These pulpit notes are provided unedited and will thus contain some grammatical or typographical errors.
Matthew begins his gospel with a genealogy stretching as far back as Abraham. Mark begins his gospel with Isaiah’s prophesy of John the Baptist. Luke begins his gospel with the birth of John the Baptist.
From John’s first verse he signals that his gospel is going to be quite different. John begins his gospel, at the beginning. Not the beginning of the gospel like Mark, or the beginning of Jesus’ earthly life like Luke, or even at the beginning of Jesus’s earthly lineage like Matthew. No, John begins at the beginning of all of creation, and then stretches back even further into eternity past.
John 1:1-2 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God.
John begins with the Word. A divine figure who can rightly be called “God”, but who yet remains distinct from God. So, “the Word was God” AND “he was in the beginning with God.”
John is one sentence into his gospel and is already challenging us with eternal truths far beyond our comprehension. The Word was God, yet distinct from God. The Word was with God, yet was God.
Well, what is this Word? And in what sense can it be said that the Word is God, but is yet distinct from God?
John is using a term here for Word which is pregnant with meaning. A term which would have tremendous significance for his Jewish audience, and one which would have provided a point of contact for his Greek readers.
The concept of God’s Word, or the Logos, is richly developed within the Old Testament scripture. By using the term logos, John is seeking to bring to mind all that his Jewish brethren would understand regarding the word of God as revealed in their scripture.
With that in mind, let’s take a few moments to consider what is revealed about the Word in the Old Testament.
CREATION THROUGH THE WORD
First of all, it is clear by John’s first three words, that he is calling to mind the creation narrative of Genesis. He would have us understand that the Word to which he is referring was present at creation.
In Genesis we are told:
Genesis 1:1-3 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. 3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. And, how did effect that creation? It says in verse 3, “And God said, “Let there be light.”
God created, through his own spoken word. By his word, he brought forth light, and dispelled the darkness.
Genesis 1:4 And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness.
God’s word brings light, and dispels darkness.
The pattern of God’s creation springing forth from his word continues throughout the creation narrative.
- And God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters…” “and it was so”
- And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together…” “and it was so”
- And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation…” “and it was so”
- And God said, “Let there be light sin the expanse of the heavens…” “and it was so”
- And God said, “Let the waters swarm with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth” “and God saw that it was good.”
- And God said, “Let the earth bring for living creatures” “…and it was so”
- Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
It is clear that God speaks forth creation. That is, God creates by his Word. His word is light-bringing, darkness-dispelling, and life-giving.
Psalm 33:6 By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host.
The light which lightens the universe issued forth from his word and the life which animates every creature issued forth from his word.
And notice the pattern in Genesis 1, “And God said… and it was so.” God’s Word is not only life-giving and light-dispelling, but God’s Word is always effective in accomplishing God’s will. God’s word goes forth, and his will is accomplished, without fail.
Anyone remotely familiar with the Jewish scriptures would have recognized that John’s “In the beginning” was meant by John to invoke this creation narrative. He wants us to understand that the Word which he is introducing is the word by which God created. It’s the same word which issued forth both light and life in the beginning.
What else should we understand about the Word from the Old Testament?
REVELATION THROUGH THE WORD
We should not only recognize that the Word is responsible for creation, but that the Word is also responsible for revelation.
God’s word creates, and God’s word reveals. With that revelation comes both illumination, and exposure He makes known, and he lays bare.
- 10 times, Jeremiah says the “word of the LORD came to me”
- Ezekiel says the same 49 times.
The prophets received revelation concerning judgment, and salvation; curses and blessings. Spiritual mysteries were revealed to them, and the future was foretold. All of this, was revealed to them when “the word of the Lord” came to them.
So, God’s purposes and will are accomplished through his word, and God’s purposes and will are revealed through his Word.
Further, God not only reveals his purposes and will through his word, but he also reveals himself through his word. That is, he makes himself known. His Word, is his own self-disclosure.
How would we know that the Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but that he proclaimed it via his Word?
God makes himself known through his Word.
Summary: God’s Word is his life-giving, light-bringing, will-revealing, self-disclosing Word.
Further, not only is God’s Word responsible for his every act of creation, and his every word of revelation, but his word is also his agent of salvation.
SALVATION THROUGH THE WORD
Turn to Isaiah 55
God’s people are captive in Babylon, and have been for many years. In Isaiah 52, the Lord begins to reveal a great promise of a final deliverer who will bring salvation and restoration to Israel. Shockingly however, we find that this servant whom the Lord would send as a deliverer would be a suffering servant. He would in some way effect salvation and restoration through his own personal suffering. He would bare the sins of God’s people, atoning for their guilt and satisfying God’s wrath against them. This servant would suffer, atone for sin, live again and receive an inheritance from the Lord.
In Chapter 54, after this awesome promise, the Lord through Isaiah prompts Israel to rejoice in God “The Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer!” he says. He promises that with this salvation comes a promise, He will never judge his people again. Great peace will come to his people, they will be established in righteousness and free from oppression. There will be no fear, no terror, and no strife.
We then come to Isaiah 55 where the Lord, through Isaiah issues forth an open call for all to come and receive the benefits of this salvation.
Isaiah 55:1-9 “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. 2 Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. 3 Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. 4 Behold, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. 5 Behold, you shall call a nation that you do not know, and a nation that did not know you shall run to you, because of the LORD your God, and of the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you. 6 “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; 7 let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. 8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
What promises! Total pardon offered to a rebellious people. Reconciliation with their God. Full and free redemption. Spiritual life. And all of this in the form of an everlasting covenant, which will never be broken.
Now remember, these promises were given to God’s people while they were captive in Babylon, and had been captive for many years. This talk of grand deliverance would seem incredible to some, especially considering they have had false prophets falsely prophesying of freedom from captivity for as long as they had been in Babylon.
So, what the Lord does next is seek to assert the surety of his promises. He wants them to know that they can place their hope upon this coming promised salvation without fear of disappointment. So, how does he communicate the surety of these promises? Look at verses 10-11.
Isaiah 55:10-11 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
You can be sure that I will accomplish all that I have promised, because I will send forth my word! And the nature of my word is that it accomplishes all that I purpose. It never returns to me empty, but always executes my will, and fulfills my purposes. And here, the Lord says, it is my Word which will accomplish the promised deliverance, forgiveness, and restoration that I promise. My word will bring forth the everlasting covenant, predicated upon my promises to David.
So, we learn that God’s word is effective in creating life, in bringing light, in revealing God’s will, in disclosing God’s nature, and in accomplishing salvation.
Creation, Revelation, and Salvation are all brought by God’s powerful word.
BACK TO JOHN
Now, turn back to John
John 1:1-2 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God.
Here John brings all that we know about God’s Word from the Old Testament (the surface of which we’ve only scratched this morning) and pulls it forward into his gospel. He wants us to have in mind God’s creative, revealing, and saving word. The Word which is God’s own self-expression, and self-disclosure.
So, what does he say about this word?
- The word was in the beginning
- The word was with God
- The word was God
Here John begins to speak of God’s word as a person. According to John, God’s word is a person. Look at verse 2 – “He was in the beginning with God.” Sure, God’s word as wisdom, had be personified before (see proverbs 8), but not in this way.
He, John paradoxically states that the Word was simultaneously with God, and was God. God, yet distinct from God.
So, the Word possesses divine personhood.
John then goes on to tell us some of what we’ve already learned about the Word.
John 1:3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.
On one hand, this is old news, every Jew knew that God created through his Word. What is shockingly new however is that John is now revealing that when we read that God created through his word, we should understand that this Word is a actually a person. A person equal, but distinct from God. Notice, “All things were made through him, and without him was not anything that was made.”
And notice that “all things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” He is not a part of creation, but stands outside of creation. He himself is not created, because there is nothing which has been created, which he has not himself created.
John 1:4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men.
Naturally, the Word which creates life, has life in himself. That life, John says, “was the light of men.”
John now does something which we will see him do repeatedly through his gospel. John loves to use terms which possess double meanings, often intending the term to be taken in some measure according to both uses. He begins to do this in verses 4-5 with the terms light, life, and darkness.
Of course, his first allusion is to that of creation, the word is life-giving, and light bringing and so, in that way is the life and light of men. And of course, at creation, the light shone and the darkness was dispelled. But, he is now beginning to use these creative terms, not only in reference to initial creation, but in reference to a new creation – that is, in reference to spiritual creation, or salvation.
We will see in a moment that light for John will take on the meaning of moral light, and the revelation of how to be saved. Darkness will take on the meaning of moral darkness, and man’s refusal to be saved.
This begins to become clear in the next few verses.
John 1:6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.
This of course is John the Baptist. Notice that while the Word “was God”; John is merely “sent from God.” And for what purpose was he sent?
John 1:7-8 He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.
John was not the creative, revealing, life-giving light, but he was sent to be a witness, proclaiming the good news about that light. What was the good news? That all who believe in the light, would receive life!
So, John the Baptist preached, and he preached with urgency. Why?
John 1:9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
The Word, who was with God in the beginning, and who is God, yet distinct from God, who created all things, who brings light, and life, and revelation, and salvation, who is God’s perfect self-expression and self-disclosure, was coming into the world.
JESUS IS THE WORD
And, John was sent by God to bear witnesses. He was to reveal who the Word was. He was to testify to his identity, and was to preach to men regarding the proper response to him. And that is exactly what John the Baptist did. Now, skip ahead to verse 14.
John 1:14-18 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. 15 (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.'”) 16 And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.
John our writer, finally reveals who the Word is.
- The Word, by whom God’s purposes and will are revealed is Jesus. [revelation]
- The Word, through whom all things were created, is Jesus. [creation]
- The Word, which is God’s own self-disclosure and perfect self-expression, is Jesus [self–expression]
- The Word, through whom salvation is brought forth, and spiritual life is made possible, is Jesus. [salvation]
Believe it or not, the writer of Hebrews captures all of this in two concise sentences.
Hebrews 1:1-3 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son [revelation], whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. [creation] 3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature [self-expression], and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high [salvation],
So, this Jesus, the second-person of the Trinity; God, yet distinct from God, became the incarnate Word. He brought light and he brought life to men who sat in darkness.
John 8:12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
John 12:46 I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.
Isaiah prophesied of this day. In Isaiah 42, we see the coming of Jesus predicted. In this passage, he is known simply as God’s servant. It says:
Isaiah 42:1-9 Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. 2 He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; 3 a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. 4 He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law. 5 Thus says God, the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it: 6 “I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, 7 to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. 8 I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols. 9 Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them.”
Incidentally, this passage is explicitly linked to Jesus in Matthew 12, and Jesus quoted portions of this passage in encouraging John the Baptist that he was indeed the promised Messiah.
But, look in verse 6 where the Lord is seen as speaking to Jesus:
I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, 7 to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.
MEN LOVED DARKNESS
Unfortunately, however when Jesus the Word became flesh, bringing light and life to bear upon the world, it became clear that not all men wanted life. Look in verses 9-11:
John 1:9-11 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.
Jesus came into his own creation, bringing the light of eternal life, to men who sat in the darkness of their own sin, and those men chose to remain in their sin and darkness, rather than come to the light.
Imagine a man captive in a dark, dank, disease-laden dungeon with no hope of release only to one day have the doors flung open, and overwhelming light flood in. All he has to do is walk towards the light, but instead chooses to turn away from the open door and skulk back into a dark corner, forever to remain there.
It seems absurd, doesn’t it? Why would anyone do such a thing?
John 3:19-20 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.
So, Jesus came into the world, yet the world did not know him. Worse yet, look in verse 11: “He came to his own and his own people did not receive him.” His own people – the Jews. Those who should have been expecting, anticipating, longing for his coming. His own people, who purported to be worshippers of God, rejected God in the flesh.
But now, look at verses 12 and 13 (and we will end with these verses).
John 1:12-13 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
Jesus’ own people, the Jews rejected him because they loved the darkness of their own sin. Jesus not only brought the light of salvation, but he brough the light of exposure. They would not come to the light, because they did not want their sins exposed. Sin which they loved and refused to turn from.
However, some did come to the light. Some did “receive him.” What does that mean? “Who believed in his name.” Those who receive Jesus are those who believe that he is all that he is revealed to be. They are those who believe that he is the divine Son of God, the promised Messiah, who has come with power to save.
Look what happens to those who receive him in verse 12:
he gave the right to become children of God,
Those who embrace Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, the one who has brough the light of salvation. The only one who can save, are granted the right to become children of God. And look at verse 13:
13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
That is, who is and who is not a child of God is no longer determined by lineage, ethnicity and ancestry. Further, becoming a child of God is not accomplished by human will. But, all who believe in Jesus are made children of God, by God himself.
Jew, Gentile, man, woman, no matter background or ethnicity, all who believe in his name are adopted into the family of God and made his children.
It is in this way that Jesus Christ begins to usher in a brand-new creation. He does so by making a new people. Just as he exercised creative life-giving power in the beginning as the Word, so now he exercises creative, life-giving power as the Son.
John 5:26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself.
All who come to Jesus, believing in his name, are made spiritually new. They are made children of God. And again, this salvation comes, not by human will or effort, or lineage or ancestry. It comes through belief, by the power of God.
So, as we close this morning, if you are here and you are not yet a believer. Come to Jesus. God is speaking to you through his Son. He is showing you, through Jesus, how you can be saved, have your sins forgiven, and be made his own child. “Receive” Jesus. That is, believe that he is the promised Christ, the Son of God. Don’t chose the darkness of your sin over Jesus. Instead, come into the light and fin salvation.
If you are a Christian this morning, rejoice in Jesus your saviour. He is the Word of God incarnate. He is your creator, your saviour, and God’s own self-expression, given to you. Through him, you have now become his children, his own people.
1 Peter 2:9-10 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
Give God all the glory
2 Corinthians 4:6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.