Now if you would please take a copy of the Scriptures in your hands and turn with me to the Gospel according to John, chapter 1. John chapter 1; page 886 in the church Bibles. Christmas for very many of us is a season of brightness and relief – tinsel and Christmas decorations and lights on a tree in the midst of the gathering gloom of winter. But for some, and we think here of the Watts family and for many of our families here, it is a time of grief and sadness and the trappings of Christmas can easily begin to feel rather superficial and even out of place. As we turn our attention to the prologue of John’s gospel, one of the central metaphors and motifs that we will be considering today is that Jesus it the Light, the Light of the world. Here is a light that shines in the midst of the gloom of our darkness that is not trivial or superficial or light and flippant. It is profound and addresses the deepest shadows of our hearts and souls. And so we are to be grateful to God in His wise providence that this is where our attention is being directed – to Jesus Christ, whose light shines into our darkness by His grace. So we’re going to read John chapter 1 verses 1 to 18. Before we do, let’s bow our heads as we pray.
Light of the world, we are praying now for Your ministry to us, that by Your Spirit You would speak and Your Word might dispel our darkness. Hear us in our sadness. Meet us in our sin. Penetrate the darkness. Show us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God that shines from Your face for Your own glory and in Your name, Lord Jesus, 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 in His holy Word.
Jesus the Word, Jesus the Light
You will remember as we began looking at John’s prologue last Lord’s Day morning that the central motif of the first five verses is that Jesus is the Word. That’s the key metaphor in the opening verses – Jesus, the Word. God is talking to the world in the person of His Son. In the past, at different times and in different ways, God spoke to us by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken by His Son. Jesus is the Word. We saw He is the divine Word, He is the creative Word, and He is the illuminating Word.
I. The Light
Today we’re turning our attention to verses 4 to 13 and the metaphor changes as I said a moment ago, now not the Word, but the Light. The Light. And we’re going to notice four things in these verses. The first of which you will see if you look at verses 4 and 5. The light is the first thing. We’re going to think a little about this metaphor. “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.” And the very first thing to notice about the light is really very simple. In verse 4 John says that Jesus was life. The source and origin of life, life resides in Him as the fountain for which all other life proceeds. As Jesus would later put it in John 5 verse 26, “As the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son also to have life in Himself.” The Son has life in Himself from Himself. He is the uncreated, unoriginated divine life. But then did you see that John tells us that the life that subsists in Jesus is a life we badly need for ourselves. “In Him was life and the life was the light of men.” My study, you may know, is a place where plants go to die. There’s not enough light there. We need light for biological life; we need divine light for supernatural life. “In Him was life and the life was the light of men.”
If we are ever to have life – real, eternal, abundant life, found only in Jesus – John tells us we need His light to shine on us because as verse 5 develops the metaphor, verse 5, we are in darkness. “The light shines in the darkness.” That is our condition. Apart from Jesus, by nature, we are in a darkness so total it cuts us off from the light of life. Ours is the darkness of spiritual death. And so the good news is, I hope you can see, that Jesus’ mission, He came to penetrate the darkness with life-giving light. That’s why He was born. That’s the reason for the angelic announcement and the shepherds’ worship and the wise men’s visit. The light had finally begun to shine into our darkness in Jesus Christ.
The Hostility of Darkness and Triumph of the Light of Christ
But look at how the darkness is characterized in our text. Verse 5 again. “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” Our problem, John is telling us, is not intellectual primarily; it’s not that we are ignorant. That’s what we mean often when we say we’re in the dark on something – we don’t have all the facts; we don’t know all the details. We are ignorant; we’re in the dark. That’s not what John means when he talks about us being in the darkness. It’s not that we need more data and if only we understood better the facts about Jesus everything would be okay. No, the darkness is not nearly so easily dispelled. This is a darkness constituted not primarily by ignorance so much as by hostility. “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” If you have a different version of the Scriptures yours may actually translate the same Greek word slightly differently. You may have a version that reads, “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not understood it.” And of course the Greek could be translated either way. For me, however, a parallel verse in John 12:35 settles the issue about what John means. John 12:35 – listen to the similarity of language, this time from the lips of Jesus. “The light,” speaking about Himself, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light lest darkness overtake you.” That’s the same word that John uses in John 1 verse 5. That’s what the darkness is trying to do; it’s trying to overtake the light, consume the light, control and dominate and obliterate the light. John’s point about our darkness is not that we are ignorant; it is that we are opposed. We are in enmity against God by nature. As Paul would put it in 1 Corinthians 2:14, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God for they are folly to Him. He is not able to understand them; they are spiritually discerned.” James 4:4 more bluntly – “Friendship with the world is enmity against God.” That is John’s point. We are hostile apart from Christ. We are darkness, antithetical to the Light.
And really understood against that backdrop, the message of the coming of the baby of Bethlehem is momentous news. It’s hard not to read verse 9, for example, as almost breathless with excitement and wonder. Verse 9, “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” He’s coming! Unstoppable light. The light that none of the darkness of sin can every thwart. Omnipotent, life-giving light – born of the virgin, adored by the angels, hunted by Herod, baptized by John, who would one day stand in the temple and say, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but have the light of life.” There are no shadows. Listen. There are no shadows, however dark, there are no sinkholes of moral failure in your heart so impenetrable, none, that the light of Jesus Christ cannot triumph precisely there. The light overcomes the darkness. Come into the light of Jesus Christ. He can chase your shadows away. That’s the first thing to see – the light.
II. The Witness
Then verses 6 to 8, secondly, the witness. The witness – verses 6 to 8. “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.” What was John’s job? The prologue rather labors the point, says it again down in verse 15. John was a witness. That’s what he came to do. If you trace the language of “witness” through the New Testament Scriptures you will see two interesting facts. First, that statistically the language of “witness” is something you find by far and away most often occurring in John’s writings. He loves this language of bearing witness. And the second thing that you will see if you trace it out carefully throughout the New Testament is that those who bear witness to Jesus are invariably the agents of supernatural revelation. Their witness is the witness of inspired revelation. It is the Word of God. So for example, John 5:30-47, John 5:30-47, Jesus links John the Baptist’s role as a witness with the witness of three others. In addition to John’s witness to Christ, Jesus says the works that He performs, Jesus’ own works, also bear witness – John 5:36. Then he says, secondly, God the Father bears witness – John 5:37. And then thirdly, the Old Testament Scriptures bear witness – John 5:39. So you see Jesus here coordinating the witness of John the Baptist with three other revelatory witnesses – the witness of Christ’s miracles, the witness of God the Father, and the witness of the Old Testament Scriptures. John’s witness is supernatural revelation. It is authoritative, inspired testimony to Jesus’ person, identity, and work
And if you move on from the Gospels to consider the Acts and the Letters, the same can be said for the witness of the apostles. The famous commission given the apostles in Acts 1 and verse 8, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria and to the ends of the earth,” of course that commission still binds the whole church in every age. But today we fulfill that commission not by bearing direct witness to Christ ourselves but by repeating the witness of the apostles now recorded for us and preserved in Holy Scripture. In other words, witness in the New Testament is generally reserved for people sent under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to give authoritative, firsthand testimony to Jesus Christ. And in that narrow sense, none of us can be witnesses. We can only repeat and proclaim the content of their witness as we mine it from the rich deposit of Holy Scripture, the Word of God. And so when verses 6 to 8 direct our attention to the witness of John the Baptist, it is a way for John’s prologue to remind us that God by the Holy Spirit has provided authoritative testimony to His Son, supernatural and inspired.
The Sacred Witness of Scripture
And if we want to know the Jesus to whom John bore witness, is it here that we must turn, to the sacred pages of God’s book. That’s where the testimony has been recorded and preserved. Where do you go to get the light of life that shines into our darkness from the face of Jesus Christ? Go to the book! Get into the book! Open the book! Jesus Christ will shine from every page. He shines on every page. Before we move on, however, do notice verse 8. Verse 8, I love this verse because it helps us provide important balance. Look at it; verse 8 – “He was not the light that came to bear witness about the light.” The gospel insists that John is not the focus; Jesus is the focus. The witness isn’t the focus of our attention. The one to whom the witness bears testimony is to be the object of our attention. The inspired testimony recorded in Scripture is vital. Verses 6 to 8 should drive us back into its study. Get into the Bible. Devote yourselves to the Bible. But as you do, remember please that it is entirely possible to be like the Pharisees in John chapter 5 who search the Scriptures diligently for in them they think they have life, yet these are they which speak of Jesus. It is possible to be Bible people yet miss the one to whom the Bible bears testimony. We are to love the Word but we love it because it takes us by the hand and brings us to Christ, the Light of the world.
III. The World
The light then, secondly, the witness, and then in the third place notice the world, the world – verses 9 to 11. “The true light which gives light to 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.” There’s something terrifically monstrous about these verses, isn’t there? We ought to feel as we read them there should be an exclamation point at their end. How can it be, how can it be? He made the world! Every creature, every heart that beats, every one of us that draws breath! We are the work of His hands! And when He came among us as one of us, what reception did we give Him? He came to the world and the world did not know Him. He came to His own people and they did not receive Him. We closed our eyes on the light of the world. We turned our backs on the light of the world. Here’s the measure of the darkness into which Christ was born that first Christmas. We exchanged the truth of God for a lie. Romans 1:28 – We did not see fit to acknowledge God and so God gave us up to a debased mind. When the light of the world shone on us, we closed our eyes and looked away.
IV. The Family
The light, the witness, the world, but then look at verses 12 to 13 – the family. The light, the witness, the world, but then the family. “But to all who received him, who believe 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.” If verses 9 to 11 that shows the response of the world should be distressing to us as we read them, verse 12 should be profoundly mysterious. How is it, given the utter darkness of the human heart, the darkness of spiritual death that closed its eyes on the light of the world, how is it that a world of utter impenetrable darkness should have any, any who believed and received the Lord Jesus Christ? That’s a great mystery there given the depravity and darkness of our hearts. Verse 12 is one of the deepest mysteries in Scripture. How do dead people, spiritually dead, how do they believe the Gospel? How do helpless sinners receive Christ? Where does it come from?
Verse 13; look at verse 13. They received him and believed in his name and obtained the right to adoption into his family because “they were born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man.” It’s not the fruit of ancestral inheritance. They were not born of blood – who your parents are does not make any different in eternity. It’s not the result of natural desires and appetites. They were not born of the will of the flesh. It’s not even the result of the design and ingenuity of human intellect. It’s not of the will of man. How is it that the blind and those in darkness and in spiritual death come to believe and receive the Lord Jesus, the Light of the world? They were born of God. Spiritual life, you know, doesn’t begin with faith; faith begins with spiritual life. When you first came into the world your first breath was not the cause of your life; you lived and therefore you took your first breath. And that is John’s point here. There are those who did receive Him amidst all the darkness. There is a company of those who did believe in His name. To them He gave the grace of adoption naming them children of God but from where did they find the faith to believe in Jesus? How did they come to breathe the free air of saving faith in Christ? They had been made the objects of the regenerating grace of God. They were born from above. Born again. Born of God.
Salvation in the Christ of Christmas
If this morning you don’t know Jesus Christ, let me say to you this Christmas your most pressing, desperate need is for new life. You must be born again. You must be born again. Those who received Him were born of God. Do you have the new birth? Are you a new creation in Christ? Only God can do it in you so you must cry out to Him for new birth. Ask Him to make you His child. Come and plead for Jesus to enter in. No one who came pleading like that to God ever was turned away. He’s generous with His mercy. That is the great message, you know, of John’s prologue. I’m a sucker for cheesy Christmas movies and we watched one the other day with the kids in which Daddy saved Christmas from the brink of disaster, preserving it secure for children everywhere. It was a good, fun movie. Of course it absolutely inverts the true message of Christmas, doesn’t it? It’s not that we save Christmas; Christmas saves us. Christ saves us. Salvation belongs to the Lord. He came to be your rescuer, to give you second birth. He can make the dead to live forever. He is the resurrection and the life. He who lives and believes in Him shall not perish. You will live forever with Him in glory. Jesus is the Light who can chase your shadows away, who can penetrate your deepest darkness. Jesus is the one who can make you new. He’s the one you need this Christmas. And so may Christ break in with life-giving power to dispel the darkness and give you the light of life. May the Lord bless to you the ministry of His Word. Let us pray.
Our Father, thank You for Jesus who lives that all who live and believe in Him might not die but have everlasting life. Thank You that He is the Light of the world and even when we are plunged into deep darkness His light breaks through. We pray that His Light would penetrate every heart here present that the light of life, that new birth, would be ours by His grace, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
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