The Word - John 1:1-18
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
When most Christians read the first 18 verses of John’s Gospel they
do not immediately think about the American detective Columbo. For those of
you not acquainted with this intelligent sleuth let me provide you with an
Columbo was an American crime TV series starring Peter Falk as Lieutenant Columbo. Columbo was a homicide detective with the Los Angeles Police Department. He was shabby and apparently slow-witted. But in each episode the bumbling detective lulled the criminals into a false sense of security and solved the case by picking up inconsistencies in a suspect’s story.
Like many other TV programmes it was pretty trashy but unlike most other detective programmes Columbo began by showing the viewer who committed the crime. In most of the others we need to piece together the clues and try and work out who did it. But in Columbo the viewer knows exactly who did it right from the beginning. We know something that Columbo is not aware of and we must watch him trying to discover what we already know.
The first 18 verses of John’s Gospel begin like this.
Throughout the Gospel various people are trying to work out who Jesus is. They examine what he says and what he does. They look at his words and his works.
What is the best fit for the evidence before their eyes?
Along the way various suggestions are made by all sorts of people. Teacher? Prophet? Christ? Madman?
You will remember the great climax when Thomas confesses Jesus as My Lord and My God. Jesus does not respond by saying you’ve got it all wrong. He accepts his worship.
Why did it take you so long? Reason we get so frustrated is because right at the beginning of the Gospel we are told an amazing truth about the identity of Jesus that everyone else must discover for themselves.
Ready for it? John tells us that Jesus of Nazareth was the Word.
Why the anti climax? The reason is because we don’t know who this Word is. We hear his name ‘The Word’ but there are no associations which leap into our mind.
Bit like if I said Priscilla White is planning to visit us later this evening. It would be very different if I said Cilla Black.
Or suppose tonight in the coffee lounge I promised I could introduce you to Harry Webb, how would you respond? It would be very different if I said Cliff Richard!
Some names have associations. What we need are the associations. That’s what John gives us in these first 18 verses.
So he will tell us that Jesus is the Word but first of all he tells us more about who this Word is.
If you look at your handout you’ll see that three things are communicated about this person called the Word.
1. The Word existed before the world (Vs 1-2)
2. The Word created the world (Vs 3-4)
3. The Word sustains the world (Vs 5)
First of all, we are told that the Word existed before the world.
Verses 1 and 2 are read every Christmas in many churches around the world but they frequently leave people mystified about their meaning.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.”
All sounds very nice and seems to fit the mystical occasions of many Christmas carol services. Imagine the scene. The candles are on the pews, the choir have been dazzling us with their repertoire and then a posh voice reads from 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.”
In the cold light of day, what does this mean?
Let’s see if we can work it out.
Suppose to think about the creation of the universe. John begins like Genesis. And yet there is a different. Genesis says, “In the beginning God…” whereas John begins, “In the beginning was the Word.”
At first glance we may think the Word is simply another name for God but that’s not what John says. He goes on to say that this person called the Word was with God in the beginning.
Then the next thought should be, well maybe this word is an angelic creature, created at some point prior to the establishment of the physical universe.
But John will not allow this conclusion to stand. He also says, “the Word was God.”
What is he talking about? He is not trying to confuse us or give us a sore head. He is attempting to communicate the truth about our Creator in words we might be able to understand.
Two dangers to avoid. We can understand nothing. We can understand everything.
God is more complicated than we think. That’s okay. Our minds are very small and lots of things are more communicated than we think.
God is much more like a divine family than a lonely individual or an impersonal force.
Not like the force in Star Wars. Some vague power than is either inside us or able to be tapped into. Terrible – we would then need techniques to relate to this force and not a relationship. The appeal is that we are still in control of our decisions but it becomes so impersonal whereas personal relationships are the best things about human existence.
Not a lonely individual in the sky who is starved of relationships before he created human beings.
Instead he is a divine community – consisting of three distinct but not separate persons- who we normally refer to as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
We will express this view later in the service in the words of the creed but here in John’s Gospel we begin to see the building blocks of such a belief.
When John says before anything was created there was a relationship existing between God the Father and this person called the Word.
I’ll explain later why he is referred to as the Word and not the Son.
He is affirming that the Word, the second member of the Trinity, was eternally with God the Father – that’s who he is referring to when he says God for the first time in the sentence.
Then he affirms that the Word is God. He doesn’t mean that the Word is God the Father. That wouldn’t make any sense. He means the Word is fully divine. The godness of the Father resides in him. He is on the same side of the creator/creature divide as God the Father.
No mention of the HS in these verses but from the rest of the Bible and in particular John’s Gospel we see that there is a third member of this divine community.
I like to think of God like a divine family. The danger of this way of thinking is separating the three so they become three separate gods and not three distinct persons who make up the one God. But that’s the danger I would rather be faced with because I find this way of talking about God more helpful and I would argue is more biblical.
Does any of this matter? Yes it does. Must deal with the Bible evidence. Also, relationships are what we value most. Why? What view of the world coheres with reality? What view makes sense of our experience? God as a relationship of three persons explains why relationships are so vital for us.
Some of us need to reject the Western view of self-sufficient independency and commit ourselves to loving and self-supporting relationships. Whether this be in the local church, with friends or the more intimate relationship of married life.
God is a relationship of three persons. One of these is referred to in John 1 as the Word.
What has he been doing all this time? Listen to what we are told in verses 3 and 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 Word was responsible for creating the world. Positively – all things were made through him. Negatively – without him nothing was made that has been made. All life that has ever existed or will ever exist owes its conception to this person called the Word.
I love the picture language of verse 4. The use of life and light. We all know that for any life to survive on the planet we need the light of the sun. Without it we all die.
Life within the Word burst forth as the light necessary for humanity to emerge in God’s drama.
Wrong thinking about the Trinity. As if the Father had his part for the first few thousand years and then the Son for thirty and then the Spirit has his period now. This is not how it works. All three are involved in every activity.
Creation – Father planned it all (the author). The Son announced the plans (as the Word – one of the reasons why he is called the Word. Remember in Genesis 1 God speaks to create) and then the Spirit accomplished the work and set it all into motion.
Redemption – Father sent the Son. Son died on the cross, empowered by the Spirit. Father sends the Spirit to enable people to follow Jesus as Lord.
People frequently say there is a God shaped gap in our lives. More precise – there is Word shaped gap that only Jesus can fill.
Not simply that the Word was involved in creating the world but, according to verse 5, he is also responsible for sustaining it.
“The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.”
Light has different meanings depending on its place within the Bible. In John it frequently means revelation, knowledge that is required to guide those who are in darkness towards the truth.
But here I think we are still supposed to be thinking about the light required for human beings to survive.
The light continues (present tense) to shine. The Word continues to sustain the world he has created. Every breath we take is a gracious gift from the Word.
What is the darkness? It is the moral darkness of rebellious humanity. Although we are created and sustained by the Word we choose to ignore him and not acknowledge his provision. We choose not to understand his influence in our lives.
Our minds are so corrupt. We should see so much more in creation. At the very least God’s power and order. But how much more should we see that we don’t? Why? Because the rebel’s nature is to suppress what is true.
Happens in many ways. As a society and as individuals. We reap what we sow.
Amazing claim is that the Word continues to sustain his world, a world that has rejected him.
Staggering enough but what we are told next is completely mind blowing: The Word entered into the world.
The way is prepared in verses 6-9. “There was a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.”
Why all this talk about John the Baptist? We are moving into the historical arena.
Why am I a Christian? Is it because I need help? Is it because I need a community? Is it because I need forgiveness? Is it because I need a crutch? Is it because I need help? Yes to all. But supremely it’s because of the historical evidence.
The eternal Word was preparing to come into the world he had made.
All sorts of questions. Why? What would happen when he did?
We begin to get some answers in verse 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.”
Not always had much luck with fancy dress. Tell story of church party when I went to Mass dressed as Inspector Gadget.
Problem here is not that Jesus is trying to conceal himself but that people don’t want the light of Jesus to shine on their dark deeds. It’s a moral issue – then and now. People reject him because they don’t want him to be the ruler in their lives.
Yet don’t you love verses 12 and 13. “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”
There were some who chose to follow Jesus – both then and now.
How? They received him. They trusted him. And the divine side – they were born by God. Regenerated. This is true born again Christianity. They choose Jesus. God chooses them.
At this point we have not been told how the Word was in the world and who he was. At various points in the OT God appeared to his people – these are called theophanies.
But verse 14 is radical and unique. “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.”
Word for dwell is tabernacle. Literally he pitched his tent. Memory of the OT. But what is radical and new is that this Word became flesh and dwelt among people.
For some ‘spiritual’ people the body is a prison to be liberated from. God takes the body seriously. The physical world is a good thing. Helps us think properly about the new creation when we will have new resurrection bodies and live with the glorious Trinity in the New Creation.
John says that those who encountered the word saw his glory. All about his true character, what he was really made of.
I love what he points out – grace and truth. He came with both those qualities. It is possible to have one without the other but one on its own leaps to dangerous distortion of the Christian message.
Possible to get the OT wrong as if it was a bad time. Why I love verses 15-18.
“John testifies concerning him. He cries out, saying, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’” From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (first mention of Jesus). No-one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side has made him known.”
Law was a great blessing but now an even greater blessing has occurred because the eternal Word has come to reveal who God really is.
Explains why the second person of the Trinity is referred to as the Word. In his relation to the Father he is frequently called the Son. In his relation to the world he is referred to as the Word.
Words are all about communicating. This is the heart of the Word’s mission. He does much more than this but what is emphasised here is his mission of revelation.
Here is a truth we need to remember when people say I need to see in order to believe. How can I be sure that God really exist?
God is not playing hide and seek. He sent his only Son to seek out the lost and reveal himself to a rebellious people.
But what about today? Will God appear visibly to people in order to convince them?
Come with me as we finish to the end of the Gospel. John 20:24-31.
These are written to convince. See the three stages. Evidence, faith and life.
Like a jury which has never seen the events. They hear the witnesses and decide if they are reliable. Then make up their minds.
This is to be our confidence. Live a good life but have trust in the power of God’s chosen means to convince people. Invite folk to Christianity Explored. Take a risk and put the evidence before people to investigate. And if we do we will have the joy of witnessing many more people finding life in Jesus. Let’s pray.
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