Series: The Gospel of John
The Bible is concerned with our problems, but it doesn’t begin with our problems. It begins with Jesus, because in the beginning, He was.
Citylight Center City | September 12, 2021 from Citylight Church on Vimeo.
The Gospel According to John (Pillar New Testament Commentary), D.A. Carson
Expository Thoughts on the Gospel According to John, J.C. Ryle
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Today is a day of new beginnings for us. It’s the first Sunday after Labor Day, marking the unofficial end of summer and the unofficial beginning of fall. School has recently started up again for the students and teachers among us and the schools around us. And of course, today is the beginning of our church’s worship gatherings at Highway Tabernacle. We’re also beginning to preach through a different book of the Bible, the Gospel of John, and even it begins with the words “In the beginning.” Beginnings are significant because they set a direction for the future. Consider, how do you begin when you approach the Bible or church? If we’re honest, we often begin with ourselves: How does this make me feel, does this fit with what I already think, how will this help me live a better life? And the Bible doesn’t demonize that; those are all important questions. But it’s not where the Bible begins. And might we at least consider that part of our problem in life is that we do typically begin with and focus on our problems? The Gospel of John, especially, does not begin with us. It’s a Gospel, which means it is news about someone else, namely about Jesus Christ, written by one of the people who walked with him while he was on earth, a man named John. So instead of beginning with us, John begins with Jesus, and later gets to us. To understand what it means for us, then, we must first sit with what John tells us about Jesus. His fundamental concern throughout the book, and the question that we, as a result, will begin our time at Highway with, is, “who is Jesus?” The answer he begins with in this passage is that Jesus is the true revelation of God, and he gives us three main reasons why that is so: He is God, He shines in the darkness, and He became man.
He is God
In the words “in the beginning” which begin our passage, there is an allusion to the first words of the whole Bible: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” In the beginning, before anything else existed, God existed, and God then created everything else. Now John says that in the beginning was the Word. Not, in the beginning God created the Word, like God created the heavens and the earth. In the beginning, the Word simply was. It’s not as though God existed and then at some point, He began speaking the Word. This Word is a Word God eternally speaks. There was never a time the Word was not. Then we’re told two things about this Word: The Word was with God, and the Word was God. So, on the one hand, the Word is distinguished from God: The Word was with God. And on the other, the Word is identified with God: The Word was God.
How can this be? The rest of the passage helps us. In verse 14, we read that this Word is the Son of a Father. The relation of a Son to a Father is a relation of origin: One is the son of another if one originated from that other. So if the Word is the Son originating from the Father, The Word is distinguished from God because the Son originates eternally from the Father, and is therefore a distinct person from the Father. In this sense, the Word was “with” God. But then we still need to explain that next statement: The Word was God. I am the son of Kevin Anderson, and sometimes I am with Kevin Anderson, but I am not Kevin Anderson. Then again, my dad also isn’t God. My dad is human, so when he was a son, guess what kind of son he has? A human son.
But if the Father is God, what kind of Son would He have? God. Except part of what it means to be God is that there is only one of you. The Bible is clear from beginning to end: The Lord our God, the Lord is one, and He does not change. And John gives us no indication here that the Word is another God: He doesn’t say that God was with God, or that the Word was another God; He simply says the Word was God. What this is revealing to us is the Christian doctrine of the Trinity: God is one essence, who exists eternally in three persons: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, who will be revealed later in the Gospel of John. But for now, we can see that the Word was with God because the Word is the Son, eternally originating from the Father, but the Word was God, because the Word is one in essence with the Father.
Ok, so that explains how the Word can both be with God and be God, but why is He called the Word? The Greek word there that is translated Word is logos, from which we get our word logic. Words bear an intimate relation to ideas. In your own mind, when you have a thought, you think in words. You think, “Maybe I’ll go to church today” or “this coffee is good,” and so on. Thoughts are revealed in words. So one theologian puts it, “Just as the human mind objectivizes itself in speech, so God expresses His entire being in the Logos.” Or another: “The Logos is, therefore, the outward revealer of the inward mind of God.”
So why is Jesus the true revelation of God? Why look to Him if you want to know the real God? Because He is God, and in particular, He is the divine person who reveals God, the Word God eternally speaks. Does this all sound a bit highfalutin to you? Irrelevant even? A bit over your head? It is over our heads. The real God is like that. Reality, at its deepest level, is like that. Go read a few articles on quantum physics or general relativity and see if you can keep your head from exploding. And yet, if you stick with it, if you don’t discard mystery as useless or try to explain it all, but press deeper into reality, you find that eventually, instead of exploding, your head begins expanding. That’s what it’s like to get to know the real God. We are naturally small-minded, fixated on the problems of today: What we will wear, what that person thinks of us, how to increase our earnings by 5% next year, just grinding it out over and over again. And unfortunately we can begin to reinvent God into a similarly small image, a character in our story who is there to help us accomplish our small-minded goals.
But to know God truly, as He is revealed by Jesus, is just the opposite: It expands your mind, it gets your head up in the clouds and provides real perspective on the small things in your life that seem so big to you. In the beginning was not you. In the beginning was not me. In the beginning was not the next performance review, the last date, or the next doctor’s appointment. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Lift your eyes. As G.K. Chesterton once put it, “To accept everything is an exercise, to understand everything a strain. The poet only desires exaltation and expansion, a world to stretch himself in. The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits.” Open your mind. There is a reality far greater, far more majestic, far more glorious than anything on this earth, and He is truly revealed through Jesus Christ. Incomprehensible though He is, you can know Him truly, because this Word is also a light that shines in the darkness.
He shines in the darkness
Verse 3 goes on to tell us that through this Word, all things were made, and without Him was not anything made that Has been made. Again, if you go back to Genesis 1, you find that God creates by speaking. He says, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And indeed, we find in verse 4 of our passage that in the Word was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. I confess that I’m once again sensing the limits of my understanding and ability to explain, but let’s try to get our heads into the heavens a bit, even if we cannot get the heavens into our heads.
This text is telling us that all things were created through the Word, and the life that gives life to all things was originally in Him. We have life because in Him was life; He is eternally alive. That life was then the light of men, and light in the Bible and in Greek thought typically has reference especially to the intellect. So the Logos not only gives us life, He enlightens our minds to see reality truly, even if as we’ve been saying, we never see it exhaustively. Thinking in terms of seeing with our eyes, if you all are here, but the lights are turned off, I can’t see you. So with our minds, the Logos, the Word, turns the lights on, enabling us to know truly. In this sense He was the light of men. Though Him all things were made, so that the world itself reveals God truly. And He enlightened our minds, enabling us to know God truly through the things that have been made. So from the beginning, every people group has believed in and worshiped some god or gods. Even though this knowledge is now shrouded in darkness because of our sin, verse 5 makes clear that the darkness has not overcome it. The Word still shines in the darkness today, so that all of creation testifies to the glory of God. Haven’t you found yourself looking up at the sky and sensing there’s something bigger behind it all?
Jesus revealed God in the things that were made through Him; He reveals Him still today in the things that have been made. John then gives a brief clarification in verses 6-8 about another John, John the Baptist. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light, because this light, which has always given light to everyone, was coming into the world, verse 9. But don’t be mistaken, he says in verse 10: It’s not as though He was absent from the world prior to John the Baptist. He was in the world; He’s shone in the world ever since all things were made through Him, and yet here’s the problem: The world did not know him. And so while every people group worships some god, none naturally stumbled upon the worship of Him. The human predicament is one of simultaneous knowledge and suppression: The light shines, and the darkness has not overcome it. He is the light who gives light to everyone. He’s been in the world as long as there was a world, and in that sense, we all know Him. So Bonaventure, the medieval theologian, says in knowing anything, we first know Him. And yet, the world does not know him. We suppress this knowledge, because to know Him truly would mean we’d have to submit to Him. His existence and revelation in all that has been made is, what Al Gore famously called global warming, an “inconvenient truth” for sinners.
And as if the world not knowing Him through the things that have been made wasn’t bad enough, verse 11 says He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him. Here most commentators see a reference to the Word coming in the flesh and going to the Jewish people in the land of Israel, “His own.” However, I’m inclined to agree with a minority of interpreters here who don’t see the Word becoming flesh until verse 14, when we read that the Word became flesh. Here I think it’s better to see verse 11 as referring to the Word, before becoming human, revealing Himself to Israel, and in that sense “coming to them.” He came to them when He rescued them from slavery in Egypt, which Jude 5 says was the work of Jesus, He came to them when He led them through the wilderness, when He gave them His law, when He spoke to them through the prophets, and in all this, though they had an even clearer revelation of Him than that which was available to the world, they too did not receive Him. They grumbled against Him in the wilderness, spurned His law, and killed His prophets. Do you see here the power, the madness, of sin and unbelief? If the people of Israel could see Him splitting the Red Sea for them to release them from 400 years of slavery and then refuse to receive Him, do you really think more evidence is the cure for unbelief? Don’t you find an inclination in your flesh to explain away whatever evidence is presented for Him?
And yet, among this overwhelming rejection, there were some who did receive Him. In the Gospel of John, we’ll meet Abraham, who John says saw the day of Christ and greeted it from afar. In just a moment we’ll meet Moses, who John says wrote of Christ. And to those who did receive Him, who believed in His name, God gave the right to become children of God. These were born children of God not in the ordinary manner of human procreation, but after their ordinary birth, they were born again of God, and so believed and received the Word as He shone among them, and thus were declared children of God. It’s worth bearing in mind at this point that John is writing into a context heavily influenced not only by Greek thought, but more fundamentally, by Judaism. In the Jewish thought of his day, to be born of Jewish parents was to be a child of God. Not so, however: In fact, His own people, like the rest of the world, did not know Him. The true children of God are those born of God, and their distinguishing mark is that they receive and believe in the name of Jesus.
Some of you here today were born to Christian parents; praise God if so. But are you assuming you are a child of God simply because you are a child of them? That is a false assumption. You must personally receive Christ. You must personally believe in His name. Your parents can’t do that for you. Nobody else can. And to those of you who have received Him, who have believed in His name, do you see what an incredible right is now yours? It is now your right to be a child of God. Our world has its own labeling system. The world may have told you you were fat, ugly, stupid, not good enough, but God calls you His child. The world may have told you you were fit, beautiful, smart, and better than others, but what good is any of it in comparison to being a child of God? The world may hurl a host of criticisms at Christians, Satan too will accuse us, but none of it changes the fact: To as many who receive Him, who believe in His name, He gives the right to become children of God.
Jesus is the true revelation of God eternally as the Word, He’s the one through whom all things were made, so that God is now revealed in the things that have been made. He’s the one who enlightens our minds to be able to know God truly, and yet we have overwhelmingly not known Him. Even His own did not receive Him. And so the light came to shine even more clearly when He became man.
He became man
Verse 14 says the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Again, head in the heavens: We are now being told that this Word that was God became flesh and dwelt among us. Not that the Word merely appeared in the flesh; that happened before the coming of Christ. Now the Word became flesh. God became man. Now part of what it means to be God is you don’t change; you simply are. So how can this be? The church father Augustine says it this way: “God became what He was not without ceasing to be what He was.” He assumed something that was not previously His without changing anything of who He already was. The Word became flesh when Jesus Christ was born, and at that time, God the Son, the Logos, the Word, became a person with two natures: One divine, one human, true God and true man. This is the Christian doctrine of the incarnation. And so this passage reveals to us the two key mysteries that have been at the heart of the Christian faith for 2000 years: The Trinity, one God eternally existing in three persons, and The Incarnation, God became man.
When verse 14 goes on to say that He dwelt among us, the word there is more literally He “tabernacled” among us. The tabernacle was a tent where God promised to meet with His people. The glory of God would descend on it, and a bright light would shine from it. It was one of those ways He came to His own, but now the light was coming to shine among them in the tabernacle of a human body. Jesus is the true tabernacle, and in that sense, the true revelation of God. It’s not as though the prior revelations were false, but Jesus is the true revelation of God in that He is the ultimate revelation of God. In Him, as verse 14 goes on to say, we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. After another brief aside on John the Baptist, we get back to the uniqueness of the revelation of God in Christ. It’s from the Word made flesh that we’ve received grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses, and that was gracious of God: He didn’t have to reveal Himself to His own people, He didn’t have to direct them how to live in a way that pleases Him, He didn’t have to institute the sacrifices when they failed.
Yet the law of Moses ultimately served to simply magnify the fact that though He’d come to His own, His own did not receive Him. But grace upon grace came through Jesus Christ. He provided not only for an awareness of our sins; He provided salvation from them. In true human flesh, He obeyed the law that came through Moses perfectly, and then took the curse of that law for the sins of humanity upon Himself and paid for them in full on the cross. Because He was true God, the life He offered was of such infinite worth that His sacrifice was sufficient to cover the sins of whoever would believe in His name. Because He was true God and perfect man, it was not possible for death to hold Him. He rose from the dead and continues to be the true revelation of God, available to whoever believes. That’s grace upon grace, grace greater than the grace of the law given to Moses.
And it’s a better revelation than the one that came through Moses. For no one, verse 18 says, not even Moses, has seen God. Moses requested to see God, in fact, and his request was denied. But the only God, who is at the Father’s side, or more literally, in the Father’s bosom, has made Him known. In the things made through Him, to Israel, in becoming man, in His life, and ultimately in His death and resurrection, Jesus is the true revelation of the Father. He shows us a God who is glorious, incomprehensible, ineffable, so real that He is above what we can imagine, one God who exists eternally in three persons. He shows us a God who is kind and patient, who shines His light even in darkness, who comes to His own, though His own do not receive Him. He shows us a God who is just, who has a law, the demands of which must be satisfied. And He shows us a God full of grace, who became flesh in order to meet the demands of that very law for us who have suppressed the knowledge of Him and disobeyed His commands. Receive Him, believe in His name, and you will be a child of God. Get your head up in the heavens and worship Him as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.