John: The Word

John: The Word
A Message on John 1:1-5
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
June 7, 2020
By Doug Wintermute

John 1:1-5 (NRSV)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

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Today we are starting a Summer Sermons Series based on the gospel of John. This series will last throughout the summer as travel through the Gospel of John from the beginning to the end. And today we are starting at the beginning.

There is some confusion about who wrote the gospel of John. Some people think that it was John the Baptist, but that can’t be because if you remember John the Baptist was beheaded on the command of Herod Antipas, who had popped off to his step daughter, Salome, in front of a crowd that he would give her whatever she wanted. Salome took the advice of her mother, Herodias, who didn’t like John, and asked for his head on a platter. And that’s what they did, unfortunately.

Is the author of the Gospel of John the John who wrote the book of Revelation, who is sometimes referred to as John of Patmos (which was an island where the author was stranded during persecution). Traditionally it has been thought that they are the same person but there are scholars that disagree. And most scholars agree that a different John wrote the epistles, 1 John, 2 John, and 3 John.

Many people believe that John the Apostle wrote the gospel of John. Many also believe that John is the “disciple whom Jesus loved” because it is only in the gospel of John that we find this phrase.

Now the Gospel of John is different than Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Those three are known as the “synoptic” gospels, meaning from a common view. John is different in several ways and it is believed to have been written later than the three synoptic gospels.

The Gospel of John does not include a lot of the information in the synoptic gospels, things such as the temptation of Jesus, Jesus’ transfiguration, and the Lord’s supper.

It is also believed that John was the last living of the 12 disciples. Tradition has it that he was the only of the original 12 disciples to die of old age. All the others were martyred.

Here’s what I believe: I think John the Apostle wrote the gospel of John, and I think the same person wrote the book of Revelation. And I really don’t know if the same person wrote the epistles of John, and I’m okay with that. And I also reserve the right to be wrong.

Now, just who exactly was John? If we go back to before John met Jesus we find that he is a fisherman. He is one of two sons of a fisherman named Zebedee, the other older brother being James. Jesus calls James and John to stop fishing for fish and to follow him and fish for people, and they do. (I still have to think that ol’ poppa Zebedee couldn’t have been very happy about that.)

Jesus even gives the brothers James and John a nickname, calling them “Sons of Thunder.”

So John knew Jesus well. Very well.

Today we read from the very beginning of the gospel of John, and the author does something very interesting from what the other gospel writers did. Both Matthew and Luke talk about the birth of Jesus (Luke more so than Matthew) and Jesus’ family tree. Matthew’s “begats” go all the way back to Abraham, whereas Luke is the overachiever and traces Jesus’ lineage all the way back to Adam.

Mark doesn’t include any information about the birth of Jesus for unknown reasons.

But in the beginning of his gospel, John focuses on the divinity of Jesus and how he was present from the beginning. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God.”

Now let’s first explore the name John gives to Jesus: “the Word.” The greek term is “logos,” which is where we get the word “logo” from. (But not the word “Lego.” No. That comes from the Danish phrase meaning “play well.”)

The Word. Present in the beginning, with God, and was God. That’s a lot to wrap our minds around!

In our first reading today that Bonnie read from the very beginning of the Bible, we notice these words: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Genesis 1:1

John uses similar language to begin his gospel, especially the phrase “In the beginning…”

I think he does this purposefully. He is comparing Jesus, the Word, with being a new creation, something created by God, and in the case of Jesus, actually being God.

So John does some neat things in this first paragraph of his gospel. He refers to Jesus as the Word (with a capital W), that the Word is God, that everything that came into being happened because of the Word, and then changes gears.

“What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

So then he refers to Jesus as being “the life,” which was then “the light” of all people, a light that cannot be overcome by darkness.

So there just in the first paragraph we have Jesus referred to as the Word, God, the life, and the light. That’s quite the literary accomplishment!

But what does that mean to us today? How does the way John begins his gospel have any effect on us today?

I think the most powerful things we can understand about this passage is twofold. The first is that Jesus IS God. The second is that Jesus is the light of the world.

Okay, so why is it important to understand that Jesus IS God? Well, it’s very important for us theologically. If we view Jesus only as God’s son, then Jesus is subordinate to God. In military terms God would be the superior officer and Jesus would be under his command. So it’s a kind of hierarchy thing.

And if Jesus is God’s subordinate then he wouldn’t really be God, would he? He would be a semi-God or a demi-god.

It’s like in the Avengers movie when the Hulk shows up and is mad at Loki (for good reason, mind you.) Loki says, “Enough! …all of you are beneath me! I am a god, you dull creature, and I will not be bullied by…” and then the Hulk grabs him and starts smashing him into the floor over and over and over, before looking down at him and saying, “Puny God.”

It is important that Jesus be fully God, not only for our Trinitarian theology but for our salvation. Jesus IS God, and his death and resurrection atones for our sin and gives us a pathway to righteousness that we could not have created on our own.

We find a lot of our support for a trinitarian view of God in John’s gospel, this being one example. Jesus and God are both God but are not two Gods, but one. God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are not three gods, but one. And since this is Trinity Sunday this is a good time for us to explore this part of our faith!

There is a pastor and professor up in Woodbridge, Virginia named David Schrock. He has researched John’s gospel and come up with a chart that shows the scriptures in the Gospel of John that support the view of God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit three-in-one. Here it is: (show slide).

That’s pretty impressive if you ask me!

We have to remember that this view of the triune God at the time John’s gospel was written was quite the source of debates and even heresies such as Modalism, which stated that God was one person that was expressed in three different modes (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) at different times. And that’s just one heresy. Others were Arianism, Partialism, and several other “isms.” (Here’s a link to a cartoon video that humorously explains all this:

So John might have chosen to emphasize Jesus’ divinity at the beginning of his gospel to offset the heretical views that some people of the day were embracing. By emphasizing that Jesus IS God he defends the faith against that form of thinking. And although he never used the term “Trinity” (it is actually not found anywhere in the Bible), his gospel provides good evidence of supporting a Trinitarian belief in God.

So John had a very high Christology that Jesus was God. And thank God for that!

Now, let’s explore the second aspect of the scripture we read today: Jesus is the light of the world.

This one is close to my heart because I have a bachelor’s degree in photography, back when everything wasn’t digital and we had to use film and chemicals and paper.

Now I would venture to say when most people think in terms of darkness and light they think about paint or colored pencils or even crayons. If you are creating a painting or artwork and you want something to appear as black, you use black paint, ink, or colors. It’s something physical you can apply to the paper or canvas to create that image.

But in the photography world, and yes, even in today’s digital photography world, it is much different. Photography writes with light, the tiny charged particles of energy called photons that bounce around. These photons are focused by the lens of the camera onto a digital photosensitive surface in the cameras (or film in the old days) that is sensitive to the photons and react when they impact it.

Because these photons have different amounts of energy and are traveling at different wavelengths, the sensor (or film, again) detects that and gives us colors. All kinds of colors.

But for the black in a photograph, it is simply a void where no photons hit. Black is not a color, but simply the absence of light. It is not a “something.” It is a lack of something, a void.

I think this works well as a spiritual metaphor for us today. There seems to be a lot of darkness, a lot of voids, in the world today. We have the COVID-19 pandemic, racism resulting in death, peaceful protests as well as rioting and looting, an economic downturn, politics that seem to get nastier and meaner every day, fake news (on each side), and, perhaps worst of all, the cost of brisket has skyrocketed. (Okay, I know that’s not the worst thing but you have to admit it’s pretty bad if you love barbeque as much as I do.)

The world seems to be a dark place. And in all those instances (with perhaps the exception of the brisket) all could be made better by having the light of Christ shined on them.

Our world is in need of a savior. Our world is in need of God whose light can shine into the darkest of places and apply the greatest force in the universe to those situations: love.

I did a wedding yesterday up in Gilmer, TX for a young couple. As part of the wedding liturgy I always read 1 Corinthians 13, also known as the love chapter.

As I was reading those holy words I got to thinking about how they apply not only to weddings, but perhaps even more so to the darkness in our world.

Here is the first part of that chapter: “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

“Love never ends.”

John tells us that Jesus is the light of the world, and that “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” It is our job as Christians, as followers of Jesus Christ, to reflect that light.

Now let’s be clear that the source of light doesn’t come from us. We aren’t the source of light, but the reflectors of it.

We are to be like the moon. The moon doesn’t produce any light on it’s own. There is no nuclear fusion going on within it to create photons that escape its gravity. No. The moon reflects the sun, and in doing so provides light in the darkness.

Likewise we are to reflect the light of Christ. In the fifth chapter of Matthew Jesus tells his disciples (and us) “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16.

My challenge to you today is to understand that Jesus IS God, and that our mission is to reflect the light of Christ to the world. We are to reflect that light into the darkest voids, the darkest places, where hatred and violence and racism exist. And the light we are to reflect is love, the love God has for each person, the love he showed us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

He is certainly not a puny god. That is for certain.

In the name of the Holy Trinity on this Trinity Sunday: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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