Monday, December 31, 2012

The Word Became Flesh: A Study in John's Prologue

The Word Became Flesh 
A Study in Johns Prologue, pt. 2
John 1:1-18
December 30, 2012

The Gospel of John is in many respects very different from the other three Gospels. Matthew, Mark, and Luke are often grouped together and called the synoptic Gospels. The word comes from two Greek words. One of these, opsis, means to view. The other, syn, means together. The synoptic Gospels, then, view the life and ministry of Christ together, which is to say, they record many of the same events. John, however, written sometime after the other three, chooses to record a number of things the other Gospel writers omit, and to omit a number of things which they record.
          I agree with Bishop J. C. Ryle (1) that the things that are peculiar to Johns Gospel are among the most precious possessions of the Church. They are among the most cherished truths of Scripture. None of the other Gospel writers has given us such a full accounting of the deity of Christ, of justification by faith, of the work of the Holy Spirit, of the privileges of believers, or of the close communion between God the Father and God the Son. It’s not that these themes are absent from the other Gospels; but none of them has given us so full an expression of them as is to be found in John’s Gospel. And these opening verses, often referred to as the prologue of the Gospel, set the stage beautifully for everything that follows.
The primary figure of the passage is one who is called simply, “the Word,” which as we saw last week is a reference to our Lord Jesus Christ. And there are things said about him here that are very deep and mysterious, far beyond what is possible for us to fully comprehend. There is material enough here to furnish us with a whole series of sermons, but we will content ourselves for the time being with a series of just two. We will pick up today where we left of last week. But first a quick review.
The first thing we learned last week was that the Word (our Lord Jesus Christ in his pre-incarnate state) is that he is eternal. “In the beginning was the Word,” John says (v. 1). The beginning referred to here is the beginning of all creation. It’s an allusion to Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” And here John tells us that at this point in time when the heavens and the earth were first called into being, the Word already “was” — meaning, the Word was already in existence. He existed prior to the beginning. There never was a time when he was not.
The second thing we learn is that the Word is distinct from the Father. One of the early errors concerning the Godhead, an error which has been revived in modern times by certain unorthodox groups, is that there is only one divine person—that the terms Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are simply three names for one person who is sometimes called Father, sometimes called Son, and sometimes called the Holy Spirit.
But here in verse 1 we see a clear distinction between two persons:  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God…” The preposition “with” implies more than one. The Word (who is one person) was with another person (who is called “God”).
And then, following very quickly on the heels of this statement is the affirmation that this Word is in nature, truly God. “The Word was with God, and the Word was God.” In other words, what the Father is with respect to his divine nature, so is the Word.
The fourth thing we learned last week about the Word was that he is the Creator of all things. “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (v. 3). This, then, excludes the teaching of the ancient heretic Arius, as well as his modern followers who say that Jesus Christ himself is a mere creature. No. He is the one by whom, through whom, and for whom all things have been created (cf. Col. 1:16-17).
Finally, the last thing we discussed last week was that the Word, our Lord Jesus Christ, is the source of all spiritual life and light. “In him was life, and the life was the light of men” (v. 5).

We are next told, in verses 6-9, of the ministry of John the Baptist who was appointed by God as the forerunner of Christ.

6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.

It was a credit to our Lord Jesus Christ to have such a one as John bear witness to him. The impact of John’s ministry was far-reaching and lasted long after Jesus was taken back up into heaven (cf. Acts 19:1-7). He was recognized as a prophet, even by those who didn’t wish to listen to him. It was because he was so widely recognized and revered as a messenger of God that the apostle thought it necessary to remind people that John “was not the true light, but [only] came to bear witness about the light” (v. 8), “that all might believe through him” (v. 7). And so it happened. Many came to believe in Jesus because of John’s testimony.

9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

He is speaking here, of course, about the coming of Jesus Christ into the world.

10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.

This is a very striking thing, isn’t it? The world was made by him, and when he came into the world he had made, the world did not know him. It did not recognize him.
We might have expected the Creator of the Universe to have to have received a great deal of fanfare and a hero’s welcome. He deserved to be worshiped as the Lord of heaven and earth, to be hailed as the Almighty Creator. But no, “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him” (v. 10).
If one had never heard him speak or had never seen the miracles he performed, one might be forgiven for not recognizing him as the Maker of heaven and earth because he looked every bit like an ordinary human being. There was nothing in his appearance that distinguished him from other men:  no halo, no shroud of glory, no light emanating from his body…nothing.
He was in all points like us in his appearance. But he made some rather remarkable claims about himself. “Before Abraham was, I am” (Jn. 8:58); and, “I and the Father are one” (Jn. 10:30); and, “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn. 14:9).
These are pretty remarkable claims. They are claims easy in the making but hard in the proving. But Jesus proved them. He said, “The works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me” (Jn. 5:36). And again, “Even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father” (Jn. 10:38). What works does he mean? His miracles.

v     His miracles of creation in multiplying the loaves and the fish
v     His miracles in mastering the forces of nature in calming the winds and the sea
v     His miracles of healing, restoring broken bodies to a state of wholeness
v     His sovereignty over life and death by raising the dead to new life
v     His power over the devil and all his hosts in casting out demons and in plundering the domain of darkness

He came into the world speaking and doing what no else had ever said or done. And his works confirmed his words, and both words and works together testified to the fact that was the world’s maker. But the irony of the ages is this:  He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.”
And this is not all. He came to those who were especially called to be his people. He came to Israel, a people, a nation who had been prepared for his coming through the Law and the Prophets; a people who were looking for his coming, anticipating his appearance, eagerly awaiting his arrival. And what was the result? Did they embrace him? Not exactly.

11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.

This is an understatement. Here is how the prophet Isaiah expresses it:

He was despised and rejected by men;
          a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
          he was despised, and we esteemed him not (Isa. 53:3)

Those who should have been the most eager to have received him, denied him, rejected him, disowned him, and condemned him to death. This was the official response, at least. Yet even so there were many who believed in him.

12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,

Here we learn of one of the great privileges of being united by faith to Jesus Christ. All who receive him are reckoned by God as his own dear children. He no longer looks upon them as sinners lying under his wrath and curse and worthy of death; but as children who are dearly loved. They are reconciled to God through Jesus Christ. Be their sins ever so many, ever so vile, ever so worthy of condemnation, if they but receive Jesus Christ, if they will but believe in his name, they will be reconciled to God and looked upon as his own dear children.
It should be clearly understood, however, that receiving of Jesus Christ and believing in his name, involve walking in his footsteps. Let us not fool ourselves. The Bible knows nothing of a saving faith that is void of a joyful obedience to Jesus Christ. This receiving of Jesus Christ, this believing in his name, implies a personal trust in him that involves repentance (a turning away from a life of sin), and walking in a renewed, heartfelt obedience.
Jesus did not come to save sinners so that they might continue in their sin, but that they might be freed from both its guilt and its power; and so that we might walk in newness of life.
We learn in the next place that the inward change of heart, or the new birth (as it is elsewhere called), is all God’s doing. St. John tells us that those who become the children of God…

13 were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

First he says they were born not of blood. That is, it is not a matter of descent. Descent from Abraham, or from David, or from Aaron, or from anyone else, does not guarantee son-ship with God; nor does a lack of descent from Abraham (or anyone else) prevent one from being regarded as belonging to God.
Nor is it a matter of the will of the flesh. That is, it is not through the merit of one’s own self-effort or self-exertion. Nature can never change itself. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh,” Jesus said (Jn. 3:6). Only the supernatural working of God’s grace through the power of the Holy Spirit can change what we are by nature.
Nor is it by the will of man; meaning that it is not by the power or the intervention of prophets, or priests, or ministers of the gospel to effect the change which is here described.
Those who are born to this new life are born to it by the will of God. Those who are given a new status as sons of God have that status given to them by divine grace. They owe what they are and what they have to God’s good pleasure, and to nothing else.

14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Here we see that this divine Word mentioned in verse one came into the world of space and time by taking to himself human nature. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (v. 14). Here is the mystery of all mysteries, the uniting or the joining together of God and man in the person of Jesus Christ—two natures in one person—the most remarkable thing that ever has or ever will happen in human history.
And for what purpose? Among other things, to make the Father known. This is one of the reasons why he is called “the Word.” He has revealed the Father to us more clearly, more fully, more wonderfully than had ever been done before. In verse 18 we are told,

18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.

The Greek word translated here as “he has made him known,” is ejxhge>omai, the word from which we get our English words exegete and exegesis, which essentially means to fully explain. It’s the technical word for the process of interpreting the Scriptures, and to do so thoroughly, comprehensively. And this is what Jesus has done with the Father. He has exegeted him, explained him, revealed him. And so truly and so fully has he done this, embodying in his own life by his words and character and actions that he could say, “I and the Father are one.” And again, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”
Jesus, the Word, was able to do this so well precisely because he was in the beginning with God, and indeed was God—and at the time that John wrote these things our Lord Jesus Christ had returned to heaven and was even then “at the Father’s side.” He was rewarded for the work he had performed during his earthly sojourn by being given a place at the Father’s right hand. The fact that he was given such an honored place was proof that he had performed his work well. A portion of that work was to reveal the Father.

16 And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

There is an abundant store of grace for all who are united to Jesus Christ. “We have seen his glory,” John says, “glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (v. 14b). When he says, “We have seen his glory,” he is most likely referring to the ways in which the Father had exhibited his pleasure in Christ and had given him some supernatural token of his affection, as at his baptism, when the Father visibly anointed him with the Holy Spirit and spoke in the hearing of the people, This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased (Matt. 3:17). And even more so on the Mount of Transfiguration, when Jesus appearance was changed and his garments became exceedingly white and light radiated from his face - for a moment our Lords inherent divine glory was made visible to the eyes of the three apostles, Peter, James, and John. Perhaps this is what John is referring to when he says, We have seen his glory.” On that occasion, too, the voice of the Father was heard from heaven to say, This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 17:5). And what shall we say of his resurrection and his ascension? Surely, to see these things was to see something of his glory!
John adds this, “From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” (v. 16).
He mentions his fullness, this is a reference to what he had said in verse 14, that the Word that had become flesh and dwelt among us was “full of grace and truth” (v. 14). And now John says that from Christ’s fullness of grace, we have received grace. And not just grace, but “grace upon grace.” In other words, we have received an abundance of grace, an abundance of blessing, everything we need from God for this life and the life to come. Amen.

1 J. C. Ryle (1816-1900), Anglican Bishop of Liverpool, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels

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