Preaching John 1:1-14
"Hello. My name is Don. What's yours?" This is the most simple and fundamental of greetings. When I meet a new person, I want to know his name or her background. "Where are you from," we might ask each other, and later, "How do you like it here?" People simply like to know the inside story about others. This is one reason why magazines such as People and others are so popular.
We are not irreverent by asking the same type of questions about another person--Jesus. The people of his own day wondered greatly about him. Some knew exactly where he came from. Others had heard about his birth and early life. Still others were puzzled by Jesus' claims and promises. The people wanted to know who he really was and why he came.
John 1 sets about to answer some of these fundamental questions about Jesus, although not necessarily in the way we might like it. Our text for today is the introduction to John. It is draped in philosophical language that tries to tell readers who Jesus was, where he came from, and why he arrived on Earth.
Approach I: The Coming Of The Word
John begins his gospel with a rather unusual sounding statement: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." This is a far cry from the Christmas story found in Matthew and Luke. The term Word here is from a Greek word, logos. It is difficult to translate it into English. What does John mean by such language? Here are two illustrations which might help unravel it.
We sometimes hear people say, "I give you my word!" That phrase is usually accepted as another's most solemn promise to tell the truth. In a sense, John is saying that God gave his Word to humanity. It was his most solemn and trustworthy communication. In Jesus we can find out what God wants to say to us. To do so, we need to listen and hear God's Word.
A second way of coming to understand this term is like this. Picture a group of people working in an office. Normal office chit-chat includes gossip and stories about what is happening in the lives of others. Suppose one of the employees--we will call her Marsha--has been in the hospital for several days and is rumored to have a serious illness. The news gets out and circulates all over the office. Everyone speculates on the nature of her illness. By the end of the week Marsha is said to have arthritis, gall bladder trouble, diabetes, breast cancer, and mental problems. Some even speculate that she is pregnant.
The next week Marsha comes back to work. Everyone welcomes her back. Finally one brave souls summons up the courage to ask, "Marsha, we've heard all sorts of reports about your health. Come on now, what's the word?" The person goes to the source for an answer. Only Marsha would be able to answer the question, "What's the word?"
A sermon on this text could approach the coming of the word into the world. This is some of what John meant by identifying Jesus with God's word. He was God's ultimate assurance of truth--"I give you my word"--and he was God's source for the truth--"Ok, here's the word on my condition." One Bible commentator said, "This terminology sought to interpret the significance of Jesus by viewing his life as the language of God."1 In Christ, God spoke in his clearest language.
Approach II: The Coming of the Light
In verse 5 the New American Standard version of the Bible says about the light that "the darkness did not comprehend it." Another reading is, "The darkness did not overpower it." (marginal reading of the NAS) That is a good analogy. The light of Christ shines in the darkness of our world, but the darkness cannot overpower it. My wife and I once stood in the largest cavern at Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. It is several hundred feet underground. The guide turned off the light and visitors were left in ebony uncertainty. After a moment, the guide lit one match, and it seemed to illuminate the whole cavern. Darkness cannot overpower light. Wherever light is present, darkness flees. That is the good news embodied in Jesus and proclaimed by John.
The Word came into the world. That Word was Christ who was both the one who created the universe and also the one who came to illuminate dark lives.
Approach III: The Incarnation of the Word
Question: What is the meaning of the term incarnation?
Answer: It means "enfleshed" or "made flesh."
The short quiz gets at one of the most important, and at the same time, mysterious aspects of our faith. God, through his Son, chose to give himself form and to come to live among his creatures. Verse 14 says, "And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth."
This is difficult for us to understand but one thing is clear. God intentionally wanted to experience human life as we experience it. "He dwelt among us." The verb literally means "pitched his tent." It reminded John's Jewish readers about the time when God dwelled with their ancestors in the desert (Num 35:34; Joshua 22:19). Here in John, however, God is not pictured as simply moving as a cloud but as one who took up human life in its most basic form--bodily life.
As the Word, Jesus became a human being--a real human being who was born naturally (although his conception was unique), who grew as a child, who experienced joy and pain and death as you and I do. The difference, of course, is that death did not keep him down. In becoming human, God gained a perspective on human life which I think even he did not previously know in first-hand way. According to John's gospel, and the rest of the New Testament for that matter, the incarnation was the most important event of all of history. In Christ, God said "Yes" to mankind (Cf. 2 Cor 1:20).
John said, "We beheld his glory." The word glory here means radiant with the focused presence of the divine majesty.2 People around Jesus could see in him something different from other people. He radiated a sense of what God is like. Some people fled him, of course, but others followed him, fascinated by his divine character.
Many people sometime wonder, "Does anyone really care about me? Does it matter whether I live or die?" The answer according to John is a resounding "Yes, it matters!" God's son came to give life and meaning and hope to all who trust in him. A sermon that approaches the meaning of the incarnation for human life never goes wrong.
1. William Hull, John, Broadman Bible Commentary, Vol. 9 (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1970), p. 211. 2. Hull, p. 218.