The glory of his deity - John 1:1-18
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
Let me begin by reading you something a university student wrote down a few years ago, and see if it rings any bells with you and some of the things she says may well apply to you whether you are a student or not: 'All I ever wanted to be was successful! I wanted (1) to pass my exams, (2) to earn an enviably large annual income,(3) drive a GTi something or other, and (4) live in a large country cottage with Dave, Rob or whoever it happened to be. While sipping a drink (spiked by my friends) at a party, I fell to wondering just why it was that people preferred eating each other rather than the nibbles provided. I had encountered my first 'blip'. Was there more to life than this? Parties, money, sex, image? Soon I was awash with questions which led me to wonder where a God, if there was one, fitted into the picture. I went to church looking for answers, but left convinced that God was nowhere to be found. After a brief flirtation with New Age philosophies, I decided on a path of indifference. Making sense of life was a thankless task, too much hard work and disappointment. A month down the line at university, I was hit by a sudden renewed curiosity about God. Some friends in hall admitted to reading the Bible and chatted openly about God; they spoke as if they really knew him. Their values were upside down as far as I could see, trusting their God enough to live the way he wanted them to. I once heard them pray, and was moved to tears as they thanked God for his love and for 'sending Jesus'. There was much I didn't understand. I hadn't a clue about Jesus and decided that it was all getting a little bit too serious for me. I boycotted all things 'God like' for the next couple of weeks, but that didn't solve anything.'
I just love coming across someone who is as disarmingly honest as that don’t you? Now we shall be coming back to this student a little later on because her story doesn’t end there. But it may well be that some of the things she says does chime in with your experience. Perhaps you do have that sneaking suspicion deep down that there is something more to life-something beyond the ambition, the success, and the feel good factor which simply seems to elude you.
So for a moment I want you to think with me about three intuitive needs we all have and then see how those needs find their fulfilment in the opening passage of John’s Gospel as we encounter this magnificent, glorious Being called 'The Word'.
First, the need for love. We live in a society which sings about love, endlessly talks about love, makes films about love and yet seems to find it very difficult to actually say what love really is. And I don’t think that it would be too much of an overstatement to say that the word ‘love’ has been reduced to the word ‘sex.’ Just think about it. It’s almost an unspoken ‘given’ that any intimate 'relationship' must end up in bed. This is the dilemma of when ‘Harry met Sally’ or ‘Love Actually’. But why?
In part the answer is that with the loss of transcendent values- the spiritual sphere- everything has been reduced to the materialistic- so it is all a matter of feelings, hormones and urges. With Freud and D H Lawrence as our guides sex has been demystified to such an extent that love and sex become one. Indeed, the argument goes, to be fully human one must express oneself without restraint otherwise it is bourgeois and repressive- bad for you. So the scandal of premarital sex has been replaced by the scandal of virginity. Despite knowing about the dangers- teenage pregnancies, STD’s, AIDS, ruined relationships- it seems to make little difference, we still blindly rush on. And yet we feel strangely empty. The American Comedian Woody Allen summed it up when he said "Sex without love is an empty experience, but as far as empty experiences go, its one of the best'
But have you ever wondered what the origin of love is? Would you be surprised if I told you that we are given a hint as to the answer in vv 1-2 of John chapter 1? ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.’
This close friend and follower of Jesus, John, is saying that the ‘Word’, that is God's self-expression- the means of conveying what he really is like- is eternal. There never was a time when this Word did not exist; this Word been around from all eternity to all eternity. Also this Word is personal. The Word is not a ‘something’ but a ‘someone’. Here the original construction is important. When John says the 'Word was with God', he doesn't use the normal preposition for 'with', instead he uses a word which means 'faces towards' or even 'moves towards'. It’s a love relationship word. Most of us have seen those romantic movies which are a bit cheesy where the lovers are running towards one another with open arms along the beach, usually filmed in slow motion. That is the kind of picture being presented here-this ‘Word’ is a person moving out towards another person.
But what persons are we talking about? The answer lies in the fact that this Word is divine. This personal Word is identified as "God" himself. And immediately we are presented with something unique to the Christian faith-that God is triune, one God but eternally existing as three persons within a divine ‘family’ of Father, Word (or ‘Son’ as we shall see) and Holy Spirit. The diagram (1) on the screen is an attempt to illustrate this truth. There is One God but within the divine being you have three centres of consciousness, if you like, all equally divine. You see, God in his divine being has never lacked someone to love, some 'Other" as an object of love. A solitary God cannot be love, for to love you have to have someone to love don’t you? The lover has a beloved. And so this raises a very important question with regards to God: just who did God love before the world was made? The answer is given here: God has been able to love eternally within the dynamic community of his own being-the Father loving the Son, the Son loving and delighting in the Father through the interpersonal work of the Spirit who is love. It explains why the Christian can say God is love and has always been love in a way that the Muslim simply cannot. It explains why we can love too for in this way we are God-like, for we are made to love others and to be loved- made in God’s image. So it follows that we will only experience lasting value, lasting love when we are rightly related to God knowing his love in our lives.
Second we have the cry for meaning. Back in 1932 in his famous speech entitled “My Credo”, Albert Einstein said: ‘Our situation on this earth seems strange. Everyone one of us appears here involuntarily and uninvited for a short stay, without knowing the whys and the wherefore.” The actress Jessica Lang felt the same. “The main thing that I sensed back in my childhood,” she said, “was this inescapable yearning that I could never satisfy. Even now at times I experience an inescapable loneliness and isolation.” Do you sometimes feel like that? And this gut feeling, that we are somethings, not nothings, made for Someone more, drives us to ask the question: Why? According to the psychiatrist Victor Frankle, himself a victim of the Nazi concentration camp, ‘The will to find meaning is the primary motivational force in man.” We can’t help it we want to know why we are here. Sometimes we try and avoid it, but the question keeps returning to haunt us-maybe in the small hours of the morning, perhaps after a relationship has ended and certainly when faced with death and bereavement, we ask ‘What is it all about?’
Now we living in the 21st century have a ready made philosophy which tries to answer this question about meaning- it is called materialism. We are what we have. You are what you wear. Shopping has become more than a pastime it has been elevated to the status of a new religion. As a nation we have never had so much and yet never have we had so many who feel so empty. The reason is simple: it is not a material vacuum we have but a spiritual one. Sinead O’ Connor has put the matter bluntly, she said, 'As a race we feel empty. That is because our spirituality has been wiped out. As a result we fill that gap with alcohol, drugs, sex or money.' How do we account for this drive towards the material on the one hand and yet the unsatisfied spiritual hunger on the other? We are told in vv 3-4 ‘Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men.
The infinite- personal God through his personal Word has created all things: the material and spiritual dimensions of this universe. This is why Christians can affirm both the material world and the spiritual world. The material is not rubbish and second class, it is an expression of God’s own creativity; his signature is written on the very world he has crafted. If you were to go to St Paul's cathedral you will find the tomb of its architect, Christopher Wren. On that tomb, written in Latin you will read these words: 'Reader: if you seek his monument, look around you." Wren expressed himself and his genius in the mighty walls and dome of St Paul's. He didn’t need any other epitaph. In the same way, John is saying that God’s genius is expressed through the universe he has made via the Word -God's personal agency. Therefore, when you who are students of science find the most tantalizing patterns and order in natural phenomena, the Bible would say that it should not come as a complete surprise for an orderly God has made an orderly world. We live in a cosmos not a chaos, a glorious uni-verse not a fragmented multiverse. The unity and diversity of the world is a faint reflection of the unity and diversity of the Maker- one God as a family of three persons.
But there is even more to it than that. While material things have their place in life-food, clothing, sex, art, science and we can enjoy all of these things when used properly-the material is not all there is or even the most significant thing there is, for we are told in v 4, "In him was life and that life was the light of men." Here is something this Word and men and women have in common-it is called 'life". The word John uses isn’t the word to describe biological life -bios, it is the word which denotes the life principle- zoe- of or if you like, spiritual life-that which distinguishes humans from beasts. As a result we are moral beings sensing right from wrong. We are rational beings, not simply led by impulse but those who engage in creative thought. We are also religious beings having an innate sense that there is a greater being for whom we were made and so we must worship something. Most of the people living on this planet are not atheists.
But we also have a cry for truth. With Mulder and Scully we really do believe that the truth is ‘out there’ somewhere. The problem is in finding it. How can we little specks of stardust living on a pinprick of a planet in a galaxy of 100 billion suns in a universe of 150 billion galaxies ever begin to comprehend an infinite God? The fact of the matter is that by ourselves we can't. The gap is way too big. But what if God were to take the initiative to bridge that gap? What if this speaking God, this Word, became one of us in order to communicate with us in ways we could understand? Then we would be able to grasp something of him. He could then tell us why we are here and why things have gone so badly wrong and what needs to be done to put things right.
And you know, that is precisely John’s astounding claim- v 14 should knock our socks off- ‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. And then again in v 18- No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known. Literally he ‘narrated’ him to us. God is now knowable because of Jesus. Again you can see this in this diagram (diagram 2), the second person of the Trinity without ceasing to be God become a human being.
We encounter God, the divine Word which created us, in a historical person-Jesus of Nazareth. He is this Word. All that John has been saying has been leading up to this momentous climax. From all eternity there has existed this personal being called 'The Word'- God. Intuitively we are aware of him, creation testifies to him and the whole history of the Jewish people has been a preparation for him. But then he came some two millennia ago. While the creatures of earth went about their daily business quite unaware- what happened? Well, Divinity arrived. That is what happened in a specific locatable place at a specific datable time. Heaven opened herself and placed her most precious Being into the uterus of a teenage Jewish girl called Mary. The Omnipotent, in one instant, made himself breakable. The One who had been Spirit for all eternity became pierceable. When John says, ‘The Word became flesh’ he means that God became a foetus. He was given eyebrows, elbows, two kidneys, and a spleen. He stretched against the walls and floated in the amniotic fluids of his mother. God had come down you see. He was, while being completely divine, completely human. And do you know what that foetus was doing while he was kicking around in that womb? He was holding the universe in being. This is how one great Christian thinker, a man called Athanasius put it: ‘The Word was not hedged in by His body, nor did His presence in the body prevent His being present elsewhere as well….At one and the same time-this wonder-as Man he was living a human life, and as Word he was sustaining the life of the Universe, and as Son He was in constant union with the Father.’ Now I dare anyone to say that Christianity is boring? Mind blowing -yes, but boring? Never!
Then notice how John goes on to say that this Word- God the Son, ‘made his dwelling among us.’ For thirty-three years he would feel everything you and I have ever felt. He felt weak. He grew weary. He knew fear. He got colds, he burped, and he had smelly arm pits. His feelings got hurt. His feet got tired. His head ached. Jesus was divine, but he was very, very human too.
But what happened when he came? Here is the shocking thing: he was rejected, says John, alluding to his crucifixion-11.’He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.’ In chapter 19, Jesus suffers the death penalty at the hands of the Romans only to come back in the resurrection in a new, joyous, indestructible kind of life and to go back to heaven ruling the universe with his Father (diagram 3). The human God deals with the world's sin and suffering, the problem of life and death: this is what God is like: ‘full of grace and truth’ as John puts it. These events actually took place in a nation famous for its religious genius and under a government renowned for its efficiency. God was executed by the most religious folk around. His executioners made vulgar jokes about him, called him filthy names, they smacked him in the face, flogged him and hanged him like a lump of raw piece of meat on a butchers hook. And that is grace- Jesus undeservingly taking the punishment we deserve for the way we treat our Creator. Of course today we may not try to kill him with nails, but we do it with deeds, or by apathy, often by simply ignoring him and wishing him to be as good as dead and out of our lives. And as he is splayed out there on that cross we see truth. There is the sad truth about humanity, this is the sort of thing we do given the opportunity- we would murder our Maker. But we also see the wonderful truth about God; that he is a just God and a loving God- dealing with our selfish rebellion against him because for all who come to him he offers an amnesty- fresh start and a new heart. How does John put it in v12? ‘For all who received him, who believed on his name, he gave the right to become children of God.’ That is what it means to become a Christian: to reconnect with God through Jesus. It means God himself by His Spirit coming to live inside of you, Jesus says so, he talks about sending the Spirit of Truth to be with us for ever so that ‘you will realise I am in my Father and you are in me and I am in you.’ So as God is a community of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and we get properly connected to him, we become connected to each other in a new community, which is what belonging to church is all about. But let me tell you something, even that is nothing compared to the ultimate goal God has in view for us. And just what that is Jesus tells us in his prayer for his followers in John 17-listen to this, ‘Father, I want those you have given me to be where I am and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.’ God wants you to experience the highest joy attainable for any creature, to be enveloped by the beauty and majesty and goodness of God in Jesus Christ for ever. The goal is for us to be caught up in this (diagram 3) the cascading glory and love of God the Trinity. That is why The Word came down, so we could be lifted up.
And you know, that is exactly what our student found in her own experience. This is how she concludes her story: "I became more and more aware of how empty my life really was. As I was feeling the weight of 18 years worth of dirty linen on my shoulders, my friends spoke of how we have hurt a holy God with things we have done wrong. I'd been horrible to my Dad from year dot, selfish and greedy and felt completely trapped in the muck. When they explained how Jesus ,the Son of God, willingly died on a cross with my dirty linen on his back so that I could be forgiven, know God myself and be free to live a different life, I tried to climb out of the window to escape. But the plot made sense. I got down on my knees and sobbed. I talked to God and said I was sorry for everything and asked Jesus to be part of my life.'
Perhaps that is what you need to do. You may have some church background, but if the truth be known you do not know God personally. Maybe you have no religious background at all, but don’t let that stop you from coming to him, it didn’t stop people then and it shouldn’t stop people now. You could be a Christian, then what about making your life count for something in serving this great God whose name is Jesus?
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