Jesus the Word - John 1:1-18
How do you get to know someone? If you have teenaged children, and you're
used to having to negotiate to use the phone, you know the answer to that question.
We get to know people by talking to them. Or, rather, to be more accurate,
by listening to them. There comes a time when we have to stop talking ourselves
and listen if we're to find out what people are really like.
Suppose you wanted to get to know me. Someone might. How would you go about it? You could wait for my autobiography. I can only say it will be a very long wait. More profitable would be to talk to my friends - there are some who fall into that category. Of those, my wife and children and parents would be the most useful to talk to. But, sooner or later, you'd need to talk to me, if you really want to know me. And you'd have to listen to me talk about myself - my loves and dislikes, my hopes and fears, and so on. I'm sorry if that doesn't sound very appealing. It's just the way it is if you want to get to know someone.
What about if we want to get to know God? The atheist would reply straight away that it's impossible because there's no god for us to know. The agnostic would be less sure: "I don't know if there is a God, let alone how to get to know God. I just don't know." The pagan would say that God is to be found in nature and so we must get in tune with our surroundings. New Agers say that we're all gods: what we must do is find ourselves and then we've found God.
But what does God himself say? That's what we really need to know. John opens his Gospel by dropping a great boulder into the pool of our agnosticism and relativism. This boulder doesn't just cause a few ripples, which eventually die away and leave the pool unchanged. This boulder, with all its certainty and absoluteness drives all the water from the pool, so that nothing is quite the same again. What is that boulder? verse 18:No-one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known. God has made himself known and we can know him for ourselves.
This verse is the climax to John's Prologue. Here's the end of his Introduction. He wouldn't want us to read the rest of his book without knowing what he has to say here. So let's make sure that we do know it....
1. The Need for the Word What word? The Word refers to God's self-revelation - just as we reveal ourselves with words. We make ourselves known by speaking. And when we speak we speak words - at least most of us do. So, the Word is God speaking and making himself known. And because it's The Word, it's final and definitive - nothing more needs to be said about God than that. That's how John opens his Gospel: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Right away he raises the possibility of knowing God. That's what his Gospel's all about.
We need this Word from God because, left to ourselves, we know nothing about God and can't work him out. No-one has ever seen God. When the first Russian cosmonaut returned to earth after his trip into space, he delighted his atheist masters by triumphantly declaring that he hadn't seen God while he was up there. It was a clever remark, even if it didn't really fool anyone. But it wasn't a new comment or idea. It was actually thoroughly Christian. If he'd known that, he wouldn't have said it. The Bible would have told him he wouldn't see God there. John had said it almost two millennia earlier.
But, wait a minute, didn't some of the Old Testament people see God? Especially Moses - what about him? To an extent, he did see God, but he was told, you cannot see my face, for no-one may see me and live. We're told he saw God's back - a figure of speech, a picture, to tell us that he didn't see God in his fullness, but only in part - his back, not his face. At twilight, the light we see is still the light of the sun. But it's nothing compared to the full brightness of the noonday sun. Moses saw the twilight and that was wonderful enough. But in God's Word, that is Jesus, we see the noonday sun, not the twilight - God's face and not just his back.
We need this word from God. We just can't make God out for ourselves. We can't do an experiment to observe God and see what he's like. Science can do wonderful things, but it can't show us God. Here's the problem. Verse 3: Through him (the Word) all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. Here he's talking about the Word. Even the Word is beyond us unless it (he!) chooses to come to us. Just notice the verbs here. While the word was, everything else was made. The Word was: always there, eternally, with God. The world wasn't always there, it was made. That's the big problem with evolutionary theory: when it rules out the possibility of creation from nothing. We speak of people being creative - not that I am, but some people are. They can work wonders with a few colours, a brush and a canvas. Put most children in a room with paper, glue, paint and pens and they will create something - even if you have to ask what it is. Put the most brilliant artist in an empty room and ask them to create something with no raw materials and they will look at you as if you're mad. But that's what God did through his Word. He made the world from nothing. How can we make out a God like that?
We have another problem, though, in working God out. We don't actually want to know him. What am I saying? Christian students recently conducted a Belief Survey among their fellow students here. The final question was: "Would you want to know God if it were possible?" The great majority answered 'Yes'. (I suppose you could hardly say 'No'). But I have my doubts. The fact is, that even when God is knowable, and he makes himself known, and invites us to know him, we walk away from him. Verses 4-5: In him (the Word) was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. We're in the dark as human beings because we've turned our backs on God. Even when he shines the light of his Word into the darkness, we still prefer the darkness. Not that our refusal affects the light, which keeps shining. But it shows our problem is even more serious.
Left to ourselves, we just can't work God out. We desperately need his Word. Left to ourselves, we don't even want to know God. We desperately need his Word if we're to know him at all.
2. The Qualifications of the Word So, is there someone who can do the job? Can the Word do the job of making God known? What's his CV like? Does he have the qualifications? We'll see that he's uniquely qualified to make God known - and we'll see that no-one else could do the job.
He's called God the One and Only. He's in a class of his own. There is nobody like him. He's the only one who is Son of God by nature. God has other children. Many of us here know the privilege of being his children. But we're children by adoption. We've been grafted into God's family, as a special favour. Jesus is the One and Only, the only one who has a natural right to be there. God's Son by nature.
Verse 14 makes it plain that this One and Only is the same person as the Word: The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. We're talking about Jesus. Although his name hasn't been used, that's who's in view. He is the Word made flesh, God become Man. There is no one else in that category.
He is eternal, in the beginning was the Word. As Athanasius put it: There never was when he was not. He was with God and he was God. As someone else has put it, God is Christlike and in him is no unChristlikeness at all. There is no God, as it were, behind the back of Christ, so that he has hidden something of himself which we cannot know in Jesus. He's all there. There's no other God to be known than the one we know in Jesus.
John brings this out further by saying that he's at the Father's side, that is on the Father's breast. It's a picture of the deepest intimacy and affection, as if the Son is leaning back so that the Father can share his deepest secrets with him. We sometimes hear on the news that "a source close to the Prime Minister has revealed" such and such. Here we have a source close to God. In fact, you cannot get closer to God than he is. He is God himself. He knows what's on God's mind. He knows what God wants. He knows what God's like.
You cannot think too highly of Jesus. It's all too easy to think too little of him, to shrink him to something our feeble human minds can manage. Don't do it. It's one of the problems of TV or film portrayals of Jesus. How can you possibly portray what we see of Jesus here? He has the qualifications to make God known, all right.
3. The Achievement of the Word Jesus isn't just qualified, he's done it. He has succeeded in making God known. Literally, he has 'exegeted' God - the same word we use for making plain and clarifying what a text means. Jesus has done that for God. If we want to know what God is really like, we're to look at Jesus. When God opened his mouth, out walked a person: Jesus of Nazareth. When God spoke a word, he spoke a person: Jesus Christ.
Notice that John says he has made him known. It's happened. It's in the past. It's been done. God has revealed himself. It's completed. Before Jesus, it was only partial, now he's finished the job. There's no more of God to be known than has been made known in Jesus.... The Jesus of the Gospels.
It seems rather mundane to mention John the Baptist (not to be confused with the apostle John who wrote the Gospel) in the midst of the lofty language of the Prologue. Yet it's central to the message. This Jesus, this Word, appeared in history. The Word became flesh. There are witnesses who will tell us about him. And here's the first. His name is John. There's no other God than the one made known in Jesus. And there's no other Jesus than the one made known in the Bible, the Jesus of history.
We've just had our week of outreach to the parish, 'Jesus 2000'. The title reminds us that what happened 2000 years ago determines what we believe today. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. He has made God known. And the way we come to know God today is by listening to what God said about himself then. And if I insist on looking for God elsewhere (in nature, or in myself, or in a religious experience, or in the church as an institution, or in my mind, or wherever else), it's not a sign that I'm looking for God at all. It's evidence that I don't really want to know him at all.
I've learned the hard way that I'm not much good at playing hide-and seek with children. The problem is that I take it too seriously, I'm too competitive. It's no problem when I do the seeking. It's all over pretty quickly. The problem comes when I do the hiding. Because I keep hiding in places where I can't be found - like on the window-sill behind the curtain. It's taken me years to realise that, when you play hide-and-seek with young children, the whole point is to be found, and quickly. They don't want to be separated from you for more than 30 seconds.
God is not playing hide-and-seek with us. He's not hidden himself from us. He has made himself known through his Son. If anyone's hiding, or trying to (as if we can hide from God), it's us.
That raises this question: how will we respond to God making himself known?
Will we reject his offer of friendship, or will we reject it? Suppose you're chatting with someone after the service and you suddenly find that they're looking over your shoulder, searching for someone they'd rather go and talk to. You know they aren't really interested in friendship with you It's the same with God. If we want to know God as he is, we must listen to what he says about himself. That means listening to Jesus and accepting him. Sadly, most people choose to reject him, Verses 10-11: 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognise him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. That refers primarily to the Jews of Jesus' own day, but they're hardly the only ones who refused him. Adam and Eve set the pattern for the whole human race when they refused to let God be their God. They preferred to try and manage without him. Israel followed in their steps - and we've all tried treading the same path ever since. Like the Olympic athlete who will have nothing to do with the coach who trained her to stardom - and not only trained her, but was the one who rescued her from the slums to bring her up as his own daughter. But to ignore Jesus like that is not only ingratitude, it's spiritual suicide. He is light, so to reject him means we'll forever remain in the darkness, without any clear direction. He is life, so to reject him is death, which in the end means hell, forever without God. But it's possible to welcome God's invitation to friendship. Verse 12: Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. You may have heard in the news how very hard it is for a child to get adopted in this country, the rules are so strict. It's far easier to be adopted as a child of God. There's only one condition to fulfil. Receive Jesus, believe in his name - and you will know God. You'll be his child and live with him forever. Jesus has done it. He has made God known.
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