Teaching series from John

Introducing The Logos

John 1:1-18

Teaching t05614


Today we begin a study of the gospel of John. Before we dive in, we need to know a little bit about the background of this book.

AUTHOR & DATE: It was written by John the son of Zebedee, one of Jesus' disciples, probably between 80-100 AD. Though he does not name himself, both internal evidence (elimination of the other intimate disciples--Peter and James) and external evidence (Polycarp; Irenaeus; Papias) confirm his authorship.

ORIGINAL AUDIENCE: John writes to non-Jews. This is clear because he explains Jewish customs and terms. After the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, John moved to Ephesus and worked primarily with Gentiles. The Gentiles of John's day were spiritually-oriented, but relativistic (sound familiar?).

PURPOSE: Read 20:31. This is an evangelistic account of Jesus' life. He selected his material to provide them with evidence that Jesus is the unique Messiah and Son of God, so that they may believe in him and have spiritual life through him. This is why we usually recommend that seekers start with John instead of Genesis, Matthew, etc.

SIMPLICITY & PROFUNDITY: John's gospel has the smallest and simplest Greek vocabulary of any New Testament book; he uses just over 400 Greek words. (That's why Greek students usually start with John.) But in spite of this simplicity, there is incredible spiritual depth and profundity in this book. One theologian said it is "shallow enough for babies to wade in, but deep enough for elephants to drown in."

RELATIONSHIP TO OTHER GOSPELS: Written after them, John purposefully selects material which they did not include (to fill in their gaps, and to pursue his evangelistic purpose). Whereas as the synoptic gospels begin with the historical account of Jesus' life and build to a conclusion about him, John begins with a summary of his conclusions about Jesus, and then records historical examples from the life of Jesus to validate his conclusions. We call this summary the prologue of John; it is perhaps the greatest distillation of Christian theology in the whole New Testament . . .

The Logos Is Ultimate Reality (vs 1-3)

Read vs 1-3. John introduces us to an entity he calls "the Word." This is the Greek word logos. Since John is writing to Greeks, he uses their own philosophical term as the starting point for his message. From their observation of order in the external universe and human rationality, they believed there must be some universal "reason" which undergirds reality and provides meaning for the universe. They sometimes called this "cosmic rationality" (or Ultimate Reality) the logos.

Their problem was that they didn't know where to go from there. There was endless speculation and disagreement about the nature of this logos: is it personal or impersonal? is it eternal or temporal? what is its relationship to the material world? is it interested or disinterested in individual humans?

Using their own term for Ultimate Reality, John answers their questions with a series of block-buster assertions. What humans can only guess at by observation, John reveals to us in this passage.

The logos is eternal (vs 1a). "In any beginning already was the logos." The logos is the uncaused Cause, the self-existent Ground of Reality beyond which it is impossible to go.

The logos is the Creator of the universe (vs 3). The universe is not eternal (NATURALISTS), nor is it somehow God (ANIMISM & PANTHEISM). It was "spoken into existence" by the logos (Gen. 1 >> CONFIRMATION OF BIG-BANG).

The logos is a Person. The logos is not called "it," but "he" (vs 2) and "him" (vs 3).

The logos is deity, or God (vs 1c). The Greek emphasizes this. Because of the above, the logos clearly deserves this title.

The logos is also personally distinct from God (vs 1b,2). He is both God, and was also always "face to face" with God. This is one of many passages (OT and NT) that reveal that God while God is a unity in his essence, he exists as more than one Person. We call this the "Trinity." Here, two of these three Persons are mentioned: God the Father ("God" and God the Son (called "the logos").

This sounds very abstract, but it resolves a profound question: How God can be both personal and self-existent? How can God be personal without needing to create other persons with whom to relate? But if God needed to create other persons, God is not truly self-existent. The biblical answer to this question is the Trinity: God has always existed as a community of Persons who have always loved one another. One hundred trillion years before anything or anyone else existed, God was already there forever before. But he was never lonely because he related to himselves (read Jn. 17:24).

The logos, of course, is Jesus (vs 14a). The historical Person Jesus of Nazareth, who was born into the human race at Bethlehem around 4 BC and died around 33 AD, is in fact God, the infinite-personal-eternal Creator of the whole universe! He created the materials from which his feeding trough crib was made. He created the angels that announced his birth, and the sheep the shepherds tended, and the star that guided the magi . . .

Jesus Is the Savior of Humanity (vs 4,5,14-18)

But John doesn't stop here. Jesus is not only the answer to the most abstract philosophical questions about Ultimate Reality. He is also the Savior of humanity. Read vs 4,5.

When John says, "in him was life," he uses a special Greek word to define a special kind of life. He doesn't use bios (physical life) or psuche (human consciousness). He uses zoe, which means the spiritual life of God. It is the word Jesus used when he said Jn. 10:10b (read). This is the special quality of life which is personal union and fellowship with God (read Jn. 17:3).

"This life was the light of mankind." This spiritual life is what gives human existence meaning and direction. Unlike the animals, we were created to know God personally, to fellowship with him and experience his direction for our lives.

"And the light shines in the darkness." The problem is that we don't possess this life/light. We have physical life and light, we have incredible intelligence and resourcefulness, but we live in spiritual death and darkness. If human history (and the 6:00 news) teaches us anything, it teaches us that people are lost, adrift from the purpose of their existence, stumbling around in the darkness, hurting themselves and others in the process. But Jesus has come into this darkness to make God's light and life available . . .

What would it be like to have this light/life? John provides his own testimony in vs 14-18 (read). God actually became part of the human race (vs 14) so that people could have this. John sums up his own personal experience with Jesus by saying he was full of "grace and truth."

Jesus was full of truth. "Truth" means reality, the way things really are. As they got to know Jesus, they learned who God really was because Jesus "exegeted" God to them (vs 18; Jn. 14:9). As we study John's gospel, we will learn this also. And as they came to know Jesus, he inevitably exposed people for who they really were. When he exposed the pretense and hypocrisy of the Jewish religious leaders, his disciples loved it. But he also had an unnerving way of peering into the deepest recesses of their hearts and laying bare their weaknesses and sins and foolishness . . .

But he was also full of grace. "Grace" means God's unmerited favor. It means God showing up in Christ to pay for our sins himself so we can have the free gift of his love and mercy and forgiveness and power to transform our lives. The same Jesus who knew and exposed their sinfulness was also an inexhaustible source of grace (vs 16). No matter how badly they blew it, no matter how foolish and sinful they realized they were, he always made more grace available to them. No wonder they were never the same . . .

How different this was from the Old Testament religion in which they had been raised (vs 17)! The Law, as great as it was, was only a dim reflection of Jesus. Like the MOON, it got its light from the SUN, and once the sun comes up, the moon fades into relative insignificance. God's Law gave them an outline of his moral character and a foreshadowing of his mercy. But Jesus showed them all they could understand about God's character and made God's mercy and transforming power accessible to them.

Where can we get this spiritual light/life? Not from Buddha, not from Mohammed, not from any other avatar or guru--only from Jesus. To a spiritually relativistic culture like our own, he keeps reminding them that Jesus is the only source: "In him (alone) was life . . . " (vs 4). "There was the true light which, coming into the world, enlightens every person . . . " (vs 9). Only in Jesus has "the logos become flesh" (vs 14). Only Jesus is "the only begotten God" (vs 18). As Jesus himself claims in Jn. 14:6, "I am the way, the truth, the life. No one comes to the Father but by me." There is no room here for the popular view that Jesus was one of many spiritually enlightened masters, one of many ways to God. He is either God incarnate and the sole provider of spiritual life--or he is a liar, a fake, a scam artist.

How Will You Respond To Jesus? (vs 9-13)

Jesus is who he is regardless of how you respond to him. But that doesn't make your response to him unimportant. In fact, your response to Jesus is the most important decision you will ever make--because God has decided to let it be the basis for whether you benefit from him or not.

Read vs 9-11. What an incredible and tragic irony! God visited the creatures who were designed to know him, and most didn't even recognize him. He visited his chosen people and fulfilled hundreds of prophecies, but they didn't receive him. Why? It wasn't because of inadequate evidence (as we'll see), but because of an unwillingness to humble themselves and admit their need for his light and life . . .

But not everyone responded to him this way. Read vs 12,13. Some responded differently, and he gave them the right to become part of God's own family (another synonym for "light," "life," "grace," and "truth"). And we can get in on this, too (remind of Jn. 20:31). But there is only one way to get this--by personally receiving Jesus. To make sure we get this, John tells us what won't suffice:

"blood"--family/ethnic background. Being a Jew (God's chosen people) didn't prevent most of them from rejecting Jesus, and being non-Jewish didn't prevent many Gentiles from receiving him. Likewise, it doesn't matter how many people in your family are Christians--you still have to receive Christ. And it doesn't matter if none of your family members have ever been Christians--you still can receive Christ.

"the will of the flesh"--human moral achievement. Being morally better than most people doesn't qualify you to be a member of God's family--you have to receive Christ. And being morally worse than most people doesn't disqualify you from becoming a child of God--you can still do so by receiving Christ.

"the will of a husband"--other people's decisions about Jesus. You have to make your own decision. Just because your spouse believes in Jesus doesn't make you a Christian--you still have to receive Christ. And just because your spouse doesn't believe doesn't mean you can't--you can still receive Christ.

Some of you have never received Christ. I challenge you to come back to learn about this Jesus and come to a decision about whether or not you will receive him. Some of you may be ready now . . .