Are you still just skimming the surface of what it means to be a Christian? Or can you go deeper in your walk with Christ?
What strikes me about the Gospel of John is how deep he goes into who Christ is and how He saves us. John is a great philosopher. Mark’s Gospel depicts Jesus as the center of a great mystery, and He is revealed as the Son of God. Matthew’s Gospel depicts Jesus as the fulfillment of the law and the prophets, the great teacher and rabbi, who completes God’s work of teaching humanity. Luke in his Gospel seeks to create an orderly account, and to set forth the historically accurate description of the life of Christ, drawing upon sources close to Jesus. But John is different from all the other Gospels.
John sees Jesus as though from above, from a bird’s eye view. And why was John so philosophical? Perhaps because of his great age.
John was thought to be over ninety years old when he died, the only one of the twelve apostles to reach old age, and one of the few not to be killed for their faith and witness. Perhaps as he pondered Christ over the years, and mulled over the meaning of the great things he had witnessed, God drew John deeper into the meaning of who Christ was and how He saves.
So if you and I are blessed to gain old age, I ask you, are we satisfied with skimming the surface of who Jesus is? Or do we want to go deeper, to know Christ better, and thus to live fuller and better lives? John tells us why he wrote his gospel:
· John 20:31: These things are written that you might believe.
The question is, do you believe? In your heart of hearts, do you believe God’s promises? Do you trust in His Word? If so, you will live differently, you will speak differently, you will act differently; others will experience you as someone set apart. If you aren’t there yet, perhaps it’s time to follow John deeper into the holy things of Christ. So we begin:
· John 1:1: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
John self-consciously repeats those beautiful, opening words of Scripture: in the beginning. John doesn’t begin his gospel with the ministry of Jesus, like Mark, or with the story of John the Baptist, like Luke. John begins with at the beginning of time, and tells us, Jesus was there!
Now this is an amazing thing: John was not himself there to witness these events. Rather, as he pondered the meaning of the amazing events that had occurred in his lifetime, God revealed to him that Jesus was not just a great teacher, or a miracle worker; he was not even just the Messiah. He had not come into history for a moment; he had been with God at the beginning; had been, in fact, God himself.
And then John describes Jesus as the Logos, the Word of God. And this is so profound, so beautiful, because what we are doing now, with John, is finally understanding what was happening in the opening moments of the universe. How did God create? By speaking. And why does this matter? Because it shows us that the essence of God is relational. A word is truly a miraculous thing when you consider it. If I say to you, “apple,” you know exactly what I’m talking about. I haven’t brought an apple into the room, I haven’t even shown you a picture of one, I have just used the gift of speech to take an idea from my mnd and transmit it to yours. And that connection, that relationship between one mind and another, is why God created human beings. He wanted to have a conversation with us, to communicate with us, because communication is the essence of love.
When Diana and I get in a car to go somewhere, I ask her, KidzBop, classical, or Jesus music? My musical child always wants to listen to something in the car. But the other day when I got into the car with just JP and asked him what he listened to, he said, Mom, if the music is on we can’t have a conversation. I have to remember these moments for when he’s a teenager! Communication is at the heart of what it means to love. And the heart of that communication between God and humankind is the Word of God, Jesus Christ. Through his life, death, and resurrection God communicates His great love for us. He speaks a Word that is the greatest and most beautiful story ever told; one of self-sacrificing love. He holds out to us this idea, and asks us to take it into our own minds and hearts.
John goes on to affirm that Jesus was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. These words refute the ancient heresy of Arianism, which was a refusal to accept the full divinity of Christ. While Christ was not the creator, all things came into being through him; he participated in creation, as the Word God spoke into the silence.
· John 1:3-5: What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
These are words I turn to again and again. They are words of such profound meaning that speak to the great joy and suffering, fear and faith of our human experience: darkness and light. These are the universal experiences of the turning of days and of seasons; it is from light that everything on earth ultimately receives its energy. Without light, we cannot see, but neither can we live.
When I taught confirmation, the young people constantly questioned me how we can believe the Bible when we have the science of the Big Bang theory. And the question never ceased to amaze me for the assumption that science must always contradict Scripture. In this case, it seems perfectly clear to me that science confirms Scripture. If we were to discover that the universe was pre-existing, had always been and would always be, then the universe would be the logical first principle on which all things rest. That’s why it’s so odd to me that today, when we know that the universe is not pre-existing, many people talk about the universe as a kind of god: the universe willed that Tom Hanks would play Mr. Rodgers, and so forth. The universe was not the first principle, it was not pre-existing for all time; rather, the universe burst into being in a moment, time itself had a beginning, it all happened in a great beginning with a great flash of light. Which is, basically, the text of Genesis 1.
If the Gospel of John were a movie, at this moment the screen would zoom in from the universe at large to a little blue planet, then it would zoom onto that planet to a small Mediterranean backwater of the Roman empire, and from there, onto a man sitting alone in the wilderness: John. This is not John the Gospel writer, who prefers to keep himself anonymous throughout the Gospel; it’s John the Baptist. It’s as though John the evangelist wants to show us how amazing it is that these great, eternal truths are taking place within human history, as John the Baptist comes to testify to the true light that is coming into the world.
Have you ever experienced what it’s like when light comes in the midst of darkness? When you wake up in the morning, and flip the light on, what’s the first thing that you do? You blink.
· John 1:10-11: He was in the world, and the world came into being though him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.
The light hurts our eyes when we are used to the dark; so our natural reaction is to reject it, to close our eyes. In the same way, our natural reaction to the Light of the World was to reject him, to close our eyes, to turn away, to try to put out the light. But here’s the amazing thing about light: light is inherently so much stronger than darkness. Like the fable I told the children this morning, a single candle is enough to light an entire room. In order to defeat the darkness, the light simply has to keep shining.
· John 1:5: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
We don’t have to defeat the darkness. Christ has already done it for us. He is the candle in the dark room. All we have to do is look, to stop turning away, to bear witness to the light, to believe and receive this great idea of God, that love conquers fear, that life defeats death, that a light still shines. That’s what John is trying to tell us:
· John 1:12-13: But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
John is trying to tell us that all we need to do is look into this light and not turn away; keep peering into this light, keep our eyes fixed on Him, and He will change us; it is as though we will be reborn. We will become more than simple, carbon-based life forms; we will become bearers of light.
John sums up the miracle that has happened; in this Roman backwater, on this little blue planet, the essence of God’s loving relationship with humankind was revealed to us in the form of one man. Or to put it in the inspired beauty of John’s Gospel, “the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” This is the one who can change lives; who can give us grace upon grace, who can take us beyond the law, beyond rules into relationship, beyond learning to understanding, beyond truisms to truth.
· John 1:18: No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.
Yes, God showed himself to Moses; God appeared in the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire; God’s glory filled the Temple, and God gave visions of His glory to the prophets. But none of those experiences promised to show us the fullness of God. Rather, Jesus Christ reveals who God is; He is the light, He is the Word, He is the way God shows us His love and showers us with His grace. So seek to know him, as more than a passing acquaintance; as the greatest relationship of your life. Read the Gospels; dig deeper into the life of Jesus. Get on your knees; go deeper into your prayer life. Follow his example; give greater, love harder, live into holiness. Don’t be satisfied with skimming the surface of Christianity. Rather, like John, begin the search for more. Turn, unblinking, toward the light. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.