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Sermon Briefs: John 1:1-14

Clovis Chappell preached a sermon on this text called The Christmas Miracle.1 "`In the beginning was the Word continuously, and the Word was continuously with God, and the Word continuously was God. And the Word became flesh,' a single act, `and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory.'"2 This is the first part of the Christmas miracle, and Christian faith is born by this conviction of Jesus' divine lordship.
Chappell continues by identifying and describing four gifts to humankind through the Word made flesh. The Word became flesh to give us "an adequate revelation of God,"3 to "reveal us to ourselves"--who we are and who we may become,4 to model a right relationship with God and with one another,5 and to give us power to live as God's Kingdom people.6
From here Chappell adopts an apologetic tone. He asks how we may be sure of God's unique self-revelation in Jesus. Consider Jesus' unique life and character, Chappell says, and the things others say about him in Scripture.7 Consider also Jesus' claims about himself.8 If you believe Jesus was misquoted, Chappell adds, then you are still left facing the witness of his life which is every bit as amazing as the words attributed to his lips.9 Furthermore, there is abundant evidence of Christ's living presence among us in the world today. "That which gave the saints of the Early Church their amazing joy and power was the consciousness of his presence. That which steadied them when all human help failed was his nearness...This experience of the early saints has been the experience of the saints of every age."10 Finally, however, all the evidence of Jesus' unique identity is insufficient of itself. "Before we call him Lord, something else is needed. We must obey him. This is the road to certainty, and the only road...Begin here and now the best you know to do the will of Jesus. Follow the light that you have, and that light will become brighter and brighter until you come to certainty... By thus yielding, you will be able to do in some measure what Jesus did in the long ago--make God real to [humankind]."11 The positive changes God makes in human lives through Christ and the power God gives to obey God's will is the other part of the Christmas miracle.
John Bunyan preached his last sermon on this text in July 1688. It is direct and surprisingly brief by the standard of his day and ours. The title of the sermon is The New Birth,12 based on verse 13. Bunyan notes, however, that this verse is dependent on the preceding verses, especially verses 11 and 12. Using Scripture to interpret Scripture, his sermon examines the origin and consequences of the new birth God gives in Jesus Christ.
The new birth does not originate with any aspect of our humanness. It comes not by birth, blood, or will (Mt 3:9; Rm 9:16). We do not become a child of God by being born of godly parents, belonging to Abraham's seed, or desiring the things of God's kingdom.13 "Natural desires after the things of another world, are not an argument to prove a man shall go to heaven whenever he dies...Though a man without grace may have a will to be saved, yet he cannot have that will in God's way...but by the Spirit of God."14 Bunyan wants his hearers to understand that the human will is no more effective in saving the person willing salvation than it is in saving anyone else. "If it was our will, I would have you all go to heaven. How many are there in the world that pray for their children, and cry, and are ready to die for them, and all this will not do? God's will is the rule of all. It is only through Jesus Christ."15 God is the originator of saving faith. The children of God are born of God.
Comparing the old life in sin to a child confined in a womb and the new life in Christ to the newfound freedom following birth, Bunyan then explores the similarities between certain characteristics of infants and the consequences of new birth in Christ. As a new child cries, he says, so should Christians, for "if you be not criers, there is no spiritual life in you; if you be born of God, you are crying ones; as soon as he has raised you out of the dark dungeon of sin, you cannot but cry to God, `What must I do to be saved?'...Oh! how many prayerless professors are there in London, that never pray? Coffee-houses will not let you pray, trades will not let you pray, looking-glasses will not let you pray; but if you were born of God, you would."16 An infant also naturally craves the breast (1 Pet 2:2; Is 66:11). "O what is a promise of God to a carnal man! a harlot's song...is more sweet to him. But if you be born again you cannot live without the milk of God's word."17 Newborns also need comforts to keep them warm. As Christ had swaddling clothes, Bunyan says, so the faithful have Christ's promise to keep them alive.18 Children need training for discerning between things helpful and harmful.19 Children also depend on their parents to meet their needs. So Christians depend on God.20 All of these marks are characteristic of God's children, but there is yet one more: "If you are children of God, live together lovingly...Serve one another, do good for one another."21
1. Clovis G. Chappell, "The Christmas Miracle," sermon in Living Zestfully (New York, Nashville: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1944), pp. 211-224. 2. Ibid., p. 212. 3. Ibid., p. 215. 4. Ibid., p. 216. 5. Ibid., p. 217. 6. Ibid., p. 218. 7. Ibid., p. 219. 8. Ibid., p. 220. 9. Ibid., p. 221. 10. Ibid., pp. 222-223. 11. Ibid., p. 224. 12. John Bunyan, "The New Birth," Twenty Centuries of Great Preaching, eds. Clyde E. Fant, Jr. and William M. Pinson, Jr., Vol. 2, Luther to Massillon (Waco: Word Books, 1971), pp. 341-345. 13. Ibid., pp. 341-342. 14. Ibid., p. 342. 15. Ibid. 16. Ibid., p. 343. 17. Ibid. 18. Ibid., pp. 343-344. 19. Ibid., p. 344. 20. Ibid., pp. 344-345. 21. Ibid., p. 345.