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Teaching series from John

Introducing Jesus

John 1:1-51

Teaching t22474


This morning we begin a study of the gospel of John, or John’s account of the good news about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Here’s a little background about this book:

WHO: The author is John, the son of Zebedee—one of Jesus’ twelve disciples and the author of four other New Testament books (1-3 John & Revelation). Although he does not identify himself by name, the unanimous testimony of the early church confirms that he is the author. So this is an eye-witness account by a man who was persecuted (and maybe executed) for his insistence on the truth of his testimony—not a much later record of a “tall tale.”

WHY: John wrote his gospel primarily for non-Christians who were investigating Christianity (20:31)—to introduce them to Jesus’ unique claims for Himself and the miracles which validated His claims—so that they might personally entrust themselves to Him and have spiritual life.

John’s secondary purpose seems to be for Christians—to supplement the existing information about Jesus’ ministry, death and resurrection. The other three gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) had already been written and circulated. John repeats a few of Jesus’ actions and teachings recorded by them, but he mostly recounts actions and teachings that they did not include.

We will cover a chapter a week. There is a lot in each chapter, so we will overview each chapter and then focus on one part in it. John1 introduces Jesus, and has three parts: a prologue, in which John gives his own conclusions about who Jesus is, the testimony of John the Baptist, and the testimony of Jesus’ first disciples when they meet Him.

Jesus’ unique titles

In this introductory chapter, John gives us seven unique titles for Jesus. Titles summarize a person’s stature and role (“President Obama”). These seven titles tell us that Jesus is absolutely unique. We can conflate these titles into four features of Jesus’ stature and role.

Jesus is the “Word” (read 1:1,14). In other words, Jesus is God’s “speech”—the ultimate self-revelation of God to humanity (read and explain 1:18). Jesus is God-incarnate, the One who reveals the essence of what God is like—namely, full of grace and truth. We’ll look at this more closely in a few minutes.

Closely related to this title is another title: the “true Light” (read 1:4,5,9). Jesus is the One who comes into a world full of spiritual darkness and hostility toward God, who exposes and overcomes this darkness by His coming.

Jesus is also the “Lamb of God” (read 1:29,36). This is a reference to the Old Testament animal sacrificial system, which symbolically communicated our dilemma and God’s solution. The sacrifices were for human sin—the true moral guilt we incur before God through our choices to love ourselves more than Him and other people. The fact that the sacrifices died taught God’s people that sin is a capital offense—punishable by death. But they also taught that God in His love would provide a blameless Substitute whose death would pay for their sins and thus provide God’s forgiveness. The Old Testament prophet Isaiah made it clear that the animal sacrifices did not actually provide forgiveness—they foreshadowed the coming of a Person, God’s Servant who would voluntarily lay down His perfect life to actually pay for our sins (Isa.53). John the Baptist, the last prophet of the Old Testament era, proclaims that Jesus is this “Lamb of God,” whose death will bear the sin of the whole world.

Jesus is also the “Son of God” (read 1:34,49). This title emphasizes Jesus’ deity and unique personal intimacy with God the Father. This title introduces us to what Christians call the Trinity—that God exists as a Community of three distinct Persons who have always loved one another.

“Son of God” means that Jesus shares the same divine nature as the One who sent Him (read 5:18). 1:1 also emphasizes Jesus’ deity (“the Word was God”). Jesus’ birth was the beginning of His entry into the human race, but not the beginning of His existence. In any beginning, He already existed, was with God, and was God.

“Son of God” also means that Jesus has a uniquely intimate love relationship with His Father. He was not only always “with” God (1:1); He was always “in the bosom of the Father” (1:18)—a figure of speech meaning that He has always known the Father in a uniquely intimate way (quote 17:24). Jesus claims this over and over again in John’s gospel, and it is His greatest delight.

Jesus is also the Messiah (1:41), the King of Israel (1:49), the Son of Man (1:51). All three of these titles mean the same thing—that Jesus is the Chosen Ruler whose coming was predicted by the Old Testament prophets. He is the long-awaited One who will defeat all of God’s enemies and re-establish God’s kingdom over all His people and even renew nature itself.

SUMMARIZE. Now before we go any farther, we simply have to come to grips with these titles. John and other eye-witnesses gave these titles to Jesus, and (as you will see) Jesus claimed them for Himself. Now once you understand this, you cannot regard Jesus as one of many religious founders or great moral teachers without sacrificing your intellectual credibility. With this in mind, let’s look at two people who met Him and responded with adoration...

Jesus up-close & personal

John says that what he and the other disciples experienced from Jesus was “grace and truth” (1:14b). “Truth” means reality—Jesus revealed the way they really were. “Grace” means undeserved favor—Jesus loved them and transformed them in spite of their unworthiness. Let’s see how Peter and Nathanael experience His truth and love...

Read 1:41a,42 NLT. “Looking intently” is emblepo—which means “looking into.” Jesus is sizing Peter up, gazing into his soul. And what does he see? His statement tells us. The name “Simon” derived from Jacob’s son Simeon, who was a rash and impetuous person (Gen.49:5-7). “Cephas” (or “Peter”) means “rock.” Jesus is saying: “I know you are rash, impetuous, and unstable—but I will transform you into someone who is a rock of stability.” “You are... but you will be”—“I see the truth about you, but my grace will transform you.” Jesus saw Peter’s problems, but He focused on his potential as His disciple.

Jesus sees our problems, but He focuses on our potential as His disciples. Wouldn’t it be great to be known and loved like this? To meet someone who can look right into your soul and say: “You are... but you shall be”? To meet someone who is full of truth, who knows your innermost heart (including all your sins and weaknesses)—but who is also full of grace, willing and able to transform you into the person you could never become by yourself?

This is who Jesus is—and He is still alive, and you can still meet Him. I met Him 42 years ago. He looked into me and told me the truth about myself: “You think you have your life figured out, but you don’t have a clue. You are lost, and you will never find your way through life on your own.” That cut right through me and deflated my ego like a bursted balloon. But He also gave me grace and hope: “I love you, and I have come to get you. I know the true purpose of your life, and I have come to lead you into it.” “You are... but you shall be.” Truth coupled with grace. All I did was say “OK”—and He has led my life ever since. Along the way, He has shown me that I am far more screwed up than I ever realized—but He has also proved that He loves me far more than I ever imagined.

Read 1:45a,46. Nathanael’s friend Phillip says: “You’ve got to meet this guy—I think He is the Messiah!” Nathanael is right up front: “How can anything good come out of that dump?” This is not cynical—it is honest, frank, straightforward. When Jesus meets Nathanael, He already knows this about him. Read 1:47 (use “guile”). “Guile” (dolos) derives from the Greek word dello, which means decoy. “I know that you aren’t fakey, two-faced—and I love that about you!” Read 1:48a. Nathanael is amazed: “How do you know me?” Read 1:48b. Jesus says: “Oh, I saw you when you were all alone (maybe reading Scripture and praying).” Read 1:49. This convinces Nathanael that Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus peers right into Nathanael’s soul, He sees his heart—He knows the truth about Nathanael. And because He sees sincerity, Jesus reveals Himself to him in a way that got through (grace).

This is a super-important thing to know about Jesus: He always recognizes sincere seeking, and that He will respond by revealing Himself in personally convincing ways. Over and over again, Jesus says that our biggest issue is not His inability to find us and convince us—it is our willingness to sincerely seek Him. “Seek and you shall find. Everyone who seeks finds.” If you sincerely want to know Him, He will reveal Himself to you in a way that personally convinces you (EXAMPLES). I said: “Jesus, I don’t know if You exist—but if You do exist, I want to know You.” And He revealed Himself to me—not dramatically, but nevertheless in ways that gradually convinced me—especially as I exposed myself to the Bible. Pray to Him, tell Him this, keep coming to this series—and He will convince you!

For example, Clement of Rome, Irenaeus and Tertullian name John the son of Zebedee as the author. Earl F. Palmer, The Intimate Gospel: Studies in John (Waco: Word Books, 1978), p. 12).

The John Rylands Fragment of Jn. 19 is a copy-fragment dated at 125 AD and was found in Egypt. This confirms the gospel’s 1st century composition.

"There is no half-way house and there is no parallel in other religions. If you had gone to Buddha and asked him `Are you Brahmin?' he would have said, `My son, you are still in the vale of illusion.' If you had gone to Socrates and asked, `Are you Zeus?' he would have laughed at you. If you had gone to Mohammed and asked, `Are you Allah?' he would first have rent his clothes and then cut your head off ... The idea of a great moral teacher saying what Christ said is out of the question ...the only person who can say that sort of thing is either God, or a complete lunatic ... He was never regarded (by his contemporaries) as a mere moral teacher. He did not produce that effect on any of the people who actually met him. He produced mainly three effects - Hatred - Terror - Adoration. There was no trace of people expressing mild approval." C. S. Lewis, God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1970), pp.157,158.