In D. A. Carson’s book, ‘Gagging God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism’ relates:
The problems of privatization [individualism as the supreme authority], relativism [no moral absolutes], philosophical pluralism [all things are considered of equal value], skepticism [in philosophy, the theory that certain knowledge is impossible to know], postmodernity [denies that objective truth is possible], and ethical “openness” largely control the mental thought processes of most university students, and of a substantial member of others. That is scarcely surprising: “the notion that one particular religious figure and one religious perspective can be universally valid, normative, and binding upon all peoples in all cultures … is widely rejected today as arrogant and intellectually untenable in our pluralistic world.”[i] But as I have devoted so much of this book to the intellectual arena, I must turn to other elements of the contemporary moral and spiritual bankruptcy.
In one of his essays, Charles Colson tells of one of his attempts to witness to an acquaintance. Colson’s testimony was easily dismissed by appealing to New Age relativism; his [Colson’s] appeal to the authority of Scripture and to arguments for its historical validity proved unconvincing; discussion about the afterlife soon became futile. Somewhat frustrated, Colson brought up the Woody Allen film, Crimes and Misdemeanors. In this film a doctor hires a killer to murder his mistress. He is not caught, but is haunted by guilt. Unlike the plot in Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, however, this doctor finally decides that there is no justice in the universe, and therefore no need for him to suffer the pangs of conscience. There is only Darwinian struggle. Ruthlessness wins. When Colson asked, “When we do wrong, is that the only choice? Either live tormented by guilt—or kill our conscience and live like beasts?” the man began to listen. Colson went on to Tolstoy’s War and Peace, in which Pierre, wrestling with his conscience, cries out, “Why is it that I know what is right, but do what is wrong?[ii]
The apostle Paul answers that question in the book of Romans, but it all leads back to the central figure of the Bible, Jesus. But, who is Jesus? It is a question that has been asked over and over again during the past two thousand years. What you believe about Jesus will determine the quality and destiny of your life. Jesus, Himself, raised the issue one day while traveling with His disciples.
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that Son of Man is?
They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.
But what about you? he asked. Who do you say I am?
Simon Peter answered, you are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.
Jesus replied, Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.[iii]
In the Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown takes the position that Jesus was declared to be God, by bishops at the council of Nicea in 325 A. D. He writes:
Many scholars claim that the early church literally stole Jesus from his original followers, hijacking His human message, shrouding it in an impenetrable cloak of divinity, and using it to expand their power.[iv]
What we need to realize is that Dan Brown’s book is fiction. Yet, many readers are influenced by these ideas as if they are true. The premise is that the church in the 4th Century at Nicea determined that Jesus was God. However, that is a misunderstanding of what was transpiring at this church council. Leo Davis points out in his book on the ‘First Seven Ecumenical Councils’:
The problem which confronted the bishops assembled at Nicea had long been the basic question confronting all previous Christian theologians. It was not simply whether Jesus is God. For in the pagan world of the early Church, any mysterious power could be given attributes of divinity [God], as Paul and Barnabas found to their horror when the Lycaonians attempted to offer sacrifice to them after the cure of the cripple in Acts 14:8. The problem was ‘how within the monotheistic [meaning one God] system which the church inherited from the Jews, …it was still possible to maintain the unity of God while insisting on the deity of one who was distinct from God the Father.[v]
It was at the Nicene council that the issue of the Trinity was discussed. Nearly one hundred years later when Augustine, another church father, wrote regarding the nature of God trying to clarify the teaching from the Nicene council.
The Father is God. The Son is God. The Holy Spirit is God. The Father is not the Son. The Son is not the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not the Father. There is only one God.[vi]
What we discover is the mystery of the Godhead. While it is interesting going back to the early church fathers to discover what they believed about Jesus, it’s more important that we actually go to the biblical text. In John’s gospel, which was written about thirty years later than the other three gospels, John’s purpose in writing was to show that Jesus is the Christ or Messiah and that by believing in Him we will have eternal life.
Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.
But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.[vii]
John was trying to address and refute some of the early gnostic teaching. Gnostic means ‘knowledge.’ These gnostic gospels are now being championed by some in order to deny the validity of the biblical claims of who Jesus is. In the gospel of John, we notice in the opening statements the challenge he brings to those who would try to simply humanize Jesus, denying His Deity, which speaks of Jesus’ nature as God. John now gives us a number of things that help us discover who Jesus is.
THE FIRST THING JOHN SHOWS US IS CHRIST’S PRE-EXISTENCE (1-5)
John introduces Jesus as existing before his earthly life. John begins by showing the uniqueness of Jesus Christ. He is not only a historical person, but even more importantly, He is God. He is seen in verse one as being distinct from the Father, yet equal. He is seen as our Creator.
A. He begins by describing Jesus in a unique way by calling Him, the Word (Logos).
The idea behind ‘the Word’ came from the Greek logos, which implies the intelligence behind the idea and its transmission or communication. This was compelling to the Jew as they saw the Word of God as the embodiment of His presence. To the Greek mind, there was a growing awareness of a Divine order to the world in which they lived. Some had moved beyond their ancient mythologies of the gods, and saw an orderly world suggesting an intelligence behind it all, which they called Logos. In John’s prologue in chapter one, we have a description of who the Christ is.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
He was with God in the beginning.
Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.[viii]
In the beginning recalls the opening words of Genesis 1:1: ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.’ The expression does not refer to a particular moment of time but assumes a timeless eternity.[ix]
In other words, John is introducing us to the idea of Jesus’ existence before time. Here we find His eternal nature, the equality of relationship with the Father and the Spirit, and the identity of his personhood. Jesus is the Word of God. He was there with the Father in the beginning creating our world. We find in Genesis that at the creation. God spoke the worlds into existence.
In the book of Hebrews we discover how our world was made.
By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.[x]
In Genesis chapter one we read, and God said, ‘Let there be’… and there was… God spoke and it came to be. God created the world by the Word. John here in his gospel’s prologue shows us the mystery of the Godhead. God in three persons, distinct, equal, yet one. In the Genesis account it describes the creation of humanity.
Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…”[xi]
Notice the plural expressions (us and our). Yet the Scriptures reveal the Oneness of God.
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.[xii]
John relates in the third verse that it was through him that all things were made. The apostle Paul in writing to the Colossians points out the preeminence of Christ in Colossians.
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn [means preeminent] over all creation.
For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.
He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.[xiii]
In the book of Hebrews, we read this about Jesus Christ. This concept of Christ, God our Creator is reinforced.
In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.
The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.[xiv]
William Hall shares this insight regarding the purpose of John’s introduction in this gospel.
One basic purpose of the prologue is to identify the historical Jesus with the eternal logos [word] and thereby contend that what men heard in his brief ministry is what God has always been trying to say to the world. This emphasis on the pre-existence of the Word was not speculative but practical; designed to meet two current problems.
First, the Jews tended to set the veneration, the worship of Scripture above the claims of Jesus because of its great antiquity [How old they were]. John replied that the revelation given in Jesus was actually much older than the Old Testament for He already existed with God before history…
Second, many of the Greeks, in contrast to the Jews, attached no absolute authority in ancient Scriptures. In their popular mythologies, the gods were fickle… To John the ‘Word was’ guaranteeing the dependability of the Word. The Logos [Word] is forever constant, unconditioned by historical [changes].[xv]
In other words, we have an unchanging God with an unchanging message. So, what are the ramifications of Jesus being God, our Creator? That as the created, we are designed by our Creator for a specific purpose in his mind and also accountable to Him.
Also, as a perfect being, Jesus never needs to change, nor does He. His word is eternal. So what significance does that have for us? It means that what God communicates, He will bring to pass. We can have tremendous confidence and reassurance that God’s promises will become reality. He is trustworthy and when we put our full trust in Him, He is able to care for us despite all our challenges. That though times and cultures change like shifting sand, we have a firm foundation of truth and values that will endure.
THE SECOND THING JOHN SHOWS US IS THE PROPHETIC ANNOUNCEMENT (6-8, 15)
John is quick in pointing out that God’s introduction to Christ comes from a prophetic voice. John the Baptist is introduced pointing us to One greater than he, the Lord Jesus Christ. John the Baptist was commissioned to direct our hearts toward this word that reveals God’s presence with us.
John’s witness is mentioned at the earliest possible moment in the Gospel, because the evangelist is primarily concerned to record that, by an act of divine condescension and infinite compassion, the Word has entered this disordered and murky world, and entered it precisely in the sphere where sin is most deeply entrenched. He has become flesh, with all its inherent weakness and frailty [yet without sin].[xvi]
There was a man sent from God whose name was John.
He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe.
He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.[xvii]
John was in the long line of prophetic voices preparing the way for Christ to come. That is exactly what he told the people of his time. His was a prophetic voice pointing them to Christ.
Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was.
He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, I am not the Messiah.
They asked him, ‘Then who are you? Are you Elijah?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ ‘Are you the Prophet?’ He answered, ‘No.’
Finally they said, ‘Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?’
John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, ‘I am the voice of one calling in the desert, Make straight the way for the Lord.’[xviii]
John was strictly a prophetic voice preparing the people for their Messiah. The great tragedy as Isaiah tells us is that what they heard, they didn’t understand; what they saw they did not perceive who Jesus is. God was among them, but all they saw was a man.
THE THIRD THING THAT JOHN SHOWS US IS THE POWER OF THE WORD (9-13)
The real authority of the word of God comes to those who receive Him. Though the Word has all power and authority, God’s Word cannot impact our lives for good apart from our faith-filled response. So, how do we have a faith-filled response to Jesus? By simply receiving him, by asking Him into our lives. That is an act of faith. The very fact that we want to do that speaks of something within our hearts.
The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.
He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.
He came to that which was his own [God’s covenant people the Jewish people], but his own did not receive him.
Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.
Children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.[xix]
When we receive Him, we become His child. There is nothing greater that can ever occur to us in this world. It is life’s greatest honor, hope, and help. To give us some idea of the scope of this incredible privilege, C. S. Lewis once preached in a message called, ‘The Weight of Glory,’ about what we will one day become in eternity. The idea is that we will become like Jesus. Therefore, we need to value each other in this present world.
…It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and corruption [found] only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people.[xx]
THE FINAL THING THAT JOHN SHOWS US IS THE PERSON OF THE WORD (14, 16-18)
Here we come to the humanity of God, in the person of Jesus Christ. God became a human being and lived among us. If we want to know what God is like all we need to do is look at Jesus. If we want to know what it means to be fully human again the picture is of Jesus. When Jesus knew he was about to suffer on the cross he spoke these words at what we now call the ‘last supper.’
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.
If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.’
Philip said, ‘Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.’
Jesus answered: ‘Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father?’[xxi]
In these introductory remarks from John’s gospel we are told that Jesus, the Word, the Creator became a human being.
The word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.[xxii]
The word translated as ‘dwelt’ has also been translated ‘tabernacle.’ R. G. Tasker points out regarding the significance of this word, to dwell among us:
…it means that the divine presence, which it was believed was especially located in the tabernacle and later in the temple, now came to dwell in the man Jesus.[xxiii]
The trip from heaven to earth is an incredible journey of love.
The Son of God made that journey, and he knew what he was doing. He knew where he was going. He knew what the sacrifice would be. He journeyed from heaven to earth on a mission to save the human race.[xxiv]
The apostle Paul gives us a glimpse of Jesus doing that very thing for us.
In your relationships with one another have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.[xxv]
Jesus is controversial because of the cultural grid we find ourselves living in. It is a grid that says all things are equal and culturally interpreted. We live in an hour where the past is being de-constructed. Therefore, nothing is considered certain. Unfortunately, without a solid foundation, we as a society are building our lives on a shaky foundation that will collapse underneath us. We have turned out backs on God as revealed through Jesus Christ. Many believe that Jesus was just a good man that others have exalted. C. S. Lewis argues against such a position in his book, ‘Mere Christianity.’
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.[xxvi]
The most important question for each of us today is: ‘Who do you say Jesus is? That’s the most important question that we will ever be asked. It determines the not only the quality of our lives, but our eternal destiny. It is critical to come to terms with who Jesus revealed Himself to be God in the flesh. The Bible says we are like a little child, lost, estranged from our Heavenly father, but when we receive Him, we finally arrive into our Father’s arms.
Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.[xxvii]
Are you willing to receive Him on His terms?
[i] Netland, Harold A. “Truth, Authority, and Modernity: Shopping for Truth in a Supermarket of Worldviews.” Consultation on Modernity, Uppsala, Sweden, June 10–15. In Faith and Modernity. Edited by Philip Sampson, Vinay Samuel, and Chris Sugden, 89–115. Oxford: Regnum Books, 1994, 94 as quoted by D. A. Carson, Gagging God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism, Revised, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011, 494.
[ii] D. A. Carson, Gagging God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism, Revised, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011, 495.
[iii] Matthew 16:13-17, The New International Version of the Bible, Zondervan, 2011.
[iv] Dan Brown, The DaVinci Code, (New York, N. Y.: Doubleday, 2003), 233, as quoted in James L. Garlow & Peter Jones, Cracking the DaVinci’s Code, (Colorado Springs, Co., Cook Communications, 2004), 81.
[v] Leo Donald Davis, The First Seven Ecumenical Councils (325-787), (Collegeville, Mn: The Liturgical Press, 1983), 33.
[vi] Philip Cary, “Augustine: Philosopher and Saint,” Course Guidebook, (Chantilly, Va: The Teaching Company Limited, 1997), 43.
[vii] John 20:30-31.
[viii] John 1:1-3.
[ix] Merrill Tenney, John & Acts, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, (Grand Rapids, Mi: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 28.
[x] Hebrews 11:3.
[xi] Genesis 1:26.
[xii] Deuteronomy 6:4.
[xiii] Colossians 1:15-18a.
[xiv] Hebrews 1:1-3.
[xv] William Hall, Broadman Bible Commentary, Vol. 9, p. 219.
[xvi] R. G. Tasker, John, TNTC, (Grand Rapids, Mi: William Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1960), 43.
[xvii] John 1:6-9.
[xviii] John 1:19-23.
[xix] John 1:9-13.
[xx] R. Kent Hughes, Behold The Lamb, (Wheaton, Il: Victor Books, 1984), 13-14 quoting C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses, Eerdmans, 15.
[xxi] John 14:5-9.
[xxii] John 1:14.
[xxiii] R. G. Tasker, John, 48.
[xxiv] Leith Anderson, “A God’s-Eye View of Christmas,” Preaching Today #208.
[xxv] Philippians 2:5-11.
[xxvi] C. S. Lewis, ‘Mere Christianity,’ (New York: N.Y.: HarperCollins Publishers, 2003), 52.
[xxvii] John 1:12.