December 2/3, 2017
Jason Meyer | John 1:1-5
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 the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.—John 1:1–5
This is the first week of Advent. Advent is a somewhat archaic word that has dropped out of everyday use. It essentially means “the coming” or the “arrival of.” When we use the term “advent,” we are speaking of “the coming” of (the arrival of) Jesus. At Christmas, we are talking about the first advent or first coming of Christ into the world more than 2,000 years ago.
The next four weeks all serve as powder kegs so that our celebration of the glory of this event with be with explosively great joy. We are going to walk through John 1:1–14 in these four weeks.
What is different about the way the Gospel of John tells us about Christmas? Matthew and Luke tell us many things in terms of the details and facts of Jesus’ coming (shepherds, angels, Bethlehem, the manger, etc.). John says it much differently: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). John is telling us way more than just the historical details of his coming. According to Tim Keller, the other Gospels tell us about the facts of Christmas, while John focuses more on the meaning of Christmas (not what all happened—but what does it all mean).
But John does not start with the Word becoming flesh. He begins in the beginning. This is one of the biggest differences in the way John talks about Jesus. Matthew has a genealogy that traces the lineage of Jesus back to Abraham (the founder of the Jewish people), Luke traces the lineage of Jesus back to Adam (the founder of the human race), while John traces the lineage of Jesus all the way back to his own heavenly Father as the eternal Son of God with no beginning.
Here is another difference. John introduces us to Jesus by referring to him as “the Word.” What is he doing? Many people try to point to the different possible backgrounds for this word in ancient philosophy (like the Greek word logos is where we get the English word “logic”). They say things like Jesus is the rationality of God. However, the clearest and most fundamental background is the Old Testament (especially because of the phrase “In the beginning”). In the Old Testament, the word of God is God’s self-disclosure—the revelation of himself. Consider 1 Samuel 3:21, “And the Lord appeared again at Shiloh, for the Lord revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the Lord.”
I am working hard here not to speak in abstract Christian lingo. This is not something ethereal and strange that no one can fathom today. You all know this. Your word is the clearest revealing of who you are. I can work out with people at the gym, and you might ask me if I know them. I don’t really know much about them by watching them. I get to know them much better by talking to them.
You can figure things out about people, but we can’t really know them unless they speak to us and reveal themselves to us. For example (I am modifying here an analogy I first heard from Tim Keller), let’s say that I am going to try to figure out where someone at the gym works. How would I know? I could watch him for a year and observe his workout clothes. Let’s say that I notice that this person likes to wear a White Bear Lake High School shirt and shorts.
That helps a little, but it really doesn’t narrow it down much. Does that mean that this person has a child who goes to school at White Bear Lake or does that mean he is an alumni or an employee? And even if I guessed that he is an employee, that would not get me any nearer to knowing what specifically he does there (janitor, teacher, coach). If teacher, what does he teach? If coach, what sport does he coach?
There is a simple way to find these things out. I could ask him. “What do you do?” And he might reply, “I am a football coach at White Bear Lake High School.” Now you might wonder if he is a head coach or an assistant coach, and if assistant coach then what area (line coach, receivers coach, offensive coordinator, etc.). He gets more specific: “I am the DB coach.” DB? “Yes, defensive backs coach.” Here we see that this person’s words are the best expression of himself to me.
What does “Word” mean? Jesus is the supreme expression or revelation of God. We know that we are on the right track here because this is the very claim that concludes the prologue: “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known” (John 1:18). You can’t really know God except through Jesus, because he supremely reveals who God is as the Word of God.
So in order to know God, we have to know this Word. John introduces us to the Word by focusing on who he is and what he did.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.
We see three things here about who He was. We see his (1) eternal nature, (2) relational nature, and (3) divine nature.
A) The Eternal Nature of the Word (v. 1a)
These verses introduce us to the Person that John calls the Word. The first phrase explains the eternal nature of the Word (“In the beginning”). Readers of the Bible would immediately recognize the reference to “In the beginning” as an echo back to Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” This verse is saying that in the beginning, the Word was already in existence. The Word existed before the creation. He was not within the creation as something made, he was before creation as its Maker.
The early church heretic Arius believed that “there was a time when the word was not” (quoted in D.A. Carson, John, p. 114). John is saying the opposite. There was a time when the world was not, but there was never a time that the Word was not.
B) The Relational Nature of the Word (v. 1b)
The next phrase highlights the relational nature of the Word (“with God,” v. 1b). The phrase tells us that the Word is distinguishable from God, while at the same time enjoying a personal relationship with God. But does the phrase “with God,” mean that Jesus was not God? So many questions can be answered by continuing to read. Let’s do that.
C) The Divine Nature of the Word (v. 1c)
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
By “divine nature,” I am not limiting his deity in anyway. John makes it crystal clear: “the Word was God,” v. 1c. There is no watering this down or mitigating the full meaning. The way that this phrase is written in the original language brings all the attention to the word “God.” John puts it forward to the front for emphasis: “The Word was God!” English can use an exclamation point for emphasis, the original language uses placement in the sentence to draw emphatic attention to it.
What a marvelous mystery! One writer said it well: “The phrase ‘the Word was with God’ means that the Word is God’s own fellow; the phrase ‘the Word was God’ means that the Word is God’s own self—the Word was with God,’ God’s eternal Fellow; ‘the Word was God,’ God’s own Self” (Edmund Clowney, quoted in Carson, John, p. 117). What does that mean? We have been forcibly carried into the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. Another commentator said, “The ‘Word does not by Himself make up the entire Godhead; nevertheless the divinity that belongs to the rest of the Godhead belongs also to Him” (Tasker, John, p. 45).
The doctrine of the Trinity is not something that anyone can ever claim to have fully figured out. It goes beyond our comprehension. We can state the truth of it without explaining all the intricacies of it. Martin Luther shows that John teaches about the Trinity clearly and forcefully: “But he states expressly that three distinct Persons dwell in that same single divine essence, namely, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit … Therefore there are three distinct Persons, equal in glory and majesty; yet there is only one divine essence (Luther’s Works, vol. 22, commenting on John 1:3).
This truth that the Father and the Son are distinguishable is vitally important as we prepare ourselves to understand the Incarnation. The Second Person of the Trinity, God the Son, took on flesh, not God the Father or God the Spirit (Luther makes the same point; Luther’s Works, vol. 22).
Verse two serves to bring the point back to its summation—He (the One I just explained for you in verse 1) was in the beginning with God (v. 2).
If verses 1–2 describe his person, then verses 3–4 describe his work. John declares his deity in verses 1–2 and now demonstrates the deity of the Word by pointing to the works of the Word—he does what only God does.
All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 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.
A) The Word Created the World (v. 3)
John is still working his way through the creation account of Genesis 1. He makes the claim positively (all things were made) and negatively (he closes all other doors of misunderstanding) that without him was not anything made that was made.
B) The Word Was the Source of Life for the World (v. 4)
Now John makes the claim that life is found only in the Word: “In him was life” (v. 4). With this short phrase, John calls attention to the stunning truth that the Word is God and that as God he is the source of all life. All life here is derivative—it draws its life from him. All things were made and all things are sustained by his life.
This truth of the Son of God as Creator and Sustainer of life is a gloriously frequent refrain in the New Testament. The apostle Paul claims that “all things were created by him and for him” (Colossians 1:16). He says that “he is before all things and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17). Hebrews 1:1–3 is a remarkable parallel to John 1:1–4.
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.— Hebrews 1:1–3
C) The Word Was the Light of the World That Defeats the Darkness (v. 4)
Now John brings together life and light and paints the picture of a battle between light and darkness. Once again, he is following the creation narrative of Genesis 1, the original creation narrative featured darkness and light.
The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.—Genesis 1:2–3
In other words, the Word had to do battle with darkness before the creation. How did the light win? God’s spoken word! God spoke into the darkness and suddenly he spoke forth light. Everything came into being through God’s spoken word.
The relationship between life and light is also found in the creation narrative. Light makes it possible for life to exist in the days of creation that follow.
Verse 5 continues to use creation language. “The light shines in the darkness” (v. 5a). When did the light shine in the darkness? Genesis 1 is an obvious answer. There was light!
Then John adds that the darkness has not overcome it (v. 5b). The darkness could not overcome or overpower to the point of snuffing out the light. Quite the opposite: the light triumphed over the darkness. There was light and the next verse does not say “for a while, but then it went away.”
All of this talk about Genesis 1 and creation has a beautiful texture or multi-layer meaning. The language of creation anticipates the dawning of a new creation or what we often call “redemption.” Here is what I think John is doing. John pointed out that the Personal Word had to do battle with darkness before the creation event and now the rest of the Gospel will highlight that he has to do it again because now the darkness is tragically found within creation itself. Do you see the difference? The darkness was there before creation, now the darkness is there within creation. A new creation is needed—he will bring a new creation event of “let there be light.”
Transition: What He Did Foreshadows What He Will Do
John will return to this theme again and again. Indeed the Prologue has been called the driveway that suddenly gives you a glimpse of the great house that you are about to enter. As you drive closer, you continue to get a better view until you enter the house and the views become even better (image from N.T. Wright, John for Everyone). Listen to what John does with this theme of light/life and darkness/death.
And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.—John 3:19–20
Jesus is the light. He will do the works of light. And he will be hated for it and rejected because people love the darkness and will not come to him.
Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”—John 8:12
And Jesus cried out and said, “Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me. And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.—John 12:44–46
This light comes into the darkness to shine into it from the outside. That rules out all earthly saviors or sources of light and life. This is an important point because light and life are almost universal religious and cultural symbols. Many first-century Jews believed that the Law was a source of light and life for them (cf. 2 Baruch 59:2). More philosophical versions of light and life would be references to wisdom or insight (i.e., shed some light on the meaning of life). Many people put their trust in relationships or careers or money or health. If only we get the right job, get the right boss, elect the right politicians, find the right boyfriend or girlfriend or spouse, go to the right school, get the right grades, etc, etc.
Our problem is not merely what surrounds us, but what is within us. This really landed on one of my friends at a crucial point in life. My friend moved around a lot because problems kept coming up—so there was a transfer to a different school, a different job. Then finally my friend went to a different country. But halfway around the world, this person saw some similar problems coming again. Then the light suddenly broke: “The common denominator is me. I can’t escape my problems by going away from everyone because I take myself with me.”
The world says that the problem is outside of us and the solution is inside of us. The Bible says that the problem is inside of us and the Solution is outside of us. No judicial laws or government programs or educational initiatives can solve the world’s problems because they don’t have the power to really get at the root of the darkness in everyone’s hearts. It has to come from outside this world of darkness. The light of heaven has to invade the darkness of earth, just like God’s word invaded the original darkness from outside of it.
The promise of the Messiah is given explicitly to deal with the problem of darkness:
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone.—Isaiah 9:2
The coming of the light can change everything about us. We were children of darkness, but we can become children of light. Jesus makes this point so clearly in John 12:34–36.
Who is this Son of Man?” So Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.”
John’s introduction has already anticipated this moment.
The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.—John 1:9–12
Remember what John said about “in him was life”? That is not merely to remind us that he sustains the physical universe (in him all things hold together – he upholds the world by the word of his power). This is also true in the new creation:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.”—John 5:25–29
The sons of light will be raised from darkness to live in realms of light.
Come let us adore him for three reasons: (1) He is God, (2) He alone supremely reveals God, and (3) He alone saves.
1. He Is God (the Supremacy of Jesus)
Jesus is God! He alone is worthy of our worship. Here is a little glimpse into my own great sinfulness and the worship war that I fight daily: Sometimes I struggle with pride—not necessarily high thoughts of myself (though that sometimes happens). Pride is not thinking high thoughts of yourself or low thoughts of yourself—it is thinking lots of thoughts about yourself. Pride is self-absorption, self-obsession, self-fixation. You were not created for this excessive self-focus.
Therefore, when I feel the self-fixation coming on, I will often fix my thoughts on God. Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking about yourself less and about God more. One of my automatic rhythms of thinking that leads to awe is the thought that God had no beginning. Everything that we know had a beginning —except him. I know that he is without beginning or ending, but the beginning part is harder for my puny mind to wrap around because I can imagine you and I always existing. We are going to always exist—either in heaven or hell—forever enjoying glorious bliss or forever suffering endless torment. But I cannot imagine something never starting. He is eternal. No beginning.
The fact that Jesus is God is essential for our worship. We are all made in the image of God—but we are not the real thing. A painting of water is an image of water and can point to something real called water, but it can’t satisfy like water. You need the real thing. Jesus is God and so he is real water. He alone can really satisfy. (Imagery of the painting of water are from Martin Luther’s comments on this passage)
2. He Reveals God (The Exclusivity of Jesus Christ)
The essence of sin would be to reject the supreme revelation of God. The essence of true worship would be to receive this revelation and respond in accord to his worth. There is no split allegiance in our worship.
You can learn a lot about God from observing what he has made. The heavens are telling the glory of God. But what can you know about God with certainty? The idea of pluralism is really popular in our day. Perhaps some of you here today would ascribe to the tenets of pluralism. The popular word picture is the elephant analogy. People say that different religions are like different people touching different parts of an elephant. One says God is like a long hose or tube because they are holding the trunk of the elephant. Another says that God is more like the trunk of a tree—big and solid because he has a hold of the leg of the elephant. You get the picture.
The point people want to make is that they are all saying true things about the elephant, but none has the whole picture. But there are a couple of problems with this analogy. First, the way that it is told can sound very arrogant. Why is it that only the person describing the picture has the whole picture? Why do they alone know that it is an elephant? How do you get a God’s eye view that is bigger than everyone else so that you can clearly see and confidently declare that it is an elephant?
But second (and essential to our passage), everything changes if the elephant speaks! Someone says it is like this and the other says it is like this, but the elephant suddenly says, “I am an elephant.” That would be the right answer.
God has not given us an airtight argument to reveal who he is because an argument can never be absolute. He didn’t send a logical argumenth—he sent a Person as his Supreme Revelation. Jesus is the Word—he could not reveal himself in any greater way. Now here is what that means for us: The Word has come. The Word has spoken. We can’t really know God except through Jesus because supremely reveals who God is as the Word of God. That is the point of the whole Prologue—it is where John begins and where John returns at the end to wrap it up: God the one and only (the Word) has made him known.
3. He Brings Us to God (The Sufficiency of Jesus)
We need an almighty atonement. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Behold the character of God in the coming of Christ! He could have said, “all those sitting in darkness can stay in darkness.” The One who has the power to create the world, has the power to judge the world. And he will. But before that day of condemnation, the One with the power to create and judge the world, came into the world to save the world! And when he saves you, you doubly belong to him as an object of his amazing grace and love. You are already his by virtue of creation – he already owns you. Those in Christ are doubly owned.
That phrase “doubly owned” always reminds me of one of my favorite stories as a kid. I read about a little boy who labored with his father to build a ship. He took his little sailboat out on the dock of a big lake, and it ended up floating away from him. He rode his bike around that lake looking for his lost boat. He was heartbroken that he could not find it. One day he was at a local pawnshop with his dad and, lo and behold, he found his little ship. He quickly bought that beloved ship (even though the sail was torn and the paint was chipped) and on his way out the door declared with joy: “O you are now doubly owned. I made you and I bought you back.” When your Maker becomes your Redeemer, you are doubly owned!
All these things come together in the symbolism of the bread and cup. Christ our God came and gave himself as heavenly food. He alone is God so he can save and satisfy. And because he took on flesh and entered time and space, it is all real. Jesus came and really gave his body and his blood—not paintings, but the real thing. Just like the cracker is real and the juice real, so what they symbolize is real.
Main Point of John 1:1–18: The Word is the Supreme Revelation of God (vv. 1, 18).
Pray for a grace to believe and receive all that this passage says about Jesus and to rest in it.