MYSTERY SOLVED, EXPLANATION BEGINS – John 1:18

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Do you like a mystery?  Do you enjoy reading a mystery novel or watching a mystery program or movie?  Each generation has its own mystery writers, and the ones from previous generations are still classics.  There are more and more mystery programs on the television these days because the viewing audience and the ratings for a good mystery program are so high.  Why this interest in mysteries?  They appeal to our curiosity.  A good mystery usually shows good prevailing over evil.  It also has interesting characters, often reminding us of ourselves or people we know, having motives that aren’t always clear.

Secondly, and more importantly, mysteries are appealing because people like to solve things.  Look at all the cross-word puzzles and other kinds of puzzles in our newspapers and magazines.  A mystery is like a puzzle.  It challenges our problem-solving abilities.  The goal in everyone’s mind is to try to solve the mystery before the solution is given;  to figure out the “whodunit” before it’s done.  This challenge causes us to immerse ourselves in the plot and the action.  The majority of mystery stories are solved at the end, but there are exceptions.  People want a solution, so when there is no solution given, everyone makes up their own minds about the solution, or the character who committed the crime.  As the saying goes about mystery writers:  “You don’t always have to give the answer, but you always have to raise the question.”

The apostle John began his gospel much like a mystery writer would begin a mystery novel.  And why not?  He appeals to the curiosity of his readers by presenting a mystery, using terms they are familiar with, but in a way that is unfamiliar.  “Who is this Logos?”, his readers are wondering.  “What are all these things that you are saying about him?”

Can you remember these words being directed at you:  “I demand an explanation!”  The person who said those words probably had the right and authority to say them.  If you heard those words as a kid, you knew that you had to either confess the truth or come up with a really good alibi in a hurry!  When John’s readers say or think those words, “I demand an explanation”, they are being drawn into reading the rest of his gospel to find out if a satisfactory explanation is going to be given in order to satisfy  their curiosity and remove their confusion.

In this particular mystery, John revealed the identity of the Logos in chapter l, verse 17.  The Logos is the Lord Jesus Christ.  But it’s going to take twenty-two chapters to explain the solution to this mystery.  They are going to read about many of the miracles that Jesus performed and see Jesus’ description of Himself.  They are also going to read the testimonies of many eye-witnesses who responded to what they saw and heard and experienced.   John’s desire is that his readers might come to the right conclusion about Jesus Christ by the grace of God.  I have chosen to focus my study on just one verse, John 1:18, because John uses this verse to give a short, concise description of the Lord Jesus Christ from the perspective of eternity and the Old Testament scriptures.  He is preparing us for what will follow.  The mystery still remains a mystery to our human minds and imaginations.

I.  THE INVISIBLE GOD (John 1:18a)

The apostle John begins verse 18 by saying, “No man has seen God at any time”.  We might take issue with that statement.  “Didn’t God appear to many people in the Bible?”  “Jesus is God, and thousands of people saw Him,”  Those comments are true, but John is referring here to the fullness of God’s glory.  His Greek and Hebrew readers knew what he was talking about.  As commentator William Barclay puts it, “In the ancient world men were fascinated and depressed and frustrated by what they regarded as the infinite distance and the utter unknowability of God.”  The Greek philosopher Plato said, “Never man and God can meet.”  The Jews also remembered what God said to Moses in the Old Testament:  “You cannot see My face, for no one may see me and live” (Exodus 33:20).  So both Jews and Greeks would have agreed with John’s statement.  Later, the apostle Paul said, “God dwells in unapproachable light” (I Timothy 6:16).  Jesus Himself made that clear to His listeners when He said of Himself in John 6:46, “Not that any man has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father.” 

Let’s take another look at that first phrase in John 1:18.  The NIV says, “No man has ever seen God.”  The literal Greek translation gets the point across more strongly.  It says, “God no man has seen never“.  This phrase is referred to as an “absolute negative”.  To put it into American English:  “Absolutely no one has ever seen God, period!”  What he means is that no man has seen God in a full and complete way, in all His glory.  I think John is getting his point across to his readers and listeners!

There is a story about a kindergarten teacher who asked a boy what he was drawing.  Without pausing to look up, he said, “A picture of God”.  The teacher smiled and responded, “But nobody knows what God looks like.”  The boy carefully put down his crayon, looked her squarely in the eye, and declared, “After I’m finished here they will.”

He must have had a clear picture of God in his mind!  I would like to have seen the finished drawing.  It may have been very insightful!

II.  THE REVEALER OF GOD (John 1:18b)

If God is invisible, how can we know Him personally?  The author of Hebrews begins his epistle with these words:  “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways . . . “.  God revealed His presence, his character and His will through the prophets and through “visual aids” (miracles, visions, pillar of cloud, pillar of fire, the ark of the covenant, the “angel of the Lord”).  Hebrews 1:2,3 says, “In these last days has spoken to us in His Son . . . And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature . . . “. 

In John 1:18, the apostle John calls Jesus “the only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father”.  That description requires some explanation.  Only John uses this title for Jesus.  As the “only begotten God”, the Lord Jesus Christ is unique and existed from all eternity as God.  The Lord Jesus is the God-man, reminding us of John’s words in verse 1:  “In the beginning was the Word . . . and the Word was God”, and “the Word became flesh” (verse 14).

The phrase “in the bosom of the Father” is an expression that conveys the closest of relationships, and the deepest love for one another and enjoyment of one another’s presence.  This figure of speech was used elsewhere in Scripture to describe the relationship of a husband and wife (Deuteronomy 13:6), of a nurse carrying a nursing infant-child (Numbers 11:12), and of the affectionate protection and rest afforded to Lazarus in Paradise (Luke 16:23) (Vincent’s Word Studies).  The phrase also reminds us of John’s words in John 1:1-2,  “And the word was with God . . . He was in the beginning with God.”

Because of Jesus’ identity as God, and His closeness to the Father, He is the only One qualified to reveal and explain the Father to us. In chapter 14, Jesus said to Thomas, “If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.”  Philip then asks, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.”  (They still don’t understand what Jesus is saying to them.)  So Jesus replies, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip?  He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how do you say, ‘Show us the Father’?  Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me?”    It is a difficult concept for them, and us, to understand.  They are both God, and inseparable in their relationship to one another.

CONCLUSION:

God is still invisible in the sense that we cannot see Him today with our physical eyes.  In the same way, the Lord Jesus is also invisible to our eyes.  He left us no visible, physical image of Himself.  He didn’t pose for a painting or sculpture of Himself while He was on this earth.  All of His eye-witnesses are dead and none of them made a sketch of him or gave a detailed description of His physical appearance.  But even though we can’t see Him, He sees us and is with us always.  His character, His actions, His attitude, and His obedience to the Father have been written down for us by eye-witnesses.  Some of them were with Him day and night for a period of three years, and also witnessed His death, His post-resurrection appearances, and His ascension into heaven.  Because of their closeness to Jesus Christ while He was here on this earth, their understanding of God increased immensely, and they have shared that understanding with us.  Their belief in Him became firmly established and most of them were martyred because of their faith in Him.

We don’t need any more explanation.  It’s all there in the Scriptures, and evident in the lives of those who have entrusted their lives to Him.  There are no excuses for not having a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  If you know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, are you giving others an explanation for the hope and joy that is in you?  If you don’t know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, don’t you think it’s time that you did?  It’s the one decision you could never regret, and will forever enjoy!

 

CONSTRUCTION SITE:

There are many other completed projects on this site and you are welcome to visit them all.  It’s always “Open House” here.  Thanks for visiting.  May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be your continuing source of joy and strength.

 

“THE WORD” – THE INFINITE AND ETERNAL GOD – John 1:1-3

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INTRODUCTION:

There have been thousands of neighborhood surveys given by Christian organizations and churches over the years.  Maybe you’ve participated in one or more of them yourself.  A question that is often asked on these surveys is:  “Who is Jesus Christ?”.  The answer most often given is:  “He is the Son of God”.  But most of the people who give that answer don’t know what it means nor how they came to that conclusion.  In a 1983 Gallup poll, Americans were asked, “Who do you think Jesus is?”  70% of those interviewed said that He was not just another man.  43% stated that Jesus was God among men,  27% felt that Jesus was only human but divinely called.  9% stated that Jesus was divine because he embodied the best of humanity.  Also, 81% of the Americans polled considered themselves to be Christians.  In John 1:1-3, John gives a brief and concise summary of Jesus’ relationship to God.

I.  JOHN’S USE OF THE “WORD” (verse 1)

The passage begins by using the term “Word” to refer to Christ.  This term is not used in this way in any of the other gospels.  John uses the Greek word “logos” because it was a familiar term in Greek philosophy and literature, and also because it had a special meaning for the Jews.

In Greek philosophy the “logos” was the principle which maintained perfect order in the universe and controlled it.  The “logos” also controlled the events of history.

What meaning would “the word” have in the minds of the Jewish readers of John’s gospel?  It would turn their thoughts to the first chapter in the book of Genesis where we are told that in the beginning God spoke, and all things came into being.  Genesis 1:3 says, “Then God said, ‘Let there be light’, and there was light.”  If a Jew living during the lifetime of Christ on earth was asked the question:  “What happens when God speaks?”  His answer would have been, “The thing is instantly done or happens.”  The prophet Isaiah records these words that God spoke to him in Isaiah 55:11, “So shall My word be which goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which it was sent.”

By beginning his gospel with the use of the term “logos”, John has succeeded in creating an interest and has peaked the curiosity of both Greeks and Jews.  “Who is this person you are referring to?”  “How can you claim that He is the ‘logos’?” John has succeeded in grabbing their attention and they are anxious to find out what he is going to say next.  Now that he has their attention, John makes four statements about Christ’s deity.

Ii.  JESUS IS ETERNALLY GOD (1:1-2)

“In the beginning was the Word.”  We know that as the apostle John writes about the Word, the “Logos”, he is referring to the Lord Jesus Christ because he says in verses 14 and 17:  “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. . . . For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.”  (NASB)

“In the beginning” – John begins his gospel in eternity past.  In the Greek text there is no definite article before the word “beginning”.  At whatever beginning you might choose, “the Word” already existed.  The following is an excuse that is sometimes used by those who don’t believe that Jesus Christ is God:  “If Jesus is called the Son of God, He cannot be eternal because He is called the ‘firstborn’, and the eternal Father must be older than His Son.”

However, eternal fatherhood demands eternal sonship.  Consider this question:  “When did your father begin to be your father?”  He became your father at the very moment that you became his child, and not before.  Isn’t that correct?  Therefore the eternal Father must have an eternal Son.

John is also implying in this verse that, unlike the Greek concept of the “logos”, which came along with creation as part of creation, Jesus Christ, “the Logos” existed before creation.  John is stretching their concept of the logos to a much higher level.  Contrary to their thinking, the logos is not a force in the universe, but an eternal Person who transcends this universe.  Both the Jew and the Greek at the time of this writing would agree that the only Person who could transcend time would have to be God.

III.  JESUS IS EQUALLY GOD (1:1-2)

“And the Word was with God” – a unique Person, yet a common entity.  He is distinguishable from God the Father, yet eternally God.  It is a mystery.  We cannot understand how this can be with our finite minds.  Genesis 1 says, “The Spirit of God was moving upon the surface of the waters.”  He is also a distinct Person, and part of the God-head.

In John chapter 1, verse 2, John says it again using different words:  “He was in the beginning with God“.  By writing it again, John is saying, “Yes, that’s what I said and that’s what I meant!”  The Hebrew word for God in Genesis 1 is “elohim”.  It is a plural noun.

There are not three Gods.  There is one God in three Persons.  I like this definition in the book, Christian Theology in Plain Language:  “Three persons who are coequally and co-eternally God”.  Expressed mathematically, the concept of the Trinity would be described, not as 1 plus 1 plus 1 equals three, but as one times one times one equals one.  People have problems with the Trinity because they can’t completely understand it, but in actuality, the concept of the trinity lies behind the very nature and structure of this universe.  For example, we are living in a space – matter – time universe.  We express space in terms of length, width, and height.  We express time in terms of past, present, and future.  We express matter in terms of  energy, motion, and phenomenon.  Even the tiny atoms that make up our universe are composed of electrons, protons, and neutrons.  These aren’t “accidents” or “coincidences” but evidences that the universe reflects the very nature of the Godhead.  The apostle Paul makes this clear in Romans 1:19-20 when he says,  “because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.  For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.”

All three members of the Trinity were present at the baptism of Jesus.  There was Jesus who had just been baptized, the Holy Spirit who descended from heaven in the form of a dove and rested upon Jesus, and there was the Father, whose voice from heaven said, “Thou art my beloved Son, in Thee I am well-pleased.” (Matthew 5:16-17; Luke 3:21-22)

Just before the ascension of Jesus into heaven, He gave His Great Commission to His disciples, and in it He mentions all three members of the Triune God.  “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:18-19).  So the Lord Jesus Himself declares the Trinity of God and identifies Himself as one of the members of that Trinity.

IV.  JESUS IS ESSENTIALLY GOD (1:1)

“And the Word was God.”  In His essence, in His real nature, and in His attributes, Jesus Christ is God.  There is at least one religious sect that says that Jesus Christ is not God because John 1:1 says “The Word was a god“, since there is no definite article before the word “God” in the Greek text.  To show the error of this thinking, let’s insert the definite article into the Greek text.  Now the English translation would read, “The Word was the God”.  This would imply that no divine being existed except Jesus Christ.  Such a statement would contradict the previous phrase, “The Word was with God”.  It would also contradict Genesis 1, where God says, “Let us make man in our image”.  So John purposely did not put the definite article in his text because he wanted to imply that Jesus Christ is God.  He is divine, but there are also other divine Persons, namely the Father and the Holy Spirit.

After verse 1, the apostle John never uses the term “logos” again.  Why?  Because the concept, the force, the spoken word is the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ.  And as the eternal Son of God, He has been the true “Logos” from all eternity.  From now on John’s focus is on the Lord Jesus Christ because He and “the Logos” are the same.

This has been a “deep theology lesson”, and I’m no theologian!  But John realizes that this is a necessary introduction if we are going to understand his purpose for writing this Gospel.  Knowing this basic theology will help us to understand the signs Jesus performed, the words Jesus said, and the responses He received as a result, as recorded by the apostle John.   

V.  JESUS IS THE CREATOR-GOD (1:3)

It is natural, when we think of God, to think of His power to create.  Thus John says in verse 3, “All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being”.  If we were to look through the most powerful telescope, we would see galaxy after galaxy, and worlds travelling at incredible speeds.  Yet their orbits are so mathematically precise that we can predict an eclipse or a comet’s appearance years in advance.  If we were to look into the most powerful microscope we would be able to see the atoms that are the building blocks of all matter.  An atom measures about 150 millionths of an inch in diameter.  Though they are so small, atoms are like a miniature solar system, with a central nucleus and a number of electrons flashing in orbit around it.

Hopefully, the following illustration will give you a sense of the vastness and complexity of God’s creation.  If the molecules in just one drop of water could be converted into grains of sand, there would be enough sand to build a concrete highway, half a mile wide and one foot thick, all the way from New York to San Francisco.  That’s about 3000 miles!  And God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit made them all – every single atom in the universe!

CONCLUSION:

I encourage you to take some time to reflect upon the vastness, complexity and order of our universe.  Take a walk or drive to a secluded spot and observe the foliage and the animals.  Or draw the curtains, pull up the shades, open the windows and take in the sights, sounds, and smells.  Reflect also upon yourself and how you are made. There is no one like you.  You are unique.  Your fingerprints, your voice, your hair, your DNA are unique to you.   All of these things you observe and consider point to a Creator.  Do you know Him?  Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).  Do you know Jesus Christ personally and intimately?  If so, your life will be filled with joy, and your actions will give testimony to His presence in you.

You are also welcome to read other sermons I have placed on this site.  There are over 70 of them now!   May God’s Word provide direction and enrichment to your life.