A Life Worth Living
6. Words and Phrases; Uniting or Dividing
John 1:9-13 “The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”
Let’s look at the words and phrases in this passage:
“Light”. Greek “phos”, from which we get phosphoresce. Something that blazes into light. This is not a light bulb but a torch, a flame that burns. “The true burning flame, which gives light to everyone, was coming.”
“World”. Greek “kosmos”. Everything that exists. He came into the “kosmos” that He had made. He was in the “kosmos” but the “kosmos” didn’t know Him. Again He came to everyone. Actually into all that He had created. Everything that exists. The Cosmos didn’t know it’s Creator. Much of it still doesn’t.
“His own”. Greek “idios”. Belonging to Him. This is in contrast to “kosmos”, it is not the whole world. This is His people, referring here to the Israelite nation. He came to His very own. They are not accused of not knowing Him, but not receiving Him.
“Receive” 1. Greek “paralambano”. To bring near to oneself. He came close to His own (the Jews) but they did not receive Him. They didn’t come close to Him.
“Receive” 2. Greek “lambano”. To purposefully take, to lay hold of. The same word that describes what Jesus did when He took the scroll from the hand of God in Revelation 5: 7. “To all who did receive Him”. We don’t just need to draw close to all that Jesus is, we need to lay hold of Him, to bring Him right into the center of our lives and not let Him go.
“Believe”. Greek “pisteuo”. Put your trust in. This is not just academic understanding, or intellectual acknowledgement of some truth. This is the bridge you are going to cross the ravine of life on, putting all your weight upon it. There might be other bridges and you can’t see the end of any of them. Some look more stable, some are swaying in the wind. But you choose to put your trust in this one, which means that you don’t just choose it, but you walk out onto it and risk everything by trusting that this one bridge will get you safely to where you want to go.
“To all who receive Him and believe in His Name” means all who lay hold of Him and put all their hope in Him. Those are the people who are given a special, eternal right.
“Right”. Greek “exousia”. Privilege, delegated privilege, a privilege that is given to us. A privilege that only God can give.
“The right to become children”
“Children”. Greek “teknon”. This is not gender specific (like sons), it is children. It could mean sons or daughters.
John never uses the phrase “son (huios) of God” or “sons of God” to describe who we are in Christ. He always, in all his writings, refers to us as children of God.
1 John 3:1 “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children (teknon) of God; and so we are.”
The only time John calls us “sons” is when he uses the phrase in John 12:36 and even here is he is not referring directly to our relationship with God as our Father, but rather with the light.
“While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons (huios) of light.”
Paul, by contrast uses children (teknon) of God and sons (huios) of God almost interchangeably. In Romans 8 alone he uses both phrases in consecutive verses:
• “sons of God” (huios) in Romans 8:14, 15, 19 & 23
• “children of God” (teknon) in Romans 8: 16, 17 & 21.
In contrast, John uses the phrase Son of God to refer to Christ alone. It seems to be another way he sets Jesus apart in His relationship with God. We may become the children of God, but He is the Son of God.
Paul, who, by the same Holy Spirit, appears to want to emphasise the wonder and glory of who we are in Christ, is more comfortable interchanging the two titles. We are children of God but we also have the particularly privileges that would have been afforded to sons and therefore co-heirs, in Paul’s culture at the time of his writing.
“Children of God, born”
“Born”. Greek “gennao”. Not like the act of our coming into the world, our birth, when we were born. But the initial bringing into being, the procreation, where we came from and how we were formed in the heart of our Father in heaven. In this case the father’s will in bringing us into his family. It is the word we get genealogy from.
“Not of Blood”. Greek “ou ex haima”. Children of God are not born simply of blood, the make up of genes and DNA.
“Nor of the Flesh”. Greek “oude ex sarx”. Children of God are not born of the passions of the flesh like a human birth.
“Nor of the will of man”. Greek “oude ex thelema aner”. Children of God are not born into God’s family of their own will. We can’t make it happen ourselves. This is not something any man or woman can do by themselves.
“But of God”. Greek “ex theos”. Of God. When we become children of God we are born of His blood, not ours, of His DNA, not ours, of His will, not ours.
Here is the dilemma, wrestled through by theologians for centuries and splitting the reformation church with terrible consequences that persist to this day. John has come as a witness to the light “that all may believe” (John 1:7). The true light gives light to “everyone” (John 1:9). The scope of the gospel appears to be universal. The good news that we can become children of God is for everyone.
To all who did receive, lay hold, of Him. To all who believed, put their whole trust in, His name. Again the scope of the gospel seems universal and it appears to be left to the choice of the individual as to whether they want to respond to it or not. Anyone who responds to the good news of Jesus by receiving and believing in Him is then given the right to become God’s child.
But then it is clear that we are not born into God’s family and community by blood, or the flesh or our own will, but only by the will of God. This clearly indicates that the choice of who becomes part of God’s family is God’s alone and not our personal choice after all.
Salvation. Is it our choice or God’s choice? John appears to state both as truths.
Is it overly simplistic to interpret these verses to mean the following?
• Universal reach (UR). The gospel is universal. It is good news for everyone. Therefore it must be preached to everyone, without partiality, as if all have the same opportunity to receive and believe and be saved.
• Personal responsibility (PR). The choice is personal. It is our personal responsibility to respond to Jesus. We must make a personal response to the gospel that includes laying hold of and putting our full trust in the person of Jesus Christ in order to come into life and the light.
• Divine right (DR). Heavenly adoption is Divine. God alone chooses who is part of His family. It is only God who has the authority to adopt someone into His family and community. We do not somehow elbow our way in because we say a prayer of salvation that God must respond to. We cannot strong arm God into adopting us, even using the cross as a crowbar to prize His grace open. We have no rights in this process. He chooses who He adopts. And He chooses to adopt those who receive the Logos, the Life and the Light (laying hold of the truth of Jesus as a life changing revelation) and who believe in His name (putting their whole lives into His hands and walking out that trust daily in relationship with Jesus and submission to Jesus).
• We respond to Jesus and God chooses us.
We will discover later in the book that, whilst this may be a helpful distinction now as a first step in seeking to understand a much deeper and more profound mystery, it does not in any way comprehensively explain the process of salvation. We later discover, for instance, that no one comes to Jesus (obviously necessary in order to truly believe and receive Him) unless the Father draws them in the first place.
“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” (John 6:44).
However, for now, John wants us to understand that whilst God’s heart is for everyone to receive the life offered in Jesus, there is both a personal responsibility in us responding to Him and a Divine right in God choosing us.
• Universal reach (UR)
• Personal responsibility (PR)
• Divine right (DR)
If you have read enough and don’t want to go further, please keep going, at least to the end of this chapter. You may think my interpretations shallow, uneducated, unclear, inaccurate or just plain wrong. You may well be right, but again, please keep reading. Please bear in mind that I am not trying to provide a comprehensive understanding of the process of becoming one of God’s children, I am just looking to interpret and respond to the text that is before us in John 1. The point of this chapter is not actually to try and explain the mysteries of God in salvation at all. Many many more learned and godly saints have tried over 2000 years to do that and they still have not been able to come to a conclusion that satisfies, or is able to unite, all true Jesus followers.
We absolutely must not lose focus on the big picture that the Holy Spirit, through John, is laying out for us here. This is meant to awe us. We must not lose the incredible wonder of what God has done by overly exerting ourselves in trying to define the mechanics of how it all happens.
The purpose of the Holy Spirit in John’s gospel is to bring us to life and light through the good news of Jesus. This wonderful new life as a child of God is not individual but it is an entrance into God’s corporate world, His own community, His family.
This gospel is meant to unite us in Him, otherwise we are not living the fulness of life that He has for us and we are certainly not being the light in the world that He means us to be, or that the world needs. If we so focus on defining how it all happens that we lose the unity and community for which it happens, surely we have missed the point of the gospel. Have we not strained a gnat and swallowed a camel?
In the end is the Holy Spirit more concerned that we feel secure in our own interpretations of the mechanics of this gospel, even if that security divides us? Or is He more concerned that we discover the truth of this gospel in such a way that we can live in the light together as His family, in His Oneness as He is One, and in so doing, provide together the brightest light possible for a world that is still desperately cloaked in darkness?
What is clear is that it is God’s right to decide who is in His family.
The other siblings don’t get to choose who is in the family, the Father does. It is His will that dictates who becomes part of His family and it is the Son’s privilege to extend the full rights of adoption to those children.
I have a sneaking suspicion that I may be surprised by who I meet in eternity. Each one will have had to receive and believe in Jesus, but they may not have done that in a way that I am familiar or even comfortable with. For sure, many of them will disagree with my beliefs on many things, from how it began in Genesis to when it all ends in Revelation. If we are still aware of those differences then, we will probably laugh about them together.
“You know what I used to believe? I was so convinced that ____________ (fill in the blank) was true that I wasn’t even sure if you were a Christian or not. I’m so sorry, that was so arrogant of me.”
“Don’t worry (insert warm hug here), I thought people like you were ____________ (fill in the blank again). When I first saw you here I had to do a double take. Then in an instant my spiritual eyes were opened and I understood fully for the first time and, guess what? You were right all the time!”
“Maybe on that particular issue, but you were so right on so many of the others.”
“Just think, we lived next door to each other all these years and didn’t know we were family.”
It is a tragic pity for our sakes and the sake of a world who desperately needs to see the children of God truly living as one family together, that we cannot laugh about them together here and now.
“But to all who did receive Him (Jesus), who believed in His name, He (Jesus) gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13)
Ask the Holy Spirit: “Lord, where do my beliefs hurt your family rather than heal them? Am I committed to Your glory shining brightly through the diversity in harmony of all that You are in and through Your family? Or am I am more committed to holding fast to what I believe to be true, at the expense of Your glory in the wider Church?”
If we miss the point here in the first chapter, John is going to return to it with much greater force at the climax of Jesus’ life and ministry on earth. John, the apostle of love, is determined that we don’t miss it. He knows that if the church doesn’t get this, then much of the church will continue to be divided, emaciated, power-little, light-little and life-little.
The world needs more than that.
The Father and His glorious Son deserve better than that.
They will have better than that, because in the end Their will is going to prevail over everyone else’s, even the most entrenched of us.
Let’s leave this chapter with a wonderful apostolic prayer which reveals both the heart of God and the hope of the nations. This is what Paul prays after he has laid out his theology of the oneness that Jesus has secured for His family, the Church, on the cross:
“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, (there might be many different “families” of God’s children, that are defined by their own spiritual genetics, but they all have the same Father) that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith — that you, being rooted and grounded in love, (more important than being rooted and grounded in our particular brand of theological understanding, the spiritual genetics that define the particular “family” that we belong to) may have strength to comprehend with all the saints (note that phrase – this comprehension of all surpassing love does not happen in isolation or in one part of the family of God but only when it is comprehended together with “all the saints”, we need all of us to truly understand and fully experience God’s love) what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God (there is no fulness of God in the church without a fuller understanding of how widely embracing the love of God really is and we can’t understand that unless we do it with an appreciation for all the saints and the one Father, Savior and Spirit we all share).
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, (because we most certainly cannot bring this level of love and unity to the church ourselves, two thousand years of church history should have taught us that) according to the power at work within us, (there is, however, a power at work in the children of God that can bring about the love and unity Paul is praying for, but it is God that both authors and executes the plan through us) to him be glory in the church (the sort of glory that Jesus died for, that Paul has already unpacked for us in the previous two chapters of Ephesians) and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:14-21)
5:John the Witness
“There was a man sent from God whose name was John.” (John 1:6)
John the apostle introduces us to John the Baptist. His introduction contrasts with the way John has introduced Jesus. John The Baptist is introduced as a man. The Logos “was God”. John therefore had a beginning, unlike the Logos, Jesus, who was there “in the beginning”. He was created, Jesus was the creator: “All things were created through Him.” That would include John. Jesus created John the Baptist to come before Him and make a way for Him.
As John himself said of Jesus:
“After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me” (John 1:30).
John was sent by God, Jesus was an essential part of the Godhead that sent him. We straight away learn John’s name. We have not yet learnt the earthly name of the Logos. John is a man. An amazing man, but a man. Jesus is not just a man. Not even just an amazing man. He is so much more.
“He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe.” (John 1:7)
John was sent by God as a witness. A witness is someone who is called into the dock in court to speak on behalf (hopefully) of the truth. That witness should confirm the innocence or guilt of the one on trial. If the witness is brought on behalf of the defendant, then they are expected to give evidence that serves that defendant’s case, proving that they are not guilty. Such witnesses are sent to the court by the defense lawyer, who wants to prove to the court the innocence of their client.
God did not send John into the world as a defense lawyer would send a witness to the court. God the Father does not need the courts of this world to prove that His Son is innocent. Jesus Himself is not a “defendant” who is looking for John the Baptist to back Him up against the court of human opinion. Jesus is not worried about being judged by us.
When God sends a witness into the world it is not for His sake, to somehow prove His case. He in no way needs to be justified, proved right, exonerated or declared innocent. No, when God sends a witness into the world it is for our sake, not His. Jesus is not on trial here in our court. The reverse is true. We are on trial in His Father’s court.
That we are guilty as charged is without doubt in the court of heaven. It is us that cannot see it. As a result we are facing a dreadful sentence. Not only do we not know that it is coming, many of us are unaware that we are even guilty, never mind that we have already been charged and judged and sentenced.
God sends us, graciously and undeservedly, a witness. Someone to help us see that we are guilty and facing a terrible sentence. Someone to help us see that we are in desperate need of a Savior. John the Baptist witnessed about us before he witnessed about Jesus.
“In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.’” (Matthew 3:1-3)
John the Baptist firstly witnesses about us that we are sinners and we need to repent of our sin. Then he points us to Jesus as the Lamb of God who will take away our sin and guilt and judgement.
John, the writer, goes on to point out that John the Baptist wasn’t totally sure who Jesus was until he saw the dove of the Holy Spirit come upon him.
“I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’” (John 1:33)
He did not know Jesus for sure straight away. But he seemed to know us for sure straight away. He knew that we were sinners and that we stood guilty before the court of heaven and we needed to repent before we found ourselves standing in that court.
John the Baptist came to testify concerning the light. He began by witnessing about the darkness.
When we testify about the light, do we start with the darkness? Do we bear witness to our sinfulness and that we stand guilty before a righteous judge and face a terrible sentence as a result?
If we don’t, we present Jesus as a gift wrapped Christmas present from the Father that will benefit us in our life now and in our eternity. The reality is that He sent Him into the world as the lowest of all servants, to suffer and die on a cross because we absolutely, desperately need Him.
The first form of the gospel (which isn’t the “good news” that we need) produces admirers of Jesus but not lovers of Him. It produces consumer Christians who expect to get from Jesus what they need, rather than true disciples who lay down their lives for love and give Jesus what He is looking for. The first keeps me and my needs at the centre. The second causes me to die to me and my needs and put Jesus at the center (again for love, not for religious duty) trusting me and my needs and my life into His hands.
John the Baptist came to testify to Jesus as the light of the world but he started by testifying about us, the darkness of the world. The world didn’t make us darkness, we made the world darkness. When we get that, we are more prepared to receive the light.
It is “the people who walk in darkness” who “have seen a great light” (Isaiah 9:2). If we don’t think we are walking in darkness then we don’t realise our need for light and won’t appreciate it or submit to it when it comes. We will put the light (Jesus, the Light of the World) as a nice accessory in our homes, a mood lamp to switch on and go to when we need comforting and warmth.
Jesus is not an accessory. He is Lord of Lords and King of Kings and He has come to set the whole earth ablaze with light, not just bring comfort to our lives. He has come to rule our darkness, not just give us hope in the middle of it.
That is why John baptised with water for repentance. He was preparing us to meet the light.
Baptism meant open, public, confession of sin. If you wanted to be baptised by John you had to walk into the water, lined up behind prostitutes, tax collectors and unjust soldiers, acknowledging the fact that you needed a good wash every bit as much as they did.
“I am a very great sinner,” you would be saying “and I need to be cleansed”.
Open, public confession of sin opening the door to real life. John was preparing them to meet Jesus. Come into the light if you want to meet the light of the world.
“He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe.” (John 1:7)
So that all may believe. John the apostle is unequivocal, here at the start of his gospel, when He talks about the scope of the Father’s heart for the world. So that all may believe. Whatever else we read in the following chapters, John the Apostle has set the boundaries of God’s loving heart as being universal.
There are verses in the rest of John that support this view: “for God so loved the world that He gave us (the world) His only Son that whoever (universal again) believes should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
There are verses that point to a more restrictive or exclusive view of God’s redemptive plan: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44).
One appears to point to a God who loves everyone and gives everyone the same opportunity to repent and be saved. The other appears to point to a God who loves everyone but not everyone gets the same opportunity to be saved because He chooses some and not others.
That may be an overly simplistic way of unpacking what John is saying in His gospel, however, my point is this: He says both. He says that God loves everyone and appears to open the door to anyone to be saved but He also says that we cannot be saved unless the Father draws us in the first place.
Wherever you land in that discussion, what is clear is this: When John the Apostle sets out the landscape for his explanation of the gospel, the good news, he doesn’t put any parameters on the recipients of God’s love or His desire for their redemption. He sent John the Baptist into the world “as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe.” (John 1:7)
The Apostle John’s aim seems clear. He wants all his readers to believe that there is a God who loves and cares for them. So much so that He sends His own Son as a light to all those in darkness. So that through Him (Jesus) all might believe (and therefore be saved). John wants everyone to believe that salvation is possible for them. This is a theme that is underlined throughout the gospel as John highlights people from different backgrounds and even nations who are all offered an opportunity to believe in Him and be saved.
This is very important because, whilst John doesn’t shy away from the truth that God the Father sovereignly chooses later in the gospel, he does not start that way. When we begin our sharing of the gospel with an exclusive mindset, we are in danger of immediately restricting it’s scope but we also, unwittingly in many cases, are doing an inadequate job of representing the heart of God to those we are witnessing to.
Right from the beginning the Holy Spirit, through John, wants us to know that God’s desire, His heart, is that “all may believe”. So everyone reading this book can continue reading it because it has been made clear that this book offers life to everyone.
“He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light” (John 1:8).
Jesus said that John the Baptist was the greatest born of woman. But the least in the kingdom of heaven was greater than he.
“Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Matthew 11:11 & Luke 7:28)
Why? Here is not the full answer, but certainly part of an answer. John is not the light. Jesus is the light. All who have Jesus also have the light. In Christ we become the lights of the world. Jesus told us so.
“You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14)
In a very real sense John the Baptist was a “light” in this dark world. But John was clear that he was not the light of the world because the light of the life of Jesus Christ had not fully come into him (although He was filled with the same Holy Spirit). He was not the light of the world, Jesus was. And we are the light of the world when we are in Him and He is in us.
John the Baptist came to bear witness to that light. He started by opening our eyes to our own darkness. By acknowledging our sin openly, and actively showing a willingness to repent through the waters of John’s baptism, we are now ready to receive that light. Not just receive the light, but love Him and live for Him.
Are we loving and living for Jesus? If not we might want to start with asking the Holy Spirit to shine the light onto any sin in our lives that is holding us back. “Where is the darkness in me, Lord, that is keeping me from loving and living for the light?” If you are really serious then ask a spouse, pastor, good friend or family member to help you see what you cannot see by yourself.
If the Holy Spirit shows you something, then can I recommend that you bring it into the light (however shameful it may be) by openly confessing it to someone more mature in Christ who can help you.
When you do that, you are preparing the way for a deeper and more life changing encounter with Jesus, the Light of the World.
That was John the Baptist’s message. That was his testimony. He came to bear witness to the light.
4: Fallen into Shadow (John1:5)
Genesis 1: “And the earth was formless and void and darkness was over the face of the deep and the Spirit of God was brooding over the waters. And God said “let there be light,” and there was light.”
Before the first days of creation, the Bible paints a picture of a world in deep shadow. Before the recreation that began with Jesus coming to earth, the picture wasn’t very different. John says it was “darkness”.
“In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:4-5)
The answer to darkness and shadow is the same in creation and recreation. In creation it begins with “and God said”. Out of God’s heart comes His words: Light for those living in darkness. John expands our understanding of what happened there. The Word of God is a Person, the Logos and in that Person “was life”.
Life doesn’t come from the hand of God, as if it is a gift apart from Him. Life comes from the heart of God; it is in Him. A Canadian campaign for blood donors states: “It’s in you to give”. We can say that about God. Life is in Him to give. He is the source of all life. Life does not exist apart from Him. This life is in the Logos.
The life that comes from the Logos is light.
“In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” (John 1:4)
God Himself is light.
“God is light; in Him is no darkness at all.” (1John 1:5)
When God spoke the light into being in Genesis 1, “and there was light”, it was not the switching on of a cosmic electrical switch. It was His life being released into the darkness. It came from Himself and it was Himself.
He could equally have said to the pre-created chaos and desolation; “Let there be Me!” Because that is what happened when said “let there be light”. God is light and He revealed and released Himself into the darkness.
This is what gave light to the process of creation before the fourth day when the sun, moon and stars appeared. Not just land, but vegetation, appeared before there was a sun. Flowers bloomed and fruit ripened without a sun. They did so because they were brought into being under the light of the life of Almighty God. This is a crucial piece of information in the creation account. We cannot look to the sun for our source of light and life. We must look to God. In particular, John points us to God’s Son, the Logos, because life and light is “in Him”. He is the true light.
The life that comes from the Logos is what pierces the darkness. John the Baptist came to “testify concerning the light” (John 1:7) because “the true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.” This was good news – it was great news.
Isaiah the prophet had spoken of the light of the world hundreds of years before He was born: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” (Isaiah 9: 2)
Jesus Himself reiterated that He was the light in John 8:12; 9:5 and 12:46. He confirmed that the light was life and that He could bring us out of darkness:
“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
“As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (John 9:5)
“I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.” (John 12: 46)
All the way through John’s gospel, Jesus, the life, is switching the light on for those he came across and for those of us with ears to hear Him.
Darkness and shadow speak of terrible things; fear, threat, evil, death. This darkness is not just brooding and menacing but it is actively seeking to lay hold of and totally extinguish the light. The verb John uses in John 1:5 is “katalambano” which means to forcefully and even violently grab hold of something. It can be a wrestling term. This is a warrior enemy intent on death and destruction.
All of us experience this darkness at some point in our lives. Some of us seem to battle with it constantly. Sometimes the experiences of our life lead us into greater darkness than we have ever known before. Gandalf “fell into darkness and shadow” in J.R.R Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings after his battle with the Balrog and almost died. At times darkness can feel that it has overtaken and overwhelmed us to the point of no return to normal life.
John wrote His gospel for people like that; people who are walking in darkness. His words are both encouraging and uplifting. They will give hope to all who really hear them and life to those who receive them.
We have already seen that “God is light and in Him is no darkness at all” (1John 1:5). Darkness and shadow do not come from God. He is only light and life. But He sees the darkness that we live in and John 1:4-5 tells us two important things:
1. God sees us in the darkness and wants to do something about it. He cares.
2. God comes into our darkness in the shape of His Son, the Logos, Jesus Christ.
Notice the difference between what happens to light and darkness in the Genesis 1 account and then in this account in John 1. In Genesis 1 the light comes and there is a separation between the light and the darkness.
Here in John 1 there is no separation. The Light pierces the darkness and there is no immediate separation. He comes to live in the middle of the darkness and because of that there is a struggle that happens as the darkness fights back to defeat the light. He invades our darkness and it precipitates a violent response from that darkness against His light, life and truth. His intent is not to push darkness off to one side and set up His own kingdom of light; His goal is to overcome all darkness by coming to live right in the middle of it.
To look at our world is sometimes to despair that any light and life can prosper in such an atmosphere. At times in our own lives, even if we embrace His light, we might feel as if the darkness is winning and will overwhelm and overtake us. But these verses end in a great hope: “The light shines in darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”
Look at the tense of the verb. The light is still shining in the darkness, present tense, here and now. That is because the darkness hasn’t been able to put it out.
John is writing having personally watched the darkness try to extinguish the light. In the end it seemed to all be lost. At first, the Light had shone brightly in the darkness. Jesus came and did some wonderful things and spoke some amazing words but in the end the darkness caught up with Him. He was crucified, a beaten, bruised and broken body nailed to a cross, without the human strength to physically fight and defend Himself, even if He wanted to. He died there in terrible suffering and shame. John had watched it happen. That’s what the darkness wanted to do to the light. Kill it.
But the Light would not be put out.
It’s impossible to extinguish God.
John saw the Light die on a cross and He saw Him resurrected back to life three days later. All the hoards of hell and death, the worst that man and demon could do, was vented on Jesus the Light of the World. But they couldn’t put Him out. Now he has seen Jesus risen and ascended like the sun in the morning into the highest place in the heavens and he says with absolute confidence: “the light still shines”. This is the hope of all who want to find their way out of darkness and the land of shadow.
Again in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Galadriel gives Frodo the light of the Evenstar (an eternal light) and says to him “May it be a light for you when all other lights go out.”
That is the gospel.
Falling into Shadow: A Personal Story
In my mid forties I “fell into shadow”. Not into the terrible depths of despair and hopelessness that many other courageous people face daily, but definitely a falling into shadow. I had something of a break down. Unable to face work, or even most of my responsibilities as a husband and father, I lay on my bed or shuffled around the house waiting for the darkness to lift. I had wonderful support from work, insurance and the healthcare system. They listened and cared and gave advice and guidance. I made up my mind to receive whatever they told me (within reason) as from the Lord and do it, because I didn’t know what else to do.
Family and friends were great and my wife and children were amazing. They loved and served and spoke hope. I tried to receive it as much as I could and it all helped. But nothing could touch the dread of darkness that was going on inside. My thoughts spiraled out of control for much of the time and mostly went to pretty dark places. I did many, many crosswords and puzzles to try and keep my mind busy, so that I wouldn’t have to live in the places that my brain took me to. The exhaustion seemed relentless and no amount of sleep seemed to lift it. I could hardly pray and I struggled to read.
When I was able to open my Bible, I would read a verse or two at a time.
I started in John 1.
I often re-read the same verse the next day and then the next, hoping that it would sink in, that something would click into place. Then I read this verse:
“The light shone in the darkness and the darkness could not put it out.”
As I read it I had a picture in my mind. I could see deep inside of me a little flickering light, no more than a very weak and small birthday candle sized light. It was way deep down inside of me surrounded by acres of darkness. The darkness wasn’t neutral, it was trying to overwhelm and extinguish the light. At first I felt the light represented me, the last evidence of life trying to hang on in the midst of oppressive darkness. I felt bleak, but only for a moment.
“The light shone in the darkness and the darkness could not put it out.”
I suddenly realised that I was seeing the picture wrongly. The light wasn’t me and my life. The light was Jesus and His life. There, deep inside of me, at the heart of all my troubles. The darkness could oppress that light and rage against that light and threaten to overwhelm that light. But that light was Jesus, and the darkness could not extinguish it. It was never going to go out because it is impossible to put that light out.
Jesus’ light can not be switched on and off, like every other light. There has never been a time, in all of eternity, where it has been permanently switched off because He is light. The transfiguration of Jesus on the mount where He met with Moses and Elijah, was the breaking out of who He always was and always will be.
“ And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.” (Matthew 17:1-2)
It was always underneath, even when clothed in human flesh. That is, except for the day when darkness overwhelmed the earth at the cross and appeared to snuff out that light once and for all.
The victory didn’t last long. Three days later the inextinguishable flame burst into glorious life-changing light again and now continues to burn in heaven and in the hearts of all who have received Him as saviour and Lord.
I had asked Jesus to be my Lord and saviour as a young boy and reaffirmed that faith in life changing ways at seven and then again at eighteen years of age. He had taken that invitation seriously.
Thirty years later, when darkness threatened to engulf my life, He was still there, right at the centre of who I am. The Light of the World. The Light of Life. He appeared to me as but a flickering whisper of a flame. The darkness appeared as a great cosmic black blanket come to cover and extinguish Him.
But that day I realised that The Light was shining in my darkness and the darkness would never be able to put Him out.
That revelation was the turning point of my illness. It settled into me like a rock of hope and from that point on I could not deny the truth of it, even in my worst times.
That is why I started writing this book. By the light of that revelation, the gospel of John became alive to me in a whole new way and became a pathway for me out of where I was. Some of the main chapters here were written during that journey.
I started writing so that this may help others in their journey too, because we all have seasons of darkness and trouble.
I had tremendous help and support throughout my illness, but ultimately it was the Word of God who healed me. The Logos. The One who is life. The life that is light. The light that stands beside and inside us against the worst times of darkness and can never be defeated by them.
Isaiah prophesied that “the people who walk in darkness have seen a great light. On those living in the land of the shadow of death (deep darkness) on them has the light shone…. For unto us a child is born unto us a Son is given.” (Isaiah 9:2 & 6)
Do you know Him? Do you know Jesus? Do you know The Light? Have you asked Him to wash away the darkness of your own sin and separation from God? Have you asked Him to come into your life as saviour and have you turned your life over to Him as your Lord? If you haven’t you can do so right now by asking Him to do those things. He always listens when you pray to Him.
If you have received Jesus as saviour and Lord then rest assured that whatever darkness may be prevailing against your life right now, however threatening it may appear, you have a light in you, which doesn’t come from you and it cannot be removed from you. He is the light of life and no darkness can ever put Him out.
3: Light as Life: The Healing Power of Confession
“In Him was life, and that life was the light of men.” (John 1:4)
We have seen that John equates life with light. He is specifically talking about God who is life and His life brings light to people.
What does he mean that His life is light?
Primarily he means it literally. “God is light”.
John starts his first letter, 1 John 1, in almost exactly the same way as he starts his gospel. However he expands on the wonderful theology of John 1 and makes it practically real.
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life — the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us — that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.” (1John 1-4).
He begins by talking of Jesus in the third person. Now instead of being the Logos, he is simply referred to as “that” and not identified as Jesus until the third verse. This is not meant as an impersonal introduction to a removed being, far from it. But John does want us to know that there is a mystery and wonder about this wonderful Person that sets Him apart and above everyone else.
John starts his first letter, again like his gospel, with the fact that Jesus is from the beginning, but he “warms” the relational dynamic of who He is. Rather than being “with God”, as in John 1, He is identified as being “with the Father”.
This is where John now takes his first letter further than his gospel. Powerful theology becomes practical reality. Not only was He (Jesus) with the Father, but He has come from the Father to be with the disciples. He made Himself known and available to them so that they could get progressively closer to Him.
They first of all heard Him. Then they saw Him. Then they gazed upon Him. Finally and in a very real and intimate way, they touched Him.
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands,” (1John 1)
John had touched Him, the dearly beloved disciple who lay against Jesus at the last supper before His death.
But now John brings this glorious truth closer to all of us. Not only was Jesus sent from the Father to be heard and seen and gazed upon and touched by the disciples, but he has come for that sort of progressive closeness with all of us. God the Father sent Jesus so that we could all have a deep, beautiful, close, intimate real relationship with Him.
“That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.”
The word for fellowship is the Greek term “koinonia”. It means a shared life. John is telling us that we can share in the very life of eternal and all powerful God. A life not just shared with God as individuals, but shared with each other. The fulness of God’s life is meant to be experienced in community with others who are also sharing His life.
This is true life and true life brings real joy. John reiterates Jesus’ own promise that in Him we can have completeness, fulness of joy.
“And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.” (1John 1:4)
True life is found in intimate relationship with God the Father, through Jesus Christ and in experiencing His joy-giving, deep, shared communion, koinonia, fellowship, with others who are also sharing this life. This sort of koinonia is not really experienced with people who merely believe in the story of Jesus, or who have simply made a decision to receive salvation. It can only be experienced with people who are living and loving Jesus, the life, the true life.
Living in that life, says John in verse 5, is like living with the light switched on.
“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” (1John 1:5)
Living in that life is living in the light. Light is life and life is light because God is both, and both are lived in by those experiencing a real relationship with the Father and His Son Jesus.
But how do we practically walk in that light? The next verses tell us.
“If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another” (1John 1:7)
There it is. The Logos is life. The life is light. When we walk in that light, we share His life in koinonia with others.
It is not that we have His light and that leads us into fellowship with others.
No, when we receive that light we automatically and instantly become part of God’s eternal community with the Father and His Son and with each other by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is true positionally whether we experience it or not. We have been brought together in Christ for rich, soul satisfying fellowship with Him and each other and this is the fulness of life that He is offering us in John’s gospel.
If we live in this reality then “the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin” (1John 1:7). This does not mean that we have to be actively participating in true fellowship with other Christians in order to have our sins eternally forgiven. However, it does mean that we can only receive the full cleansing benefits (for now, in this life) of the shed blood of Jesus if we are walking in the light with our brothers and sisters.
What does “walking in the light” mean? We often interpret it to mean being honest, transparent and open with other followers of Christ. Getting beneath the surface responses of “I’m doing ok”, or “fine thank you”, to deeper vulnerability and trust. In the context it clearly implies a confession of temptations and sins, as that is what it takes sometimes to restore fellowship and it requires the cleansing blood that the verse offers.
Some people struggle with that interpretation, believing that after we have come to Jesus and asked Him to forgive our sins, then they are forgiven and we no longer have to confess them, especially not openly to eachother. Jesus taught us to pray “forgive us our trespasses” in what was clearly supposed to be a daily template for prayer. For instance, the prayer Jesus taught His disciples includes “give us this day our daily bread”, which is obviously meant to be prayed every day. Therefore it is a reasonable assumption to believe that we should be daily praying forgiveness of sins committed since the last time we prayed.
All these sins, for a Christian, are covered by the once for all sacrifice of Jesus on the cross and in that transaction we have received the righteousness of Christ. Our sins for His righteousness. That is how our Father in heaven looks at us, righteous in Christ.
However, our old flesh is not quite dead yet, while we still live and breathe on this earth. We still have daily temptations that need to be guarded and prayed against, “lead us not into temptation”. And we still sin, probably daily for most, if not all, of us.
We might not think we struggle with some of the more obvious outward sins, but how often do we fall into murmuring and complaining, or fear of the future (which is a form of unbelief), or we simply lose our place of simple trust in the Lord and start relying on our strength and wisdom. These sins are cleansed and “under the blood” as Christians, but when we get into a daily practice of acknowledging them, bringing them into the light, it has some powerful benefits.
• Confession is an act of humility, which always opens the door for more grace because God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.
• Confession keeps us in reality, which is a foundational necessity of any true fellowship. It is impossible to have true fellowship with someone who puts up a front, or puts on a show, someone who can never really be themselves with you.
• Confession grows us in community. When we walk in the light we are walking like God does, we are partakers of His character and learning to walk in His ways. God does not need, obviously, to confess His sins, so walking in the light does not mean confession for Him. However, He is utterly transparently truthful and if we want to walk in fellowship with Him, we need to grow in doing the same.
As we grow in community with God that means that we ought to be growing in community with other believers. If we confess to God then we should learn and grow in confessing to other trusted brothers and sisters in Christ, because they are part of the community of God. We fellowship with Him when we fellowship with each other and vice versa.
• Confession releases liberty. “And the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin.” There is a cleansing of the conscience that happens when we confess our sins, it releases us from the ongoing grip of any guilt or condemnation. There is a cleansing of our heart as we expose sinful motivations that will continue to trip us up if we do not expose them to the light. There is the cleansing of our minds as thoughts and images that are brought into the light are erased. When we grow in trust in God and each other enough to bring our temptations into the light, it prevents them from growing into sin in the first place. Telling the truth sets us free.
I have been “walking in the light” with my pastor, Ron and my brothers in the eldership at Gateway Church for 24 years. I can say with absolute integrity that every time I have brought a temptation into the light and had them pray with me, whether over the phone or in person, I have been instantly released from the grip of it. Every time.
This scripture is adamant that if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we WILL have fellowship with each other and the blood of Jesus WILL cleanse us from all sin. This cleansing therefore goes beyond being positionally clean before God. The blood of Jesus practically cleans and releases us as we continue to walk in the light with each other.
Those who have benefitted greatly from addictions programs understand this. You start to break the pattern by bringing it into the light, not just with God but with others.
This freedom and the release that comes, brings healing with it.
“Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another so that you may be healed,” says the apostle James (James 5:16).
I have known people healed from stomach and intestinal issues because they first confessed their fear and unbelief. I have known people healed from heart issues because they confessed unforgiveness.
Unconfessed sin is dangerous stuff. It can be deadly. So confess your sins to each other so you can be healed.
Before praying for healing now, we are training each other to stop and ask the Holy Spirit, “Lord is there any unconfessed sin that needs to be brought into the light?”
I have been in many situations where the one being prayed for doesn’t hear anything from God, but the one praying for them does. “Can I just ask, is there any unforgiveness in your life?”
Sometimes the one praying has not heard the Holy Spirit accurately and it comes to nothing. That is not a problem, we are all growing in our capacity to hear God.
However, sometimes the one praying has heard God accurately and it is received. At that point there are often tears as the release of the unconfessed sin brings relief to a troubled conscience and a suffering body.
Sometimes the one praying has heard the Holy Spirit and the one being prayed for hardens their hard to hide their sin. “No, I don’t have trouble with that.” They leave with their unconfessed sin and their sickness and it is going to get worse not better till they learn to walk in the light.
I was praying for a lady recently who was visibly crippled by pain. We asked the Holy Spirit if there was anything He wanted to say. She heard nothing. I had a thought (which is mostly what hearing from the Holy Spirit feels like to me) that she had been hurt by churches in the past. I asked her. She began to tell me her story, it was a sad tale of hurt and pain that she felt she had received at the hands of the church.
I asked her if she had forgiven those churches, even though what they did was probably wrong. It wasn’t their possible sin that was causing her sickness, it was her unforgiveness. Her heart was already softened and she agreed to speak out her forgiveness and be free of her bitterness. Instantly the tears started to flow and I led her to a couple of the women in the church to pray it through with her.
Walking in the light sets us free.
This is the power of walking in the light. Grace, fellowship, community, cleansing, healing, freedom.
You see that all these benefits cannot be gained by just walking in the light with God alone, they are the benefits of walking in the light in God’s community, which includes our brothers and sisters in Christ. John simply cannot separate the two.
1John 2:9-11 “Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.”
How we relate to each other can either stop us from getting the benefits of walking in the light, or else release us into the full potential of this promised life.
“In Him was life and that life was the light of men” (John 1:4).
If we want the full benefits of that life and light, we need to walk in open, honest, vulnerable relationships with His family. If we don’t, then not only are we robbing ourselves of true freedom and our brothers and sister of true fellowship, but we are also robbing the world of seeing an example of how to live that attracts them to Jesus. We are robbing the world of life and light too.
Ask the Holy Spirit: Am I truly walking in the light with you and others?
Then ask Him how you can grow in that.
Who does He want you to share with and what does He want you to share?
2: God: Owner or Father (John 1:3)
In his first two verses, John answers the question: “Who was here first?” This settles the issue of rights. Who is the most important person in the universe? The One who was there in the beginning. Divine rights come before and supersede human rights. Divine rights are the context in which all the rights of the cosmos, including human rights are decided upon.
Now John moves to the next most important question: “Who made everything?”
In doing so, he continues to follow the format, deliberately, of Genesis 1 which states: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”.
John writes: “all things through Him came into being (were caused to be)” (John 1:3a).
This statement also has no contradiction to it. As Theos (God), the Logos (the Word) was the channel through which all things came into being. The concept of the universe was devised in the heart of God; the Logos was the person through whom those ideas became a reality.
“And without Him nothing came into being that came into being” (John 1:3b).
There is an emphasis here on the word “nothing”. Literally expanded it means: “not even one thing came into being without Him.” This tells us two things:
1. God (Theos) and the Word (Logos as Theos), did not “come into being”. In other words they were always there. If “not even one thing came into being without Him”, that obviously includes God Himself. He cannot have brought Himself into being and therefore nothing brought Him into being. In other words, He always was.
2. Everything that exists came from Him. Mankind has produced many things, some of them are truly remarkable to our eyes. But in truth we didn’t “bring them into being” from nothing. We created them from what is already created. It is part of our human frustration that we cannot create something out of nothing. Only God can.
A child believes that “I was here first” should give them certain rights and privileges. Children also believe (a belief that does not change in adulthood) that “I made it” gives us ownership of what we have made. The only exception to this is if we have been commissioned or paid by someone else to make it, or if we sell it once we have made it.
There is a sense of ownership that comes with God as creator.
“For He made us, we are His, the sheep of His pasture” (Psalm 100:3).
In a very real sense He does own everything, including us. “We are His”. A maker can only give up ownership by selling what he has made, or giving it away to someone else. God has done neither with us. In one sense, we cannot take true ownership of our lives or pass that on to the devil or anyone else. We are not ours to sell.
However the Bible deliberately steers the emphasis away from God’s rights of ownership. The God of the Bible does not create with “ownership” in mind as we understand the term. The phrase “bring into being” has more to do with a fathering than a creating. This is not simply something fashioned by the hands, something created for a particular purpose or adornment like a tool or a piece of pottery. “Bring into being” implies something that comes from the inside of someone, something born not made.
This makes God not simply a creator who oversees creation as the rightful owner. He is a Father who brings the world to birth from His innermost being, putting Himself, literally, into everything He makes. This is then a world not born out of some need to own or have dominion, but out of deep desire, out of love.
This is the truth about all of us. All of us “came into being through the Word”. We were all conceived in the heart of God before we were conceived in the wombs of our mothers and, at the right time, that passion for our existence welled up in the heart of God and we were “brought into being” through Christ.
He (the Logos) is not then merely the executive director of some great divine project, He is the birth canal of God. All things came into being through Him! We all came into being through Him. We were Fathered into existence by God Himself.
Things are birthed not merely created. In science, in the arts, in all the creative disciplines things are birthed out of relationship.
I have a background in music. Musical composition comes about through many different avenues of relationship. It could be human relationship, with a mentor, or particular teacher, or someone else who has impacted your life. It could be relationship with nature, or environment or circumstances that influences the writing. Whatever the genre or form, it all comes from relationships between the composer and other elements that influence them.
We do not have the gift to create simply out of ourselves. We are part of a complex web of relationships out of which we create, whether we want to admit it or not. Neither can we create from nothing. We can only pro-create, using what we already have to create something else. But even then we pro-create in relationship with whatever surrounds us or what we surround ourselves with.
In contrast, God creates from nothing. It is essential we believe that, because it is necessary for true faith: “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.” (Hebrews 11:3)
But even then it was created in and through relationship.
No, not merely created, it was “brought into being”, it was birthed, out of relationship. Three Persons expressing their perfect love for each other by bringing to birth a wonderful creation, out of nothing except the loving imagination of their hearts.
Who made everything? God did through the Logos, Who is also God.
How did He create everything? By birthing it through relationship from His heart.
What difference does that make?
It means that we don’t have a creator God who is demanding allegiance of us because He owns us.
We have a wonderful Father in heaven who is offering relationship to us because He loves us.
1: Who was here first? (John 1:1-2)
Or: Who sets the agenda, who writes the rules and who runs the game?
Whatever John wants us to learn and understand from his book starts with God. Everything always does whether we like it or not. And for good reason.
“I was here first!” It is a common statement among children. It is not normally a statement that is designed to encourage sharing, humility or serving others. It is normally a declaration of a personal right, founded on the dubious distinction that they were there before anyone else.
It can be over the most trivial of things; for instance, which chair a child sits on at the supper table. Older siblings can then try (often unhelpfully) to alleviate the situation with a heavy dose of sarcastic logic: “Actually I was sitting on that chair before you were”.
“No you weren’t”.
“Yes, I was, I was sitting on that chair before you were born!”
“Well Mum and Dad sat on it before you did”.
And so continues the great “who was here first?” debate. Despite the angst such a disagreement can bring to the home, for some of the children it is a hugely significant debate. This is because, in their minds, it establishes their rights and the privileges that go along with them. In a game, for instance, it gives credence to a child’s desire to dictate the rules, “it was my idea first.”
The issue is actually the crucial issue for mankind to debate. In a time when some of the most prominent scientists of the world are declaring that it is not only possible but almost certain that the universe came into being without a God, the question of “who was here first?” is the biggest of them all.
Not only is it about establishing truth, it is also an issue of rights and ultimately who has the privileges that go with those rights. If the answer is “whatever components were necessary to cause the first great big bang in space”, then no one person or group of people can claim the rights that come from being first. Those rights and the privileges that go with them are up for grabs and will be assumed by whoever, or whatever, has the greatest power, influence and control.
As a result the world is now trying to establish a universal code for rights and privileges on the basis of our own wisdom and experience, because humans are the beings currently in that place of power, influence and control. Therefore it is assumed that the human intellect is the most able of all to settle these issues. These thinkers are not foolish enough to say: “We were here first”. But they are saying: “we are the best suited and equipped to tell the world how it should operate”. For lack of anyone else to set the parameters the world is trusting its’ own perspective to make the right decisions.
2000 years ago a fisherman from Galilee entered the debate with a book of his own. It may seem a long way away now, but within 200 years his ideas and those of his fellow apostles were being debated at the highest level of society and adopted by many of them. He begins by answering the question of “who was here first?”
The book of John was written to introduce people to Jesus and the life that He offers to all who will receive and believe in Him. John seems to assume that his readers would either have a Jewish background, or a Greek cultural heritage, or maybe a combination of both.
Those with a Jewish background would understand the concept of there being One supreme God, the creator and sustainer of all things. Those with a Greek background would understand the concept of a “Logos” (which means “word” or “reason”).
Plato and other Greek philosophers had expounded their theory of a “Logos” to explain their worldview. To them, God was eternal and the ultimate creator but far too pure and holy to be closely relating with His creation. It was necessary then for there to be a “Logos”, an agent issuing from God who was used by God to create the universe and then be the ongoing connecting point between God and His creation.
Many early church fathers believed that God was at work in this Greek philosophy to lay the stage for Jesus’ appearing, just as He was at work in the Old Testament for the Jews. However, there were dangers of taking this connection too far, especially as, to the Greek philosophers, Logos was not equal to God, or with God from the beginning.
Some Jewish philosophers had also begun to think of the concept of the “Word of God” being an actual distinct person who emanated from God and executed His will in creation. If they were conversing or writing in Greek, they would have used the term “Logos” (the Word) to describe this person.
Whatever their backgrounds were, and whatever the depth of their understanding was, the first few verses of John’s gospel were designed both to connect and to challenge them. John connects with his readers by echoing some of their beliefs. At the same time he challenges them by taking their beliefs to a whole new level. He does both in the first two verses.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” (John 1:1-2)
They are a deliberate echo of the first few verses of the Torah, the Old Testament books of Moses which start with: “In the beginning”. John also starts: “In the beginning”.
Genesis 1 continues: “In the beginning God” (Theos in the Greek). John writes: “In the beginning was the Word (Logos in the Greek)”. This is an example of connecting and yet challenging the current thinking.
The acknowledgement here in the Bible that there is a “Logos” is a clear bridge and connecting point to Greek philosophy. The statement that Logos was there “in the beginning” would have been more controversial. John here is not trying to diminish the place of Logos in the Greek mind, the opposite is true. He is seeking to elevate the Logos in their thinking.
John carries on: “and the Word (Logos) was with God (Theos)”.
John here appears to be highlighting the distinctiveness between Logos and God. He is saying that there were two persons and that they were both there “in the beginning”. That may have been a very disturbing idea to some Jews. In the beginning there was one God, one person and weren’t some of the most important words of the Law: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4)?
To some Jews, John may have been writing heresy. However, John wasn’t finished: “And the Word (Logos) was God (Theos)”.
Confused yet? Both Jewish and Greek first time readers probably would have been. Now it seems that John is saying that really Logos (the Word) and Theos (God) are one and the same person. Perhaps there could be a different way of interpreting “and the Logos was with Theos” that didn’t make them two distinct persons?
Before they get the opportunity to try and work that one out, John reiterates the truth of the first statement again: “This One” (which can only be translated as “this person – this unique, distinct person”) “was in the beginning with God (Theos)”.
John clearly seems to contradict himself; not a good start for someone who aspires to persuade educated, intelligent people steeped in Greek philosophy or Jewish theology. In short he has said: “In the beginning there were two distinct persons (Logos and Theos, the Word and God)…and they were the same…and they were two persons.” Hmmm!
Some of the greatest minds of history have given themselves to finding an answer to this riddle. This seeming contradiction has caused great controversy, dividing churches and nations and has even been used as fuel for starting wars.
How can a simple fisherman and his friends have stirred up so much intellectual debate? How can they seem to understand so easily what even the greatest thinkers struggle to comprehend?
Perhaps it is not right to say that John “understood” what he was writing. He was not trying to explain how it worked, he was simply stating what he knew to be true, whether he fully understood it or not.
Truth is not dependent on understanding. Truth is truth whether we understand it or not.
Truth is not even dependent on faith. Truth is truth whether we believe it or not.
Our desire for understanding is understandable, but you could argue (as many have done) that if we were able to understand God, then He wouldn’t be God. Any intellect that created us must surely be greater than ours!
John had met, touched, talked to and watched this person he first calls “Logos” and he knew it to be true. This Logos, his master, teacher and best friend was in the beginning with God because He was God, even though He was a distinct person.
John’s purpose, then, is not to begin to explain the workings of Almighty God, but rather to elevate this person, the Logos, the Word, Reason, to full deity and to make it clear that therefore, as God, He was here first.
He is not writing heresy, because he is in no way contradicting Genesis 1, he is simply expanding our understanding of what those verses at the beginning of the Torah really mean.
When God says in Genesis 1:26: “Let us make man in our image”, we now know that He is not talking like the Queen of England who refers to herself as “we”. This is not some elevated statement of royalty. It is the truth. There was always One God, but that One God was, is and always will be, more than One Person.
If the Logos was first, then He has all the rights and privileges that go with that position. If that is true then truth and morals are not set by human perspective but by a divine Person. It is His rightful place to set the parameters for the rights and privileges of all the rest of us who follow after.
Who was on the chair first? Actually The Maker was! And John wants us to know that this Person, the Logos, who is soon to be revealed to us as Jesus, has all the rights and privileges and power that go with being here first. He, with God and as God, writes the rules, sets the agenda and runs the game.
What was here first? That is an even more wonderful truth.
Not just One Maker, but Two and, as we’ll discover later in this chapter Three. Living together in perfectly satisfying harmony and unity.
This is crucial for our understanding of the truth. It all started with relationship. It all holds together in relationship. It will all end in wonderful, soul satisfying relationship.
That is the context of everything else John shares with us in his gospel because, by the time we reach the end, we will have discovered that there is a place in that relationship for you, for me, for all of us. If we will believe and receive.
Introduction: A Life Worth Living
These chapters are meant to be an invitation to a life that is really worth living. Hopefully there is something here for everybody, whether you are searching for meaning and purpose in life, or have found that purpose but want to deepen your relationship with God.
As they are meant to unpack John’s message, they follow verse by verse through John’s Gospel. However, they are not meant to be a comprehensive commentary on the book of John. There are many others more skilled and qualified to do that. It is, however, an attempt to get to the heart of this gospel.
The purpose for writing is twofold. Firstly I am writing, as was the Apostle John, out of a pastors heart. Put simply, that means out of a heart of love and care for people, a heart that wants to see family, friends and neighbours healthy and flourishing in life. Secondly, this is a prophetic hearts cry. After over thirty years of living and serving in the church, both as a volunteer and as a paid staff member, I believe that there is more that God has for us and that the keys to that “more” are hidden in plain sight for us here in John’s Gospel. So, like a prophet, these chapters are meant to awaken and inspire people to the fulness of life that God has for them.
It is a pastoral encouragement because John’s gospel was such a huge encouragement to me during a dark and difficult time of my life and I want to pass on that encouragement to others. It was John’s gospel that brought me out of my darkness. I spent months reading and meditating on the first chapter alone. This was partly because I could only read small amounts at a time. But it was also because each verse had so much meaning for me.
It is a prophetic hearts cry because I believe the message of this gospel needs to be understood and embraced afresh in our days if we are to experience the fullness of the life that God wants to give to each of us as His children.
It is a mistake to believe that John wrote the gospel simply to convince people of who Jesus is, so that they may be “saved”. The Holy Spirit, through John, is offering us so much more than just having our sins washed away (although that would be wonderful if it was all the gospel promised us). The heart of God beats through these chapters as it does through the apostle of love who wrote them and He is offering us much more than salvation from sins, He is offering us life. Life in all it’s fulness.
John 20:30-31 “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
The word “life” (Greek “zoe”) in all its contexts appears in Matthew’s Gospel 7 times, Mark’s Gospel 4 times and Luke’s Gospel 5 times. But John uses the word 36 times throughout his Gospel. He uses it 24 times between chapters three to six alone. That’s how important it is to him.
He wants us to know not only that real life is available in Jesus but what that life looks like. He wants us to know that this life is not an individual life. We cannot experience the fullness of what He has to give us just by ourselves. That is why John’s gospel account from beginning to end is not just about Jesus (though He is the central and all encompassing theme that holds it all together) but it is also about people, very real people. Failing disciples, earnest Pharisees, broken Samaritans and blind beggars, close friends and strangers from other lands, all opportunities to experience and share in the fulness of God’s life that is offered to us through Jesus. His life brings light to everyone, even those like Pilate who weren’t ready to receive Him.
The gospel ends with some beautiful insights into the lives of the people who were closest to Him. The life that they had through Jesus was experienced in real life with each other too.
If we read any of John’s New Testament writings and come away in love and relationship with Jesus, that is a primary objective in writing them. If we come out of reading these books not growing in deep loving relationships with real people (churched and unchurched) then we are not getting the point. Love for Jesus is meant to be fully experienced in loving relationships with others.
These relationships are not just an end in themselves, but they are brought together by God for a purpose. Again, we can’t fully live out our life’s purpose on our own. God has hand crafted each one of us for a reason and He wants us to work out and walk out His will for our lives in relationships with those He joins us to.
This is John’s purpose. He is offering us life, life in all it’s fulness. That life is worked out in Christ-centred relationships on Christ-like mission together. The world needs to see this life. But many in the church also need to see this life. There is more life available to us than most of us in the Western Church are probably experiencing. John’s gospel is as relevant now as it was to the early Christians, maybe more so because of the splintered history of the last 2000 years of the church.
It is a message that we need to grasp afresh and practically work out where we live, if the world is to see all that there is in Jesus for them. It is vital for the cause of world mission.
That is why these chapters are a prophetic heart’s cry as well as a pastoral encouragement. May the Lord use it to reveal more of who He is for us to wonder at and more of His ways for us to walk in.
It all starts with God. It always does.