God Sends His Son
Week of August 4, 2013
Bible Verses:† Matthew 4:17-24; John 1:1-2,11-14,18,29.
Lesson Focus:† This lesson can help you to recognize who Jesus is and to believe and follow Him.
Jesus Is Fully God and Fully Man: †John 1:1-2,14.
† In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. † He was in the beginning with God. † 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.† [ESV]
[1-2]† Johnís Prologue summarizes how the Word which was with God in the very beginning came into the sphere of time and history. In other words, how the Son of God was sent into the world to become the Jesus of history, so that the glory and grace of God might be uniquely and perfectly disclosed. In the beginning immediately reminds any reader of the Old Testament of the opening verse of the Bible: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Genesis begins with creation; John refers to creation [3-4], but soon turns to what Paul call new creation. But what is meant by Word? The Greek Stoics understood Word (logos) to be the rational principle by which everything exists, and which is of the essence of the rational human soul. More generally, logos can refer to inner thought, hence reason. Alternatively, logos can also refer to outward expression, hence speech or message. However the Greek term is understood, there is a more readily available background than that provided by Greek philosophy. Considering how frequently John quotes or alludes to the Old Testament, that is the place to begin. There, the word of God is connected with Godís powerful activity in creation, revelation and deliverance. In short, Godís Word in the Old Testament is His powerful self-expression in creation, revelation and salvation, and the personification of that Word makes it suitable for John to apply it as a title to Godís ultimate self-disclosure, the person of His own Son. Because this Word, this divine self-expression, existed in the beginning, one might suppose that it was either with God, or nothing less than God Himself. John insists the Word was both. The Word, he says, was with God, which indicates that the Word was distinguishable from God and enjoys a personal relationship with Him. More the Word was God. The Word does not by Himself make up the entire Godhead; nevertheless the divinity that belongs to the rest of the Godhead belongs also to Him. John intends that the whole of his gospel shall be read in the light of this verse. The deeds and words of Jesus are the deeds and words of God. In one sense verse 2 is simply a repetition of the first two clauses of verse 1. But John includes these words to make sure what he has already said is understood. In particular, verse 2 reiterates the middle clause of verse 1, and thus prepares the way for verse 3.
† For the first time since verse 1, the term the Word reappears in verse 14. At this point the incarnation, the Ďin-fleshingí of the Word, is articulated in the boldest way. If John had said only that the eternal Word assumed manhood or adopted the form of a body, the reader steeped in the popular dualism of the Hellenistic world might have missed the point. But John is unambiguous, almost shocking in the expressions he uses: the Word became flesh. Because succeeding clauses in this verse allude to Exodus 33:7-34:35, it is tempting to think this first clause does the same. The tent of meeting was the place where the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend [Ex. 33:11]. In Exodus Moses hears the divine name spoken by God Himself, and this is followed by Godís word written on two stone tablets. Now, John tells us, Godís Word, His self-expression, has become flesh. This is the supreme revelation. The Word, Godís very self-expression, who was both with God and who was God, became flesh: He put on our humanity, save only our sin. God chose to make Himself known, finally and ultimately, in a real, historical man. The Word dwelt among us. More literally translated, the Greek verb means that the Word Ďpitched His tabernacleí, or Ďlived in His tentí, among us. Whether the allusion in John 1:14 is to the Old Testament tabernacle or to the tent of meeting, the result is the same: now, John implies, God has chosen to dwell among His people in a yet more personal way, in the Word-become-flesh. The incarnate Word is the true shekinah glory, the ultimate manifestation of the presence of God among human beings, for this Word became a man. In the Greek Old Testament, the word for glory commonly renders the Hebrew word which denotes the visible manifestation of Godís self-disclosure in a theophany. The peculiar relationship the incarnate Word had with the Father was such that He never sought glory for Himself, but only Godís glory. The glory John and others saw was the glory as of the only Son from the Father. The glory displayed in the incarnate Word is the kind of glory a father grants to his one and only, best-loved son. Thus it is nothing less than Godís glory that John and his friends witnessed in the Word-made-flesh. The glory of God manifest in the incarnate Word was full of grace and truth. John is almost certainly directing his readers to Exodus 33-34. There Moses begs God, Please show me your glory [Ex. 33:18]. The Lord replies, I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name The Lord. And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy [Ex. 33:19]. Godís glory, then, is supremely His goodness. The nature of that goodness which is Godís glory is spelled out in two crucial words in Exodus 34:6: abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. The two words in Hebrew are hesed (variously rendered steadfast love, mercy, covenant love) and met (truth or faithfulness). This pair of expressions recurs again and again in the Old Testament. The two words that John uses, full of grace and truth, are his ways of summing up the same ideas. The glory revealed to Moses when the Lord passed in front of him and sounded His name, displaying that divine goodness characterized by ineffable grace and truth, was the very same glory John and his friends saw in the Word-made-flesh. But the glory Christ displayed was not perceived by everyone. When He performed a miracle, a sign, He manifested his glory [2:11], but only His disciples put their faith in Him. The miraculous sign was not itself unshielded glory; the eyes of faith were necessary to see the glory that was revealed by the sign. Then, as the book progresses, the revelation of Jesusí glory is especially tied to Jesusí cross and the exaltation that ensues Ė and certainly only those who have faith see the glory of God in the Word-made-flesh in events such as these. There is a hiddenness to the display of glory in the incarnate Word, a hiddenness penetrated by John and the early witnesses who could say, we have seen his glory. In Johnís Prologue, once the identity of the Word is grasped, the incarnation is seen as a stupendous act of revelation, of divine self-disclosure; but if the identity of the Word is not grasped, the incarnation itself is a nonsense.
Only Jesus Came to Bring Salvation: †John 1:11-13,18,29.
† He came to his own, and 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. † No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known. † The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!† [ESV]
[11-13]† The basic sin in Johnís Gospel is the failure to know and believe in Jesus. This refers first and foremost to a rejection of Jesusí claim of equality with God and His revelation of the Father through words and signs. In verse 11, what is said first in general terms Ė his own Ė is then elaborated with specific reference to Godís chosen people Israel: his own people. Not only was Jesus not received by a world made through Him, but also He was rejected by a people specially chosen by God as His very own. The picture is that of the Word not being a welcomed guest among His own people, the very ones who should have received Him with open arms. Verses 12-13 is very possibly the climactic statement of the entire prologue, and epitomizes the very purpose for which the Gospel was written: for people to believe and have life in his name [John 20:31]. The present statement sharply contrasts those who received Him and believed with those who did not, marking out believers as those who broke with the general pattern by which the world thinks, lives, and acts. To receive him means to entrust oneself to Jesus, to acknowledge His claims, and to confess Him. Being a child of God is neither a quality possessed by all nor an exclusive prerogative for Israelites; it is an entitlement for those who believe in the Word. The word translated right refers to the authorization or legitimate claim of becoming Godís children, a privilege that now has been made available to all who believe in Jesus as Messiah. This assumes that, in one sense, sinful people are not Godís children, even though they are created by God, unless and until they believe in Jesus Christ. The Wordís ability to give the right to become children of God is proof of His exclusive and unique relationship with God. Before we can speak about the possibilities of the new birth, we need to look first at the ways in which a person cannot be born again. We need to do this to clear away false ideas that hinder our understanding of this aspect of Godís truth. One false idea confuses spiritual birth with physical birth. It is the thought that a person can be reborn by means of some human agency. To deny this false premise is the main burden of our text, for the verse tells us that it is not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man Ė all human agencies Ė that a man is reborn, but of God. What does John mean when he says that we are not born into Godís family by blood? In Judaism, this is a reference to physical birth. The second negative phrase is nor of the will of the flesh. The clue to the true meaning of this phrase is to be found in all that is signified by the word flesh in the New Testament. Flesh can signify all that we are in terms of our natural appetites. This involves our emotions. Hence, John is saying that a person cannot become a child of God by exercising his emotions any more than he can become Godís child by being born of privileged parents. There is also a third phrase. For God not only says that those who become His children are not born by blood or by the will of the flesh, they also are not born by the will of man. This means that no one can become a child of God by determination or by the powers of positive thinking. In order to become a child of God a man needs to be given Godís life, and this comes only from God and is imparted to a man only on the basis of Godís grace. †
† At the conclusion of his prologue to the Gospel, John states emphatically, No one has ever seen God. Verse 1 said that the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Here in verse 18 it is similarly said that the only Son was God and that He was with God in the closest way possible: at the Fatherís side. This relationship, in turn, is presented as the all-important reason why Jesus, the enfleshed Word, was able to overcome the vast gulf that had existed between God and humankind up to that point Ė despite the law. Although the law is Godís gracious revelation, it is not adequate as a vehicle of the true, ultimate grace that came only through Jesus Christ. In the Old Testament, God had stated clearly that no one could see His face and live [Ex. 33:20]. The reason for humankindís inability to see God is two-fold: first, God is spirit; second, humankind fell into sin and was expelled from Godís presence. Jesus surmounted both obstacles: He, Himself God, became a human being, so that others could see God in Him; and, being sinless, He died for people, so that their sinfulness no longer keeps them from entering into fellowship with God. The phrase at the Fatherís side refers to the unmatched intimacy of Jesusí relationship with the Father, which enabled Him to reveal the Father in an unprecedented way. Made him known means ďto give a full accountĒ in the sense of ďtelling the whole story.Ē As he concludes his introduction, John therefore makes the important point that the entire Gospel to follow should be read as an account of Jesus ďtelling the whole storyĒ of God the Father.
† The next day probably refers to the day after Johnís response to the Jerusalem delegation. It also initiates a sequence of days culminating in the miracle at Cana. Probably the baptism of Jesus at the hands of John the Baptist (which the Fourth Gospel does not record) took place sometime earlier. When the Baptist identified Jesus as the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, he probably had in mind the apocalyptic lamb, the warrior lamb, found in some Jewish texts and picked up in Revelation [5:6,12; 7:17; 13:8; 17:14; 19:7,9; 21:22-23; 22:1-3]. The Baptist probably thought of the Messiah as one who would come in terrible judgment and clean up the sin in Israel. In this light, what John the Baptist meant by who takes away the sin of the world may have had more to do with judgment and destruction than with expiatory sacrifice. But this does not necessarily mean that John the Evangelist limited himself to this understanding of Lamb of God. Just as John insists that Caiaphas the high priest spoke better than he knew [11:49-52], so it is easy to suppose that the Evangelist understood the Baptist to be doing the same thing. It is not that he thought the Baptist wrong; rather, as a post-resurrection Christian John could grasp a fuller picture than was possible for the Baptist. In particular he understood a great deal more about the significance of the Messiahís sacrificial death. It is hard to imagine that he could use an expression such as Lamb of God without thinking of the atoning sacrifice of his resurrected and ascended Savior. But as a writer who holds that all Old Testament Scripture points to Jesus [5:39-40], John might well see adequate warrant for the application of this title to Jesus, sacrificially understood, in the lamb of Isaiah 53:7,10. John goes on to say that the sacrifice envisaged is not restricted in its purpose or effectiveness to the Jewish race. This Lamb of God takes away the sin of the world Ė that is, of all human beings without distinction, though not, as the Prologue has already made clear [1:11-12], of all without exception. This is Godís provision: Jesus is the Lamb of God.
Only Jesus Embodied Godís Kingdom: †Matthew 4:17-24.
† From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." † While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. † And he said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men." † Immediately they left their nets and followed him. † And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. † Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. † And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. † So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them.† [ESV]
[17-24]† From that time points to a new departure. He now began to preach, and Matthew mentions two points in that preaching, repentance and the coming of the kingdom. Jesus begins with the same emphasis as John the Baptist had. The two go together: if the kingdom of God is near, then clearly people cannot be complacent. They must prepare for that kingdom, and that means repenting of their sins. Jesus calls on them to realize that they are unfit for the kingdom of heaven and to repent accordingly. Such preaching is a clarion call to action, not a recipe for slothful complacency. We should not overlook the importance of this call to repentance at the very beginning of Jesusí ministry; everything else follows from that. From the beginning Jesus took it for granted that people are sinners, and accordingly His first message was that they must repent. Only so would they know the forgiveness He came to bring. There is a sense in which God has acted decisively in sending His Son: the kingdom is here in His words and deeds. But there is another sense in which the culmination of the kingdom in all its fullness is a future reality: the best is yet to be. Both truths are important. The call of Jesus in verse 19 clearly points to a lasting association involving discipleship. Jesus adds a promise, I will make you fishers of men. Jesusí disciples would not only learn from Him but would bring others into living contact with God. Peter and Andrew knew enough about Jesus to realize that His call was not to be taken lightly; they obeyed immediately. They left their nets, which means that they stopped doing what they had been occupied with. But there is more to it than that. The action is symbolic. Until then these men had been fishermen; now they were committing themselves to becoming disciples of Jesus. They left their nets and all that those nets meant behind. And they followed Jesus. In verse 21 Jesus continues on His way and calls two other brothers, James and John. As they were busy about their craft, Jesus called them. Matthew does not give the words Jesus used, but clearly he means that the two brothers were called into discipleship in the same way that Peter and Andrew were called. Just as the first pair did, these two brothers responded immediately which emphasizes their prompt obedience to the call. Matthew tells us further that this pair left not only their boat but their father, thus breaking the strongest family tie. Allegiance to Jesus is stronger than any earthly attachment. In verse 17 Matthew has told us that Jesus began to preach; now he tells us a little more of what the Masterís ministry involved. Matthew speaks of a triple function: teaching, preaching, and healing. Jesusí teaching was carried out in their synagogues. Jesus also engaged in preaching. This is not the systematic instruction indicated by teaching but a forthright proclamation, a setting forth of certain facts whether people want to take notice of them or not. The content in this case is given shortly as the gospel, the good news. In a Christian context the good news is always the good news of what God has done for sinful people in sending His Son to be their Savior. Here it is the gospel of the kingdom, which, as Jesus has said, is drawing near . The good news is that God is at work bringing in the kingdom that will be associated with the work His Son is doing. The third component in Jesusí initial ministry was healing. Matthew is very interested in healing, and has many references to the subject. It is important for him that Jesus brought wholeness to people. He met their spiritual need but He also dealt with their physical ailments. Jesusí defeat of sickness is part of His overcoming of evil. What Jesus was doing could not remain unnoticed, and his fame spread.
Questions for Discussion:
1.†††††††† What is the meaning and significance of the Word for Johnís Gospel? Why does James Boice write that verse 14 ďis perhaps the most important theological statement in Johnís Gospel? What does John mean by the terms: flesh, dwelt, glory, grace, truth? In what sense is Godís glory hidden in the Word?
2.†††††††† What is the basic sin in Johnís Gospel? Do you see how this is still the basic sin today? What is the only solution for this sin [see 1:13]?
3.†††††††† What was the twofold focus of Jesusí preaching? Why do these two things go together? What does the call for repentance imply is true of all people? What was the threefold function of Jesusí early ministry?
The Gospel According to Matthew, Leon Morris, Eerdmans.
The Gospel of John, volume 1, James Boice, Baker.
The Gospel According to John, D. A. Carson, Eerdmans.
John, Andreas Kostenberger, Baker.