Today we begin a new sermon series in John’s Gospel. John was the last of the four Gospels to be written, probably around 90AD. It was most likely written by John the apostle, towards the end of his life – some 60 years after he first left his fishing career to become a follower of Jesus of Nazareth on the shores of lake Galilee. This gospel therefore represents an eyewitness account of the foundational events of the Christian faith, from the baptism of Jesus at the Jordan to his resurrection and ascension.
John’s Gospel has uses different language to Matthew, Mark and Luke, records a different selection of events form the life of Christ, and has a unique literary style – almost poetic in parts. For example, John makes repeated use of figurative language to describe the life and work of Christ. He is the light in the darkness, the true life that has come into the world, the Messiah whose miraculous ‘signs’ testify to his divine identity.
And John’s Gospel begins in a different time and place to the other three Gospels. It doesn’t begin in Bethlehem with the familiar story of the stable, the shepherds and the wise men. Instead it starts before the beginning of the world, it goes back before the creation of the cosmos, and takes us into the life of God, the Holy Trinity, before even time itself, before the first clock ever began to tick.
In words we probably all know well, the prologue to John’s Gospel begins with the famous phrase: “In the beginning was the Word”. In a deliberate echo of Genesis chapter 1, John says God’s Word pre-exists everything else. He pre-dates angels, atoms or any other alternative contender for ultimate reality. King Charles may have just celebrated his 75th birthday and Dr Who may be 60, but the Word of God is far far older!
In verse 2 John emphasises again that that this Word was “with God in the beginning”. In one sense this should come as no surprise. If we are in any way familiar with the Old Testament, especially the opening verses of Genesis, you will know that God has always acted through his word. The Scriptures clearly teach that when God speaks, things happen. God’s words are the way he get things done in our world – they are his ‘power tools’ to create, sustain, sanctify and save.
In Genesis chapter 1, for example, we’re told that when God “spoke” our world was made. And sure enough, in verse 3 of John’s Gospel this morning we’re also told that it was “through” God’s Word that “all things were made”. Later in the Old Testament, in the words of Isaiah chapter 55 God again states that he acts through his Word. He says “My word that goes out from my mouth will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”
But the big surprise comes in verse 2 today. Because John says that God’s “Word” is not a Star Wars-style force or some kind of sound, but a person. Notice that the Word is referred to as a “he” not an “it” – as a “him” not a “thing”. The Word was – and is – a thinking, feeling person. A mind not merely a force.
In verse 1 and 2 we are told twice that this person – this Word – was in a relationship “with” God. At the heart of the universe is a relationship between God and his Word, a relationship that the rest of the Bible compares to a relationship between a loving Father and his Son. Our cosmos is not a product of chance, but a creation that comes from the Father and the Son.
And just in case that isn’t enough to make your head spin, we need to wrestle with the fact that the “Word was God” himself! John wants us to be clear that the Word is fully divine, fully God, just like his Father. He is not an inferior being or a lesser creation, but co-equal and co-eternal with his Father – his perfect likeness in every way.
This is the truth that the authors of our Nicene Creed wrestled with in the fourth century. It’s the mysterious reality they tried to express when they wrote that the Son is “God of God, light of light, very God of very God, being of one substance with the Father.”
God’s Son is more than just a human prophet, priest or king, he is the Father’s perfect likeness. They share the same divine DNA. To see the Son is to see the Father.
And the great news we celebrate every Christmas is that God’s Word, God’s perfect Son, became one of us. As John’s prologue says so famously, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us”. It is staggering to think that the eternal Word entered time. That the Son of God became a son of Mary. That ultimate reality entered our reality, 2,000 years ago.
As I finish this morning, no one can read these opening verses of John’s Gospel – of John’s biography of Jesus – and be under the illusion that he was merely a carpenter from Nazareth. With today’s passage John wants to open our eyes and expand our horizons – he wants us to truly appreciate the divine glory and eternal identity of that baby born in Bethlehem.
Indeed, I pray that our appreciation of Jesus will grow further over the coming weeks as we journey through John’s Gospel and encounter more of the words and deeds of Christ. As we see more of the signs he performed to point to his supernatural status. As we read more and more about the qualities of Christ that amply qualify him to be our Saviour.
After all, that’s the reason why John wrote his Gospel in the first place – to strengthen our saving faith in Jesus. Let illustrate by quoting words from John chapter 20. Words John wrote to explain precisely why he put pen to paper: “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (v.30-31).