The God who relates - John 1:1-18
I wonder if you have ever come across the American weekly Time Magazine? You may have seen it in a doctors waiting room or station newsstand. Time always prides itself on being up with the news even ahead of the game in terms of what is influencing society & the world scene. I wonder if they foresaw a body builder cum film actor cum businessman being appointed Governor of California! (Arnie Schwartzenegger)
Back in the mid 90s Time ran a feature on a new academic discipline which it claimed examines the source of the pervasive sense of discontent people in the modern world feel. The amazing discovery made by so-called "Evolutionary Psychology" is that "We are designed for trusting relationships & designed to feel uncomfortable in their absence."
The recognition that humans are designed is interesting in itself but the findings of this study that we are made for good relationships is surely something that deep down the human race has always known. Time Magazine in this situation is hardly ahead of the game rather catching up - & catching up particularity on what is very clear from the Bible's teaching.
Over the past 2 Sundays we've been considering the question "Who is the true God?" We've seen from the prophet Jeremiah in the OT that He is the Living God who creates & last week we were reminded again from the OT that He is the God who doesn't leave us in the dark he is the speaking God.
This evening we turn to the powerful & profound 4th book of the NT John's gospel as we recognize something else that is wonderfully true about the God who has made us that is, he is the God who relates.
Do turn to John 1 p1063. Let me read again the opening lines;
11In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning.
3Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4In him was life, and that life was the light of men.
This section is about the "Word". This perhaps seems a bit cryptic or mystical to our modern ears, but to those who 1st heard these lines there would have been no danger of misunderstanding. Many would have been familiar with the OT of the Bible with their Jewish heritage & would have known that God's "Word" is his creative, relational speech. God's word is his power in action. Through God's word his plans are brought to fulfillment. Indeed the very 1st words of the Bible in Genesis 1 (which John here is deliberately echoing) illustrate that God's word, is his statement of purpose which has power in itself to bring about what God plans. "God said 'let there be (light)' and there was (light)" Ps 33 6,9 "By the word of the Lord were the heavens made...he spoke & it [was done]".
In nutshell as someone (Packer Knowing God p56) has put it "The Word of God is God at work".
John was an astute author he knew anyone with a knowledge of the Bible would realize this about God's Word. He also knew than non-Jewish hearers Greeks - had a long tradition of the idea of Word or "logos" in their language. To them it meant the idea of divine reason the logic & intelligence behind the universe & it's natural wonders. The Logos was what made sense of what we see & feel. John touches base with different people to speak of something vital & we shall find these ancient words connecting with us as we look at them this evening.
What does John tell us about this Word? (See from sermon outline)
1. The Word shows us God Relates within Himself
Some of you will know I have recently returned from a period of study leave largely spent in Australia. One of the sights we visited was the Blue Mountains. They are a world heritage site on the western edge of Sydney & are famous for a rock formation called the 3 sisters if you know my family you can imagine our 3 daughters were pictured several times standing in front of them!
There is a recently commissioned cable car the sceniscender which takes tourists in trips from a cliff top down into the deep valley below. As you begin, you get a magnificent panorama over the rainforest-covered area in the bottom.
This opening section of John's gospel is rather like that cliff top view. John lays before us a panorama of the whole of his book themes & ideas are stated about the subject of the book which are developed as it goes on.
1st of all;
Word is eternal; v1 In the beginning was the Word
This Word had no beginning. The Word was not created. When other things began, the Word was.
This is underlined in that John tells us this Word was God the Father's agent in making everything v3Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. The Word was not made. This Word always was.
Word is a person v1 the Word was with Godv2 He was with God in the
beginning. The Word the power that is God at work, is not just a power. The Word is a "He" He has a distinct being as a person & He has a very close relationship with God v2 "He was with God in the beginning"
[Word is God v1] Yet the Word is more still v1 of John 1 is one of the
most significant in the whole Bible - "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.". As we've seen the Word is a person, related to yet distinct from, God the Father, yet he is as much God, as the God the Father is God!
If you didn't already know or you hadn't already guessed the identity of this "Word" eternal, personal, related to God, indeed Himself God, He is of course the one who became Jesus of Nazareth in time & space approx 2000 years ago.
No what we're seeing here is something massively important about God & about human beings.
God the Father is God. The eternal, always existing Word is God. And this Word is the one who teaches later on in John's gospel that (14:7) the "Spirit of truth" the "counselor", another, like Him, yet different would come to his followers in a new way. The Holy Spirit is God.
Here is the Bible's clear teaching about God usually referred to as God being in Himself a "Trinity". God is one & yet he is 3 persons; Father, Son & HS.
God is one & yet he has personal distinctions within himself. One of the most significant aspects of this truth about God, is that it shows us that God at the very core of his being is relational. God has always been in relationship.
Do you realize what this means about the true & living God of the Bible? God shares love within Himself, he communicates within himself. God did not invent relationships when he made human beings, he is himself a relationship. God is truly personal & relational.
What's more; God is Father, Son & Spirit & he has made humans in his relational image. That's why in the words of Time magazine "we are designed for trusting relationships & designed to feel uncomfortable in their absence." God is the model & pattern for all other relationships.
That God is a relationship from all eternity shows he doesn't need to relate to human beings for his own sake, yet because he loves, he longs to relate to us & he has gone to extraordinary lengths to make it possible. Brings us to 2nd point;
2. The Word shows us God wants to Relate to Us.
If you're a Christian here tonight you'll have noticed that there are certain questions or objections to Christian faith that seem to come up again & again. One of them is "I'd believe in God if I could see him."
Well, what we see here in Jn1 is that had you lived 2000 years ago in what is today the Palestinian West Bank or the Israeli Galilee region you could have seen him; 1st as a baby, unable to do more than lie & stare & wriggle & make noises, being fed & having his nappy changed!
Then as a young man apprenticed as a carpenter. Then as a man with a message showing & demonstrating in signs & sermons that he had great power & authority & had come that people might have life relationship with God - through Him.
v14 "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us."
God's Word, God in action, his self-expression has become flesh & blood, skin & bone. In what Melvin called last week the "greatest communications coup ever" God became a human being!
Have you considered what an incredibly humble action the incarnation, the in fleshing of God was?
It has been put like this by the poet Simon Jenkins;
"Like your boss up before you for an interview
like Beethoven queuing up for a ticket to his own concert,
like a professor sitting an exam,
like an admiral working in the boiler room,
like Picasso painting by numbers -
God lived among us."
The Word of God became a man & v14 "made his dwelling among us." Literally he "lived in his tent" amongst us - God in OT times had, at times, met with his people in a special "tent of meeting" an early temple (Ex25:9, 33;7) now God has moved to meet with his people in an astonishingly personal way he became one of them. God became one of us in our humanity, in every way except our sinfulness.
This astonishing truth turns what's usually seen as the whole religious
quest of humanity on its head. Just recently there was a radio programme about Religion in Britain called "The Long Search".
We think all religions have in common the human desire to find the divine we are searching for God.
The incarnation, God becoming man in Jesus, shows that actually the truth is that God has come looking for us it is His search. The "in fleshing" of the Word shows He has come Himself, to make relationship with us.
Another objection people raise to the Christian gospel is
"If God is loving, why does he allow hard things & suffering?" Well there's no easy answer, because though a huge amount of suffering is caused by us to each other, some remains a mystery.
Yet Jesus the Word become flesh - shows us that God doesn't just look on at us in our struggles & challenges - he has come to get involved in our messy world indeed he knows 1st hand what it is to suffer desperately & painfully. God relates to human beings but not from a distance he is the "Down to earth God" he can help us in our darkest moments.
Going to watch a sketch now. It's based on an idea by the author & academic CS Lewis; The Long Silence
Narr : At the end of time, billions of people were scattered on a great plain before God's throne. Some of the groups near the front talked heatedly & with belligerence;
A middle aged woman shouted;
1: 'How can God judge us? How can he know about suffering?'
Narr She jerked back a sleeve to reveal a tattooed number from a Nazi concentration camp.
1: 'We endured terror, beating, torture, death!'
Narr: In another group a child opened his shirt;
2: 'What about this
Narr: He demanded as he showed old scars and fresh bruises
2: 'Beaten for no reason but being a child. Hurt by the hands that should have cared until only death offered freedom'
Narr: Far out across the plain were hundreds of such groups. Each had a complaint against God for the evil and suffering He permitted in his world. How lucky God was to live in heaven where all was sweetness and light, where there was no weeping, no fear, no hunger, no hatred. Indeed, what did God know about what humanity had been forced to endure in this world?
ALL: AFTER ALL, GOD LEADS A PRETTY SHELTERED LIFE
Narr: In the centre of the plain they consulted! Each group sent out a leader, chosen because they had suffered the most.
There was a Jewish woman (1) an abused child (2) a man with AIDS, and someone from a soviet concentration camp.
At last they were ready to present their case.
It was rather simple; before God would be qualified to be their Judge He must endure what they had endured.
Their decision was that God ...
3 & 4: 'Should be sentenced to live on earth as a human being!'
Narr: But, because he was God, they set certain, safeguards to be sure He could not use His divine powers to help Himself.
1: 'Let him be born a Jew''
3: 'Let him be so just but so radical that it brings down upon Him the
hate and condemnation of every politician & religious group.'
4: 'Let him try to describe what no one has ever seen, tasted, heard, or
smelled. Let him try to describe God to people.'
5: 'Let him be betrayed by his dearest friends'
6: 'Let him be indicted on false charges, tried before a prejudiced
jury and convicted by a cowardly judge'
7: 'Let him see what it is to be terribly alone and completely abandoned
by every living thing'
8: 'Let him be tortured and let him die. Let him die the most humiliating
Narr: When the last had finished pronouncing sentence, there was a long silence.
No one uttered another word.
No one moved.
For, suddenly all knew ... God had already served His sentence!
There is a real sense in which God has served a sentence in his life on earth.
God the eternal Word became a human being & yet men & women to a person, including God's special people, rebelled against him & rejected him. That's the essence of the Bible's word "sin." John puts it like this;
v9The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.10He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.
The sombre truth is that whilst we humans long for trusting relationships as the Time Magazine researches concluded, Humanity still aches for what seems an illusive intimacy. John shows us that is because, though we were made for relationship with God through Jesus the Word, we have rebelled against Him & broken the fundamental connection that should orientate our lives.
That failure to receive the Word made flesh as the one making God known, lead to his rejection & in the words of the sketch "most humiliating" death.
Jesus speaks of his death on a cross in Ch 3:14 "Son of Man must be lifted up" he says. Jesus died & yet that death was a victory, a "glorification" for he died, as his relative John the Baptiser recognizes in 1:31 he is, "The lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world".
Jesus death on the cross (that we commemorate & thank God for tonight as we share bread & wine) is the reason guilty rebels can be received into relationship with God. Indeed because Jesus, the Word made flesh, bore in himself the consequences of human rebellion against God, God who relates within Himself has found a way to share relationship with human beings & draw us into his life. The closest of relationships with God is possible;
v12 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God-- 13children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God.
Those who "receive" Jesus & "believe in his name"; those who acknowledge who he is, who trust him for what he has done & gratefully seek to give him their allegiance, the Word made flesh, gives the rights & privileges of family. He makes those who rely on Jesus, God's very children!
What's your attitude this eve to this Word made flesh? Are you still holding
him off, are you shying away from the light he brings because you know you are not with him? Stop failing to recognize Jesus, don't miss your opportunity to turn to him, to come home to God!
Whilst we were in Australia we went on several country walks & saw evidence of some bush fires that ravage the countryside from time to time. Usually these are not serious, but sometimes they get out of hand & destroy homes & even lives.
There is a story of a small boy in the Sydney area who was walking beside his parents while they sifted through the charred remains of their family home. A news reporter asked the boy what he was going to do now he no longer had a home.
The boy slipped his hand into his Father's hand & looked up at the reporter & replied "Oh Mister you've got it all wrong, I may not have a house, but I've sure got a home!"
True belonging, being "at home", true relationship, starts when you slip your hand into the hand of the Word, the eternal, personal, divine agent of creation who became flesh in Jesus of Nazareth.
When you receive him & all that he's done, the God who relates, gives you the fundamental relationship we were designed for, the relationship we were designed to feel uncomfortable without.
That's really being at home, that's true relationship!
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