As we begin our new series and in order to understand the radicle nature of John’s Gospel, it’s important you realize just how incredibly different it is from the other three. Historically, the writings of Matthew, Mark, and Luke are known as the Synoptic Gospels (synoptic simply meaning “seeing together”). Written at roughly the same time, these three writers all set out with the same intention - to provide a literal accounting or record of Jesus’ life.
That said… There is one caveat. While each of these men focus primarily on Jesus’ Galilean ministry and in doing so cover much of the same material, you should note they each write with a different emphasis and with a particular audience in mind. Matthew writes to the Jew presenting Jesus as the long awaited Hebrew King - which explains why he begins his Gospel with the genealogy of Christ and constantly uses the phrase “that it might be fulfilled.”
Mark writes with the Roman in mind presenting Jesus as the ultimate servant - which explains why he doesn’t provide a genealogy or record of Christ’s birth focusing almost exclusively on the activities of Jesus. Luke pens his Gospel for the Greek emphasizing the humanity of Jesus. Luke will most commonly refer to Jesus as being the Son of Man - which was a topic of particular interest for the Greek mind that celebrated the human spirit.
And yet, John ends up being fundamentally different. For starters, the Gospel of John is unique because he wrote many years after Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Though the specific date has been debated by scholars for centuries (Did he write before Jerusalem was sacked in 70 AD or afterwards?), because John undoubtedly had the luxury of reading these other three text, much of his writing focuses on stories not recorded by the others.
The other main difference between this last Gospel and the Synoptics is that while Matthew, Mark, and Luke set out to provide a written record, John writes with a particular intent. If you’d turn to John 20:30 the author himself provides the purpose for his narrative.
In his conclusion John adds, “And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.”
You see unique to his Gospel John intends to provoke a decision from his reader. It’s a Gospel that demands a verdict from the audience - a response. John isn’t all that interested in providing a chronological record of Jesus’ life in order to appeal to a specific audience…
Instead, he presents a particular narrative aimed at getting the reader to “believe” or place their complete faith and confidence in two important truths concerning Jesus: (1) John wants you to believe that “Jesus is the Christ” - the Messiah, the long-awaited Savior of the world, and (2) “That Jesus is the Son of God” - God made flesh, God incarnate, the God-man!
While Matthew presents Jesus to the Jews saying, “Behold the King!”, Mark heralds Him to the Romans as “Behold the Servant!”, with Luke declaring to the Greek, “Behold the Man!” John unashamedly shouts to all that may hear of Jesus, “Behold your Savior and your God!”
Not only is John honest concerning his intent (that he’s deliberately seeking to convince the reader of these two important truths about Jesus), but he adds that he’s doing this hoping “you (the reader) may have life in His name!” Convinced that a belief in Jesus the Christ, the Son of God is the only way you can attain life both now and eternally, everything John writes in his Gospel centers on this simple and direct purpose.
John not only invites the seeker to believe in Jesus, but he wants the believer to consider the obvious and logical ramifications this belief should manifest in their life.
Since this is the case, I want you to know of a particular aspect of this series that will be much different than anything we’ve ever done at Calvary316. Because John writes hoping to convince his audience that Jesus is both your God and Savior - desiring to, in the end, provoke a response or reaction… I’m going to close every study during this series doing just that - giving the audience an invitation to accept Jesus as both your Savior and your God.
I’m not going to give an awkward altar call, ask you to stand, raise a hand, or pray something out loud. The truth is that you’re not saved through a magic-bean prayer or a repeat after me. You’re saved the very instance, in your heart, you make the decision to repent of your sin, accept who Jesus is, and fully embrace through faith what He’s done on your behalf.
This is how it’s going to work… While a prayer doesn’t change a heart, a changed heart will always pray a prayer. When I finish the study I’m going to simply invite anyone who’s never accepted Jesus but is today convinced of the truth and has accepted the implications to pray a simple prayer right where they’re sitting. It will be short, sweet, and to the point.
Understand, this will not change the emphasis of our study. Zach isn’t going Baptist or becoming an Evangelist! As with any book of the Bible, we will travel through John in order to equip Christians for the ministry. That said… Because the very nature of John’s purpose in writing is to provoke such a response, I think it’s only appropriate we do the same.
It’s with all of this in mind, that John’s stylistic approach (while so much different than the others) makes complete sense. As mentioned, John not only has zero interest in chronology or providing a record of events, but since there is a specific intent and purpose behind his writing his choice of narrative (what new material to write about Jesus) is thematic.
Notice again in John 20 that while “Jesus did many other signs… these are written that you may believe.” In the Greek this word we have translated as “signs” implies an unusual occurrence that distinguished a person from all others. One definition of this ancient word literally states, “A sign is a miracle or wonder by which God authenticates the man.”
You see, in order to prove Jesus as being both “the Christ” and the “Son of God” so that you’ll “believe in Him” and have life, John presents more than just random stories about Jesus, but particular “signs” to this affect. Specifically, John will choose seven miracles that Jesus preformed, seven “I am” statements Jesus made of Himself, as well as seven post-resurrection appearances of Jesus to His disciples.
Along these line, as we’ll see, John does more than simply present an action or sermon of Jesus like the other Gospels. Instead, he’ll record a story or sermon only to then follow it up by tying the event to some overarching truth about Jesus. His approach really is brilliant.
Before we dive into the text, I think it would also be helpful in our understanding of this Gospel to take a few additional moments and discussed the author. The reality is that John is an interesting Biblical character in his own right who frankly possessed a fascinating perspective of Jesus - another reason his Gospel reads so much differently than the others.
According to Matthew 4, like many of Jesus’ followers, John grew up on the shores of Galilee. Along with his brother James, he was a fisherman who worked for his father Zebedee. In all likelihood, since John is introduced to us in a blue-collar vocation, he wasn’t book-smart and lacked the formal education of say Matthew (a tax collector) or Dr. Luke.
As a matter of fact, evidence of John’s lack of education is undeniable from his writing. If you take into consideration this Gospel - coupled with the three letters he wrote to the church (1st, 2nd, and 3rd John) along with the Revelation of Jesus Christ - and you analyze the Greek construct, you’ll discover John only possessed a vocabulary of roughly 600 words.
Unlike the Apostle Paul, who’s writing - word choices - and grammar demonstrates a mastery over the Greek language, linguistically John was on what we’d consider today to be a first grade level. And yet, while educationally John was behind the curve, the depths of theology he’s able to articulate with such a limited vocabulary is absolutely astonishing.
Jerome said, “John excels in the depths of divine mysteries.” The brilliant thinker Augustine further adds, “In the four Gospels… John not undeservedly with reference to his spiritual understanding compared to an eagle, has lifted higher, and far more sublimely than the other three, his proclamation, and in lifting it up he has wished our hearts also be lifted.”
Along with his brother James and friend Peter, John was not only personally called by Jesus to become a disciple, but was ultimately chosen to be one of the twelve Apostles. Apart from this John with James and Peter also had the privilege of being part of Jesus’ inner circle.
From the Gospel records we know of at least three occasions when Peter, James, and John were intentionally called out from the nine by Jesus for a specific reason. In Matthew 17 they were chosen to witness Jesus’ transfiguration. In Luke 8 they were invited to witness His resurrection of Jairus’ daughter. And then in Mark 14 Jesus specifically took Peter, James, and John further into Gethsemane to pray the night He was ultimately betrayed.
Aside from this, a case can be made that Jesus possessed a special endearment to John. Four times in John’s Gospel he will refer to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” Not only is it clear John and Jesus were extremely close, but as the only disciple to be at the crucifixion site Jesus would ultimately intrust to John the care of His mother Mary.
Though during Jesus’ earthly ministry, John and James were known for their fiery temper even garnering the title the “Sons of Thunder,” by the end of his life John would be know as the “Apostle of Love.” The impact Jesus made on John’s life was real, tangible, and lasting.
Following Jesus’ ascension and beginning on the Day of Pentecost, John would become Peter’s running buddy during the early days of the church. Aside from the fact John was likely the youngest of all of the Apostles, the first several chapters of the Book of Acts present him as one of the central characters and leaders within the first church.
Historically, we know that at some point in time (after his brother James was martyred for his faith in Jesus) John was forced to flee Jerusalem along with the remaining Apostles.
Early church fathers say from Jerusalem the Apostle John would ultimately settle in the Grecian city of Ephesus where he’d become the lead pastor of the church that had been previously planted by the Apostle Paul and shepherd by his assistant Timothy.
During a later wave of Christian persecution, John was ultimately arrested and sentenced to death through the barbaric practice of being boiled alive in oil. When that didn’t work, he was then exiled to the island prison of Patmos where he received the Book of Revelation.
In a twist of fate, John was later released from Patmos and returned to Ephesus where he spent his final days encouraging the saints throughout the region. Unlike the other Apostles, John was the only one to die of natural causes and the last of the original twelve to pass.
Needless to say, the timing of John’s Gospel coupled with his intent and unique relationship with Jesus make this book one of the most profound and interesting in all of the Bible. It’s indeed “The Gospel of Grace” for John’s relationship with Jesus changed his life forever.
As we turn our focus now to the first verse of John chapter one, keep in mind that the first 18 verses (which we’re unlikely to cover this morning in their entirety) present for us a prelude for the entire book. In these verses John is going to present for us a thesis statement concerning Jesus he will then build upon throughout the rest of his Gospel. John will establish the case Jesus is not only God, but the Christ - the Savior of the world.
John 1:1-5, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.”
In a creative stroke of genius John does not come right out of the gate using the name “Jesus” - mainly because he knew Jesus was only one aspect of His eternal existence. In actuality, John will not use the name “Jesus” until verse 17 intentionally leaving a bit of mystery and intrigue surrounding the identity of his focal character.
In these verses John will refer to Him as being, “The Word, God, the Light” and “only begotten of the Father” before his ultimate reveal when he finally declares, “For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”
And while John had his reasons for doing this, for our purposes this morning, it’s important you know upfront he’s speaking of Jesus using all of these titles. Jesus is “the Word” John is referencing. Not only will this come into greater view in John 1:14 when he writes, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” but all doubt will be removed when John ultimately writes of the glorified Jesus in Revelation 19:13, “He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God.”
John opens his Gospel declaring as a matter of fact three incredible truths concerning Jesus: (1) “In the beginning was the Word!” (2) “The Word was with God!” And (3) “The Word was God!” In the Greek this word we have translated as “Word” is logos.
First off, to John’s Hebrew audience the idea he’s presenting was deeply profound and immediately understood. Notice this was not “a word”, but “the Word.” John’s use of this definite article “the” intended to distinguish this “Word” from all others.
In the Old Testament God was known to the Jewish people through the revelation of His Word - so much so “the Word” of God was synonymous with God Himself. In Psalms 138:2 the psalmist declares, “I will worship toward Your holy temple, and praise Your name for Your lovingkindness and Your truth; for You have magnified Your word above all Your name.” This statement is all the more amazing when you take into account the Jews held the name of God in such high esteem it was forbidden to even utter it!
Not only in this passage is John speaking of Jesus eternal existence - the fact “in the beginning” He was already present, but in calling Him “the Word” he’s emphasizing the knowability of God through Jesus. Understand, John is affirming the reality that God was not perched high above His created order out of man’s reach or ability to be known. Instead, God intentionally chose to reveal Himself to man though His Word - Jesus.
And while this point would not be lost on John’s Hebrew audience, to the Greek mind his use of the logos was equally powerful, but in a subtly different way. To his Grecian audience, the word logos spoke not only of a concept or thought, but the underlying process for that thought. It’s not a coincidence we often translate logos into English as logic.
You see the Greek would have connected the existence of “the Word” to the Thinker and Speaker behind that Word. In philosophical terms they would have understood John to be referring to the Uncaused Cause - the Original Cause that set all other causes into effect.
Notice “in the beginning was the Word.” In much the same way Moses does not seek to explain the origins of God Himself in the Genesis record, John also simply affirms that when “the beginning” occurred “the Word was” already in existence. Jesus is the eternal God.
J. Vernon McGee observes that this word “was is known as a durative imperfect” in the Greek. This means the word “was” implied a continued action. McGee adds, “It means that the Word was in the beginning. What beginning? Just as far back as you want to go.” At all points Jesus was. In Revelation 1:8 Jesus said of Himself, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”
And not only does John open with such a powerful declaration, but he continues by explaining “the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” This is interesting because John is telling us two important things. Not only was “the Word” or Jesus God, but in some way Jesus was also “with God.” Theologically, John is saying “the Word” and God were the same, but distinctly separate. Jesus and God are one, but “with” one another.
Now I’m going to resist descending the rabbit hole, but what John is referencing is what we call the Triune Nature of God or stated a different way the Doctrine of the Trinity. The Bible clearly teaches there is “one God in three persons.” Each member (God the Father, “the Word”, and the Holy Spirit) are all equally God, specifically one, but distinctly separate.
After introducing “the Word” John quickly provides us more information about this member of the Godhead writing “He was in the beginning with God.” Don’t overlook this interesting detail. Not only do we understand “the Word” to be the revelation of God, but John presents “the Word” as being uniquely masculine. He says, “He was in the beginning.”
John then immediately adds, “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.” Not only does this phrase highlight the simplicity of John’s vocabulary, but what he’s articulating with such a few words is incredibly deep.
“The Word” (Jesus) was not only the Creator of “all things,” but His involvement in creation continues to this very moment as the sustainer as well. “The Word” created “all” and apart from Jesus’ involvement nothing would remain that was created. The point is emphatic. In Colossians 1:15-17 Paul writes that Jesus “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.”
How interesting that today we’re discovering that there is an underlying language behind the universe - a literal Word! Take the human body for example. Under your skin, bones, personality, intelligence exists a very distinct code called DNA. Letters coupled together to make sentences that contain incredible amounts of information making you - you. How amazing that today we’re even beginning to figure out how to read these sequences.
Modern science is affirming that there is a “Word” behind all created things. And yet sadly, while there is no doubt as to an intelligence behind our universe, many scientists blinded by their own pride still refuse to make the simple concession that with incredible design an even more amazing Designer is necessary… A master programmer behind the complex code.
Beyond this, John says that in addition to creating and sustaining “all things,” in “the Word” itself or Jesus “was life, and the life was the light of men.” Though John could have gone many different directions at this point in his text, his focus centers on two central aspects of creation… “Light and life.” Understand, John is saying that apart from “the Word” there is no life or light in the physical or spiritual world - only darkness and death.
After introducing us to the real Jesus, John then makes this sad admission… “And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” In the Greek tense this verse can literally read, “And the light continually shined in the darkness.” Even before the incarnation of Jesus “the Word” still manifested a “light in the darkness.” Jesus was still actively revealing Himself to a lost world that tragically “did not comprehend it.”
Note: This English translation “comprehend” is rather poor. It’s not that the “darkness” did not understand the nature of “the light” (this revelation of God through “the Word”). Instead, John is saying the world refused to “take hold of it” choosing to remain in “darkness.”
And yet, while this was the sad predicament - a world choosing to reject the light of God’s revelation through His Word - God would not remain deterred. As we’ll see next Sunday, because this was the state of affairs, “the Word” that had always existed would manifest Himself to man in the greatest of ways by dawning human flesh. Once again in verse 17 John will declare that Jesus (“the Word”) came to earth so that we might “behold His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”
Before we close, if the first five verses of John 1 sound familiar, they should. Genesis 1:1-4 reads, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness.”
It’s not an accident that John specifically ties the beginning of his Gospel back to the creation narrative provided in Genesis. You see, from a macro-perspective, John’s reasoning for doing this is incredibly profound. In Genesis 1 “God created” all things with the crescendo of His creation being man whom He specifically formed into “His image and likeness.” God spoke the Word and things that didn’t exist came into immediate being.
Sadly though, just two chapters later God’s perfect creation experienced a devastation of sorts. Man rebelled against his Creator, sin entered the equation, and all of creation was marred from its original design. What was perfect had fallen. Light and life were replaced with darkness and death. The created order immediately began spiraling into chaos.
What’s amazing is that John intentionally presents Jesus as being both God and Savior within the context of Genesis 1 for as those first four verses described the original creation (one ultimately corrupted by sin) what John will discuss in his Gospel ends up presenting a re-creation (one in which Jesus pays the penalty for sin and in doing so brings about the restoration of man). In a way what God created in Genesis Jesus specifically came to earth to re-create. His Light shinning forth in a world darkened by sin. Life in place of death.
Friend, John is making a few things crystal clear right from the beginning of his Gospel. Though man made a mess of God’s creation yielding a life in darkness ultimately leading to death, Jesus (“the Word”) willing choose to do something about it. If you find yourself lost… If your dead inside, never forget that “in Jesus is life, and that life is the light of men.”
As we close, if these truths concerning Jesus strike a cord in your heart you’re willing to accept and surrender yourself to, please in the depths of your soul pray…
“Dear Jesus, I know I am a sinner and that I cannot save myself. I believe You are the Son of God who died on the cross to atone for my sins. I place my complete faith in that work as the only basis for my forgiveness, restoration, and righteousness before You. I confess that on the 3rd day You rose from the dead providing me a relationship with You today. Right now, Jesus I choose to repent of my sins and ask that by Your grace You fill me with Your Holy Spirit. Take my broken life and make it whole. Transform who I am from the inside out. Jesus, I confess You as both my God, my personal Lord, and my eternal Savior. Amen.”
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