John 1:1-14 – Week One
Now that Thanksgiving is behind us and the Christmas season has officially begun, we’ve started unboxing those Christmas ornaments, wreaths, and sweaters that we packed away less than a year ago. Every year, at this time, I find things I forgot I had. I’ll find a set of ornaments or a wreath or some kind of knick-knack that I hadn’t thought of since last Christmas.
As I was pulling the Christmas items out of storage this week, I found myself feeling a twinge of shame. Packed away, wrapped in layers of bubble wrap was baby Jesus, the key piece of a nativity scene. The symbolic reason for the entire Christmas season had been stored away in a plastic tub, along with Charlie Brown and Snoopy, various versions of Santa Claus, Christmas gnomes (a relatively new addition to my Christmas décor), and yes, even the Grinch who stole Christmas. All things that I hadn’t thought of in nearly a year.
What a statement that makes, I thought. How many of our lives are characterized by that one storage bin? Placed in the middle of a collection of stuff we accumulate is God. We allow so much “extra” in our lives that not only doesn’t encourage our relationship with God, it actually pulls us away from Him. We fill our lives with such a collection, that we forget what we have.
Some years ago, the phrase “Jesus is the reason for the season” became popular. It was meant to refocus us on that little town of Bethlehem, the manger, the star, the silent night, and most importantly, the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes that came to save us. But like the other Christmas paraphernalia, the baby in the manger, along with the “Jesus is the reason for the season” garden flag is always packed away once December 25th comes and goes.
The Israelites were just as guilty about their connection with God. They worshipped Him on their allotted days, and they did some of the things they were supposed to do, but they were also really good at lumping Him in with their paganistic ways, their immorality, and disobedience and keeping Him hidden away until the season to worship Him came along again.
We’ve spent months studying the kings and prophets of the Israelites. There are a couple of bullet points that sum up most of what we learned.
-Most of the kings were evil.
-The Israelites suffered from poor leadership.
-Most of the Israelites from the kings to the peasants had lost their sense of worshipping God as they should even though the prophets tried to make them realize how far away they had strayed.
There were moments in all of those hundreds of years in which God was recognized and worshipped as He should have been. One of the ones that stand out is King Solomon at the dedication of the temple in 1 Kings 8:22 ICB “22 Then Solomon stood facing the Lord’s altar. All of the people of Israel were standing behind him. He spread out his hands and looked toward the sky. 23 He said: “Lord, God of Israel, there is no god like you. There is no god like you in heaven above or on the earth below.” 1 Kings 8:27 ICB“But, God, can you really live here on the earth? Even the sky and the highest place in heaven cannot contain you. Certainly this house which I have built cannot contain you either.”
King Solomon who was blessed with immeasurable wisdom, wondered if God could really live on earth. He questioned whether the Holiest of Holies, the Creator of Heaven and Earth, the One Who was, Who Is, and will always be could possibly surround Himself with the sinfulness and the dirtiness of this world.
What King Solomon along with the other kings as well as the prophets couldn’t imagine was that God would come to earth, not as a king, not as a ruler, not any kind of great presence, but rather a tiny little baby born in a most rustic setting.
The apostle John wrote five books of the Old Testament. First, Second, and Third John, the book of Revelation, as well as the book of John which is one of the four gospels. We know that the four gospels often parallel one another in many of the stories told. For example, the baptism of Jesus is told in each of the four gospels with some accounts being more detailed than others. I’ve heard that the four gospels are much like a quartet. Yes, you can read just one of them and you’ll get a sense of Jesus, but unless you read and study all four gospels, you’ll miss out on part of the nature of Jesus.
“Each of the four gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—paints a unique portrait of Jesus. They show us the same Jesus but portray him from different perspectives.
What are these four unique portraits?
1. Matthew presents Jesus as the Jewish Messiah, the fulfillment of Old Testament hopes.
2. Mark portrays him as the suffering Son of God, who offers himself as a sacrifice for sins.
3. Luke’s Jesus is the Savior for all people, who brings salvation to all nations and people groups.
4. In John, Jesus is the eternal Son of God, the self-revelation of God the Father.
Having four gospels gives us a deeper, more profound understanding of who Jesus is and what he did.”[i]
We tend to lump all four gospels together, but the Gospel According to John is viewed a bit differently from the other three. Matthew, Mark, and Luke are known as synoptic gospels, meaning they cover basically the same events, just told from a different viewpoint. While the book of John contains some of the same events, it is not considered to be a synoptic gospel. “In fact, the Gospel of John is so unique that 90 percent of the material it contains regarding Jesus’ life cannot be found in the other Gospels.”[ii]
Whereas the Gospel according to Matthew gives the genealogy of Jesus going back to Abraham, the Gospel according to John goes way back further than that.
John 1:1a ERV “Before the world began, the Word was there.”
The footnote in the Bible for “the Word” gives an explanation. “Word: The Greek word is “ logos,” meaning any kind of communication. It could be translated “message.” Here, it describes Jesus Christ before he was sent to earth as a human being, which is the way God chose to tell the world about himself.”[iii]
The word “communication” struck me. We’ve somewhat lost our ability to communicate with one another despite the fact that we have various ways in which to do so. Nowadays, we can avoid having a one-on-one conversation with someone and still communicate with them. We can text, send an email, or instant message them. We can even use old-fashioned means and send a letter! We can talk on the phone or via video chat for a more personal feel. But there’s nothing like communication when it’s in person. That’s when you’re able to see their facial expressions, hear the tone of their voice, observe their body language, and simply feel their presence.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a text conversation and either I or the person I’m texting is uncertain of the tone. When my oldest went away to college, her schedule was jampacked and we communicated by text daily, but actually talked on the phone maybe every other day. She would ask me something and I would reply “sure”. For example, she might ask if I was free to meet up with her for dinner. I would respond “sure” meaning “Sure!” as in “I’m so excited to be able to see you!”. She read it as “sure” meaning “I guess so. I really have a lot of other things to do, but I feel obligated to meet you so I’ll be there.” She finally called me one day after I responded with “sure” and asked me to clarify what I meant by that. I was a bit surprised because I thought she knew me well enough to know that my “sure” was one of excitement and delight. I’ve since learned that throwing in a heart or smiley face emoji clarifies my tone.
It’s easy to ignore a text or forget an email or delete an instant message. But it’s more difficult, if not impossible, to ignore, forget, or delete a one-on-one conversation. Whereas the Israelites had done their best to ignore, forget and delete their covenant with God, and they had chosen to overlook and turn a deaf ear to the messages sent through the prophets, God sent Jesus in human form to communicate with them face-to-face.
John 1:1 ERV “Before the world began, the Word was there. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was there with God in the beginning. 3 Everything was made through him, and nothing was made without him. 4 In him there was life, and that life was a light for the people of the world. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not defeated it.”
John starts off his gospel by establishing the deity of Jesus. He qualifies Jesus as the One Who has always been with God, and Who is God. He takes the genealogy of Jesus much further than Matthew in that John traces Jesus back to before the world began. Way before Abraham and certainly before Adam and Eve. And John credits Jesus for creating everything and for giving life that was the light that illuminated the darkness that exists.
John writes of Jesus from his own personal experience. Among the many followers or disciples of Jesus, He had twelve apostles. Out of those twelve, Jesus had a closer bond with three of them – Peter, and the two sons of Zebedee, James, and John. These three apostles were often with Jesus when the others weren’t. When Jesus went to revive the daughter of Jairus, only Peter, James, and John were allowed with Him. (Mark 5:37) It was the same three that were privileged to see the transfiguration. (Mark 9:2) And, in the end, it was the same trio who were chosen by Jesus to go to the Garden of Gethsemane and keep watch while He prayed. (Matthew 26:37)
The apostle John was known for his passion and his desire to keep things black and white. In Mark 9:38 GNT “John said to him, “Teacher, we saw a man who was driving out demons in your name, and we told him to stop, because he doesn’t belong to our group.”
39 “Do not try to stop him,” Jesus told them, “because no one who performs a miracle in my name will be able soon afterward to say evil things about me. 40 For whoever is not against us is for us.”
John and his brother James were the two that wanted to rain down fire on a village in Samaria because the people there didn’t want to receive Jesus. It was only the admonishment of Jesus that stopped them from doing so.
But John matured in his understanding of Who Jesus was and what His message was all about. John became known as the “apostle of love”.[iv] In fact, John writes a great deal about love.
John 3:16 “For God so loved the world…”
John 13:34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
1 John 3:1 “See how very much our heavenly Father loves us, for he allows us to be called his children…”
2 John 1:6 “If we love God, we will do whatever he tells us to. And he has told us from the very first to love each other.”
And the one verse in which John describes himself in one of the sweetest ways: John 13:23, NASB: “Lying back on Jesus’ chest was one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved.”
John’s passion for Jesus is evident in his writings. He not only believes Jesus is God in the flesh, he knows it and he is zealous to share that knowledge.
John 1:6 GNT “ God sent his messenger, a man named John, 7 who came to tell people about the light, so that all should hear the message and believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came to tell about the light. 9 This was the real light—the light that comes into the world and shines on all people.”
The Apostle John is not speaking of himself, but rather he’s referring to John the Baptist, the cousin of Jesus. Prophets such as Micah, Amos, Hosea, and Jonah whom we just finished studying, along with the major prophets such as Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and Isaiah, were all messengers of God sent to communicate to the people that they were headed in the wrong direction. But, as we well know, they didn’t pay attention, they didn’t listen. So, for 400 years, God was silent. But then God used John the Baptist to carry on the message that changes needed to take place.
Matthew 3:1 ICB “About that time John the Baptist came and began preaching in the desert area of Judea. 2 John said, “Change your hearts and lives because the kingdom of heaven is coming soon.” 3 John the Baptist is the one Isaiah the prophet was talking about. Isaiah said:
“This is a voice of a man
who calls out in the desert:
‘Prepare the way for the Lord.
Make the road straight for him.’”
Isaiah spoke of John the Baptist approximately 700 years before John the Baptist was born.[v] John the Baptist spoke of Jesus a short period of time (possibly just six months)[vi] prior to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. The Apostle John is given not only the words of the prophet Isaiah to validate John the Baptist, but he is also given the words of John the Baptist to validate Jesus as the Son of God and as the Light of the World.
John 1:10 HCSB “He was in the world,
and the world was created through Him,
yet the world did not recognize Him.”
I can’t help but think of the show “Undercover Boss” when I read this verse. It’s an interesting reality show where the CEO or a high-ranking official of a major corporation such as True Value Hardware, Subway, or 7-11 go undercover to work alongside their own employees. Most of the time, the employees have no clue that they are “training” the founder or creator of the company. The employees are often very honest about their dissatisfaction with the way the company is running or the employees will tell on themselves about taking extra breaks or not doing their jobs fully or as expected. And then there is the awkwardness at the end when it’s revealed to the employee that their secrets and their work ethics were actually divulged firsthand to the one in charge.
The Israelites had been living out an episode of Undercover Boss. They had kept God tucked away in storage for so long, they had forgotten what it was like to have a relationship with Him. Their ancestors had ignored the messages of the prophets. The love for God, the passion for God, and the desire for God had been buried underneath years of disloyalty, disobedience, and just plain sinfulness so much so that when Jesus came to earth, they didn’t recognize Him, they didn’t know Him.
Hebrews 1:1 CEV “Long ago in many ways and at many times God’s prophets spoke his message to our ancestors. 2 But now at last, God sent his Son to bring his message to us. God created the universe by his Son, and everything will someday belong to the Son. 3 God’s Son has all the brightness of God’s own glory and is like him in every way. By his own mighty word, he holds the universe together.”
The time had come for one-on-one, face-to-face communication with God. Jesus.
John 1:14 CEV “The Word became a human being and lived here with us. We saw his true glory, the glory of the only Son of the Father. From him the complete gifts of undeserved grace and truth have come down to us.”
To answer King Solomon’s question: Yes. God not only can live here on earth, He did! What a remarkable message of love! So much so that I’m thinking about not packing up Baby Jesus after Christmas but rather leaving Him out as a great reminder of His love.