Recognize God’s Gift

 

Week of December 4, 2011

 

Bible Verses:  John 1:1-4, 10-18.

 

Lesson Focus:  This lesson is about the identity of Christ. It addresses the fact that God’s greatest gift is more than a baby.

 

Jesus is Completely God:  John 1:1-4.

 

[1]  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. [2]  He was in the beginning with God. [3]  All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. [4]  In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  [ESV]

 

[1-4]  Verse 1 teaches three things about the divinity of Jesus Christ. The first statement is that Jesus existed in the beginning. In other words, Jesus was preexistent. He was before all things. The second statement is that Jesus Christ was with God. This is an affirmation of Christ’s separate personality. The final phrase is a declaration that Jesus is fully divine, for John says, and the Word was God, or literally, “and God was the Word.” This means that everything that can be said about God the Father can be said about God the Son. In Jesus dwells all the wisdom, glory, power, love, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth of the Father. In Him, God the Father is known. Why is Jesus Christ called the Word? What is the significance of this title? The answer has to do with God’s revealing of Himself.

To understand this term, we need to ask what meaning it would have had for those to whom the Gospel of John was first written. For instance, what meaning would it have had for a person of Jewish background who was just beginning to hear and understand the gospel? The first verses of John’s Gospel, including the term Word, would refer a Jewish person to the first words of Genesis where we are told that in the beginning God spoke and all things came into being. To the Jewish mind Jesus would somehow be associated with the creative power of God and with the self-disclosure of God in creation. The idea of Word would also have meant more to a Jewish mind than it does to us today. To the Jew a word was something concrete, something much closer to what we would call an event or a deed. A word spoken was a deed done. This way of thinking resulted from the Jew’s Old Testament theology. What happens when God speaks? The answer is that the thing is instantly done. (James Boice)
John’s Gospel would also be read by Greeks and by those who spoke Greek and were influenced by Greek thought. What would the word “logos” mean to them? For the Greeks, the answer to this question is found, not in religion, but in philosophy. Greek philosophers, beginning with Heraclitus in the sixth century BC, understood logos as the divine reason that provides order to the world. The point John is making is not only that Jesus is the revelation of God, but that Jesus was always active in revealing God. Hence, even before the incarnation, there was no excuse for failing to believe. This is seen first of all in the emphasis John places upon Christ’s role in creation. Creation reveals God, and Jesus was God’s agent in creation. When Jesus Christ began by revealing God in creation He revealed Him in two important aspects: His existence and His power. These two things are sufficient to condemn all men for their failure to bow down and worship Him. Preeminently, however, Jesus has revealed God through the incarnation, and it is there that God is known personally. In verse 4 John introduces two of the greatest themes of his writings: life and light. What does it mean to say that Jesus is the source of life or that He is the life? The first answer to that question is one that takes us back to the opening pages of Genesis and therefore to the role of Jesus Christ in giving life to all living things in the world. John is saying that our physical life comes from God through the Lord Jesus. God brought forth life in humans by speaking the word of life in such a way that the Spirit of life passes into man and causes him to breathe. However, this is only the beginning of our understanding of what John intends by the use of the word life in the Gospel. It is true that John speaks of physical life in verse 4, but as his Gospel goes on he speaks increasingly of spiritual life. And the point is that just as Jesus is the source of physical life, so is He the source of the spiritual life that we receive when we believe on Him. To appreciate the importance of the gift of spiritual life, we must realize first that apart from it we are dead spiritually [Eph. 2:1-6]. In our natural state we can do nothing to improve ourselves spiritually. Apart from Christ no man has ever breathed one breath toward God, nor had one spiritual heartbeat. Man is dead in sin. He needs a new life. That is why we must be born again. Being born again means receiving a new life from God through the Lord Jesus Christ by faith in Him. The life that God gives through Jesus Christ is not merely an earthly life or a life of such quality that it can be lost, but eternal life. It is a life that is meant to be abundant even in our present circumstances. The image of Christ as the light of the world is the second theme that John introduces in verse 4. What does John mean when he declares that Jesus is the light of men? By this title, Jesus is revealed as the One who knows God the Father and who makes Him known. Light is a universal image for the illumination of the mind through understanding. The image also teaches that by His coming into the world Jesus exposed the works of darkness [5]. For He shone in the darkness, and the darkness did not like it. The light which streams from Christ is ever opening the way to a clearer distinction between good and evil. Is Jesus your light? He is if He does for you what light always does when it issues forth from the Father. First, it puts confusion to flight. If Jesus is the light of your life, He also dispels the darkness and places your life in order. Second, the light of Jesus Christ is revealing. That is, it penetrates the darkness and shows us what has always been there. Finally, if Christ is your light, you will have guidance in the midst of darkness and, with the guidance of God, true liberty.

 

Jesus is Completely Man:  John 1:10-11, 14-15.

 

[10]  He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. [11]  He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. [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. [15]  (John bore witness about him, and cried out, "This was he of whom I said, 'He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.'")  [ESV]

 

[10-11]  The Word who was the light was in the world; not just paying a fleeting visit, but, as John goes on to elaborate in verse 14, dwelt among us. Even though the world was created through the Word, it did not recognize that Word, because it was estranged from Him. Yet the world should have recognized the one through whom it was made. The first half of John’s Gospel documents how not only the pagan world, but even Israel –his own – failed to recognize Jesus as Messiah and Savior of the world, rejecting the light, including all demonstrations of Jesus’ deity and messiahship. John highlights the irony, even tragedy, of the world rejecting the one through whom it was made. Did not know him refers to more than mere intellectual rejection. It means a willful refusal to accept or believe in someone or something. The basic sin in John’s Gospel is the failure to know and believe in Jesus. This refers first and foremost to a rejection of Jesus’ 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 – his own – is then elaborated with specific reference to God’s 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. To substantiate this claim, John 1-12 narrates Jesus’ performance of seven selected signs specifically for Israel, climaxing in a final statement regarding Israel’s rejection of Jesus’ signs in 12:37-43. In 13:1, then, the epithet his own is transferred from Israel to God’s new messianic community, consisting of the inner circle of followers of Jesus the Messiah. The entire Gospel is taken up with the narration of the ever-escalating confrontation between “the Jews” and Jesus, culminating in Jesus’ crucifixion.

 

[14-15]  In verse 14 John now returns to the preexistent Word. The major burden of verses 14-18 is to identify the Word explicitly with Jesus. Rather than using the words “man” or “body”, John here employs the almost crude term “flesh”, which here means all that it means to be human as distinct from God. The powerful Word of God has been born into frail humanity. Became does not mean “changed into” in the sense that Jesus, by becoming human, ceased to be God. Nor does it mean “appeared” human or even “took on” humanity. The main point is that God now has chosen to be with His people in a more personal way than ever before. The affirmation that the Word became flesh takes the opening statement in verse 1 a step further: that same Word now has been born as a human being. Though John does not elaborate on the precise way in which Jesus was made flesh, his contention that deity assumed human nature in Jesus would have been anathema for Greeks who held to a spirit/matter dualism and could hardly have imagined immaterial Reason (Logos) becoming a physical being. John’s message is that the incarnation represents an event of equal importance with creation. Since the world – including God’s chosen people – is dark, fallen, and sinful, humanity’s need is for spiritual rebirth, available only through the preexistent, enfleshed Word. The Greek verb dwelt more literally means “to pitch one’s tent.” This rare term, used elsewhere in the New Testament only in the Book of Revelation [7:15; 12:12; 13:6; 21:3], suggests that in Jesus, God has come to take up residence among His people once again, in a way even more intimate than when He dwelt in the midst of wilderness Israel in the tabernacle. Moses met God and heard His word in the “tent of meeting” [Ex. 33:9]; now, people may meet God and hear Him in the flesh of Jesus. Jesus’ pitching His tent among us is here related to the incarnation, that is, His being made human flesh; according to John, Jesus took the place of the temple. In Jesus, His followers saw the glory of God. First mentioned here, glory is another important term introduced in the opening section of John’s Gospel. In the Old Testament, God’s glory was said to dwell first in the tabernacle, and later in the temple. As John makes clear; now, in Jesus, God’s glory has taken up residence in the midst of His people once again. To bring glory to God is said to be Jesus’ overriding purpose in John’s Gospel. As He brings glory to God, glory also comes to Jesus. This only continues what was already true of Jesus prior to His coming, for glory characterized both Jesus’ eternal relationship with God and His preincarnate state. While on earth, Jesus’ glory is manifested to His first followers particularly through His signs. As the obedient, dependent Son, Jesus brings glory to God the Father throughout His entire ministry, but He does so supremely by submitting to the cross, which for John is the place of God’s – and Jesus’ – ultimate glorification. Jesus is God’s “one-of-a-kind Son (begotten). The term is used in the Old Testament to mean “only child.” Being an only child, and thus irreplaceable, makes a child of special value to its parents. The seminal event in Old Testament history in this regard is Abraham’s offering of Isaac, who in Genesis 22:2,12,16 is called Abraham’s only son, even though Abraham had earlier fathered Ishmael. Therefore the term “only begotten” means “one-of-a-kind” son; in Isaac’s case, the son of promise. Only Son is similar to the designation of Jesus as God’s beloved Son, which surfaces in the Synoptics in the voice from heaven at Jesus’ baptism and transfiguration. Jesus is the “one-of-a-kind” Son from, or alongside of, the Father, in the sense that He was with the Father, that He has come from the Father, and that He will send the Paraclete from the Father. The Son also sees and hears and receives from the Father. While Jesus is God’s only Son, God is Jesus’ Father, which is Jesus’ preferred way of referring to God in John. Although Jesus taught His disciples, who upon believing in Jesus had become God’s children, to call God Father as well, Jesus’ divine sonship remains unique. The relationship that Christians are able to enjoy with God their Father is unique among the world’s religions, many of which portray God as remote, stern, impersonal, or mystical. The special fatherhood of God for believers is already implied in 1:12-13 in the reference to the children of God who are born … of God. According to John, Jesus is full of grace and truth. Grace in John’s Gospel, in conjunction with truth, alludes to the Old Testament phrase “loving-kindness” (hesed) and truth (emet) [Ex. 34:6]. In this expression, both loving-kindness and truth refer to God’s covenant faithfulness to His people Israel. According to John, this faithfulness found ultimate expression in God’s sending of Jesus, His only Son. In verse 15 John now returns to the witness of John the Baptist. The Baptist serves as the prototypical Old Testament prophetic witness to Jesus and His coming, which makes his testimony an integral part of the salvation history canvassed by the evangelist. The Baptist was six months older than Jesus and began his ministry before Jesus did. The Old Testament generally supports the notion that rank and honor are tied to one’s age. Thus, priority in time implied preeminence. Because of the Baptist’s age and earlier ministry, both he and John are at pains to show that Jesus really was before the Baptist and therefore rightfully to be honored above him.

 

Jesus is Completely Necessary:  John 1:12-13, 16-18.

 

[12]  But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, [13]  who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. [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. [18]  No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known.

 

[12-13]  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 God’s 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 God’s children, even though they are created by God, unless and until they believe in Jesus Christ. John is careful to distinguish believers, who become children of God, from Jesus, who is the unique Son of God. The Word’s ability to give the right to become children of God is proof of His exclusive and unique relationship with God. The opposite of being born of God spiritually is natural procreation, mentioned by the evangelist in three different expressions. Spiritual birth is not the result of human initiative but of a supernatural origin. John’s point is that being a child of God is not a result of blood relations, as if a Jew, for instance, could simply presume upon descent from Abraham or Moses. Rather, spiritual birth is a result of the work of God who caused us to be born again [1 Peter 1:3].

 

[16-18]  Verse 16 continues the thought of verse 14. By portraying Jesus’ coming in terms of the giving of grace upon grace, John affirms that the grace given through Moses was replaced by the grace bestowed through Christ. True grace came through Jesus Christ. Rather than offend the Gospel’s Jewish audience, this verse is designed to draw it in. John is saying that if you want an even more gracious demonstration of God’s covenant love and faithfulness, it is found in Jesus Christ. Jesus’ ministry is superior to that of Moses, just as He is superior to Jacob and Abraham. Verse 17 is the first mention of Jesus in the Gospel, culminating a string of references to the Word – both preexistent and incarnate – and the light. 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 Father’s 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 – despite the law. Although the law is God’s 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 humankind’s inability to see God is two-fold: first, God is spirit; second, humankind fell into sin and was expelled from God’s 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 Father’s side refers to the unmatched intimacy of Jesus’ relationship with the Father, which enabled Him to reveal the Father in an unprecedented way. Made him known means “to give a full account” in the sense of “telling the whole story.” 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 “telling the whole story” of God the Father.

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.         What three things does verse 1 teach about the divinity of Jesus Christ? What do verses 3 and 4 add? What does John mean by writing that the Word is life and light?

 

2.         Why does John call Jesus the Word?

 

3.         What does John mean by writing that Jesus is full of grace and truth [1:14,16]?

 

4.         What does it mean to receive Jesus? According to 1:13, what must first happen before anyone can receive Jesus?

 

References:

The Gospel According to John, D. A. Carson, Eerdmans.

John, Andreas Kostenberger, ECNT, Baker.

John, Volume 1, James Boice, Baker.