JOHN 1 v 1-5: Introduction to the Gospel of John
New year new series. In the first months of 2021 we will be looking at the early chapters of possibly the most loved book in the Bible. I found myself greatly challenged over Christmas concerning church vision for 2021 and the main themes which have been laid on my heart are the distributing of our God-given hope to many in this town experiencing hopelessness. The other concerns the strength of our church community and how we can demonstrate that more fully to others and around us.
What an exciting start to a book! When I was young, I used to read thrillers by Alastair MacLean and his books always began in the heart of the action. None of his books ever brought me the excitement that the opening chapter of John 1 does .
You may have been at a lecture where the speaker gave you a summary of what he or she were going to talk about in their first few words and then proceeded to flesh out their initial statements. This is what the apostle John does here. Now this book was possibly one of the last to be written of all the New Testament and, as with the other three Gospels, there are specific reasons why John decided to write this account and how he wrote it. The first Gospel to have been written was probably Mark's and when you read this it is all short sentences, lots of activity, it is written as a tabloid and generates excitement in its reader. Matthew was principally writing to Jews, Luke to Gentiles and John wrote to emphatically state that Jesus Christ is God, co-equal in the Trinity with the Father and the Holy Spirit: not a sub-god, not just a great man, not a step along the way to the great Unknown God-as the popular and influential Gnostics were pronouncing- but God come down, made flesh fully human (not just dressed up as a man), fully God: a greater mystery than man or woman could ever imagine.
John's story then is simply about God, the glory of His character, the nature of His life and His desire to share that life with His creatures. He plunges us immediately into the heart of the revelation by giving in the opening verses clues as to what we are to watch out for in reading the next twenty-one chapters.
John echoed the beginning of Genesis in his opening words and emphasises the role of the Word in creation, nothing was made without Him, everything was created through Him! The Word existed before creation and had an equal relationship with God the Father, one with Him, essential to the effective working of the Godhead. Another central theme in John's Gospel is the relationship between the Father and Jesus Christ: ''I can do nothing on my own'', declares Jesus later in the Gospel. The two are one, yet the Word, as we will read in the next verses, has come to live on earth.
We can never completely turn away from the world, as the Word has chosen to live here; we can never reject our bodies, because the Word took on human form.
John 1 v1-5: ‘The Word made flesh’. Remember the holiday journeys to the seaside? When you were young, it was all about who would see the sea first and then suddenly there it is in all its glory! When we read the opening verses of John’s Gospel, we are given a vision of the full breadth of God’s love. Matthew and Luke start their Gospels with the genealogy of Jesus, Luke going back to Adam, but John goes back even further to the dawn of time! The Word was there, creating and in intimate union with God. As we read further, we discover that John is speaking of Jesus as The Word, but why does he call Him by this title? Well, it could be that, as God spoke and it came into being according to Genesis 1, so God has spoken again through His incarnate Son, Jesus. We all I am sure know how powerful words are for good or for harm! The words of encouragement that makes someone’s day or words full of malice that can wreck someone’s confidence. In addition, it was John’s way of making relevant the good news of Christ to both Greeks and Jews. The Greek philosophers revered the Word as the supreme rational thought, to the Jews the Word initially meant the Torah, the books of the Law, but it also became the commonly used expression which the Jews used in the synagogues when there was an alternative which had to be employed instead of using Yahweh, which for them was an unmentionable Name. Jesus Christ as the Word, God’s creative power, His wisdom, the reason for all things- Colossians 1 v15-17: ‘The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.’ The first five verses of John’s first chapter are written in a way that could be interpreted as compatible with various ancient thinkers. John was speaking to those from vastly different cultures to the Judaism of Jesus’ life. They not only had a different upbringing, but they also thought in a quite different way to the Jews. However, it has been estimated that by the time John wrote this Gospel there were 10,000 Greek Christians to one Jewish Christian! It was of huge importance that the Good News of Jesus should be relevant to all! Imagine being a Greek reading through this passage: You have been quite happy seeing the Word as something abstract and woolly, then He becomes flesh-all that is natural, fallen, superficial, decaying- an obscenity: the challenge of accepting that God in Christ should not only reveal His divine glory through the flesh, but in it! Jesus did not put on humanity as you would a costume, but He became human- mentally, emotionally, physically! He limited Himself so that He could redeem us! So, how does these verses affect us today? 1. Jesus is fully God. We are told by the writer to the Hebrews that Jesus is ‘the exact imprint of God’s very being’. We recognise that Jesus was unique. Nobody else could have rescued us from eternal death, no matter how well meaning. Because He is God, He alone could provide the once-for-all sacrifice of which Lamb sacrifices were only a shadow. There are many today who quite happily accept that Jesus was a great man and an example to follow, but I am afraid that is no good, it is not enough to make us holy! The recognition that Jesus is God is essential to our salvation! 2. Jesus was fully human. He was not God dressed up as a man, he ‘emptied himself’ to make himself like us. Why is this so important? We say that Jesus was God incarnate and that means to live exactly like those you have come to live amongst. It has become quite a trend for Christians to live incarnationally amongst those to whom they would witness, whether in inner city Manchester or in the slums of Calcutta, because there is the recognition that otherwise your message is not very effective. To have an escape clause where one can always retreat to a hotel will mean that your message is not taken seriously. Jesus came and lived as a weak, frail human; he needed to eat and drink, sleep, and rest, he cried and was full of joy just like us, because he was one of us. If we do not accept this then how can we know that Jesus understands us and accepts us as we are? 3. The challenge for us then is to have a faith that ‘walks the walk’ as well as ‘talking the talk’. You may know your Bible passages, you may have all the theological questions answered, but if you are not living out your faith from day to day then it is no good! James tells us this in James 2 v 18: ‘someone will say: you have faith, I have deeds. Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds’. What we believe about Jesus must affect our living; it must be a lived-in, honest faith! If we lose sight that Jesus was fully human then we may come to seek only supernatural healing and reject conventional medical help, we may wait solely for supernatural guidance and forget that we have been created rational humans who can make decisions rationally. If we lose sight that Jesus is God then we may neglect prayer and lose any expectation of God’s transforming work, redeeming hopeless situations. 4. Back to my vision for us for 2021. There will be things we can do as a church and things which we are challenged to do as individuals. How can we, or you and I spread the hope we enjoy in Christ? How can we encourage those who struggle for lack of community to join ours?