13. What did I do wrong? (John 1:29 & 36)
13: What did I do wrong? (John 1:29 & 36)
We heard in the last chapter that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. But why do we need a sacrificial lamb at all?
Police officers must hear it all the time: “What did I do wrong officer?”
“Well sir you were doing 80km/hr in a 50km/hr limit.”
“Really – I didn’t notice…”
Every parent and every teacher has heard it, numerous times. Most of us have probably said it and surely everyone has thought it. Normally we are reacting to an accusation, even though sometimes we are not being accused at all.
John records his namesakes’ initial description of Jesus in John 1:29. Up to that point, the Baptist has referred to Jesus as “someone”. Now, before any of the other titles that John could have given Him, he sees Jesus coming and says “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” It is perhaps Jesus’ most glorious title, certainly for the world He came to save, but in order to understand something more of the wonder of that Name we have to first have a good grasp of what the Lamb does: He takes away the sin of the world.
This, then, is not one man’s sin; some great murderer or tyrant whose life has been marked by terrible deeds of injustice. Neither is it the sin of a certain sphere of humanity; those who might not have the destructive capacity of the first group but still live lives that hurt and damage the poor and the vulnerable. No, this is the collective sin of the world. We are all included and we might well ask: “What did I do wrong?”
Another translation of the word for “sin” would be “offense”. Jesus, the Lamb of God has come to take away the offense of the world. But what is that offense and who have we offended?
It is clear that the offense is against God. What is the nature of that offense? It cannot be in the sense that we often understand the term. We often get offended when we are hurt by others or we see injustices being done and we forget that we too have probably offended and hurt many people in our own lives. As my Pastor Ron MacLean often says, “offense hangs on the hook of pride”. He means by that, most human offense. God’s offense is righteous partly because it is not fuelled by some hurt and wounded pride, despite the fact that He alone in the universe would have grounds for such pride as He has never sinned against anyone.
So if we have not offended God’s pride, what part of Him have we offended? Surely He can know that we are sinners and dislike the sin and even judge the sin without getting offended by it. Offense means that He feels it personally. Wouldn’t it be cleaner to have a God who could rule as a righteous judge of the universe and not take the misdemeanors personally? Surely most people who “sin” aren’t doing it against God, they aren’t even thinking about Him when they are doing it?
Many of them don’t even believe that He exists so how can they be meaning to sin against God? What have we done wrong and why does God take it as a personal offense? Thankfully, the apostle John has framed his text so that by the time we are introduced to the Lamb in verse 29, he has already explained the nature of the offense that caused Him to have to come.
It is interesting to note how John begins the gospel. He gives us only the most important pieces of information. He could have gone back to the Garden of Eden and the taking of the forbidden fruit. That act had obviously been offensive to God and has caused a cosmic rift in the relationship between God and the people He created. John could have gone on to talk about Cain, and then the days of Noah, the arrogance of the Tower of Babel, the stubbornness of the Egyptians which was only to be followed by the equal stubbornness of the very people who God had rescued from the Egyptians’ hands. In short, John could have started at the beginning and put together a comprehensive list of the multiple thoughts and actions of mankind that have offended God since creation. John does not do so, quite deliberately and strategically. He wants to make the real issue, the real issue.
John only gives us two reasons for God’s offense with His world and they are found in verses 10 and 11 of the first chapter.
“He was in the world, and though the world came into being through Him; yet the world did not know Him. He came unto His own, and His own did not receive Him.” (John 1:10-11)
The world did not know Him nor receive Him. These are the only reasons John gives to explain the offense of the world. It is not that there are not other reasons. We have offended God in so many ways that the universe could be filled with a list of such reasons. But there are two primary reasons for God’s offense and on them hinge the future of the world and each one of us in it.
Ultimately, if we are to face hell and judgement it will not be because Adam and Eve took a forbidden fruit, although that is where it all began. Neither will it be because we have lied or thought bad thoughts or done bad deeds. It will now solely be because we did not know Him and we did not receive Him. This is the primary grounds for God’s offense with mankind. So, if this truth is so important, what does it mean? Who is the One that we need to know and receive and why is it so important?
It is always helpful to know the context in which the books of the Bible were written. As we noted in the first chapter of this book, it is clear right from the first sentence that John was writing primarily to those who were either educated in the Greek culture or very familiar with Greek philosophy. This was true of many people in the Roman Empire, particularly in the Eastern part. Despite the fact that Rome had conquered much of the known world, Greek philosophy had a huge influence on the Empire’s thinking and many spoke Greek as either their first or second language. There were a large number of those with a history of Greek culture and philosophy (also called “Hellenists” both in the Bible and elsewhere) who also had varying degrees of connection to the Jewish religion. It is likely that this group were John’s target audience although his gospel would also speak to Greek thinkers who had no connection to the Jewish faith. What gives this intent away in the first sentence is the use of the word “Logos” as a person who existed “from the beginning”.
The philosopher Plato had believed that there was a person who acted as an intermediary between a distant but all powerful God and His creation. Plato believed that this intermediary was the agent by which God created the universe. This arrangement allowed God to remain untouched and untouchable by His creation and yet still involve Himself in the life of that creation. Plato called the intermediary “Logos” which in Greek can be equally translated and understood as “the word” or “reason”. Many none Hellenist Jews would have been confused and probably offended by John’s opening sentence, but it would have made perfect sense to anyone with an appreciation for Plato: “In the beginning was the Logos”.
Any Hellenist would have been instantly interested in what John had to say. However, whilst the use of the term “Logos” would have pleased any Platonists who wished to understand and embrace this new Christian faith in the context of their Greek philosophy, the rest of the sentence would have provided them with much to think about. The Logos was “in the beginning”. In other words the intermediary was not created by God as the pre-cursor to the creation of the universe; this Logos was there in the beginning.
John goes on: “and the Word (Logos) was with God (Theos)”. The Platonists would agree with that.
“…and the Word (Logos) was God (Theos)”. That would have provoked a serious reaction.
John has, in effect, made an instant connection with their way of thinking by confirming the truth that there was a Logos and then (as Jesus often did) suddenly takes that truth to a whole new level. The Logos did exist. He was with God. But He was with God “in the beginning” because He was God! Just so the point is not lost, John immediately re-emphasizes it: “He (Logos) was with God in the beginning.”
Before they have time to come to terms with the new information John is so clearly and definitely confronting them with, he takes them back around to a truth they already believed: “All things came into being through him (Logos), and without Him not even one thing came into being that has come into being.”
John is saying to the Platonists: “You are right about the existence of the Logos and also you were right about the Logos’ involvement with creation, you were just wrong in who the Logos was.” The last point is the crucial one. They may have believed that there was a Logos. They may even have believed that He was the agent that God used to create the universe. But they needed to believe that He was God.
John tells the reader more about Him.
“In Him was life”. So again, He, the Logos, is not just transferring life from God to His creation like some large conduit. As God, He has life in Himself. “…and the life was the light of men”.
We are created like an ancient lamp with a wick inside. It might look ok on the outside as a piece of incidental furniture, but unless someone lights the lamp it has no life. Logos takes of the life that He participates in as God and uses it to light the lamp inside each one of us, giving us life. When that light is extinguished we die. This is true of our physical lives; everyone lives because Jesus has given them life.
However Jesus didn’t just come to bring us life but light as well. It is possible to have our physical “lamp” burning, so that we are alive, at the same time as our spiritual “lamp” is not burning. In other words we are alive physically but not spiritually. This is how we all come into the world, physically alive but “dead in our trespasses and sins” as Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:1.
In that sense we have the “life” that Jesus gave us (the physical life) but not the “light” that is supposed to come with it. Jesus wants to light our spiritual as well as physical lamp, so that we have light and life.
John underlines that thought in verse 9: “He was the true light; He enlightens every man that comes into the world.” Many are in awe at the progress made by scientists to apparently “create” by cloning etc. However, no scientist will ever be able to create life. Life is only found in the Logos. God has made it that way.
So who is this Logos? John moves from cosmic history to recent events and introduces us to John the Baptist, who many revered long after his death. But he wasn’t the Logos, he just came to bear witness to the Logos and introduce us to Him. However we are getting closer to the truth.
“He (Logos) was in the world”. So He has not just created us but He has come to us. So surely now John will tell us who He is? He must have been on earth close to the time of the writing of the gospel, because He obviously came after John the Baptist.
But before he introduces his readers to Him, John the gospel writer confronts us with the reality of how we have responded to Him. Here he outlines our primary offense against God.
“He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.” (John 1:10)
The first part of man’s primary offense against God is that we do not know the Logos.
He existed from the beginning, He was with God, He was God, He was with God from the beginning, through Him all things were created and the reason any of us has life and light is because He personally lit the lamp of life in each one of us. He has been made the central being of all creation and has all the rights and privileges that go with that position. Everything good we have came from Him; but we do not know Him.
The fact of the matter is that none of us know Him by ourselves. Even John the Baptist, who Jesus described as the greatest among men, candidly admitted: “I did not know Him” (v 31). If anyone should have known Him it should have been John the Baptist, he was His relative after all and had “known” Him even before He was born, while He was still in his mother’s womb. His mother would have surely told him about the prophecies given to her relative, Mary and what had happened in Bethlehem. To that extent John has known something about Him but he still didn’t fully get it until he saw the Holy Spirit descend on Jesus at His baptism (v 33-34). It would seem that the eyes of humanity remain veiled to the truth even when it is right in front of us. However, the offense against God is not taken away just by “knowing” who the Logos is. Here we come to the second reason we have offended God.
“He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.” (John 1:11)
The second part of the world’s primary offense against God is that we did not receive Him. He cannot be received if He is not known. Even if He is known, it is still possible to reject Him. The rejection is compounded by the fact that He “came unto His own and His own did not receive Him”. He was not rejected by people who had no connection to Him. This probably particularly refers to the Jewish nation, but we are all His. The Psalmist says that “we are His, the sheep of His pasture” (Psalm 94:7 and Psalm 100:3).
We are His children, born of His own love, but when He came to see us, we closed the door in His face.
It is not difficult to understand how God the Father would be deeply offended by such a response. This is a much deeper and more personal offense than the taking of forbidden fruit (although that was offensive enough to invoke the gravest of consequences). The Father has given all things into the hands of His Son for our good. The Son has faithfully administered God’s goodness to us in creating and sustaining us. The Father’s heart is that we should know and love His Son, the Logos; that we should appreciate Him and enjoy a relationship with the Father through Him. All of the Father’s heart and will in creation has been invested into and through His Son and it is all for our good as well as His glory.
But we don’t want His Son. We don’t want to know Him. We don’t want to receive Him for who He is in our lives. We don’t want to acknowledge Him or give Him even the smallest vote of thanks. He was despised and rejected long before He came to the cross. That is what is deeply offensive to God. It is in essence a despising and rejecting of His Son. Sin is very personal to the Father.
Other religions simply compound the problem. People want to get to God but they don’t want to deal with Jesus. In a very small way that is like telling a husband that he is a great guy but you can’t stand the wife that he loves.
But God’s response is not second hand offense on his Son’s behalf. That is a misunderstanding of the nature of the Trinity. Their hearts and wills are so much One that any offense against any one of them is an offense against all three. Jesus was very clear on this over the issue of the Holy Spirit. He made the grieving of the Holy Spirit the “unforgivable sin”. In other words He was saying “you grieve the Holy Spirit, you grieve all of us”.
“ And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.” (Luke 12:10)
What was the “sin” that was being committed by the people Jesus was talking to at the time? They were saying that Jesus was doing His miracles by demonic powers. They were saying grievous things about Jesus; they didn’t mention the Holy Spirit, so how could they be grieving Him? But Jesus knew that it was the Holy Spirit at work in Him that was helping Him to do the miracles. They weren’t just accusing Jesus of witchcraft; they were slandering the Holy Spirit by calling Him a demon. Jesus didn’t speak out in His own defense, but He spoke out in defense of the Holy Spirit.
If we offend one member of the Trinity, we offend all of them.
It is a fact of life that no one can remove the thorn of an offense from us, we have to let it go ourself. The one who has wronged us can say sorry, make retribution, give us gifts and plead for forgiveness, but the offense will only go away when we release it. It is much more difficult to release an offense if we believe that the injustice will not and cannot be undone.
It is no different with God. Nothing we can do can remove the offense from Him. No amount of saying sorry, making retribution, giving of our lives or pleading for forgiveness can remove the offense from Him, He must find a way of justly and righteously letting it go Himself. He doesn’t have to remove His offense for the same reason as us. There is no sin in His offense, He is perfectly justified in it and He would be equally justified to retain it for eternity. However, “for God so loved the world”, He has set His heart on removing the offense, for our joy and His glory.
There is no way, outside of Himself that the injustices committed can be put right. So He must look inside of Himself to find a way to release us from the righteous anger and punishment of His offense against us. He found that way by sending the Lamb of God to take away the offense by the means of the cross. When Jesus cried out “Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing”, He was firstly referring to those around the cross who crucified Him. However, His was the voice of God, to God; God speaking to Himself and (in a sense) pleading with Himself on behalf of the world he loved to release us from the offense He so righteously holds against all of us.
The words, of course were not for His benefit, He did not need to hear His own intercessions. The words were for us to hear so that we could understand the transaction that was taking part in the heart of God for us.
Jesus alone could do it, because it is primarily Him that we have sinned against. We neither knew Him nor loved Him, despite all He was and is and is to be for us. His wonderful response is to absorb our worst hatred of Him in the cruelest of punishments and deaths. Not only that, He identifies with what we have done by taking our sin and punishment upon Himself (even though our sin is primarily against Him). Then, as fully man and fully God, He cries aloud “Father forgive them because they don’t know what they are doing” and pleads with His words, His blood and His love for God to release the world of His offense against all of us that had so horribly wronged Him.
With a crash of thunder and terrible darkness, God releases all His offense that He righteously holds against us on account of our treatment of His Son unbelievably on to that very same Son.
The Son receives it, the “victim” of the crime willingly takes the punishment and, when it is done He declares those most wonderful of words at the point of His greatest weakness, pain and vulnerability: “It is finished”. And in that same moment all the offense of heaven against earth is gone. No more offense in the heart of God towards the world He had created.
Yes judgement will come and punishment too, but only for those who will not hide themselves in the Son whom we have all sinned so grievously against: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the offense of the world.”
God the Father made it all about Jesus, His glorious Son – and so should we!Posted on: May 23, 2018Peter Todd