teen, your mother-in-law, you see them all in John’s pages so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you might have life in its name.
Jesus Existed from Eternity in Perfect Relationship with the Father
And of course, we start in the beginning. Look with me at verses one and two. Christ is the eternal Word. It says there, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” In the beginning was the Word. There was never a time when Christ did not exist because the word “was” is in the Greek imperfect tense, which means “was continuing.” In fact, the entire first verse bears this sense: in the beginning was continuing the Word, and the Word was continuing with God, and the Word was continually God. Or as one person very accurately, though, ungrammatically said, “Jesus always was wasing.”
That’s it. Jesus is preexistent. He always was continuing. If you’re like me, this kind of thinking makes for a headache. Our minds look backward until time disappears and thought collapses in exhaustion. But thus begin our thoughts of the immensity and the greatness and the majesty of Christ.
Next, the apostle adds, “and the Word was with God.” Literally, the Word was continually toward God; the Father and Son were continually face to face. The preposition “with” bears the idea of nearness, along with a sense of moving toward God. That is to say, there has always existed a deepest equality and intimacy in the Trinity. And again, our minds stagger as we think of Jesus as always having continued without beginning and without end, in perfect relationship with the Father.
Jesus was always existing from all eternity as God in perfect fellowship with God the Father.And moreover, the final phrase of verse one adds, “and the Word was God,” telling us, giving us the meaning that the Word was God in essence and character. He was God in every way, although he was a separate person from God the Father. This phrase perfectly preserves Jesus’s separate identity, while also stating that he is God. It’s his continuing identity from all eternity; he was God constantly. And the simple sentence of verse 1 is perhaps the most profound theological statement in all of Scripture: Jesus was always existing from all eternity as God in perfect fellowship with God the Father.
Jesus Is God’s Living Word, the Creator, the Light, in Word and Deed
And God’s glory dwells with man in the person of Jesus Christ. But this is something that nobody in their wildest imaginations could have fathomed until God made it clear in the life and preaching of Jesus. Look again at verse 1, John says that “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Jesus was with God and was God. Now, in the Old Testament, what God says, he does. It communicates the word spoken by the prophets that would not go forth and return empty or void, but that burned within the heart of God’s prophets. As we read in Isaiah 55:11: “So my word that goes out of my mouth, it shall not return to me empty, but shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” God’s written Word, the Scripture, does that. And God’s living Word, the Lord Jesus does that. He is the eternal Word.
John also wants us to know that Christ is the creator of all. Look at verse 3. Christ is the creator of all. He says there: “All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.” The fact of Christ creatorship is the consistent witness of the New Testament. Colossians 1 says, “For by him all things were created.” Hebrews 1 says, “But in these last days, he [God the Father] has spoken to us by his son, whom he has appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” Revelation 4 states, speaking of Christ, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” We can trust such a God with anything and with everything. He is our creator. Do you trust him? Have you entrusted your life to him? Considering the greatness of Christ, nothing else makes sense.
We can trust such a God with anything and with everything. He is our creator.And finally, John wants us to see that Christ is the revelation of God. Look at verses 4 and 5: Christ is the revelation of God. In verse five the metaphor of Christ as light stresses the revelation and also the rejection of his love as it came into the world. In clearest terms, Christ is described as light. It says, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
The emphasis here is on Jesus Christ being the spiritual life-giving light, going out to a dark world. And the thought of our Lord being spiritual light gives us insight into his loving attempt to reach the world. Where light goes, darkness is dispelled, revealing the true nature of life. No place with the slightest crack can withhold its presence. The light shines in the darkness, literally means it shines continually in the darkness, meaning that Christ is continually bombarding every corner of our own hearts of darkness through the work of his Holy Spirit in nature, in our consciences, and through the Scriptures. And whether you are with or without Christ, meditate upon Christ being the light, and you will become more aware of being loved.
John tells us that God has spoken a powerful word of re-creation, of salvation. And so the incarnation happens, a word spoken and done, pronounced in syllables of flesh. “The word of God becomes flesh.” To use Paul’s expression elsewhere in 1 Corinthians, this would have been foolishness to the Greeks and a stumbling block to the Jews. This was the unbelievable. But it’s God coming down to dwell with man in glory in a way that is so very unexpected. This introduction to John tells us of the speaking of that word, the rest of the book tells us of the deeds of the one who is the living Word.
For John, the truth of this will be demonstrated in Jesus’s life. What Jesus says will always be reflected in what Jesus does and vise versa. He will do something like open the eyes of the blind and then speak the deep truth that he is the light of the world. He will tell a sorrowing friends that he is the resurrection and the life, and then that word will be validated as Lazarus comes hobbling out of the tomb. Jesus feeds 5,000 and then tells us that he is the bread of life. What he says is always validated, illustrated, and fulfilled in what he does. For he is the word and deed of the Father.
When We Realize How Much Jesus Loves Us We Will Live for Him
When he speaks of being light, the darkness is always there. When he speaks of being life, a dead man is nearby. When he speaks of being wisdom, the foolish are close at hand. And there are days, if you think about it and you’re honest, when we are the ones in darkness and we’re the foolish and we’re the dead. And we need the words of light, life, and wisdom. Those who are most profoundly aware of their own sin and their own need, and in consequence, most deeply feel the wonders of the grace of God that’s reached out and saved them, even them, are those who are most likely to talk about themselves as the objects of God’s love in Jesus Christ.
Shallow understanding of how much we’re loved will make us weak witnesses for Jesus.Christ wants us to grow into his disciples and grow away from our sin and foolishness. But it’s because we are the beloved, the ones so loved by him that he will change us and transform us by grace alone. John saw himself as a son of thunder who had become the apostle of love. His response wasn’t arrogance; it was brokenness transformed by amazement. He was simply overwhelmed by Jesus’s love for him in the midst of his sin. We need to be overwhelmed by Jesus’s love for us in the midst of our sin. Shallow understanding of how much we’re loved will make us weak witnesses for Jesus.
We need to believe that not just the gospel is true, but that it’s true for us. It’s true for me. It’s true for you. And that’s what will make us passionate believers who’ve been transformed by the love of Christ. And we’ll have that same love overflowing from us to our families, to our neighbors, to our bosses, to our students, even to those nosy people who sit near us at church.
Simply put, John was aware of how great Christ was, the light he brought, the love he had for John. So ask yourself: Am I really aware of how great Christ is in the light he brings and the love he has for me? Think about that. Perhaps you should pray, take a moment to do that and then I’ll close.
Let’s pray together. Heavenly Father, our eyes are often dark. They need to be opened to the light of Christ. We live as though dead. We need the life that Jesus brings. And we speak as though foolish, and we need the wisdom that is Christ himself. Bring these things to us. Show us how great Jesus is. Show us how majestic, how wonderful, transform our lives with this new vision of Jesus. Do this for each one of us here today. In Jesus’s name, Amen.