Darkness and light. We could think about the differences. Darkness obscures while light distinguishes. Darkness hides while light reveals. We relate darkness with cold and light with warmth. In the darkness we can hide our imperfections but we don’t know where we are stepping. It’s impossible to move forward and to grow more mature. In the light, our imperfections and our sins are revealed, but we can see. Light always overcomes darkness when it is present.
This week we get to begin John’s Gospel and we will be here for two months. John wrote his gospel in the last part of the first century (probably A.D. 85-90). He wrote it in order to prove that Jesus is God’s Son and that all who believe in Jesus will have eternal life. This is the most argumentative of the Gospels. It is also my favorite Gospel. Maybe because it is so argumentative, and maybe because it is the more philosophical of the Gospel accounts. John was probably in his 80’s while he wrote this account. It was 60 years after Christ was raised from the dead. Still, John was working hard to get the Gospel to the people. He still caused enough problems by preaching the Gospel that he was exiled to the island of Patmos by Roman Emperor Domitian about 5 years after writing this Gospel. I pray that I am able to follow John’s example as I age, never losing my passion and fervor for the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but doing everything I can to share it until the day my body stops working altogether.
In essence, I want my life to be light and I never want that light to go out. I want my church to be light and I never want that light to be extinguished. I want to pursue every opportunity. I want to try new things. I want to empower people to lead. I want to plant new churches. I want to see this light spread like a wildfire throughout our community and throughout our world, and I think this is what John might have felt as he wrote this Gospel. Whatever it takes and whatever I have to give up (even if I have to one day be exiled like John), I want people to know Christ because He is worth even my life.
Darkness and light. We could think about the differences. People in darkness are comfortable, but they don’t accomplish much of anything that matters in light of eternity. People in the light are always being challenged and convicted, but they are the ones that bring the eternal life that God offers to the whole world. Are you content with living in the shadows, or do you want to be a burning fire in this world that cannot be extinguished?
John 1:1-18 (HCSB)
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. All things were created through Him, and apart from Him not one thing was created that has been created. Life was in Him, and that life was the light of men. That light shines in the darkness, yet the darkness did not overcome it. There was a man named John who was sent from God. He came as a witness to testify about the light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but he came to testify about the light. The true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was created through Him, yet the world did not recognize Him.
He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him. But to all who did receive Him, He gave them the right to be children of God, to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood, or of the will of the flesh, or of the will of man, but of God. The Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We observed His glory, the glory as the One and Only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John testified concerning Him and exclaimed, “This was the One of whom I said, ‘The One coming after me has surpassed me, because He existed before me.’”) Indeed, we have all received grace after grace from His fullness, for the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. The One and Only Son — the One who is at the Father’s side — He has revealed Him.
As John begins his Gospel, he refers to a character called “the Word.” According to John, the Word was with God and was God in the beginning. It is this word that became flesh and dwelt among people. Jesus was born in the flesh 6 months after John the Baptist was born (not the Gospel writer). Yet we read, here, that John the Baptist claimed that Jesus existed before him. The Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah tell us that the Messiah and the eternal king had to be from antiquity and eternity, and not a being that had just come into existence (Micah 5:2). If we think critically about this, the only being that can possibly come from antiquity and eternity is a being that has not been created. He must be the uncaused cause of everything else. He must be God, who himself cant have had a beginning and who cannot have an end. Is this even possible?
According to Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity, space and time are continuous and relative. We witness this in the area of mathematics called calculous, where the number infinity is drawn out logically. If time and space is continuous, then any effect must be infinite and brought about by an infinite and eternal cause. I could illustrate in this way:
If I wanted to move to the door in my office, I would have to move to the halfway point first. Before I can get to that point, I have to move get halfway there first. Before I can get to that halfway point, I have to reach yet another halfway point. Such is general relativity. I would never make it to the door because there is an infinite regression of halfway points that I must reach. I would have to act infinitely, but to act infinitely would be to surpass the door and never stop moving. In fact, the door could not exist unless it was the only thing in existence and occupied all space (the same would be true for me). Time would be much the same. In order to move forward in time, I must reach an infinite number of halfway points in the timeline. Therefore, I must either occupy all of time or none of it.
This was a great conundrum until the development of quantum physics (and still is).1 We live in a universe that does not seem to require an infinite cause to accomplish an effect. We can move across a room and actually make it to the door. We experience discrete time and space. This could not be the case without an infinite uncaused cause in the beginning that actually established discrete space and time as we experience it. There simply has to be an eternal cause in the continuous realm that brought about an everlasting universe. Scientifically speaking, it would be nearly impossible for any universe to exist without an eternal, infinite God. In fact, if there is a God and if there is a true Messiah, His existence must be eternal, just as John wrote.
So, Christ was born as a man, but according to Scripture in both the Old and New Testaments, He has always been. Stop here for a moment and let that settle. When God answered Moses from the burning bush and called Himself “I am” (Genesis 3:14), He meant it.
When we get to verse 9 in our text for today, there are two different ways to translate it into english. One way suggests that it is by Christ coming into the world that light is given to all people, “ There was the true light, which, coming into the world, enlightened all men.” Another way suggests that Christ has offered light to all men coming into the world, even from eternity before He came into this world in the flesh.
This represents a case in Scripture where there is something that is lost in translation because we don’t have an exact way to state this in english. We can compare it to the modern english language, though. If I say something to the effect of, “You’re so pretty.” I could mean one of two things. Either I mean, “You are beautiful,” or “It’s a good thing you’ve got looks because you don’t have much else going for you.” To those reading this, I mean, “You are beautiful.” We might be more familiar with this phrase, “Bless your heart.” I am either saying that someone is really cute, or lacks common sense regarding a certain decision.
Here, John might mean either Christ’s enlightenment to people came as a result of His coming into the world in the flesh, or that Christ is the agent who has always provided enlightenment to everyone who came into a dark world. Or, John could be saying that both are true of Christ: That by His coming into the world, Jesus provided enlightenment for all people throughout all time who have been born into a world that has been trapped in darkness ever since Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden.
This is astounding. It would mean that even before Christ came in the flesh, people would have had a chance to know Him and be justified before God. It would mean that even before Christ came in the flesh, people could be saved whether or not they were part of the Israelite nation. It would mean that even before Christ came in the flesh, people were saved by grace through faith and not through national heritage or by works. This is confirmed for us in Scripture.
Abraham was justified by faith, not because of his national heritage (Genesis 15:6, Romans 4).
Balaam, who was not an Israelite, actually spoke with God (Numbers 22). In fact, God cared so much about directing Balaam that He sent an angel to provide that direction.
Christ, who according to John is with God and is one with God, has always cared about all people and made this enlightenment available to all people living in a world that is shrouded by darkness. So, we ask questions like this: What about people who have never heard about Christ? What about people who lived before Christ and never heard His name? What about infants who are not mature enough to understand what Christ has done? Can they be saved? Can they be justified before God? Can they make it to heaven?
With this section of Scripture we can answer part of this question. God cares about all people through all time and in every space in such a way that enlightenment is made available to them by Christ. Christ is the only one who can forgive people, save people, and justify people before God because He is the only one that has come into this world from eternity; but He is available to all people. This might be why Paul writes to the believers in Rome that people are “without excuse.” This is the grace of God, that all people have access to Christ. What this looks like in contexts where Jesus’ name is not known, I don’t know, but there must be access to Jesus. Whether or not people take advantage of that access is a different story. As for me, I want to live in the light. I want my motivation to be Christ. I want to overcome my imperfections. I want to live rightly before God. If Christ is the light, then I want to follow Him no matter the cost!
John moves on and exclaims, “No one has ever seen God. The One and Only Son — the One who is at the Father’s side — He has revealed Him” (v. 18). It is Christ, throughout all of time, who has revealed God to people. Without Christ, no one can know God. Without Christ, no one can know anything about God. According to John, everything that has been made was made through Christ, the Word. In Genesis 1, we read that God spoke the world into existence. Even if someone learns something about God by observing creation, it is only because of Christ’s revelation through that creation. This is what distinguishes a biblical faith from others.
Some place faith in a human prophet, some in a book, some in human capacity. A biblical Christian faith is the only faith that actually places all authority in God. It is the only one. Muslims have added Muhammad. Materialism places faith in the material world. Atheism places faith in self. Mormonism places faith in human works and expects that people who do well will become gods equal with Christ. Catholicism places faith in human works and in the Pope. Kingdom Hill places faith in human works. Progressivism places faith in human ingenuity. Many Jews place their faith in human works through ritual even though it is entirely contradictory to the Scriptures that we share. Many Christians place their faith in human works, church attendance, their preacher or pastor, and even church celebrities. This should not be the case. Jesus Christ is the only light. We ought to deny these other false gods and let Christ shine through us for the world to see. Christ is the only one who can and will reveal God because He is the only one who has seen God. This remains true today. We must remember that John wrote this sixty years after Christ died, was raised, and returned to the Father.
John, the human author of this Gospel, was completely sold-out for Christ. He recognized that Christ was the only light. Following anyone else would be to stumble about in the darkness. Being exposed to the light is not comfortable, but it is rewarding. As we wrap up this section, we should know that these first few verses hold much more information about Christ than could ever be covered in one meeting. No matter what else we take from this, we have this promise from verse 11-12, “He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him. But to all who did receive Him, He gave them the right to be children of God, to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood, or of the will of the flesh, or of the will of man, but of God.”
God created people, and people betrayed God. God came in the flesh, and His created people (and especially His chosen nation) rejected Him. There are those who claim to be a part of the church that have rejected Christ in favor of having faith either in human works or in material wealth; but for those few who have genuinely received Him, He gave them the right to be children of God.
We must ask ourselves, then, have we accepted the light, or have we chosen the comfort of the darkness?
1 Yanofsky, Noson S. The Outer Limits of Reason: What Science, Mathematics, and Logic Cannot Tell Us. MIT Press, 2013.