Sermon by Pastor Dave Collins
Who is Jesus? It’s a simple question. But one that we sometimes lose sight of, isn’t it? If we don’t circle back to it often enough, we might end up believing what a lot of people seem to believe…that Jesus is just like me, that Jesus is just like our community. God made us in God’s image, and we have been trying to return the favor ever since. But that’s not the way it works!
Jesus doesn’t change. But we do. Our world does. And when it does, we have to meet Jesus again for the first time. Which is why over the next five weeks, we’re going to ask this all important question, “Who is Jesus?” to just one gospel, the gospel of John. Why? If you’ve studied the Bible before, you’ve noticed that the gospel of John is really different from the other three gospels. So different, that sometimes we wonder, is this the same Jesus that we find in Matthew, Mark and Luke? Why is the way that he speaks in John so different from the way he speaks in the other gospels? If you’ve studied John before, you probably also know that the gospel of John was written nearly 60 years later than the other gospels, which might make you question how reliable it is. But those two reasons are a big part of why we’re studying John now, and why we should study it more.
One reason that the gospel wasn’t written down and circulated until 60 years after the other three was that it didn’t need to be. John’s community, John’s church, which you might hear us call the Johannine community sometimes, most likely lived a set apart life after the resurrection, and their spiritual leader was John, the beloved disciple, and likely one other important person that we’ll get into in a few more weeks. They didn’t need a written down gospel, because they had something better, a witness; not just one of Jesus’ disciples, but the one who got Jesus in a different way than any other did. John understood that all the correct theology in the world didn’t make a difference if you didn’t love like Jesus. So that was the rule of their community. They loved one another. And if they had a question, they could look to the Bible they had (the Law and the Prophets) or ask someone who knew Jesus better than anyone. But leaders get old and die, and before John did, probably with some help from the many disciples he made over those 60 years, his community wrote it all down.
Isn’t that refreshing? Can you imagine if our community was that unhurried? If our world allowed that kind of intentionality? If it wasn’t such a rush to be first? To get it right now? That’s how we actually get to know who Jesus is. That’s the kind of outlook we need, especially now. So with that in mind, let’s pray. God, I ask that you would bless our time in John’s Gospel. That you would show us who Jesus is, and how he brings us to you. Amen.
Who is Jesus? The first, and most important thing John says in answer to that question is that Jesus is God. Not a god, not God-like, but God.To show us that, John’s gospel starts in the boldest way it possibly could.
In the beginning…
What other book of the Bible begins like this? Genesis! The very beginning of the Bible is repeated here. This gospel links itself to Genesis and insists on its place in the scriptures. It’s a truth that took 60 years of communing together to be able to put so concisely.
In the beginning was the Word, The Greek word for “word” is logos. Which is where we get the word “logic”. It’s connected to wisdom, and reason and all kinds of important philosophical things. You can make a lot of hay from this word in Greek if you want to. But in every translation of the Bible that I know of, they always render it as “word” never any of those other things. And they’re right, and here’s why I think that is. I like to mis-pronounce words. Never names, though, so if I ever mis-pronounce yours, please correct me. But if I can think of a way to say any word wrong, and still be understood, I’ll do it. For instance, I prefer to get my burritos from Chip-o-till. And I think it’s more fun to park a car in a Gare-idge. I’ll even go so far as to prefer nuke-you-lar power. Partly because it’s fun. And partly because if I happen to be feeling ornery, which happens every now and then, and someone happens to correct my pronunciation of a word that isn’t someone’s name, I’ve got my reply all ready to go. I say, “Ok but did you know what I meant? Did the miracle of language still take place? Did the neurons in your brain make a picture that mirrored the neurons in mine, because of the sounds I made with my mouth? Did it still work?”
Words are little miracles, aren’t they? Sounds made by tongues and teeth, and the shape of your mouth allow our invisible thoughts to fly instantly from inside one brain and into another. When we’re communicating, I don’t want to know your words. I want to know your thoughts! And sometimes, there is something going on in my mind that I desperately want to share with you, but I just can’t describe it! I just can’t find the right words, until I do, and then the feeling of relief and resolution is powerful. That’s what Jesus is to God. He is the perfect word that conveys the thoughts in the mind of God.
In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
Dale Bruner, who preached here a long time ago, wrote a very heavy commentary on John. Not heavy in that it’s hard to understand. It’s just really BIG. He writes that “The word used for the usual English translation "with" is not one of the two major Greek words for "with' (syn and meta) but the more intimate, "toward," which is difficult to render in English. Another professor rendered it "and the Word was in God's presence. And another, "the Word was very close to God." Or my favorites, 'The Word was in God's home." Or "The Word was face to face with God.” Our words, as miraculous as they are, are still just inanimate…not objects, but…I can’t think of the right word. You see how important they are?
But Jesus is a different kind of Word. He is the Word that is face to face with God, and IS God. A self-expression so complete that he becomes another person. Which is exactly what the next verse tells us with its pronoun.
2 He was in the beginning with God
This word is not an “it” but a person.
3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.
Jesus isn’t less than God. Do you hear that? The Word, which for the rest of John will be known as the Son, is not a creation of God. God created through the Son, through the Word. God is a community of equal persons. All of creation came into being through them both.
What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.
People are what it’s all about for God. According to the Bible, human beings are the pinnacle of all creation. Stars and planets, flowers and dolphins, none of them have anything on us. It is for the people that the Word came, as we will see in verse 14. He gave us life, and that original life was full of light, until we corrupted it. But even so…
5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. Dale Bruner sees the cross and resurrection here in this verse, and I think he’s right. The cross is that light shining in the darkness. And the resurrection is the light not being overcome by death and pain and sin.
Who when we ask just theses first five verses of the gospel of John our question, “Who is Jesus?” Just look at the answers we get. That Jesus is no less than God, that he has been in a communion relationship with God the Father since before there was time, and even here, if you know where to look, you see that the cross and resurrection was the intention behind creation.
And we get all of these truths from a group of people, much like ours, that was in no hurry to produce any great works, but was content for generations, to live in contemplation and community with this great truth they had experienced.
6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.
Now this in the beginning stuff gets really nitty gritty. We were out at the beginning of time, in the inner life of the triune God, at the edge of the cosmos with life and light, and then with one of the greatest focus pulls of all time, it zooms all the way to Earth, and filling up the frame is a guy named John. When you go from timeless truths to particularities, it can be a little jarring. But that’s the way it works! If it didn’t get particular, it wouldn’t be real. In this case, it got real with a man named John. Really, if you think about it, two men named John.
John-Not-the-Baptist never put his own name into the gospel. He is only referred to as the disciple Jesus loved, which is a worthy identity goal for all of us. But I can’t help but wonder, along with scholars who are actually qualified to do so, if this verse wasn’t left vague enough by the final editors of the gospel to include their spiritual father’s name in the text, in a way that he couldn’t make them remove. This next verse is just as true about John the Baptist as it was about John the disciple.
8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
Now, I want to skip past the next 4 verses and come back to them at the end, because verse 14 can’t wait any longer. It’s most likely the reason this gospel was written when it was. And it’s the most radical truth in our faith.
14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us,
The Message translates this as “The Word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood.” and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth.
The second thing John wants us to know about Jesus is that Jesus is a human being. Not just like a man, but a real flesh and blood human being. Jesus was fully God, and fully human. Not half and half, not 70/30, not God on Monday, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and Human on Tuesdays and Thursdays, with an alternating schedule for the weekends. Jesus was 100% God and 100% human. And getting this fact straight may have been why the gospel was written when it was, and not later.
You see, at the end of the first century, a new doctrine concerning Christ was being propagated in Asia Minor. It claimed that Jesus was not really human, that his body was of no importance.This belief, called Gnosticism become for some the basis of a "pseudo" mystical life, cut off from human realities, from the human body, and from human suffering. It’s a belief that has never really gone away. It has just changed forms.
We have our own struggle against people in the church and outside of it who discount the truth of our being flesh and blood, in part by denying science and promoting ideas and cures that are nothing more than body-denying, magical thinking. And in part by shrugging their shoulders at the suffering of others. Sometimes they spiritualize it, and others it’s just apathy. But for Christians, it should all stop immediately at John 1:14. The word became flesh. This is the arena of God’s action. This is where it all happens. This life is not a flight from the world of pain and of matter but a mission into it, to love people as Jesus loves them. Jesus is God. Jesus is human. If we actually internalized the implications of those two truths, we would be downright fascinating as people, here’s just one way: