In the Beginning Was the Word

Series: The Word Became Flesh

Sermon by David Strain on Dec 7, 2014

John 1:1-18

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This morning we are taking a short break from our ongoing studies in the book of Exodus to capitalize on the opportunity afforded by the Advent season and together to think in a sustained and concentrated way about the significance of the first coming of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  And this year, our thinking will be directed by the prologue to the gospel according to John.  And so I’d like to invite you now please to take a copy of God’s holy Word in your hands and open it to John’s gospel, chapter 1.  If you’re using one of the church Bibles you’ll find it on page 886, John chapter 1.  Before we read, it is our custom to ask for God to help us in prayer.  Would you bow your heads with me as we pray together?

Our Father, we pray now for the ministry of Christ the Light of the world, that He would shine into our darkness and that the darkness would not understand, comprehend, overcome Him but that His light would be life to us all.  Give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God shining in the face of Jesus Christ as we read Your holy Word in sacred Scripture.  Hear us, meet with us, and deal with us by Your grace.  In Jesus’ name, amen.

John chapter 1, reading from verse 1:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that has been made.  In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

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

The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.  He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.  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.

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.  (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.’’)  And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.  For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.”

Amen, and we praise God that He has spoken to us in His holy Word.

The Profundity and Beauty of the Person and Work of Christ

Imagine for a moment that the four gospels are great pieces of classical music.  We might say the gospels of Matthew and Luke begin with themes that have the air of a lullaby. They recount the nativity, the incarnation, the birth and infancy of Jesus Christ.  Mark’s gospel, on the other hand, begins with a fanfare. It is the heraldic ministry of John the Baptist announcing the coming of Jesus Christ.  John, John’s gospel however, the fourth gospel, begins neither with a lullaby nor the stride and trumpet blasts of a herald; it begins, rather, with a soaring choral anthem.  It begins at the pinnacle of doxology.  It does not tell us about the birth of Christ; neither does it talk about John the Baptist’s ministry.  No, John plunges with us into the ocean depths of mystery and profundity, talking to us about the unity of the triune God and the two natures, divine and human, that subsist in the single person of the Lord Jesus Christ.  “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.”  He starts with the most profound of statements as though to make absolutely sure that whatever else you think about the birth of Jesus, as we contemplate His coming at Christmastime, you get this much - that Jesus Christ is a Man like no other. And holy awe, stunned and reverent before the mystery of the God-Man, ought to mark every one of our responses to Him. 

Otherwise we might be tempted to dismiss His birth as an irrelevance.  What could be more run of the mill?  There’s nothing weaker, nothing more mundane, really, than the birth of yet another baby - a peasant child, born in impoverished circumstances millennia ago.  Irrelevant, right?  Or perhaps we might assimilate the story of the coming of Christ into a larger narrative marked by Christmas sentimentality.  You know, a story about a baby in a manger to go along with the tinsel and the fairy lights.  But as we stare together into the rude cattle trough where the Christ-Child was laid, John is telling us here in his prologue that we have in fact come to the edge of the abyss, to the brink of ineffable glory, to mystery and majesty made flesh.  So this morning we are focusing on the beginning of John’s gospel and the opening few verses of his prologue which arguably contain for us the most profound and beautiful statement of Christ’s person and work ever penned. 

Would you look at them with me please?  Let’s organize John’s teaching here under three headings.  First, verses 1 and 2, he tells us that Jesus is the divine Word.  Jesus is the divine Word.  Then secondly, verse 3, Jesus is the creative Word.  And then in verses 4 and 5, Jesus the illuminating Word.  The divine Word, the creative Word, and the illuminating Word.

I. Jesus is the Divine Word

Look at verses 1 and 2 first of all - Jesus, the divine Word.  I want you to see three things here about Jesus’ deity in these opening two verses. 

The Word is Eternal

First he tells us that Christ, that Jesus the Word, is eternal; He is eternal.  Look at John’s language carefully and notice the verb that he uses.  “In the beginning was the Word.” When the beginning began, the Word already, always was.  Now look down at verse 14 for a moment and notice the contrast.  Verse 1 - “In the beginning was the Word.”  His existence was a given when all other things came into being.  “In the beginning was the Word.”  Verse 14 - “The Word became flesh and dwelled among us.”  At the dawn of creation the Word already existed, but in the middle of that creation’s history, the Word that had always been became that which He had never before been.  The Word became flesh.  He took into union with Himself a human nature in the person of Jesus Christ.  When the virgin conceived of the Holy Spirit and bore a son and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and laid Him in a manger, that was not the beginning of the Word.  The Word there became flesh. But think of this - before Mary herself ever drew her own first breath, the Word who became flesh whom she bore and brought into the world, already always was and filled the universe with His glory.  When the clock first began to tick, the Word had lived for an eternity.  The Word is not a creature, John is telling us, bounded by time or nature to a beginning or an ending.  The Word was already in the beginning.

In the early church there was a heretic, really a forerunner of the modern Jehovah’s Witnesses, who denied the deity of Christ and therefore he denied His eternity.  And he had a slogan, a sort of motto.  His name was Arius and his motto was, “There was when He was not.” There was a time when Jesus didn’t exist, according to Arius.  Jesus, for Arius and for modern Jehovah’s Witnesses, is a mere creature.  But that’s not what John says.  John says that at the beginning of creation, when the Lord God started the clock on matter and energy and set the planets spinning on their axes, the Word already always was.  So here we’re being taught, first of all, about the eternity of Jesus Christ.

The Word is Identical with God

And then secondly, notice in these same two verses under this heading of Christ’s deity, John tells us the Word is identical with God.  Do you see that in verse 1?  John, you’ve probably noticed, is nodding in the direction of Genesis 1:1.  Genesis 1:1 - “In the beginning, God…”  But here John says, “In the beginning was the Word.”  The God who presided over creation, he now tells us, is the Word.  “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”  Literally, actually, “the God was the Word.”  The only God there is, is the same God as the Word.  All that God is, is the Word.  The Being that God is, is the same Being the Word is, so that the One who took flesh and dwelled among us at Christmastime would be the maker and sustainer of all.  In Acts 20 and verse 28 where Paul is speaking with the Ephesian elders, he uses a phrase, a striking and provocative phrase, that I think helps highlight the significance of John’s point here.  He talks to the elders about “the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.”  The church of God which He purchased with His own blood.  God does not have blood!  He is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.  God doesn’t have a body.  He does not have blood unless the God whose church we are took flesh and was born of a woman and laid in a manger and was nailed to the tree at Calvary. 

That’s what John is telling us here.  The only God who is there, took flesh and nursed at Mary’s breast and made His home in Nazareth and sat by the well in Samaria in John 4, parched and weary.  The God who preceded creation and who fills all things in every way, walking the dusty streets of Palestine.  The One who slept exhausted, do you remember, on the boat that night amidst the storm as the waves crashed over their tiny vessel and the disciples quaked in fear.  Who was He?  Who, with a word, could still the wind and the waves?  This Man is the great “I AM,” the Lord God Himself, the One into whose hands the nails were hammered and into whose face humanity screamed out their curses and their insults and its vitriol.  This Man is the God of all glory.  “Who is He in yonder stall, at whose feet the shepherds fall?  Tis the Lord, O wondrous story!  Tis the Lord, the King of Glory!  At His feet we humbly fall; crown Him, crown Him, Lord of all!” 

The Word is Distinct from God

The Word is eternal, the Word is identical with God, but then notice also in these verses, John tells us in the third place the Word is distinct from God - identical with God, yet distinct from God.  Verse 1 again, “the Word was with God” - ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν.  The Word, literally, the Word is toward God.  Each turned toward the other in the infinite, endless exchange of love that characterizes the fellowship of the blessed Trinity, the Father delighting in His Son and the Son in the Father and the Spirit in the Father and in the Son.  All that the Father is, John has told us, is Jesus Christ, the Word.  And yet, Jesus Christ is not the Father.  John 10:30, Jesus says, “I and my Father are one.”  And yet they are not identical. They are distinct and yet indivisible.  There is but one God, yet there are three persons - the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  There is God the Father, there is God the Word, whom John calls in verse 14 “the Son” and “Jesus Christ,” verse 17, and as John will go on to tell us there is God the Holy Spirit.  Not three gods; one God.  Not one person; three persons, dwelling forever in the indissoluble bonds of love and communion within the blessed Trinity.  Now when you come to the manger and you gaze at the Christ-Child, when you dare stare into the manger of Bethlehem, you are staring, do you see, you are staring into ineffable mystery.  You are being led to stand on the brink of the chasm of the profundity of God.  Now what should you do?  How should you respond? 

Hard-Wired for Awe and Wonder

My favorite art gallery in central London is the Tate Modern.  It is housed within the old Bankside power station on the south banks of the River Thames.  The central gallery space is probably half again as long as our sanctuary and significantly taller.  It is five stories high, 3,500 meters of floor space.  In 2003 I went to see an installation there by the Danish artist, Olafur Eliasson called, “The Weather Project.” And he covered the ceiling, the whole ceiling of the Turbine Hall, the name of the central space in the Tate Modern, with a reflective material, silvery material, like a mirror.  And then at the far end there was a huge, semi-circular bright orange-neon half circle, the flat edge of which was placed against the reflective surface so that it created the illusion of a complete disk. The whole space was filled with dry ice and there was a breeze blowing through so that the fabric rippled like water, so that the effect was almost as though you were looking at a sunset inverted over your head as ripples proceeded back and forth across the surface as you gaze at this post-industrial neon sunset.  Or it’s almost like a rose window in a huge cathedral space. 

Now I had been in the Turbine Hall many, many times.  Usually it is a huge chamber filled with noise.  There are children running, there’s people chattering and talking noisily, and you can hear the echoes bouncing all around.  On this occasion, however, something surprising took place.  As people would make their way chattering contentedly into the turbine hall all conversation would stop as they saw this extraordinary and actually quite beautiful vision before them.  And then something amazing happened.  No one told them to do this.  There were no instructions provided.  Complete strangers, urban secular elites living in London, they lay down on the ground in silence to take it in.  There was about a hundred and fifty random people, strangers, lying on the ground that day when I visited the Turbine Hall.  What was going on?  There was an instinctive reaction to glory and beauty and mystery and it prostrated them before it.  We are hard-wired for glory, for beauty, for awe.  We were made for wonder.  And that is John’s purpose as he takes us to the mysteries of the Trinity and the union of deity and humanity in the person of Christ.  He wants to show us not artificial glory, not neon post-industrial beauty.  He wants to show us ultimate beauty, ultimate mystery, eternal glory, that we might bow down in holy awe and give ourselves in adoration and praise.  What do you do when you come to the Christ-Child, to the God-Man, to the eternal divine Word?  You prostrate yourself before Him in surrender and submission and in praise. 

II. Jesus is the Creative Word

So Jesus is the divine Word, but then secondly notice that John tells us Jesus is the creative Word.  Look at the text again.  “In the beginning was the Word.  All things were made through him and without him was not any thing made that has been made.” This is the allusion.  You caught it, didn’t you?  An allusion again to Genesis 1:1 - “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”  Here, however, John is filling in some of the details of the story.  Here is the one by whom God spoke all things into being.  He was the divine Word, the eternal Son, the blessed second person of the holy Trinity, the Lord Jesus Christ.  That means Jesus is the mediator and agent of creation.  His fingerprints, the record of His mind imprinted upon all the things that He has made.  Donald Macleod, my old professor, puts it this way as he reflects on these truths.  He said, “This means that the creative force, the source of every other form of energy, is not impersonal, blind, capricious, or malevolent but Christ-like.  The creation expresses Him and in itself contains no un-Christlikeness at all.  In that confidence we harness its resources, assured that all of them are at least beneficent.  And we move over every horizon expecting to find not black holes of sterility or absurdity but coherent and fecund expressions of the mind of Christ.”  The mind of Christ, written in God’s second book, not the book of special revelation, Holy Scripture, but the book of general revelation, the book of nature.  It is the work of Jesus, displayed everywhere you look, in all that is beautiful and bright and glorious.  You see something of the mind of Christ.  That means, you know, that the world around us is not wicked and bad in itself.  Matter, the stuff of the world, is not to be despised, but rather it is to be studied as a window into the beauty and majesty and incomprehensible wisdom of the Lord God and of His Son, Jesus Christ. 

Seeing Afresh God’s Love for the World

Christmas, the Christmas story, the coming of Jesus, isn’t offered to you to be a distraction from the bleak mid-winter.  It is not the spiritual equivalent of a Christmas tree - something to bring a little cheer into your gloom, to distract you from the brokenness of the world.  No, actually John is telling us in his prologue the coming of Jesus Christ is to remind you of God’s creative work by His Son, not to distract you from the world but to teach you again of His love for the world, His love even for the created order, that in order to redeem it and rescue it from its warped and broken state because of our sin, He would Himself, in the person of Jesus Christ, become a creature that He might redeem this fallen world and one day bring a new heaven and a new earth to be.  

III. Jesus is the Illuminating Word

Jesus is the divine Word and He is the creative Word and finally John tells us Jesus is the illuminating Word.  It belongs especially to the office of Jesus Christ to make God known.  Verses 4 and 5 - “In him was life and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”  Jesus came to bring illumination - light understanding.  That’s what verse 18 teaches us, isn’t it?  No one has ever seen God, but the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has made Him known.  He has declared Him.  That is what Jesus does.  He is the revelation, the Word, the self-communication of God to you, which, by the way, is why Christianity is an irreducible logo-centric faith.  That is to say, w are Word-centered.  We are Word-people because Jesus is the Word.

It has become popular in academic theological circles to talk about the “Christ-Event.”  It’s a dreadful phrase, the “Christ-Event.”  “In the beginning was the event.”  In the event was the deed.  What is the problem with that way of phrasing it?  It is that events and deeds need interpreting.  They are unclear as modes of communication.  What John is telling us is that when God sought to reach, to seek and save the lost, to call out to us, to bring us to Himself, He did it in crystal clear, sharp, precise communication.  He sent His Son to make the Father known.  Which means, as an aside, that it is threadbare devotion to Jesus whose coming we are remembering at Christmas, if it is not devotion saturated and steeped and shaped and directed by Holy Scripture.  A sentimental nod in the direction of Jesus will not do.  He is the Word and He calls for you to be people of the Word.  Will you make your response to Christ’s first coming a renewed commitment to becoming people of the Book?

A Call to Renewed Devotion

And as we close, let me highlight one last thing about Jesus the Word.  If in Christ God is speaking, in these last days God has spoken to us by His Son, if Jesus’ coming is God calling out and talking, communicating to a world lost in darkness and sin, do you see what that means?  It is an index of the commitment of the heart of God to reach you.  Here are the lengths to which He would go to call you back to Himself.  He would send His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem those under the Law, to bear your reproach, to obey where you could never hope to obey, and then to die the death you deserve to die to purchase for you full, free forgiveness.  Here is God’s Word and God’s call to you and here is the measure of His desire to win you and make you His, that His Word to you, His call and invitation to you is His Son, Jesus Christ, crucified, risen, and reigning.  I wonder as God speaks to you in the person of Jesus this Christmas, I wonder if you are listening, if you will answer His call and come with renewed devotion to bend your knee to Christ.  He is the divine Word and the creative Word and the Word who brings the light of life so that prior to knowing Him your life seemed but gray shadow.  But now that the light of life has dawned, all is bright and clear as you taste life in all its fullness.  May the Lord be gracious to give Christ to you this Christmas.  Let us pray together.

Our Father, we bless You for Jesus.  We pray that You would fix our hearts on Him.  Bring us indeed to the brink, there to stand in holy awe at the vast, divine immensity of the God-Man, of all that He has done, and there to adore Him.  For we ask it in Jesus’ name, amen.

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