The Gospels in the New Testament focus upon the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus. And it’s interesting to note that of the four Gospels, only John begins with the adult Jesus. Matthew, Mark, and Luke—which are called the “Synoptic Gospels” because they provide synopses or summaries that touch upon many of the same events in Jesus’ life, albeit from different perspectives—begin either with his birth as do Matthew and Luke, or with John the Baptist, as do Luke and Mark.
But the beginning of John’s Gospel provides us a different perspective on Jesus the Messiah, that is, on Jesus the Christ. John begins not only with the Incarnation—with a statement that the man Jesus was not only a man but John also begins by emphasizing that Jesus was indeed God himself. Jesus was God in the flesh, God in human form. Therefore to think of Jesus being only a human being, like you and me, is to misunderstand who he was. For though he was fully human as we are, he wasn’t merely human. And this is what John is trying to explain to us. Because Jesus was God in human form, his life didn’t begin as a babe in a manger for he, as God, has ever existed and will ever exist.
John begins by telling us that Jesus was the Word that was in the beginning. He was with God which reminds us of God’s Triune Nature. God is One God in three Persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But Jesus wasn’t just with God, John tells us, Jesus was God. And because John doesn’t want us to miss it, he again emphasizes both Jesus’ oneness with God in verse 2 by re-stating that he was with God in the beginning—he has ever been God. But he also again emphasizes that he was God by telling us in verse 3 that “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” Did you catch that? “Through him—that is, through Jesus—all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” Not one thing.
Not the sun;
not the moon;
not the stars;
not the oceans;
not the animals;
Nothing was made apart from Jesus Christ. Not one thing was made without him. Not one thing was made apart from him for he was and is Jesus the Christ, Jesus the Messiah, Jesus who though fully human was also God.
But here’s the thing, John goes on to tell us in verses 4 and 5 that Jesus isn’t simply our Creator. He is our life. And he is also our light. He is the light of all mankind—of all humanity. And his light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (v. 5).
Yet we need to stop and consider this. Given the events of the past few weeks, it can be difficult to believe that Jesus’ light hasn’t been overcome by darkness, can’t it? For in the past few weeks alone we’ve learned of:
a landslide in China that hit 33 buildings—an area equivalent to around 60 football fields;
and a bus filled with officers crashing in Argentina;
and of a woman in Las Vegas who drove her car onto a sidewalk;
And these are but a sampling of the dark events we have heard about. How many more acts of darkness are there that never make it to the headlines in the evening news? And we know all too well that we don’t even need these major news events in order to see the darkness. In our personal lives we can be afflicted by physical illnesses. We are can be afflicted by mental and emotional illnesses. We can be afflicted by brokenness in relationships and isolation and loneliness. We can be afflicted by all sorts of worries and fears. So is John right? Is it the case that the light of Jesus shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it?
These past four weeks we have been considering the Advent—the coming—of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, into the world. And we would do well to listen to John for he was part of Jesus’ inner circle while he lived and walked and loved and served others during his earthly life. John is speaking on God’s behalf, yes, but John is also speaking as one who witnessed the wonder of who Jesus Christ was and is.
After confirming John the Baptist’s ministry—a different John not to be confused with the author of the Gospel of John—as witness to the light that all might believe in Jesus, the Gospel writer John notes that the true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world through Jesus himself (v. 9). John is affirming—along with John the Baptist and the other New Testament authors—that in the person of Jesus we have the fulfillment of God’s promises in the Old Testament to send his Messiah to make all things right; of God’s promise to send his light; of God’s promise of himself come to the world to provide the true light we all so desperately need.
What is striking, however, is what John says next in verses 10 and 11: “10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” How can this be? How can that which has been given life not acknowledge or recognize the very source of its life? This would be as though, if it were possible, a finished portrait not acknowledging the painter who gave it life. Or like characters in a story acting as though the writer who created them didn’t exist or weren’t responsible for their very existence. But this is precisely what happened when Jesus, the true light that gives light to everyone, came into the world. He who was responsible for the existence of all those around him was not recognized by them.
But not only did people not recognize Jesus as the God who gave them life and who was responsible for their very existence, they also did not receive him. They didn’t believe him when he pointed to Old Testament Scriptures that he fulfilled; they didn’t even believe him when he did the things the Old Testament said Messiah would do:
not when he gave sight to the blind;
not when he made the lame walk;
not when he gave life to the dead;
now when he cast out demons;
not when he healed diseases;
not when he stilled the wind and calmed the waves;
not when he fed the multitudes with a few fish and loaves of bread;
now when he gave hope and joy to the hopeless and joyless.
Jesus, as God, came to the earth that he had created yet the people he had created in his image—his own people—did not recognize him; his own people did not receive him. At least not all of them.
However, some did recognize and receive him. Some heard his teachings and believed them be true. And they not only heard what he said but they saw what he did. They saw his deeds and understood that they were consistent with the deeds which the promised Messiah, the promised Christ, from the Scriptures was to do. So some heard what Jesus said and saw what Jesus did and understood that this was no ordinary man—this was God, who had made them and all creation, in the flesh. And so they received Jesus for who he said he was. They believed in Jesus’ name. They grasped that Jesus Christ was not just a name, but a title—this man Jesus was the Christ. This man Jesus was God in the flesh.
And to those who saw and understood this wondrous truth, Jesus gave the right—the power—the authority—to become children of God. You see our real birth isn’t our natural, biological birth but our spiritual birth. Not all people are children of God in the sense of knowing him even though all people are made in the image of God. Yet because all of us have turned from God, our heavenly Father, all of us are in need of returning to him through the provision he has given us in his Son, Jesus Christ. And when we do turn to him, we become God’s true children. Children born, as John tells us in verse 13, not of natural descent, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
John closes by pointing us again to this Jesus who is the Word become flesh, God in human form, who made his dwelling with us. He made his dwelling with us when he came to earth as a babe in a manger over 2000 years ago. And, to those who receive him and believe in his name, he makes us his dwelling place by giving and sealing us with his Holy Spirit that we might ever be able to have communion with him—to have a relationship with the God who made us and loves us so profoundly. When we believe and receive Jesus as our God, we become his dwelling place both individually and as a church body—and we then belong to God and to one other.
Dear ones, in Jesus we have seen God’s glory—God’s presence—for he came from the Father and offers us himself by his Holy Spirit. In Jesus we see what God is like—full of grace. He doesn’t hold our indifference to him or perhaps even our hostility towards him against us. No, he desires that we know him.
In Jesus we also see that God is full of truth for, as he states later in the Gospel of John (14:6) he is the way, he is the truth, he is the life. And no one comes to the Father except through him. We are the objects of God’s steadfast and persistent love and faithfulness, and this despite our lack of love and our disbelief and our faithlessness towards him.
You see, John is right. The light of Jesus does shine in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. We are here this evening not to dwell upon an inconsequential story about the birth of a sweet little baby with his mother. No, we are here this evening to celebrate and consider the true story about how the God who made us and everything that exists nonetheless came to earth, in human form, that we might know him both now and forever.
Though we are all made in the image of God, we have been made by God to become children of God. And this is why we need to come to Jesus, to acknowledge our need for him and receive him who, though born a babe in a manger, grew up to be not only a man but who, from his birth, was also our Creator—our true life—our true light.
May we all be reminded this evening that though life is fragile and though pockets of darkness still exist in the world, the light of Christ, the life of Christ is strong.
In Jesus the true light that gives light to us all has come into the world.
In Jesus, our true light, darkness has been overcome.
In Jesus, our true light, even death has been overcome.
May we ever thank God for giving us his eternal life and light in Jesus, our Savior and Lord.
And now I’d like to invite our children—and those who are children at heart—to sing a children’s song about the light Jesus gives:
This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine….
Won’t let Satan “puff” it out, I’m gonna let it shine….
Shine it round the whole wide world, I’m gonna let it shine….
Shine my light ‘til Jesus comes, I’m gonna let it shine….