In our introduction to John’s Gospel I noted how the first 18 verses present a prelude for the entire book. John lays out a thesis statement concerning Jesus he will then build upon throughout the rest of his Gospel. As stated in John 20, John writes in order to establish the case Jesus is not only God, but the Christ - the Savior of the world.
Recap: 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.”
As I mentioned at the end of last Sunday’s study, it’s not an accident John ties the beginning of his Gospel to the creation narrative provided in the Genesis record. In Genesis 1:1 we read, “In the beginning God created” all things with the crescendo of His creation being man whom He specifically formed into “His image and likeness.”
Sadly, it didn’t take long for God’s perfect creation to experience a devastation of sorts. Man rebelled against his Creator, sin entered the equation, and all of creation was marred from its original design. Light and life were replaced with darkness and death.
By opening his Gospel with the phrase “In the beginning was the Word” John is intentionally presenting Jesus as both God and Savior within the context of Genesis 1. You see while Genesis records God’s original creation of man, John will present Jesus’ re-creation. His Light shinning forth in a world darkened by sin… Life in place of death.
John 1:6-9, “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world.”
After describing God’s general revelation of “the Word” as being “the light” that “shines in the darkness” with the tragic admission that “the darkness did not comprehend it” or that, more specifically, the world refused to take hold of it, John continues by introducing us to “the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world.”
As we mentioned in our exposition of the first five verses, in a creative stroke of genius, John does not come right out of the gate using the name Jesus. Instead, he intentionally leaves a measure of mystery and intrigue surrounding the identity of his focal character referring to Him as being, “The Word, God, only begotten of the Father,” and in this instance “the Light.”
The reality is that John is setting the stage for the rest of his Gospel… In the context of “the true Light” we’re briefly introduced to “a man sent from God” named “John.” This man “was not that Light,” but “came to bear witness of the Light that all through him might believe.” As we’ll come to learn this “John” is not the Gospel writer, but rather John the Baptizer.
John 1:10-11, “He (referencing “the Word” and “the Light”) was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.”
Not only was the general revelation of God rejected by the world in times past, but John tells us that even when Jesus came to earth “the world did not know Him… and His own did not receive Him.” What a sad but true presentation of Jesus’ earthly ministry.
Note: In referencing “the world” John is speaking specifically of humanity. While the secular world was oblivious as to Jesus’ identity and the Hebrew people, knowing who He was, still rejected Him, the natural and spiritual world had a much different reaction!
As we’re going to see the demonic world, as well as the natural one (the wind and waves, human anatomy, etc) not only understood Jesus’ divinity, but were in total submission to it.
John 1:12-13, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”
“But as many as…” What a transition! In contrast to those who rejected Jesus, John tells us there were those who chose to “receive Him.” The idea John is conveying using this Greek word “receive” would not be lost on his original audience. While writing earlier that the “darkness did not comprehend the light,” here the opposite idea is being articulated.
To “receive Him” means so much more than to simply accept Jesus intellectually. The word literally means to lay hold of or to fully embrace with every single fiber of your being!
John adds that those who “receive Him” are also “those who believe in His name.” To the Hebrew mind a “name” signified the entirety of that person’s being… The whole of who that person is! It defined the person. Understand… John is describing an individual who’s placed their sole faith and confidence in all of who Jesus is and what He has done.
And notice what results in the life of those who “receive Him” and “believe in His name”… John writes, “To them Jesus gave the right to become children of God… who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”
How interesting that while we were actively involved in the initial work (“receiving” and “believing” in Jesus), we’re completely passive in everything that follows? In response to our initial activity concerning Jesus, God does something amazing… “He gives” us “the right to become” His “children!” This heavenly status is not something we can earn, merit, or even deserve. Instead, this is a position that God “gives,” bequeaths, or bestows TO us!
In order to illustrate this incredible idea, John adds that such a person is “born of God!” Not only does the notion of being “born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh or man” introduce the concept of the re-birth of man yielded through the indwelling Spirit of God (an idea Jesus will unpack in great detail in John 3), but invoking the imagery of birth served to emphasize how absolutely little involvement any of us have in the process.
You see the grand point John is making is that Jesus came to earth specifically to accomplish something FOR you - something you could not do for yourself. Jesus doesn’t offer a self-help program. Instead, He came to fundamentally change who you are! There is a process involved in our “becoming” the people He desires to make us into. In our conclusion I’ll unpack a bit more of what Jesus really came to do on your behalf.
Before we continue I want to go back to John’s initial transition for just a second… “But as many as received Him.” What makes this statement so incredible is that it’s in an active tenses - “As many as” implies a continuation to those “receiving” Jesus today!
Friend, while the world and the Hebrew people continue in their rejection of Jesus, if you’d choose to “receive Him” this very morning and “believe in His name” God will begin a most amazing work in your life. He will “give” to you “the right to become His children… born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”
John 1:14, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”
John is very particular with his words writing, “The Word became flesh.” Once again, Jesus was not made, but “became flesh.” In the incarnation the pre-existent God took to His deity humanity. In one of the greatest mysteries of the universe, the second member of the Trinity, while remaining fully God, intentionally “became” a human being.
Not only was this a singular event in all of eternity, but Jesus “became flesh” only to remain in such a permanent state forever. How amazing that in heaven God exists in “flesh!” The Man Jesus Christ will rule from His throne in heaven and of His reign there will be no end.
It should also be pointed out that this word “became” - indicating a particular willingness on the part of Jesus. He wasn’t made to do this or coerced. He didn’t draw the short-straw, nor was He compelled. Jesus chose to “become flesh” and “dwell among us.” What love!
I’m blown away by this word “dwelt!” Aside from the fact it tells us God came to rub shoulders with humanity, the word is fascinating all things considered. It can be literally translated as “tabernacled.” In the Old Testament, and before the Temple was built by King Solomon, the Tabernacle was a portable tent that acted as a place God came to meet with man.
The idea John is invoking by using such a word is obvious. Jesus came to earth not just to live “among us.” He came as God to meet specifically with man through His person. And it’s in doing this that John adds we are able to “behold His glory as of the only begotten of the Father.” This word “behold” presents the modern concept of a theater. In watching Jesus we end up beholding the very person and personality of God Himself.
And what does man learn about God though the person of Jesus? We learn that He is “full” or literally filled to the brim with both “grace and truth.” Jesus’ grace is always measured by truth, and truth always filters through His amazing grace. He is “full of grace and truth.”
As mentioned John is laying out a thesis for what we’ll discover about Jesus through his Gospel. As we’ll see Jesus did not come mixing words or tempering the grave reality of your situation. “Full of truth” Jesus is honest about your present condition. You are not ok the way that you are. You’re lost, in rebellion, and apart from Him headed towards destruction.
And yet, I am so thankful Jesus is also “full of grace!” Though you’re lost (truth), Jesus came that you may be found (grace). Though you’re broken (truth), He came to make you whole (grace). Though you’re blind (truth), He came to provide sight (grace). Though you’re damned (truth), He came to save (grace). Indeed the “glory of the Father” is revealed in this radicle but necessary marriage of “grace and truth” found in the person of Jesus.
John 1:15-18, “John bore witness of Him and cried out, saying, ‘This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is preferred before me, for He was before me.’’ And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.”
Though John once again mentions this man John the Baptizer (whom he’s about to extensively write about so I’ll hold off on my commentary), I instead want to focus your attention on a few radicle statements concerning Jesus he makes in these verses.
Consider the depths of this declaration, “For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” Notice the comparisons John makes in this verse…
He contrasts “the law” with “grace and truth.” He says one “was given” to man while the other “came” to man. John points to the mechanism of the first being “through Moses,” before emphasizing the later as being extended “through Jesus the Christ.”
John’s intention, within the context of this being an introduction to his Gospel, is to set Jesus and what He came to accomplish totally apart from the Old Testament model. Instead of a mortal man like Moses being the mechanism “through” which God “gave” rules and “laws” to obey, Jesus personally “came” to extend to humanity two eternal realities (God’s “grace and truth”) “through” His very person. Grace and Truth indeed came in the person of Jesus!
I’m also struck at this statement that “of His fullness we have all received grace for grace.” In the Greek the duplicate “grace for grace” should be read as “wave after wave after wave after wave of grace” or stated another way “grace upon grace upon grace upon grace.”
John is saying, in a summary of Jesus’ life, that He oozed grace to all He encountered. If you want to experience the grace of God, meet Jesus. If you want to grow in the grace of God, get to know Jesus. Jesus came as the manifestation of God’s grace alone! It should also be noted this is why I’ve chosen to titled John’s record as “The Gospel of Grace!”
Finally, John makes this profound statement that while “no one has seen God at any time, the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, has declared Him.” This word “declared” can be translated as exegesis meaning to expound or display. As it pertains to our study of the Bible we’d use this term to describe digging into the text.
What John is telling us is that the very heart of God (what he means by “the bosom of the Father”) is “declared” in the person of Jesus. This means if you really want to know God you get to know Jesus, and if you get to know Jesus you’ll discover the heart of God.
John 1:19-20, “Now this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, ‘I am not the Christ.’”
Though twice John has mentioned John the Baptizer in his introduction, beginning with verse 19 he finally transitions to his “testimony.” Keep in mind, since John is the last of the Gospel writers, he doesn’t provide any of John’s back-story in order to avoid redundancy.
In Luke 1 we’re given a bit of John’s unique biography… John was the son of Elizebeth and a priest named Zacharias - supernaturally conceived in their old age. Aside from growing up in a particularly religious home, God has been clear from the beginning He had a special plan for John’s life. Beyond this, Luke adds that John was in actuality the cousin of Jesus.
In both Mark 1 and Matthew 3 we’re told that in addition to “preaching in the wilderness of Judea saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!’ John himself was clothed in camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey.” Matthew adds that “Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to John and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins.”
One of the things that made John such a compelling character was the timing of his ministry. Since Malachi the prophet, God had been silent to Israel for roughly 400 years! You can imagine how exciting it would have been in such a context for a man like John to unexpectedly burst onto the scene! Not only was his message of repentance gnarly, but the fact he was baptizing Jews in the Jordan River proved to be completely unorthodox.
Because of the crowds that were flocking to the Jordan to hear John preach coupled with his growing popularity among the people, we’re told “the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’” As the custodians and protectors of the Hebrew faith, what’s happening here was completely appropriate and in many ways necessary.
Most interestingly, their inquiry centered upon John’s identity… “Who are you?” Knowing the essence of their question, John “confessed” saying, “I am not the Christ.” The fundamental question on everyone’s mind was whether or not John was the long awaited Messiah.
And while John swiftly dispels any notion that he was the Christ, it’s interesting that in the Greek the grammatical emphasis is on the word “I am not!” The implication being that the actual Christ (Jesus) was in their midst the very moment John is making this statement.
John 1:21-22, “And they asked him, ‘What then? Are you Elijah?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ ‘Are you the Prophet?’ And he answered, ‘No.’ Then they said to him, ‘Who are you, that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?’”
After John emphatically denies being the Messiah, the Jewish leaders continue their line of inquiry asking if he was “Elijah.” And note this was not as crazy a question as it would seem.
In the last two verses of the OT and before these 400 years of silence, God prophesied in Malachi 4:5-6, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.”
The pervasive Jewish understanding in the first-century was that Elijah would come to the nation again “before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD.” Even today, the Hebrew people are so convinced Elijah will appear before the coming of the Messiah that in the Seder meal during Passover they’ll leave an empty seat at the table for him.
Well… After going on the record that he wasn’t the Christ nor Elijah, the religious leaders ask, “Are you the Prophet?” In Deuteronomy 18:15 Moses prophesied that “the LORD your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren.”
While we understand Moses to be describing the first coming of Jesus to earth, the Jews confused this passage by looking for another individual apart from the Messiah. John intentionally avoids a greater discussion of their faulty theology replying rather bluntly, “No!”
Because John denied being the “Christ, Elijah, or the Prophet” in a palpable frustration these religious leaders ask him, “Who are you… What do you say about yourself?”
John 1:23, “He said: ‘I am ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”
In his answer to their questions centering on the essence of his identity and therefore purpose, John quotes directly from Isaiah 40:3. Not only is he saying he was the forerunner sent by God to prepare the hearts of the people for the coming of the Christ, but in quoting this particular passage John ascribes to Jesus the most reverent name for God in the OT.
In Isaiah 40:3 the word we have for “Lord” is capital “LORD.” This was the unspoken name of God - Yahweh. You see John’s “testimony” is that Jesus the Christ was God incarnate.
John 1:24-28, “Now those who were sent were from the Pharisees. And they asked him, saying, ‘Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?’ John answered them, saying, ‘I baptize with water, but there stands One among you whom you do not know. It is He who, coming after me, is preferred before me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose.’ These things were done in Bethabara beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing.”
Now that John has dispelled the rumors as to his identity, the next logical question centered upon his activity… “Why then do you baptize?” Please keep in mind, according to the other Gospel writers, John’s primary ministry focus was on “preaching a repentance of sins.” The act of water baptism incorporated into John’s approach served to provide the people an outward demonstration of their decision to repent. Note: It had nothing to do with salvation.
Needless to say this was totally out of the box. While is was a customary process in that day for Gentiles converts of Judaism to be baptized into the faith at the Temple, what John was doing by baptizing the Jews into repentance was radicle. They ask, “What’s the deal?”
As the forerunner for the Messiah, John’s message of repentance was basically, “The Messiah is coming and you need to prepare yourself!” John knew he served a very particular role in the process. His job was to prepare the way for the ministry of Jesus. John affirms he was simply the messenger who’d came to declare to the people, “All rise for the King!”
As it pertained to the Christ, John knew his place. He not only said, “He who, coming after me, is preferred before me,” but he adds, “Whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose.” Though Jesus will later attest that John was “the great of all the prophets,” this man had zero ego. John’s ministry was to point people to Jesus and then get out of the way!
In this passage John also makes another significant point… He said, “There stands One among you whom you do not know.” Many scholars believe this scene actually took place approximately five weeks after Jesus came to John to be baptized and probably immediately after His 40 days of temptation in the wilderness. Jesus was likely standing in the crowd.
John 1:29-34, “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is He of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who is preferred before me, for He was before me.’ I did not know Him; but that He should be revealed to Israel, therefore I came baptizing with water.’
And John bore witness, saying, ‘I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him. I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God.’”
It would seem from John’s own “witness” of things that God had given him a unique sign that would indicate the identity of the Christ. When John baptized Jesus and saw “the Spirit descend and remain on Him” he knew his cousin was in actuality the long awaited Messiah. Once again John the Baptizer’s “testimony” was unequivocal - Jesus was not only “the Son of God,” but He was “the Lamb of God” sent to “take away the sin of the world!”
In closing, this title for Jesus the “Lamb of God” would have had significant implications to the Hebrew mind. In the OT lambs were offered as a sacrifice to atone for sin. Tragically, at best, these sacrifices only provided a temporary covering. And yet, Jesus was to be a unique sacrifice… Not one offered by man to God, but instead offered by God for man.
As the “Son of God” Jesus would act as the sacrificial “Lamb of God” offered to “take away the sin of the world!” Though man’s offering could only act as a covering, the sacrifice of Jesus as the “Lamb of God” would provide the complete removal of sin. Jesus would be the sacrifice offered by God to satisfy the penalty for sin man could never provide for himself.
Friend, I want you to know this morning that not only did “the Word become flesh and dwell among us,” but Jesus willingly came to be the sacrifice to “take away” your sins. This was His mission, but more than that it’s the identity He most associates with Himself. 28 times in Revelation Jesus will use this phrase the “Lamb of God” to describe Himself.
Once again… Jesus came to earth specifically to accomplish something FOR you - something you could not do for yourself. As the “Lamb of God” Jesus came to earth to die in your place. He came to “take away” your sins so that you might have life in Him. If you’re a believer struggling with the weight of your failure, please know this… On the cross of Calvary your sins were “taken away!” In Christ “there is no condemnation!”
And yet, if you remain in darkness, overcome with your inadequacy… I want you to know Jesus oozes grace, not judgment. This morning God wants nothing more than to make you His child. He wants to do a work so transformative it can only be described as being born again. You can’t earn this. You don’t deserve this. And yet, it’s something He promises to do for anyone that would “receive Him” and “believe in His name.”
As we close, if these truths concerning Jesus strike a cord in your heart you’re willing to accept and surrender yourself too, 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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