THE GOSPEL OF JOHN
Today we are beginning a new series that I’m really excited about. For the next 12 weeks, which will take us right through Easter, we’re going to explore the Gospel of John.
We’re all probably familiar with John 3:16 since people hold it up at football games and stick it in their Insta bios, but it turns out there are more verses in John than just that!
As we’re going to see, John approaches the story of Jesus in a really unique way. Rather than trying to capture the whole sweep of Jesus’ ministry, like the other three gospels, John zooms in on several key moments with Jesus and uses them as a pretty provocative challenge to his readers.
Basically saying, “Do you believe it? Are you in or are you out with this whole Jesus thing?”
In fact, throughout the gospel he uses these really stark dichotomies: truth or falsehood, life or death, light or darkness… And he asks us to pick a side!
There’s no room to be lukewarm about the Jesus that we meet in John.
But it’s clear why he’s doing all this. He tells us himself towards the end of the book:
The disciples saw Jesus do many other miraculous signs in addition to the ones recorded in this book. But these are written so that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him you will have life by the power of his name.
When all is said and done, the gospel of John is an invitation for us to experience life. True life. The kind of life that, according to John, only Christ can bring.
And I’ll tell you what. I think we need a taste of that life right now. In a time of anxiety and depression, when our minds are dulled by consumerism and self-medication, and the fabric of our community is threadbare… we need to be invigorated.
We need to be brought back to life. And if what John claims is true, then I want him to show us how.
So today we’re going to look at how John starts his gospel. Because he kind of puts his whole big idea out there right out of the gate. Please turn with me to John chapter 1.
Now a quick note about John, the man. There’s some debate about who exactly he was. John was a very common name back then.
I won’t bore you with the details, but the two leading contenders are John the apostle (one of Jesus’ 12 disciples) and a guy called John the elder who was a follower of Jesus but not one of the inner circle.
What matters is that both of them were witnesses to the power and love of Jesus, they both saw him after the resurrection, and both had made the choice to follow this provocative messiah even as they watched him get executed by Rome.
Let’s see how John begins his gospel.
In the beginning the Word already existed.
The Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He existed in the beginning with God.
God created everything through him,
and nothing was created except through him.
The Word gave life to everything that was created,
and his life brought light to everyone.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness can never extinguish it.
We could camp out on these five verses for a very long time. There is so much to unpack here. But let me just give you some of the high points.
First of all, you may notice that John begins the way the whole Bible begins: “in the beginning.”
John does not start with the birth of Jesus. He starts with the creation of the universe. With what he calls “the Word.”
Verse 1. The Word is God. And yet the Word is distinct from God.
In Greek, the word “Word” is logos
There are entire books written about what logos means, but the way I understand the “Word of God” is that it is God’s will, his intentions, his purposes… made real.
When God speaks “let there be light” in Genesis, there is light. His Word speaks reality into existence.
And look at verse 4. “The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone.” Let there be light, God’s purposes… It’s all tied together.
So this is all heady theological stuff. But the claim John is going to go on to make is that Jesus of Nazareth, this man from rural Galilee, actually is this Word of God.
He’s not sent by the Word. He’s not empowered by the Word. He is the Word.
He is the very will of God personified. God’s intentions made real. The means by which all life was created and, according to verse 4, the means by which all life is sustained.
Apart from God there is darkness and chaos and disorder. But when he speaks, there is order and life and light. And, according to John, Jesus Christ is that light.
He heard Jesus say it himself many times. He quotes him:
I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the dark.
So already you can see John is not just saying, “there was this great prophet I want to tell you about. He’s got some life tips for you.” He’s claiming God’s very Word walked among us. Let’s keep reading.
God sent a man, John the Baptist, to tell about the light so that everyone might believe because of his testimony. John himself was not the light; he was simply a witness to tell about the light. The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.
He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.
So right out of the gate John sets up the main conflict or tension in his gospel.
God’s desire in sending the Word, the light of the world, to us, verse 7, is so that “everyone might believe.” And all who believe, verse 12, can become children of God. They are reborn into a new kind of life.
That’s great! That’s amazing. God wants to bring humanity into his light. To rescue us from darkness. But there’s a problem.
Verse 10. “He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him.”
And that is exactly what we see throughout the gospel of John. Jesus presents God’s heart for the world, but most people want nothing to do with it.
He’s a holy man, but he spends time with sinful, broken people, so he offends the religious leaders…
Jesus speaks of sin and redemption like rabbis do, but does it in terms of God’s grace and forgiveness – it’s a matter of trust & belief, not of doing the right stuff… so he angers those who are trying to earn their way to God.
Jesus presents himself as a king and Israel’s long-awaited messiah, but one who leads by humility, by washing his disciples’ feet, by sacrificing his life for humanity… so he’s an insult those waiting for a conqueror.
The world doesn’t recognize him. And even the people of God – the Israelites – completely miss it.
And again, by putting things in such stark and opposing terms, John is asking his readers to make a choice. Do you recognize the light or do you prefer the darkness?
Here is Jesus Christ. Do you believe in him? Do you trust him enough to follow where he leads? In John, a lot of people say no. They walk away.
DWELLED AMONG US
There’s just a little bit more left in John’s intro. Let’s read it.
So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.
John testified about him when he shouted to the crowds, “This is the one I was talking about when I said, ‘Someone is coming after me who is far greater than I am, for he existed long before me.’”
From his abundance we have all received one gracious blessing after another. For the law was given through Moses, but God’s unfailing love and faithfulness came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us.
“The Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory.”
It may not be obvious at first glance, but here John is yet again tying the story of Jesus into that of the God of the Old Testament. First it was Genesis (“in the beginning”) and now it’s Exodus.
When he says, “made his home,” it’s the Greek word skēnoō
skēnoō - to dwell in a tent, to encamp, to tabernacle
In the book of Exodus, when God first came down to dwell with his people, the Israelites, his home, so to speak, was in the tabernacle.
It was a tent temple where God would meet with the Israelites. Where he could demonstrate what the Old Testament calls his “unfailing love and faithfulness.”
And whenever God showed up, so did his glory - this heavy, blinding, shining presence. The light of their world.
So in Exodus we’ve got God dwelling among the people in the tabernacle, filled with unfailing love and faithfulness, and displaying his glory.
And here, what does John claim about Jesus? He “tabernacled” – he dwelled - with the people, filled with unfailing love and faithfulness, and displayed his glory.
Yet again, John is making a provocative claim. Jesus was not just some prophet. He wasn’t just some holy man. He was God himself walking among us.
And that is how John kicks off his book. “Jesus Christ is God himself. The very Word of God incarnate. The one through whom the universe was created. God’s very intentions made real. He is here. He’s among us and I saw him with my own two eyes.”
John lays it all out there, and then he challenges us to make a choice: Do you believe it?
EXPERIENCING THE LIGHT
And that is what we’re going to look at for the next 12 weeks. I think it’s going to be really good.
And I’ll remind you. This is not just some theological exercise. It’s not about agreeing or not agreeing about some historical facts.
According to John, belief in Jesus - putting our trust in who he is - opens the door to life itself. Life now and life in the New Creation.
I want to have that life. And I want you to have that life. So we’re going to go there and see what John has to say. And we are going to meet Jesus in a way that might challenge some of our presuppositions.
But for now, with what we just read, there is just one question I’d like us all to consider as we kick off this series. It’s this:
Have I experienced the light of Christ?
When I say this, I don’t mean, “have I prayed a prayer of salvation?” I don’t mean, “do I call myself a Christian?” I mean, have I actually experienced the light of Christ and the life that he brings?
In verse 5 John says, “the light shines in the darkness and the darkness can never extinguish it.” Has the light of Christ shone in your darkness?
Has the healing presence of Jesus entered the deep caverns of your heart? And brought life to places that were once dead?
Has his mercy and grace illuminated your places of secret shame? Do you trust who he says you are?
Does the light of Jesus shine not just within you but through you into the world around you? When they look at you do they see him?
I’m asking you to consider this: Has my life been transformed by the source of all life? By the Word of God… Have I experienced the light of Christ?
There was a time in my early 20’s when things were very dark inside of me. I felt shame for who I was, I was stuck in my addictions, and I spread cynicism and anger everywhere I went. I spread darkness, not light.
And I know now, looking back, that - as John says in verse 10 - I didn’t recognize Jesus. Not the real Jesus.
The Jesus I believed in was wooden and shallow and distant. He was supposed to be this friend, but one who never talked to me. He didn’t seem to care about our broken world.
And at the same time he was like some divine college exam. If I didn’t believe the right theological facts I’d be out in the cold. I’d get a failing grade.
I didn’t recognize Jesus. But then, through a series of unexpected events, I encountered the light of Christ – the light of the world.
My shame was brought into the light, and instead of getting blasted I discovered grace and forgiveness and love.
I encountered true poverty in the world and discovered the real Jesus was already right there. Mourning with those in pain. Standing with those in despair. Bringing healing. He cared more than I could have ever dreamed.
And then I felt Jesus calling me into a purpose beyond myself - a purpose to join him in his work. Me, this cynical and darkness-spreading skeptic.
And as I took the leap and tried to follow him, I discovered that his light began to fill me. And even spill out of me a little bit.
I was becoming an instrument of his purposes - and his purpose is to bring life.
Those were the first steps on a journey that led me to this moment. That led me to a life purpose of telling the world that Jesus is the light of life.
That’s my story. And I’ll tell you, when John says in verse 16, “From his abundance we have all received one gracious blessing after another,” I feel that.
And oh I want you to feel it too. Not an emotion. Not some spiritual high. But the confidence that God’s unfailing love is for you and that the life that Jesus brings can be yours.
Have you experienced the light of Christ? Because if not, now’s the time.