GOD BECAME HUMAN
This morning we begin our series on Jesus in John’s Gospel by focusing on the first eighteen verses in which John addresses the question, “Who is Jesus?” Where did he come from? Why did he come? What is the meaning of his life? This passage focuses on the central fact of Christian faith: Christianity is about a person named Jesus. Our study of this Gospel and, indeed, our study of all of Scripture, has as its purpose to get to know this Jesus better. That is what we hope to do today, and in the weeks and months to come. I invite you to turn with me to John 1:1-18
In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him. The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it. God sent a man, John the Baptist, to tell about the light so that everyone might believe because of his testimony. John himself was not the light; he was simply a witness to tell about the light. The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God. So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son. John testified about him when he shouted to the crowds, “This is the one I was talking about when I said, ‘Someone is coming after me who is far greater than I am, for he existed long before me.’” From his abundance we have all received one gracious blessing after another. For the law was given through Moses, but God’s unfailing love and faithfulness came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us.
“Who is Jesus?” In his summary answer to this question, John tells us who Jesus is eternally, who Jesus is effectively, and who Jesus is visibly. First, who Jesus is eternally – who Jesus was from before the beginning, and is today, and will be forever. Eternally, Jesus is God. More specifically, he is the Word of God. We need to think concretely about that phrase, Word of God. What is a word? A word is an audible expression of a thought. Nobody knows what a person thinks unless that person puts his or her thoughts into words. For me to share with you this morning the thoughts that are on my mind, the only medium I have is words. That is what John means by saying that Jesus is the Word of God. When Jesus was among us as a man he expressed what was going on in the mind of God. He told us the thoughts of God. He was God’s communication on earth.
Did you notice how John says that God created everything through the Word? The first three words of John’s gospel are “In the beginning . . .” What other book of the Bible begins with these same three words? Genesis, the story of the creation of the world. And in what way did God create the world? He spoke it into being. “And God said let there be . . . and there was.” He spoke words, he communicated his thoughts and they became reality. The Word was there at the beginning, communicating the mind of God – therefore, as John declares, all things were created through him and nothing was created except through him. That includes you and me; we were created through Jesus.
This brings us to who Jesus is effectively – what Jesus can do for you and for me. Let’s first make clear what he has already done. He has given us life. “The Word gave life to everything that was created.” In the Greek, the language in which the New Testament was written, there are two words for life. The first is “bios” from which we get the word “biology,” that is, physical life. This is the kind of life that the Word gave us when we were created. The second Greek word for life is “zoe,” which in the New Testament is often translated “eternal life.” In creation the Word gave us bios life and, by coming to earth as a human being, the Word invites us to receive zoe life.
But, John tells us, many have rejected Jesus’ offer of eternal life. They have denied him as their creator, and they have refused him as their savior. John calls this rejection of the Word “darkness.” Although the Word became human and lived among us, and although the Word communicated to us the love and grace of God the Father, people chose to continue living in darkness rather than come into the light. Still, some believed and accepted him as the Word, as God, as the one through whom they receive eternal life.
Eternal life starts, as John tells us here, like created life – with a birth. Every person in this Sanctuary entered human life by means of birth. There is no other way. This is how you got here – by being born. And that is true of eternal life as well. There has to be a birth, as Jesus will point out in the third chapter of John’s Gospel when he speaks with Nicodemus and tells him that he must be born again. Furthermore, like created life, eternal life is not a mass-production. Just as we were born into this life one at a time, so we must be born into eternal life one at a time, personally, individually.
Who Jesus is eternally, effectively, and now, visibly. What did people see when they looked at him, when they heard him teach, when they followed him and lived with him? Not what he looked like on the outside (isn’t it interesting that nowhere in the New Testament do we find a description of what Jesus looked like on the outside) but what they saw on the inside. What caught John’s attention was the glory that he saw inside. Have you ever walked around a campground at night and seen lights inside the tent glowing in the darkness as they shone through the fabric? That is descriptive of the light John saw when he saw Jesus: he saw glory inside, shining through. And the nature of that glory is God’s unfailing love and faithfulness.
In verse seventeen John contrasts God’s unfailing love and faithfulness with the law. The law makes demands of us. An example of law is the IRS. In a few months we will be required to file our tax forms and, if we owe any taxes, to pay them. We must give up what the law demands. John says that the law was given by Moses, but unfailing love and faithfulness came through Jesus Christ.
Many believe that law, and unfailing love and faithfulness, are contradictory, that the Old Testament is about law and the New Testament is about love. But that is not the case at all. Law makes its demands, rightfully and justly, and no one can meet them perfectly. But unfailing love and faithfulness is given in order to meet the demand. What John saw in Jesus, what John beheld in the glory that shone through Jesus and which Jesus offers to the world, is the supply to meet the demand, the love which covers every transgression of the law, the forgiveness from the cross which pardons every sin, so that his life, his zoe, may be in us. To all who believe and accept him, he gives the right to be born anew into the family of God.
Who is Jesus? He is eternally God and he eternally communicates the mind of God, he is effectively the one who has given us human life and the one who desires to give us eternal life, and he is the one through whom the demands of the law, which we have all broken, can be met.