Over the past month we have been looking at a number of the names given to Jesus through our series ‘No Other Name.’ And it has been a remarkable time… I don’t believe we can ever go wrong focusing on Jesus. Now, some of the names we looked at Jesus gave to himself, names like the Light of the World, the True Vine, the Bread of Life and the Son of Man. Others names came from the writings of Old Testament prophets or directly from angels, names like Jesus, Immanuel and Savior. Then there are the names chosen by various writers of the New Testament to set Jesus apart from all others… they called him The Alpha & Omega, The Amen, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah and the Glory of God. Each one of these names can stand alone as an awe-inspiring statement about the character and power of Jesus; but over the past month we’ve seen that when you put all of these names together you get a portrait that is overwhelming in its meaning and majesty. And these are just some of the names of Jesus; there are more… many more. We just didn’t have time to talk about all of them. But we thought it would be good to finish the year and the series with a final name… a name that is one of the most important of Jesus’ names… a name given to Jesus by someone that knew him well; a name which may possibly be the one name given to Jesus that comes closest to summing up what all of the names of Jesus say when they are taken together. Now, I have talked about this name in an earlier sermon back in 2010. And I know that some of you may remember some of what I say today, but, this name is so significant we felt it was important to revisit it this morning… and that name is this: Jesus is The Word. It is a name that comes to us from the first verses of the Gospel of John… the verses you just heard read. And to help us better understand just how important this name is I’ll need all of you to use your imagination for a minute.
Picture in your mind the Disciple John… not as a young man walking with Jesus, but as an old man in his early 90’s. He is now living the last days of his life in the vibrant, sophisticated city of Ephesus, an amazing Greek city located in what is now Turkey. Some years earlier, while he was in exile on an island called Patmos off of the coast of Turkey… in exile as punishment for preaching about Jesus, Paul the Apostle had come to Ephesus bringing the good news of Jesus… and a number of people, both Jews and Gentiles had chosen to follow Jesus. And now John is spending his last days in this important city helping to lead the Christian community in Ephesus… a community which has grown to be the third largest Christian community in the world! He’d had the opportunity to read the gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke and he knew that what is recorded in those books was all true; but he also knew that they only told part of the story and his Ephesian friends were encouraging him to write down his memories of his time with Jesus before he went home to be with the Lord and his memories were lost. And he had a lot of memories. He’d been a disciple of Jesus for at least 3 years, walking and talking with him daily as they traveled all over Galilee and Judea. He was one of Jesus’ most trusted friends; Jesus always included him when he went anywhere. In fact, as Jesus hung on the cross Jesus had given him the responsibility of caring for his mother. He’d seen Jesus die… but he’d also seen the empty tomb and met the risen Christ! He’d seen Jesus transfigured before his death and seen him in his new body after rising from the dead. He’d seen Jesus ascend into the heavens and later even had a vision of Jesus as he is right now in the absolute fullness of his glory… and he’d written the Book of the Revelation in an attempt to describe what he’d seen in that vision! I’m confident that he knew that if he was going to write a new gospel about Jesus then he’d have to find a new and powerful way to describe Jesus… and he knew this would be almost impossible. Anything he would say about Jesus, especially in an introduction, needed to be so overwhelming that no one would ever forget what he’d said. And as he sat down to start writing I’m sure he struggled for words. He’d tried twice before to describe the majesty of Jesus… first in his first letter to fellow Christians, a letter everyone was now calling I John –and he’d tried again in his Revelation, but he knew that he needed to top anything he’d previously written… this was clearly the most important writing he would ever do… and he knew it. And so I’m certain that as he sat down to write he was thinking things like, “What can I say about Jesus here that will capture all that I know is true about him? What words can I use to describe what I saw as I lived with Jesus? What words can possible do him justice and at the same time still make sense to both the Jewish and Gentile Christians here in Ephesus? They seem to see the world so differently.” And then I am sure that after much prayer and contemplation and remembering and asking God’s Spirit to guide him, it finally dawned on him. The Greeks had a special, philosophical word that they’d use when they wanted to talk about the mystical, all powerful force in the universe that makes all things possible and brings order to the world. It was a word that at its core it meant: ‘The power that controls everything in the universe.’ It wasn’t a word that was used very often, but it was a very serious word. It was a word that made people take notice. And that word was ‘logos.’ To the Greeks ‘the Logos’ was the ultimate power behind everything that happens in the universe; it was the unifying force in all of creation. It was a big word… and it stood for something unimaginable. Now, this word “logos” had developed some more common uses over time: it became the Greek word for ‘words.’ And they used ‘logos’ to talk about ‘words’ because they knew that words have great power… words can change minds; words can lift people up or tear them down; words have the power to influence both for the good and the bad. Logos was a big word to the Greeks… but John needed a big word to name Jesus. And the Jews also used this word ‘logos’ as well. But Jews used Logos as a way to speak of God’s action in the world… they connected the concept of ‘word’ with action because almost every time God did anything amazing in the world he simply spoke words… He’d ‘spoken’ the world into being… he’d ‘spoken’ his 10 commandments or literally his 10 words to the Jews. Logos was a big word to the Jews… but John needed a big word to name Jesus. Now, I know this can all seem confusing and difficult for us to grasp… but, here is all that we really need to understand: when John wrote these words at the beginning of his Gospel, ‘In the beginning was the Word, (the logos) and the word, (the logos) was with God and the word, (the logos) was God’ he was trying to make the biggest statement he could possibly make about who Jesus is: he’d taken a vast concept and attributed every bit of its meaning to Jesus. He called Jesus ‘The Word’ because Jesus is the ultimate power behind everything in the universe; Jesus is the unifying force in all creation; Jesus is the source of all wisdom; Jesus is God acting in the world. Jesus is this logos… he is the word; he is the one who created and controls everything… everywhere! And the fact that we can’t figure out exactly what this means makes it even more a profound statement. I am absolutely convinced that John knew exactly what he was doing when he began his gospel saying that Jesus has always been the power behind everything that has ever happened, everything that is happening and everything that will ever happen in the universe. John knew that it was important to make sure that no one mistakenly pictured the Jesus in his Gospel as just a thoughtful man with some new ways to say that everyone should be nice to each other. John had seen the truth about Jesus both in his days with Jesus and during his vision of Jesus on his throne in the heavens and he didn’t want anybody to miss that this remarkable Jesus was the Jesus he would be talking about in his Gospel. And so he chose the most powerful word he could find in the Greek language: Logos… the word… the God who controls and oversees all things in the universe.
I have had the privilege of teaching a class on the Gospel of John since September… and I can’t begin to tell you how life changing it has been for me to look closely at these memories of someone that knew Jesus so well… what I’ve found is that John doesn’t so much immerse us in the story of Jesus; no, he immerses us in Jesus. And I can’t imagine what our faith would be like if he’d not taken the time to write his down his memories. There is so much in his gospel that we don’t find in the other Gospels. Just think about what it would be like for us to follow Jesus not knowing about Jesus changing water to wine; or not know about his interaction with the Samarian woman at the well; or never knowing that Jesus had washed his disciples’ feet just to name three things… and if John hadn’t written down his recollections of Jesus we’d have never had many of the names we have looked at this month: the bread of life, the light of the world; the true vine and Savior of the world. I’m confident that John knew how important writing his Gospel was ... he knew he was showing us a side of Jesus that we wouldn’t know if he didn’t share his memories with us. And this is why, right at the beginning he wanted to make it clear that we all knew who he is was going to be talking about… why he lifts Jesus as high as he possibly can… and why that he calls Jesus by a name that separates him from all that was and is and ever will be. Why he called him The Word. This is the only place in the Gospels where Jesus will be referred to as ‘the word’. But John needed as big a concept as he could imagine just to get us on the right path toward correctly thinking about Jesus. Jesus is the word, even though ‘the word’ doesn’t come close to describing the vastness of our Savior! But it was the biggest word he had to work with… and John was about to tell the story of what it was like to come face-to-face with God… and how our lives should be different because of this… yes, Jesus is the word; it is a name that should stop us in our tracks because it is a name that says Jesus is the ultimate power behind everything that happens in the universe. Jesus is the word and believe me, there is no other name.
One last thought before we bring a close to this series. In almost every one of the names of Jesus we have talked about over the past month there has been a connection between the name of Jesus and God’s offer of life. Some examples: I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me will never go hungry and everyone that believes in me shall have eternal life. I am light of the world and that light gives life to all people. I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep and my sheep know me. I have come that they may have life and have it to the full. The Son of Man must be lifted up so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. I want us to clear on this word ‘life. First, this word life meant far more than simply being alive. There was another way to talk about the life of butterflies and squirrels and trees and flowers. Yes, they have life… they are living creations, but they don’t even have the potential for the kind of life that mankind was created to experience. This is a different word. This is a word that implied deep, soulful, meaningful existence… it meant to live in the manner that God originally intended us to live. It meant being ‘ALIVE!’ And it is this deeply- connected-to-God-and-to-one-another kind of life that we should always think of when we see the word life in connection to the names of Jesus. Now, I know that when most people today encounter the idea of God giving us life they immediately think of ‘eternal life’ and that always ends up having something to do with life after death. But this isn’t what is meant when we read that Jesus offers us life. It is something far grander and glorious and it’s not just something coming in the future, but something that begins in this life and extends, as the Greek actually says, for all the ages to come. And I suppose we could spend a lot of time talking about what this life really is and what it should look like and such but there was a point in Jesus’ life where he actually gave himself the name: The life. He called himself by this name… and that changes things. It happened in John 14, which is one of the most tender and comforting passages in all of Scripture. The disciples were gathered for the last supper. Judas had already left the room and was on his way to betray Jesus. And in this very private moment with just the remaining 11 disciples Jesus had some things to say to his dear friends before he went to the cross. And he began by saying, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” Then Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’ Jesus calls himself by 3 names: the way, the truth and the life. I wish we had time to talk about all three of these names but the final name… The life… is particularly important. John’s uses this word 54 times in his gospel… and almost every time he is speaking of some aspect of what Jesus does for us. And now Jesus uses this word, with the definitive article, THE LIFE, as a name for himself… I am The Life. This is a very important name… and it has been especially important to many of us as of late. This has been a very difficult year; a lot of death and betrayal and unexpected, complicated times of trial. And we have had to purposefully hold on to the hope that in the midst of these times Jesus is still the life… the one that offers deep, soulful, meaningful life even in the face of difficult days. What I love about this passage is that Jesus didn’t offer us a formula for getting through tough times; he didn’t offer us only the hope of a carefree life someday after we die… no, what Jesus offers to us when he offers us real life is himself. He is the life. Jesus is the life; I have been holding on to this over the past dark days. We may be walking through the valley of the shadow of death but we can still know that we are being guided and protected and comforted by the one that is the life…is all that life was meant to be… the one that created life and alone is able to offer us a life of significance even in the midst of great sorrow and struggle. And I don’t want anyone to miss this truth. We are not talking about metaphorical or philosophical things here. We are talking about the facts. Jesus was unequivocal about this and either he knew what he was talking about or he didn’t. And what he said was that he is the Life and you can’t get to God in any other way than through him. In other words, he was saying there is no other name… no other name by which we can get to the Father and all of the comfort and the power and the guidance that God offers to us. No other name that will save us out of darkness and bring us into the light of The Light. His name is Jesus, the light of the world; he is Jesus, the Great I Am; he is Jesus, Immanuel, God with us; he is Jesus, the Word and he is Jesus, the Life and there is no other name.