John, the Apostle, takes a big picture view. Jesus is called the Word because he communicates God - even today. God is one God but three persons - the Trinity. John the Baptist is introduced.
John, the Apostle, takes a big picture view. Jesus is called the Word because he communicates God - even today. God is one God but three persons - the Trinity. John the Baptist is introduced.
Hello, welcome back. Now we're going to look at John's introduction to Jesus.
Introduction and Recap
In the first episode, which I hope many of you will have listened to, we talked about the way the different Gospel writers introduce Jesus. Four different Gospel writers - they introduce the story of Jesus in four completely different ways. Isn't that fascinating? People tell stories from different perspectives and with different priorities and they introduce their storytelling in different ways. We've got a wonderful example of that here in the four Gospels. As I explained in the last episode, the probable writing order of the four Gospels is Mark first, then Matthew, then Luke who has Mark and Matthew in front of him as he writes and creates his chronological framework and then finally John. We started last time by looking at Luke and how he described how he gathered all the evidence from the eyewitnesses and put together an orderly account, writing as a historian who hadn't experienced the events of Jesus but came to gather evidence sometime later as a follower of Jesus from the Gentile world, coming to look at the story of Jesus in the nation of Israel. An amazing introduction that Luke gives and we're going to follow the chronology of Luke and keep to the chronology of Luke, all the way through Word Online, the life of Jesus.
John's Big Picture
We're now coming to John's Gospel. We'll find later on that Matthew introduces the story in a completely different way to a Jewish audience, focusing on the ancestry of Jesus. That's coming up in the next episode but here we're going to go to John who writes - he's probably got Matthew, Mark and Luke before him - sometime later, is very reflective and we have to bear in mind that unlike Luke, John knew Jesus. This is John the Apostle writing; that's our understanding from the evidence of the early Church history that John, the Apostle - one of the twelve Apostles - wrote this. He was especially close in friendship to Jesus and was with him throughout his ministry and had a very intuitive understanding of the big picture. What we're going to find as we look at John's introduction to Jesus, is that there's a big picture presentation. He takes the story back right to the beginning of time - not just the moment that Jesus comes into earth, as it were when he becomes a man, but he goes right back to the beginning. It's a magnificent introduction. We're going to read John 1: 1 - 18 which is often called the prologue of John's Gospel, the introduction to his story. It is a magnificent piece of writing and carries in it a wonderful explanation of who Jesus is - what sort of person is Jesus? Where did he come from? In what sense is he God? In what sense is he, man? How do those two things fit together? John has all these things in mind, as he introduces the story of Jesus in his absolutely unique and magnificent way. Let's read together John 1: 1 - 18.
‘In 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 all mankind. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. 6There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. 9The true light that gives light to everyone 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. 12Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God - 13children born not of natural descent, nor a human decision or a husband's will, but born of God. 14The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We've seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’” 16Out of his fullness we've all received grace in place of grace already given. 17For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.’John 1:1-18, NIV
Jesus is God
With these magnificent words John paints a cosmic picture of Jesus. I think of this passage, rather like being introduced to someone who lives in a house on a big estate, with a long drive coming up to the estate, and you wind round different corners to go up the drive and then you come to the house, and then you come to the person, and it's quite a long process and it's a big picture and this is really what John is doing in this passage. We think of Jesus as in the moment he came to earth, that that's the start of the story, but John has a different starting point. His starting point is ‘in the beginning’, before time, before the world was created. That's where he sees Jesus. He sees Jesus as God, God himself, with the Father.
He describes Jesus as the Word - a magnificent expression to describe who he is. There are many different ways that we can describe Jesus but the Word, the Word of God, suggests that Jesus is the message of God - the communication of God - and that that communication is not just in the words that he brings but in the person he is who comes to the earth. He is the Word sent to us. We see in the very opening verses that Jesus was in the beginning with God the Father. The Word - ‘in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.’ This is the start of helping us to understand the New Testament teaching about the nature of God and if we take all the teaching of the New Testament and other important contributions from the Old Testament, we find that God is represented to us as three persons in one Godhead. Each person, a separate person but each person having the same quality of divinity, the same being of God within them. One is the Father and then there is the Son, or the Word in this case, and then there is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is represented in the New Testament as a person - not a force - ‘he’ - the Holy Spirit. Jesus - not just a man but God himself before he became a man. So if Jesus had never become a man and never come to the earth, he would still be God in eternity; he would still be Jesus; he would still be the Son of God; he would still be the Word of God because that's what he was in the beginning; that's what he was from all eternity. There was a moment in history, this passage teaches us, a moment when he became a human being, or became flesh. He became a man through a process of being born to the virgin Mary and we'll look at that in more detail when we come to the accounts of Jesus' birth in Luke's Gospel and Matthew's Gospel. There was a moment and John refers to that moment here. But before we think of Jesus in his humanity, we need to think of him in his deity. That's really the point that John is making. He also points out that everything we see - the cosmos and the world around us - was actually created by God, including the creative power of Jesus. When we encounter Jesus now as our saviour, we also need to remember he is our creator and the creator of the whole world around us. That's the greatness of who Jesus is.
Jesus - The Word
Jesus reveals God directly to us and that's the point that is being made here in John 1 very clearly. He is the Word and so if we ask the question: what is God saying? How do we hear the voice of God? What is the message of God? The answer the Bible gives, and the answer the New Testament gives, is very clear - Jesus himself communicates everything we need to know about God and everything we need to know about ourselves and everything we need to know about how to connect with God. The writer to the Hebrews takes up some of the themes of John 1. I'm going to refer to this briefly, by reading to you the first three verses of Hebrews 1, which is a parallel passage and illuminates some of the things that John's trying to say to us in his opening passage. Let's just read Hebrews 1: 1 - 3.
‘In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. 3The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.’Hebrews 1:1-3, NIV
I think you can see that there's a connection between these two passages, and here the writer to the Hebrews gives even more detail than John does at the beginning of John 1 about Jesus. God ‘has spoken to us through his Son, through whom he made the universe’ and he's ‘the radiance of God's glory, the exact representation of his being’. When we look at Jesus, we see God; we find out about God through knowing Jesus and through studying his life which is why it's such a wonderful thing to study the Gospels in detail. That's what we're doing with Word Online and the life of Jesus. We're looking at everything we can about Jesus because we know it's the surest way to find out about God. People ask the question: how can we find out about God? The answer is clear, it's through Jesus. The more we know about Jesus, the better; the more we understand his teachings and his person, the better. The writer of Hebrews confirms and helps to expand some of the things that John is saying.
Let's just reflect on ‘Jesus as the Word’ in a little more detail. How does Jesus communicate with us now? John had the benefit of knowing him in person. He said, ‘We've seen his glory, we've seen him in his amazing glory. We've seen his divinity - the character of divinity within him, we've seen him in his humanity, we've seen his miraculous powers’. You and I don't have that privilege. We're 2000 years later, so how does Jesus and God communicate with us now? In a number of different ways: through the written text of the Bible - that's the primary way that God communicates with us now. That's the primary way we know about Jesus now. That's why we're giving such attention to looking at the Bible text, and at the life of Jesus in this particular series of teaching - these 184 videos - because we've got four biographies of Jesus, four Gospels full of very important material and that's the primary way that God speaks to us. He's given his Holy Spirit, so those who believe in Jesus and those who are being led to Jesus, by God himself, will find the Holy Spirit within us - working within us - and we'll talk a little bit more about that later on, we'll find the Holy Spirit making the words of the New Testament, and the Gospels in particular, come alive to us, become connected to us, and we'll understand their significance because the Holy Spirit is helping us and that's a wonderful reality. I pray today, that the Holy Spirit will help you as you listen to this talk and all the others in this series.
God can also speak to us in other ways: through dreams, through visions, through other Christians who tell us the message of Jesus or tell us their story - what we sometimes call testimony. This is a wonderful way that God can speak to us. In all these ways, God is speaking. Jesus, the Word, is the message of God communicating to us.
Jesus - the Only Son
Jesus is described as the one and only Son, in verse 18, in this passage. This is an important statement because Jesus is the Son of God in the sense that he's one-of-a-kind. We become children of God in a different sense, in that we can be adopted into God's family. That's one of the pictures that the New Testament uses to describe becoming a Christian and we'll find it here in a verse, in this passage in just a moment, but Jesus is one-of-a-kind. He's the unique Son of God who for all time and all eternity has always existed with the Father, in an eternal relationship of father and son. There was never a time when Jesus didn't exist. He's been there for eternity. He is the Son of God in a unique, once and for all way and we're adopted into God's family.
John the Baptist
in verse 6, John also introduces a man sent from God whose name was John. This is John the Baptist. His work and ministry is described more fully later on in John, and also in the other Gospels and we'll come to discuss that in more detail. John the Baptist was a prophet. He was like the other Old Testament prophets and he was related to Jesus. He came to the Jewish people, as we'll find out, and he began to preach just before Jesus started his ministry and he introduced the Jewish people to the fact that Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, was just about to appear to them and that they should wake up and take notice of what he was going to say. Jesus appeared by the River Jordan where John was baptising people in the water and was baptised by him. This is all part of the big story. Then the Holy Spirit came down on Jesus in a unique way and his ministry started. We're going to find out more about that in subsequent episodes but that's what John has in mind here. He describes him as a witness. He's not the light, he's not the Word, he's not the Son of God; he's a witness, he is someone who is pointing in the direction of Jesus and so he introduces John in verses 6 to 8.
The Word Becomes a Man
The crucial thing in John's thinking about Jesus here is in verse 14. This explains what we call the incarnation - Jesus becoming a man - in a wonderful verse that describes it beautifully.
‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.’John 1:14, NIV
This expresses the fact, very clearly, that at a certain time in history, the Word - Jesus - became flesh, became a man and made his dwelling among us. In other words lived as a human being - a normal human being - amongst humanity, particularly amongst the Jewish people. He was a Jewish man, living in a Jewish society, in the northern part of the country which we call Galilee. We've seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son. Christians believe that Jesus was eternally the Son of God but also at a particular point in time, took on human nature in a miraculous way. He is the Son of God but also a human, like us, fully human.
Jesus is Not Recognised
John goes on to express the fact that when Jesus came, there was a paradox because not everyone received him. Verses 10 to 12 make this very clear. ‘He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognise him.’ People in general did not recognise that Jesus was the Son of God in his lifetime. Verse 11 ‘He came to that which was his own but his own did not receive him.’ This is a specific reference to the Jewish people. That's what ‘his own people’ refers to. The Jewish people in general did not receive him in verse 11. Verse 10, the world in general didn't receive him; the Jewish people in verse 11 didn't receive him.
Children of God
Yet in verse 12, we have this wonderful statement,
‘Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name he gave the right to become children of God . . . children born of God’.John 1:12, NIV
Some people believed in Jesus when he came. They were a minority. He was popular at times but the people who actually believed in him and trusted him remained a relatively small number. When they believed in Jesus, something happened inside those people which John describes here as ‘becoming the children of God’, or in the following verse, ‘being born of God’. This is an incredible description of what a Christian is. It comes up in a number of other places. Let me read you a couple of examples, and then try and explain this a little bit so that we can understand what is being referred to. In John 3: 3, Jesus is talking to a senior religious leader called Nicodemus, in Jerusalem, and he says,
‘“No one can see the kingdom of God, unless they are born again.”’John 3:3, NIV
- another way of describing that same reality. Something has to happen inside us; something changes inside us, like a new birth. 2 Corinthians 5: 17,
‘Therefore, if anyone is in Christ the new creation has come, the old has gone and the new is here.’2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV
These are just some examples of the use of this concept that to become a Christian, is to experience a profound event - as profound as physical birth. Physical birth brings about a new life. It brings into being a new human being; in physical birth a new life comes to this world. John here is saying that something as significant, and ultimately more significant, happens when we truly trust in Jesus. A new spiritual life comes within us, which is as strong and as powerful as the experience of being conceived and born into this world, as a physical human being. That's a very powerful metaphor, or image, for us to carry on our minds and that's why it's appropriate to call those who are Christians, the children of God. We're adopted into his family; we're born into his family. These are images the New Testament uses to describe a profound reality. A Christian is someone who has a new life within them that they never had before, who's become a member of a new family that they weren't a member of before - the family of God. They're adopted in his family; they're in relationship with him, with spiritual life inside them. That's the power of Jesus' message. Jesus' message, of course, relates not only to his teaching in his life but his death - a substitutionary, sacrificial death on the cross for us, and his resurrection from the dead. We're going to have plenty of opportunity to discuss that message in detail many times through the course of these 14 series, within this teaching on the life of Jesus. John brings lots of big themes to our attention and this is his introduction to Jesus.
As we conclude this second episode, what can we learn, what are our reflections? We get a really big picture of Jesus don't we? I think this is wonderful. He is eternally the Word, the Son of God. He's God in eternity. But amazingly, he has come into our world with absolute connection to us, through becoming a man and being physically a human being, just like you or I. He wasn't just a spirit hovering around for 30 years and then disappearing back to heaven. He was as physical as you or I. He needed to rest; he needed to sleep; he needed to eat; he needed all the things that human beings need in order to live his life in this world.
Yet he fundamentally came to communicate the message of God to us. He was the Word of God to us. We're beginning on the journey now of discovering what is that Word? How does it work? What is he saying to us? Jesus said so many things, and he did so many things that communicate about God to us. I hope you're going to stay with the journey, and learn more and more about what he brings to us, through being the Word of God.
We must resist lesser views of Jesus Christ. If we ever think he was just a prophet, that's not the New Testament view. If we ever think there was a time when he was not created and didn't exist, there was just the Father in heaven, that's not the view of the New Testament. If we ever think he is just a man who God adopted in some way to do a special job, perhaps at his baptism, or some other time, that's not the view of the New Testament. The view of the New Testament is Jesus existed eternally. He didn't need to become a man. He only became a man because we needed him to become a man, to be the Word of God to us. That's what he is.
Thanks for listening to this episode. Join us for the next one and as we look at Matthew's introduction to Jesus. I hope you'll enjoy all of Series 1, as we lay the foundations for our understanding of the whole life of Jesus. See you again soon.
The following questions have been provided to facilitate discussion or further reflection. Please feel free to answer any, or all the questions. Each question has been assigned a category to help guide you.
- How does John’s introduction to his Gospel help you to better understand the identity of Jesus?
- “Jesus was just a prophet or just a man." How would you respond to such views?
- What do you understand by the phrase 'being re-born'?
- How would you describe the meaning of 'new birth' and 'adoption' in your own life?
- In what ways is Jesus ‘the Word’ from God to the world today?
- How does John explain John the Baptist’s role in the spreading of the gospel?
- Use tagging to trace the imagery of ‘birth’ in the Gospels.