|'And the Word Was God' (John 1:1-18)
The early church gave the Gospel of John a place of great honor in its canon of books regarded as God-breathed. For one thing, it was written by the disciple who was especially loved by and loyal to Jesus. He was a trusted companion to Jesus in a variety of settings apart from the masses of disciples, was apparently the only one of The Twelve to summon up courage enough to go to the foot of the cross on which their Lord was dying, and there had Jesus' mother committed to him to care for as his own. For another, this Gospel was written after Matthew, Mark, and Luke and told a then-familiar story with singular nuances of perspective, insight, and persuasiveness.
This Gospel isn't just another biography of Jesus. It is a carefully crafted presentation of Jesus as not simply the one who reveals God but who is God God in our midst, God coming to his own, God loving everyone he has created in his image. Yet it is also an uncompromising affirmation of Jesus as God Incarnate God enfleshed, God become one of us, God robed in real flesh and blood for our sakes. Jesus is Son of God and Son of Man. He is fully divine and fully human.
The Gospel of John was written to create, inspire, and stabilize faith in Jesus. For those who had already accepted him from their Jewish background as Christ-Messiah, he wanted to restate the critical "signs" pointing to his identity. He wanted them to be able to withstand the hostilities they were experiencing especially since A.D. 70 and their expulsion from the synagogue and larger Jewish community. For those who had come to Christ from pagan Greek backgrounds, he wanted to present Jesus as Savior of All the One who had created the world and then had come to re-create it. For Jew or Gentile who had not yet come to believe, this faith-tract could serve as it has now for centuries as a compelling introduction to the one who gives eternal life to all who will believe in him.Light Into Darkness
There are no more beautiful and elevated words of praise to and information about Jesus than in the Prologue with which it opens.
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 came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. 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 words sound very similar to the ones with which Genesis opens, don't they?
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world (John 1:1-9).
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day (Gen.1:1-5).Until God makes himself known in his radiant, glorious presence, darkness will always dominate the scene. Until he took the initiative in the physical creation, there was only chaos and darkness: "the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep." Then God stepped in. By the power of his spoken word, light penetrated the darkness. From that time forward, we have acknowledged his separation of light from darkness treasuring the light, finding joy in awakening to the light, imitating God by pushing back darkness ourselves with candles and electricity that conquer darkness and extend day into the regions once captive to night's darkness.
Doesn't it sound like John could be echoing those words and sentiments from Genesis? Isn't he presenting a Christology of Hope in claiming that the chaos and darkness of our (fallen) world were impenetrable except by God's initiative? The darkness of sin, death, and pessimism are everywhere in human history oppression and slavery, war and carnage, slaughter and genocide. It is everywhere in our personal lives suffering, unhappiness, confusion, gloom. Why, what is most on our world's mind this very morning? Terrorism, war, our sons and daughters on military missions that will cost real lives, the prospect of still more deaths among civilian populations these are dark and frightening things.
Indeed, the Bible lists hatred and murder among the "works of darkness." And, yes, the darkness of these evil deeds seems utterly overwhelming at times. Our world that once held prospects for hope and joy seems for many only a "formless void" in which "darkness" has swallowed up light, death is going to win over life. But it only seems so, for light conquers darkness.
Light Conquers Darkness
When I was a child of only ten or 12 years, my Mom and Dad took me to Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. I still remember the gigantic stalagmites and stalactites. I can almost feel the cold of being deep inside the earth on a hot summer day. But my most vivid memory is of the moment our guide had all of us find a place to sit down and after warning us of what was about to happen turned off all the artificial light that had been brought inside the dark belly of the earth.
I felt like I was tumbling head over heels. My heart raced. With one hand I grasped the rock ledge on which I was sitting and with the other reached for my father. Fortunately, the tour guide didn't allow it to last long. He turned on his flashlight. And it looked as bright as a million candle-power searchlight scanning the dark night!
An ordinary flashlight that costs $3.00 complete with batteries can push back the encompassing, frightening darkness of Carlsbad Caverns. A beam that would be hardly noticeable at ground level on a sunny day looks like a laser in deep darkness. As soon as it appeared, my stomach gave up its tumbling sensation and my lunch became stable again. I could see my Dad and Mom's faces in dim outline again and knew I wasn't alone. I sensed that the single light in our guide's hand heralded the return of the lights which had guided us previously and whose presence we had taken for granted.
When God was initially creating Planet Earth for our habitation, he came onto a scene that was formless and dark. He pushed back the darkness with light, then set about to bring order to chaos. When Jesus was subsequently re-creating the human race and restoring hope to despairing people, he came onto a scene made formless and dark by human rebellion against his Father and humanity's inhumanity to its own. In his birth, teaching, lifestyle, and personal victory over death in the resurrection, he pushed back the darkness with the light of heaven's glory and, to use Paul's language, "abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel" (2 Tim.1:10).
In the text just cited from Paul, it is interesting that he traces heaven's redemptive work through Christ Jesus all the way back to a time "before the ages began" (2 Tim.1:9). In John's language, Jesus has always been the Word the Logos who was not only with but also a full-fledged member of the divine family, the Godhead, the Holy Trinity. Ironically, a Greek philosopher named Heraclitus of Ephesus (later John's hometown!), whose work dates from around 500 B.C., speculated about a logos that ruled and gave structure to the world. He saw logos as a mysterious force "by which all things are steered through all things."
The logos-motif would be picked up later by the greatest of the Greek thinkers, Plato, and a Jew named Philo of Alexandria. They would speculate about logos (Gk, word, reason, meaning) over the centuries and make the term both current and curious over generations of time. But it would be the Beloved Disciple of Jesus who revealed the true identity and work of the Logos. The Word became flesh in Jesus pushing back the darkness by displaying God's own glory in his person and bringing order, peace, and hope to once-chaotic souls.
Creation and Re-Creation
All this was by divine initiative. It was an event of grace and not of works or merit on our part. Many people among them John the Baptist as well as Isaiah and other Spirit-led prophets foretold God's intention. They were witnesses to testify in advance and then, upon the arrival of Jesus, to point him out to the rest of us. But, like John, they were careful not to claim too much for themselves. They were "not the light but came to bear witness to the light, so that all might believe through him."
Just as John the Baptist knew his place as a witness and not as the light in his person, so John the Apostle knew his place. His testimony about Jesus was important as a means to faith. His message was true, and he was willing to declare it to anyone who would listen or read. But John the Baptist and John the Beloved Disciple both affirmed that Jesus and Jesus alone was light and life, God and Man, Savior and Lord. They were simply pointing others to him.
As they asked others to examine for themselves and offered them their message about Jesus, both these witnesses had the same confidence in him: "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it." Light is more powerful than darkness. Love is more powerful than hate. Grace is more powerful than law, sin, and death. Life is going to triumph over death. And to anyone who received Christ whether in the first century or the twenty-first this is the marvelous promise:
He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 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 1:10-13).There is a powerful, veil-lifting, life-transforming, hope- sustaining work from on high that takes place in all those who embrace light over darkness, the King of Light over the Prince of Darkness. They will be re- created from the fallenness of creation, they will be re-born from the corruption of flesh by the very will and power of God at work in them! And all this was conferred upon us by the inbreaking of God into flesh, by the Incarnation of heavenly glory in the trappings of frail flesh. It is such an audacious way of doing things that only God would have thought of it or dared to initiate it!
And 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. (John testified to him and cried out, "This was he of whom I said, He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.' ") From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 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 (John 1:14-18).Conclusion
I'll never forget that day when I was deep underground in New Mexico and felt the darkness encircle and swallow me. Oh, I remember that frightening darkness! But what I remember most vividly is that shaft of light that broke through heralding that darkness would not have the final word. Our little group of tourists would not be abandoned to it. We would not be left to wander in the darkness until we died.
Isn't that what the Prologue to John says to us? The world of chaos and darkness has been invaded twice by divine action. "In the beginning" of Genesis, we are allowed to see him give light and order to the physical creation. "In the beginning" of John's Gospel, we are called not simply to witness but to participate in his giving light and order to our personal lives by choosing to cling to Jesus.
I hope you have made that choice. If you have not, I hope you will make it today.
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