Read John 1:1-18
The gospels tell the same basic
story in four very different ways. One place where these differences are put on display is in what we call the Christmas
distinguishes himself by not treating it at all—he moves right into the
beginning of Jesus’ ministry 30 years later. Matthew writes his narrative of the
birth of Christ showing how each major event fulfills various Jewish Messianic prophecies about this King of Israel. Luke, as a historian
seeking to give an “orderly account,” gives the most detailed rendering of the
events surrounding the birth of Christ.
In John’s version, he writes more as a theologian
than a historian and he focuses on what we call the incarnation—“God became flesh and dwelt among us.” His account is not character-driven
or event-driven—it is driven by the cosmic spiritual realities that
lie behind the people and events.
John structures the first part
of his letter like a composer would write an overture to a Broadway musical.
He introduces the key themes
of the book by giving us brief glimpses of the
themes he will develop more fully later on.
John expresses those themes through
imagery that he conveys through words like “light” and “life” and “darkness” and “witness” and “truth.” Those are all very big
ideas for John and he introduces them here in his prologue.
One example of John’s use of imagery is in the
first verse of chapter one. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” We know from verse 14
that John is speaking of Jesus through this image of “the Word.” So why doesn’t
he just call him “Jesus?” Why
does he call him (in the Greek) “the
the beginning was “the Logos…” Why?
The big reason is because he is trying to communicate that the
Person who took on flesh in Mary’s womb was much more than the supposed
son of a Jewish carpenter. The
first four verses of John tell us that our fundamental understanding of that babe in Bethlehem
should NOT be…as a babe in Bethlehem—as wonderful
as that is for us to think about. From these verses, it’s clear that John’s burden
is to communicate that the
One who became Jesus of Nazareth is also the Creator and Redeemer…God.
The first four verses of John basically teach one thing about Jesus and
John says this in several ways.
First, in his transparent parallel with the opening verses of Genesis. John very carefully
chooses how to open his gospel and when he consciously chooses to open his letter with “In
the beginning was the Word…”
he prompts us to see the parallel with Genesis’ “In the beginning, God…” When
John says “In the beginning
was the Word,”
he is boldly claiming that Jesus is God because he shares an absolutely unique attribute of God alone and that
is his pre-existence. The
Word existed before anything. Whenever
you plot the beginning of time or creation or the
universe—the Word was already there. He was pre-existent. “In
the beginning was the Word…” John also reveals Jesus’
deity in the second phrase, “and
the Word was with God.” The
idea is one of intimacy with God. The God his Jewish readers knew…was not alone in his existence before creation. He had company doing
whatever he did before the creation of the universe.
There was someone with him—someone else who was not created. We know the Word was
not created because when the creation occurred, he was already there.
In the third phrase, John states
in concrete terms the identity of the
Word when he says, “the Word was God…” In the
Greek language, like English, there is always more than one way to
say something. John
could have communicated the truth that the Word was God using a variety
of grammatical styles and word orders. The way he chooses to word this however, is the
one way that most clearly, most unambiguously, most emphatically communicates that this One called the
“Word” is in fact God. That’s
why it is nothing less than blasphemous to claim, as the Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses do, that this phrase in
John 1:1 is anything less than a naked, brazen claim that the Word [Jesus]
is God. Any
attempt to read this, “the Word is a god” or something less than a transparent statement affirming that Jesus is God is an
intentional distortion that violates elementary rules of Greek grammar.
Of all the New Testament writers,
John most clearly and repeatedly states that Jesus Christ is God and he reveals here that a big purpose of this
letter is to teach that. He
states it right here in the first sentence of his prologue.
What John has said up to this point is more than sufficient to prove he is
claiming that Jesus—the Word, is God.
But John in verse two to reiterates it and in verse three, reinforces it. In verse two, he evidently
wants us to know that his pen didn’t slip in verse one so he says again, “He
was in the beginning with God.” He repeats this divine pre-existence and the intimacy shared between God, as the Jews
understood him, and the Word.
They were there together
in a pre-creation existence—before the angels—before anything. He then
says in verse three “All things were made through him, and without him
was not any thing made that was made.”
John is saying, when the creation
did occur, the Word was doing the creating.
Again, this is a clear claim to deity for the
Word because the Bible consistently identifies only God as the
Revelation chapter four we read in verse 11 that the creatures around
God’s throne cry out, “11 Worthy
are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” The reason our Lord and God is worthy to receive the
glory and honor and power due God alone is—he created all things.
The Creator is to be worshipped as God and the Word is the Creator.
John continues, “All things were
created through the Word”
and then he states it negatively, “and
without him was not any thing made that was made.” John is not wasting
words here by stating this both positively and negatively.
He is laboring to remove any speck of reasonable doubt that the Word is in
fact God—he was pre-existent, he accompanied the One the Jews understood
to be God before creation, and he did something only God can do—he created everything—nothing that was created
has a different Creator than the Word. In verse four, he makes another claim that
can only be true of God himself. He says, “In him was life…” He
is not simply saying that the Word was alive.
No, this is a claim that the
Word is the source of life
and there is only one source of life and it is God. Jesus says later
in John 5:26, “For as the Father has life in himself, so he
has granted the Son also to have life in himself.” The
Bible does not teach that life and death are purely physiological realities.
They are spiritual entities as we saw from Acts chapter two. Death is not fundamentally
when a person stops breathing, it is a spiritual power.
Likewise, life is not simply the maintenance of physiological function, but
is a spiritual power that has its source in God.
When Jesus says in John 5:26 that “For
as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself”
he is implying that only God—the Father
and the Son have life in their
physiological life comes from God who is the source of life. It is on loan from God
and as the Lord of life he can remove it whenever he wants.
The hymnist has it right in “All hail the
power of Jesus’ Name” when he says, “While
all that borrows life from Thee is ever in thy care.” I
not only have no spiritual
life apart from God, I have no physical
life apart from God’s gracious loaning it to me.
When John says of the Word “In
him was life…” he is making another bold
claim for Jesus’ deity.
But again, why does John insist on using a cryptic
term like “the Word”
or “the Logos?” The
best place for us to understand why John uses this term is in the Old Testament and as we cite some texts, notice the qualities
God attributes to the spoken
word of God. Psalm 33:6
By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host.
God created the universe—with
all its starry host through the word of his mouth—the
word has creative power—sound familiar? Psalm 107:20
says of the Jewish exiles
returning back to Israel,
“20 He sent out his word and healed
them, and delivered them from their destruction.” Again, we see the
word having divine powers. The
word of God heals and delivers his people from destruction.
God employed his word to create the
heavens and he sent out his word to heal and deliver his people.
Do you hear how what the
word does is also what God does? In Isaiah 55:11, God
says of his word that it “…goes out from my mouth; it shall not return
to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”
Again, God sends out his word and he sent Jesus as THE Word.
And the spoken word of God has
power to accomplish God’s purpose and to succeed in whatever God wants it to do.
The word of God is invincible in that it cannot be stopped from accomplishing
what God intends it to do—it will not return empty.
The same could be said of Jesus, could it not?
In those references, we mustn’t miss the
fact that the spoken word of God functions like God in what it does
when God sends it. Hebrews
chapter one connects the rest of the
dots between the spoken word of God and Jesus Christ as the
pre-existent Word of God. The
“1 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets,
2 but in these last days he has spoken to
us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through
whom also he created the world.”
Don’t miss the connection to John chapter one here.
God spoke through the Old Testament
prophets and now God speaks through his Son, THE Word—the heir of all
things--the Creator of the
not simply saying that in the Old Testament, God spoke his message through
the prophets and now Jesus has come as the
best prophet and God has spoken through him. He’s saying that God revealed
himself through the inspired
word of the prophets, but that self-revelation was incomplete. Now, he has revealed
himself finally and ultimately through His Son, the Creator God. God has revealed himself
finally and ultimately through God, the Word. John
calls him “the
Word” because Jesus is the final and complete revelation of God. The written word of God
and the way God uses it point to the
ultimate Word, Jesus.
John unpacks this later in his gospel. In 14:9 he is addressing
Philip before his crucifixion and says, “…Have I been with you so long,
and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us
the Father’?” The Word—Jesus, is nothing
less than God’s expression of himself on earth in the Person of his Son. That truth is the
foundation for everything else we are going to say and everything in John’s gospel.
Verses one through four of John chapter one reveal Christ’s deity. In verses 5-13 we see
relationship to the world. John introduces this relationship in verse five where he says, “The
light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Again, John is speaking
in images here—light and darkness. The Word came as the light to shine in the
light is another image representing God here.
In First John 1:5 John says “…God
is light and in him is no darkness at all.”
In the Bible, God uses light to
describe truth as opposed to error which is darkness. Psalm 119:105 says,
“105 Your word is a lamp
to my feet and a light to my path.” When John says God is light—he is saying that God is truth—there
is no error in him.
But light here also speaks of moral
in John, Jesus says in 3:19, “19 And
this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because
works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21
But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried
out in God.” The light of Jesus is contrary and opposed to evil works and wicked things. Darkness is more than
just the absence of light—it is active evil that runs from the
in spiritual darkness hate the light. When John tells us in 1:5, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it,” he is telling us there is a clear conflict between light and darkness.
Though the darkness opposes Christ,
it has not overcome him.
That opposition between Christ this
world is seen more clearly in verses nine and 10.
true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him,
yet the world did not know him.” To
understand this better, we need to see what John means as he speaks of “the
is not saying that in the incarnation, the
Word was transferred from heaven to a morally neutral destination.
That is not what John means by “the
John, the world is far more than a destination for Jesus; it is an organized
spiritual system under Satan’s control and fiercely opposes all things of God. He says in First John 2:16, “16
For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is
not from the Father but is from the world.” The world is the
spiritual breeding ground for all the evil desires that serve as an
incubator for sin. This
world is a spiritual cesspool, teeming with lethal spiritual bacteria.
John wants us to know that when the
Word came into this world as a baby, he was entering an inconceivably hostile environment.
Word into this world would be the spiritual equivalent of placing a
lamb into a den of hungry lions. They would instantly attack the animal. This is like introducing
a germ free organism into raw sewage—instantly the bacteria would converge
and try to break it down. John
structures his argument here to heighten the profound sense of this
irony involved in the world rejecting the
Word is the Creator, but when he comes into the
world he created and over which he, as Creator has absolute authority, he is opposed, not welcomed. Verse 11 heightens this
even more. “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.”
Jesus comes, not just to any part of the
world as its Creator—that would have been enough on any rational scale to ensure him a worshipful welcome. But he comes to his chosen people—people
who, through the law, through the
temple, through the prophets, through the
priests, through the kings, through the
Psalms, had been intensely prepared by God to receive him as their
Lord and King Messiah. These
were people who for 400 years had been without the light of God’s word
and when the babe was born in Bethlehem,
the light of all lights had come into the
world and was shining in their own back yard.
The rational response would have
been ticker-tape parades from the Jews, but instead, the
very ones who had been prepared—the ones who had been waiting for him to rescue them—the very ones he came to deliver
and heal and teach and lead—they killed him.
This is the mother of all ironies and John wants us to see it. The Creator… is killed. Those who owe their
very life to him—whose lives are on loan from him…take his life.
This One who performed that uniquely God-like feat of creation came to this
world in the helplessness of a baby and lived underneath a death sentence
from the moment of his birth.
In Revelation 12, John pictures Satan as a red dragon brooding over mother
Israel as she is in labor with her Messiah—waiting to take the helpless
new born and dash him to bits.
The point is clear—when Jesus came
to this world, he was very much stepping into enemy-held territory and this world’s biggest, most lethal weapons
were trained on him from the earliest moments of his incarnation. Opposition
was by far the majority response of the
world, but in verse 12 John tells us of another splinter group that
had a very different response to him. His own people did not receive him, “But to all
who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of
the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” In the
midst of this massive opposition, there was a remnant of people who,
would welcome him, receive him, believe on him and be reborn—not by physical birth, but spiritually birthed
by God out of this world and into his family, becoming his children.
This remnant group by the grace
of God would be birthed out of the
darkness into the light as God acts upon them
through his grace.
There is more, but that will help
us with some application as we celebrate Christmas in the week ahead.
Here are three points of application. First, if you are a believer,
truth of the world’s overwhelmingly hostile reception of the Word to produce in you a profound gratitude for your
few years ago, I heard a leading pastor theologian confess that perhaps the hardest theological question for him
to answer is: Why are so few people saved? Why do so few people genuinely receive Jesus?
That question is rooted in a well established, immovable Biblical truth and
that is—out of all the billions of people in human history and all
the billions of people alive on earth right now, only a very small
percentage of them will be in heaven.
Jesus says in Matthew 7:14, “14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” Later, in 22:14 Jesus
says, “14 For many are
called, but few are chosen.” The vast majority of people alive today are part of this hostile world and they
remain in opposition to God all their lives—successful rebels to the
many may outwardly mouth respect for Christ and even worship him in church, in their
hearts they want no part of him and his loving reign over their
you love Christ and treasure him, it’s solely because in his infinite grace, God birthed
you into his family. Nothing
you did or could ever do would cause him to do that for you.
Most people still reject Christ.
If you have truly received him, if you have recognized him and treasured
him as God, if you have been drawn to his light and worshipped him as your Creator, be grateful for his grace to
you in salvation—you are part of a small remnant of people saved by grace.
our understanding of the truths of Christmas, we
must stay Biblically balanced. What I mean by this is—we must let all the gospels that speak of Christ’s birth inform
how we process Christmas. We
rightly delight in the narratives of Matthew
and Luke that bring out the glorious truth that in the
fullness of time God acted in history to bring about this amazing series of events surrounding the
birth of baby Jesus. The
stories are filled with fascinating details and are very profitable for us to study hard and learn well. But, if those historical
records of Jesus’ birth in Matthew and Luke are not informed by John’s
theology of the incarnation,
they are drained of all their
power and are sadly reduced to little more than sentimental stories we haul out once a year to give us a warm-fuzzy. What ultimately gives meaning
to the events recorded in Matthew
and Luke is the fact that this little baby, born in a stable and laid
in a manger, is the King of the
Universe—the Creator God, pre-existent in Glory with the
He’s the Light of the
world, the source of all life—God-incarnate.
The One before whom all heaven bows down and worships, took on human flesh
and became a baby unable to feed himself or wipe his bottom.
We must spend much time meditating on the
of Christmas, which isn’t ultimately about angels and shepherds and a virgin girl named Mary.
It has to do with the fact that
God veiled himself in flesh and invaded this putrid, sewer-of-a-world and rescued out of it a remnant people for
himself by allowing this satanic world to kill him on a cross.
Finally, if you are here today and
haven’t done so, Surrender
to the reign of this heavenly
King who came to rule in people’s hearts.
I’m not talking about going to church, or mentally agreeing with what the
Bible says about Jesus. After
hearing again of the incarnation, do we really believe that the
Lord of the Universe left his glorious heavenly throne and became a
helpless baby to die on a cross so that people can read the story of
his life and death and say, “That’s true,
I believe it” but then live
as if it had no real impact on them? Is the ultimate purpose of the
infinite God clothing himself with finite flesh to produce a people who believe in the
incarnation, but who treasure this world that killed Jesus?
John says, “But to all who did receive
him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of
That tells us that if we truly receive him, believe in him, we will become
children of God and children are recognized as those who resemble their
Do you love God as your Father? Do you know him personally—is
there an intimate Father/child
If not, then it’s doubtful you
have believed in him in a way that God recognizes.
This is an urgent matter because
the Word John speaks of here in chapter one will be making a second
appearance and it will not be as a baby, or as One who willingly submits to his own crucifixion.
In Revelation 19, John speaks of his return and says, “11 Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a
white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like a flame of fire, and
on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. 13
He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The
Word of God.”
This Word will be revealed, not as a baby who comes to this hostile world
to save it, but as the Warrior King who comes to destroy all opposition
to him—all those who do not submit to his reign.
Now, we can come to the
Word as our Savior and bow before him in faith as our Creator, as the
Light of the world who has invaded our darkness, being adopted into
God’s family, having God as our Father.
But if we do not recognize his reign over us, then
we will meet the Word of God who brandishes a lethal sword, bringing
eternal judgment upon all who oppose him. This year as you celebrate Christmas, make sure you are trusting in what the
Word has done for you in paying for your sins and giving you a righteousness you could never earn. May God give us the
grace to live and celebrate the incarnation rightly before the
Word made flesh.