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TEXT: John 1:3-5
SUBJECT: Advent 2013 #2: The Word and Creation
Today is the Second Sunday in Advent, and a fitting time to remember that the Christmas Story is true, that in a real time and real place, the One True God became a real Man to save us from our sin and misery.
If this seems hard to believe in the 21st Century, it was no easier to accept in the 1st Century. Unlike most people today, the Ancients were 'open to miracles', but they were not expecting them any more than we are, and skeptics then, as now, found ways to deny them or explain them away. Some miracles are easier to falsify than others, of course, and when they are, most people laugh at themselves for being so naive and forget them.
This has not happened with the miracles in John's Gospel. Of course, some deny them all, but after 2,000 years of careful investigation, thought, prayer, and discussion, millions of people worldwide believe in the miracles, and more than 'believe' in the casual sense, they stake their lives on them.
When you think about it, this widespread and devoutly held belief is very hard to explain. If it were a recent thing, we'd remember that 'beliefs' like hemlines are often a matter of fashion. What's believed today was not believed yesterday and won't be believed tomorrow.
Or, if it were only believed by Americans or middle-class people or political conservatives, we might think it was a cultural thing, a way of promoting self-interest or exploiting other people.
Or if it were only believed by ignorant, superstitious, or sentimental people, you'd put it in the category of UFOs or the Easter Bunny.
The problem is: none of these suppositions is true. John's Gospel--including its miracles--has been believed for two thousand years in every nation, kindred, tribe, and tongue, and by people from every socioeconomic or political background. In the New Testament, we find it was believed by Jews and Gentiles; and among the Gentiles, Asians, Europeans, and Africans. It was believed by men and women and children. It was believed by masters and their slaves, and by simple people and brilliant minds alike.
What's true of the First Century is true of every other. Read history or just open your eyes and you'll see the truth in what I say.
I'd be the first to admit that you don't find truth by counting noses, but it still makes you wonder. If nobody really believes in the Epic of Gilgamesh or the Iliad or the Odyssey or my beloved Beowulf, why do so many people really believe in John's Gospel--and not just the 'ethical teaching' parts, but the historical parts as well--including the miracles?
It seems clear to me that there are only three possible answers to the question. People believe John's Gospel because:
You can argue for any of the three positions, and if you're smart enough, you can make the argument plausible. But as useful as 'arguments' are, no one finally believes in John's Gospel because of them. John himself thinks he has made a strong case for Christ, but even he knows there is more to faith than sound reasoning. He tells us what it is in vv.12-13--
But as many as did receive Him, to them He gave them the right to be called the children of God, even to those who believe in His Name, who were born, not of bloods, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
Faith is the gift of God, and unless He gives it we will never have it. This cold, hard fact puts us right where we belong: on our knees before a Sovereign God suing for mercy. And getting it. Because--
He who asks, shall receive.
He who seeks shall find.
He who knocks, to him it will be opened.
Praise God! Though His favors are His to give or withhold as He sees fit, He is a generous God, who gives faith liberally. Not only does He love a cheerful giver (as Paul says) God is a cheerful giver!
SIGNS AND MIRACLES
John arranges his Gospel around seven signs, starting with Jesus changing water into wine in chapter 2 and ending with Him raising Lazarus from the dead in chapter 11.
As important as these signs are to John's story, however, they are bracketed by two other miracles that are even more significant: the Incarnation and Resurrection of Christ. The former puts Jesus into the present evil age; the latter has Him entering the New Age, and not only Jesus, but are all who hear and respond to His call.
Last Sunday, we looked at our Lord's relationship to God. What is it? Jesus Himself tells us a bit later in the Gospel--
I and my Father are one.
There is an 'I-Thou' relationship between Jesus and God. In other words, when Jesus is praying, He is not praying to Himself; when the voice spoke from Heaven at His baptism, it was not a trick of ventriloquism! Jesus and God the Father are distinct Persons, but, with the Holy Spirit, they equally share in One Divinity or Godhead.
Jesus is a Man, a King, a Prophet, a Priest, and the Messiah, but He's more than any of these things or all of them put together. In a Word, Jesus is God
In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God
and the Word was God.
The same was in the beginning with God.
THE CREATOR OF ALL THINGS
If what John has said is true up to this point, what follows won't surprise you, vv.3-5--
All things were made through Him
and without Him nothing was made that was made.
In Him was Life,
and the Life was the light of men.
And the light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness did not comprehend it.
These verses affirm that Jesus is the Creator and Sustainer of all things. I don't like making doctrinal points based on technical grammar, but here, I think it's justified.
All things were made through Him is in the aorist (or past) tense and views creation at the beginning, when it first came into existence. But nothing was made that was made is in the perfect tense, suggesting that whatever exists today also owes its existence to Christ. In other words, Jesus made the plum tree that sprang up on the Third Day of the Creation Week and also the plum tree that you planted in your back yard last year. He is not an absentee Creator, but a present Creator, always and everywhere protecting and providing for the work He began in the beginning.
Genesis 1 is typically read as a Creation Story--and it is that--but what it mainly is is a Story of Lordship. It told the Ancients and it tells us the relationship between God and the world. God is not the world and the world is not God. God did not contribute to the world's creation along with other cooperative or competing gods, but is its one and only Creator. Nor did God depend on raw materials with which to make the world, but made everything out of nothing by His Almighty Word alone!
Seizing on this revolutionary idea, John goes on to say that everything the Old Testament ascribes to God (in general) can be said of Jesus (in particular).
Jesus is Lord, therefore, means more than 'He is the Head of the Church'. It also means He is the Creator and Lord of everything from angels to ants, suns to sub-atomic particles, and that all the above--and all the rest--depends on Him alone for its moment-by-moment existence! Thus Paul says, in Colossians 1:15-17--
He is the Image of the Invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible or invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers, all things were created by Him and for Him!
John and Paul not only wrote for the church, but also against the heretics, false teachers who hurt the Early Church far more than the lions and gladiators did. The Gnostics were among the earliest and worst of these heretics, and taught that the distance between God and men was so great that it could only be bridged by a series of intermediaries, some of whom were angels (or something like angels). Consequently, they worshiped angels thinking that in so doing, they were also worshiping God. Paul says nonsense to all that! Spiritual orders do exist, but they're not Lords of any kind, but only creatures and servants. Of whom? The One who made and rules them all, Jesus!
While John is not as explicit or detailed as Paul is, he makes the same point in v.3, saying--
All things were made through Him,
and without Him nothing was made that was made.
One more technical note: Some Bible says, 'all things were made by Him', but through Him is the better way of saying it. In glorifying Christ, we mustn't dim the glory of God the Father. He is the Source of all things, as the Creed says--
God the Father Almighty,
Maker of Heaven and Earth.
But God's wishes are carried out by His Son, Jesus Christ, who is, you might say, the Executive Officer of Heaven. The Father gives the orders and the Son sees that they're enacted. Without ever suggesting He is inferior, the Son happily submits to the Father's will from the beginning.
SOURCE OF LIFE
Not only is Jesus the Maker and Sustainer of all things, but, in particular, He is the source and giver of life. Stingy as He is with his words, John could have left this unsaid, but chose to say it--
In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.
From the beginning, and before Jesus was alive; His human nature was conceived in time, but His Divine nature is timeless, before, after and in no way affected by time. But He's more than alive Himself, He is also the Source of Life. You and I are alive, but we cannot transfer our life to anyone or anything else. Jesus can and does.
All life is dependent on Him, from the life of an archangel to the life of a amoeba, nothing lives unless He communicates life to it. This is going to become an important theme in John's Gospel, but he only hints at it here: If Jesus is the source of physical life, He is also the source of Spiritual Life, Abundant Life and Everlasting Life, all of which He offers us through the Gospel.
SOURCE OF LIGHT
Then he adds--
And the life was the light of men.
This has left people a lot smarter and godlier than I am scratching their heads. How does 'life' enlighten men? Does it only mean 'dead men can't see anything?' Or, does it mean the existence of life points men to the Creator who gave it? Or something else?
I vote for 'something else'. I think the 'life' John refers to is not the life Jesus gives to the world, bur rather, His own life. In other words, Jesus is Himself 'the Light of the World' as He Himself says in chapters 8,9.
But now we get to the 'good part'! This light shines in the world. Notice, it doesn't say shone in the past or Will shine in the future. No, it was shining in the 1st Century when John wrote his Gospel--and it hasn't gone out!
A moment ago, I said the light shines in the world, and so it does, but it's not exactly what John said. He says--
The Light shines in the darkness.
What darkness? The darkness of sin and unbelief; it's not dark caves Jesus shines His light into, but darkened hearts.
Does the darkness enjoy His light? It most certainly does not! Some Bible says--
The darkness did not comprehend it.
And that's true: dark hearts are slow in recognizing the truth, no less responding to it. But, true as this is, it's not quite what John is saying. By comprehend it, means extinguish it! The forces of darkness have marshalled all their powers against the light, but they cannot not put it out! The Sanhedrin couldn't do it; the Roman Empire couldn't do it; the Sword of Islam couldn't do it; the Enlightenment couldn't do it; Darwin couldn't do it; Marx couldn't do it, the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, Red China, and our own materialism and consumerism and political correctness couldn't do--and never will!
THE CITY OF GOD
The story of this world begins with Light, not the sun which came a couple of days later, but a Light not of this world. It ends the same way, with a City bathed in light, but not the light of the sun, moon, or stars, because they're no longer needed--
For the glory of God did lighten it,
and the Lamb is the light thereof.
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